REVIEW: The Spotted Cheetah, A Restaurant By Cheetos

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I love a good gimmick. If it’s temporary or new and has a hook, I’m there. Super-long line? No problem. Thai Rolled Ice Cream. The Oreo Wonder Vault. Rainbow Bagels. The Hello Kitty Café Truck. Cronuts. I’ve done them all.

Some gimmicks turn out better than anticipated. Some fall short of the mark. Some defy your expectations altogether. That was the case with the Spotted Cheetah, a Cheetos-centric pop-up restaurant in Manhattan. I assumed it would be a garish publicity stunt with ridiculous “food.”

When I heard about this 3-night-only event, I wanted in. A menu of 4 appetizers, 4 entrees and 3 desserts, each made with Cheetos products. I like to repurpose foods into other forms, so this was right up my alley.

Any other week, The Spotted Cheetah is known as Distilled – an upscale but casual Tribeca restaurant that I’m only now realizing I’ve eaten in before. As I approached this night, I readied myself for typical NYC event line-waiting and passive-aggressive jockeying for position. Everyone here is important, after all, and we MUST get in ASAP.

To my delight, no one was corralled within the velvet ropes. Shocking considering how much media attention this place has gotten. After a quick chat with the clipboard guy, I glided into a seat at the bar.

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Crystal Pepsi – of course.

The menu was designed by Food Network chef Anne Burrell. All I know about her is: 1) her hair and 2) she hosted Worst Cooks in America – for which I once volunteered to test a challenge before shooting started, and failed miserably at everything.

I ordered the Cheetos Crusted Fried Pickles, Cheetos Mix-Ups Crusted Chicken Milanese, and the Cheetos Sweetos Crusted Cheesecake. Apparently I’m a glutton for crusting.

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While I waited for my food, I watched patrons talk to a live-animated Chester Cheetah on a TV screen near the entrance.

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Normally I despise things that aggressively interact with me, but I was fascinated by this technology. Chester’s mouth and body moved in real-time from a motion capture of the person speaking. I wondered where he was hiding out.

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The fried pickles arrived and I dove in, expecting a rubber-mallet-to-the-head of Cheetos flavor. What I got were lovely, tangy, crusty, greasy frickles in a slightly orangier (spellcheck tells me this isn’t a word, I disagree) than normal hue. They were delicious, but only whispered ‘Cheetos.’

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Next up – the Chicken Milanese. A beautifully-dressed salad and Cheetos piled atop a slab of extra-crunchy breaded chicken. I pushed the salad off and sliced into just the chicken. Again, it was a wonderful dish, I enjoyed every bite, but I didn’t taste the Cheetos in the breading.

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This could appear in any restaurant and no one would say “Excuse me – are there CHEETOS in this??” I started taking bits of Cheetos from on top with each mouthful and ended up with the flavor I expected.

An order of the Flamin’ Hot Limon Chicken Tacos arrived for the couple next to me and I was gripped with jealousy. They looked so tempting.

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The cheesecake came closest to capturing the product it was based on. The crust definitely had the churro-ish cinnamon flavor of the Sweetos. It was also a great dish – sweet and tangy cheese with a rich blueberry sauce.

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The décor was just subtle enough that it didn’t feel cheesy (pun intended), but there were cute touches all around.

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It wasn’t a crowded circus. The food was real. It was like a Friday night out at a nice restaurant, but with a wise-cracking animated cheetah.

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I do wish the Cheetos were a bit more present in the dishes I tried, since this was the point of all of this, but I had fun and walked away with a happy belly. I was given a printed book of the menu recipes on the way out – it’s also available on their site. If you’re trying the recipes at home, go a bit heavier on the Cheetos – I’m guessing as junk food fans, you’ll want to know they’re there.

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(Nutrition Facts – Oof. I couldn’t even begin to calculate this.)

Purchased Price: $8 (Fried Pickles), $22 (Chicken Milanese, and $8 (Cheesecake)
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: REALLY good food. High-tech cheetah. Thrill of experiencing something that makes half my friends say “Ew. That’s disgusting.”
Cons: Expected to leave covered in Cheetos dust inside & out, didn’t, hence slightly disappointed.

REVIEW: Cheetos Crunchy Flamin’ Hot Chipotle Ranch

Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, which I refer to endearingly as OG Hot Cheetos, and I go way back. Almost three decades ago, its street cred and my love for them was established. They were basically the currency of my elementary school days – traded in snack-size Ziploc bags for durables like shakeable Dr. Grip mechanical pencils (very cool back then too).

Of course, my enterprising after-school institution caught on. They sold “individual packs” to us crazed hooligans for 25 cents. Adult me is pretty sure that those one-ounce packs were the kind you buy in a variety pack labeled “not for individual sale.” Point is – the OG trusty, just-enough-heat deliciousness has never failed me.

So when the new Cheetos Crunchy Flamin’ Hot Chipotle Ranch hit shelves, I thought, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” However, I went in with little to no expectations because I wasn’t quite sure what chipotle ranch was supposed to taste like dusted on a “cheese-flavored snack.” To me, it sounded more like a dipping sauce or something over-slathered on a sad sandwich.

There was no shock value when I opened the bag because they looked like the same ol’ same ol’. When examined closely, I saw more flecks of seasoning so it looked slightly redder, but that was about it. What did shock me was the BBQ-esque smell coming from the bag. I rationalized that chipotle was supposed to evoke a smokier connotation, which could be similar to BBQ. I also couldn’t un-smell Fritos Honey BBQ Flavor Twists.

Even as I took my first crunch, the more pronounced corn flavor totally reminded me of said Fritos. The initial corn note evolved into a whisper of ranch – thank goodness, the last thing I wanted was cool ranch-esque flavoring – that was rounded out by a slight smokiness from the chipotle, and ended with heat.

I will say that it wasn’t spicy as the OG. The ranch seems to dampen the heat, but I was okay with that because it didn’t completely kill the burn. The diminished heat actually allowed me to shovel them into my mouth at a quicker pace. There was definitely still an undeniable addictiveness. But it was a mind-trip the entire time like when I ate a deconstructed Caesar salad at some hoity-toity restaurant. It tasted like Caesar salad but the form looked nothing like it. But in this case, I was tasting Fritos Honey BBQ Flavor Twists but seeing Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

Just to make sure, I did a taste-off between the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Chipotle Ranch and Fritos Honey BBQ Flavor Twists. They definitely smelled similar, but said Fritos tasted way more pungently BBQ, sweeter from the honey, and weren’t spicy at all. So there’s definitely a difference.

If you put a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in front of me, I’m going to eat them no matter what flavor. But, if I had a choice, I’d stick to the OG.

(Nutrition Facts – about 21 pieces – 170 calories, 11 grams total fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 210 milligrams of sodium, 15 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, less than 1 gram sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $3.00
Size: 8.5 oz. bag
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Still have an addictive quality. Diminished heat allowed me to shovel Cheetos into my mouth at a quicker pace. Not exactly like Fritos Honey BBQ Flavor Twists. Complex flavor journey – giving R&D props!
Cons: OG Flamin’ Hot Cheetos still taste better. Tasting Fritos but seeing Cheetos. Lots of justification needed for the flavor nuances, like why it’s less spicy, etc.

REVIEW: Cheetos Sweetos Caramel Puffs

Cheetos Sweetos Caramel Puffs

If a Cheeto isn’t cheese flavored, is it even a Cheeto? Would a Cheeto by any other name smell as sweet?

These questions have puzzled scholars and philosophers for ages. Ok, well at least since 2015 when Frito-Lay first introduced Cheetos Sweetos Cinnamon Sugar Puffs. The brand’s first foray into sweet snacks was, shall we say, a little underwhelming. So imagine my surprise to see that Cheetos Sweetos have multiplied and their new Caramel Puffs have bounced onto grocery store shelves just in time for what Frito-Lay calls the “spring snacking season,” but normal people might call “Easter.”

I imagine that this is all a sneaky ploy by Frito-Lay so that moms and dads – sorry…I mean, Easter Bunnies – everywhere might make room in Easter baskets for some crunchy snacks. Judging by the caramel-induced sugar high that Chester Cheetah seems to be having on the packaging, I imagine that this would be welcomed by children all over the world.

I opened my bag of Caramel Puff Sweetos, and was immediately accosted by a horribly artificial caramel scent, reminiscent of an off-brand candle you’d pick up at a drug store on the way to a birthday party you forgot about. The smell wafted throughout my entire apartment, causing my boyfriend to shriek with disgust from another room.

Each Sweeto is vaguely “Neil Armstrong’s bootprint on the moon” shaped, and is dusted with a heaping helping of brown powder. Surprisingly, unlike regular Cheetos, the powder stays firmly adhered to the Sweeto and doesn’t come off on your fingertips, which I guess is good for keeping astronaut gloves clean.

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Preparing for the worst, I popped a Sweeto into my mouth, and was shocked by how quickly the Sweeto dissolved on my tongue like a sickly-sweet breath strip. The artificial caramel flavor is only recognizable for a second, and then is immediately replaced by the taste of corn, which is then further replaced by an off-putting aftertaste. It’s like the Matryoshka doll of bad snack food.

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While Chester the Cheetah’s caramel-induced-fever-dream on the packaging would make you think differently, there’s really no fun in eating Sweetos. When it comes down to it, they’re a jazzed up snack that blasphemes Cheetos. Sweetos aren’t sweet enough to earn that name, although I suppose Corntos doesn’t have the same ring to it.

In conclusion, a bag of Sweetos Caramel Puffs in your Easter basket is like the coal in your Christmas stocking. Be a good boy or girl and you’ll get some Flamin’ Hots instead.

(Nutrition Facts – about 25 pieces – 160 calories, 10 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 135 milligrams of sodium, 16 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of sugar, 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: $3.49
Size: 7 oz. bag
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 2 out of 10
Pros: “Look Ma, clean hands!” The Electric Sweetos Acid Test. Making bad Easter puns.
Cons: Eau du drug store candle. Barely discernable sweetness. Incredibly artificial.

REVIEW: Cheetos Crunchy Wild Habanero

Cheetos Crunchy Wild Habanero

Believe it or not, the habanero was once the world’s hottest chili pepper. But thanks to botany and hot, steamy plant-on-plant action, which produced spicier peppers, the habanero has been relegated to a lower heat status and has also dropped in rank on the Cool Chili Pepper Name List.

It’s been overtaken by the Ghost Pepper, Carolina Reaper, Infinity Chili, Komodo Dragon Chili Pepper, Super Duper Red Hot Chili Peppers, Naga Viper, and Trinidad Moruga Scorpion.

Oh, one of those isn’t a real chili pepper name, but the rest are real. Guess which one.

And those hotter peppers are not slightly ahead on the Scoville scale, a measurement of chili pepper heat, they’re like Golden State Warriors-ahead of the once mighty pepper. While the habanero can muster 100,000-350,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units), many of the peppers I’ve listed above go beyond (raise pinky to mouth) one million SHU.

While the habanero no longer has a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, it’s found a place on many crunchy snacks. Pringles. Chex Mix. Chips. Chips. Chips. Chips. Chips. Chips. Chips. And now these Cheetos Crunchy Wild Habanero snacks.

Well, actually, it should’ve gone. Cheetos Crunchy. Pringles. Chex Mix. Chips. Chips. Chips. Chips. Chips. Chips. Chips. The order should’ve been different because these cheesy, spicy snacks are a rerelease, originally on shelves in 2010. But they’re back again to be the “Official Snack of the Mexican National Team,” who probably didn’t have a say in the matter.

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The orange and red crunchy corn puffs look like what I imagine ends up on Lucifer’s finger after digging his nose. Yes, I’m saying they look like devil’s boogers. But what tasty buggers they are.

The level of heat these bring is below the nerve stinging spiciness of Cheetos Flamin’ Hot. With these Cheetos Crunchy Wild Habanero I can munch my way though many of them without hesitation, but I can tolerate only so much with any Flamin’ Hot snack. But I’m not giving the go ahead sign for those who don’t like the spicy.

Since the habanero seasoning isn’t tear-inducing for me, I can taste the cheesy, peppery, and smoky flavoring on each crunchy corn puff. They’re also a little tomato-y and oniony. But a kick of lime is what makes this snack’s flavor stand out. It gives these Cheetos Crunchy a taste that’s more complex than just cheesy and spicy. And I have to say I prefer the flavor of these over Flamin’ Hot.

Sadly, this flavor will go back into the Cheetos flavor vault once the Olympics are done and, maybe, pop up again years from now to promote something else. But I don’t want that to be the case. I want it to be a permanent flavor.

But just like the habanero pepper had to accept it wouldn’t always be the hottest pepper in the world, I have to accept I won’t be eating Cheetos Crunchy Wild Habanero for a while.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 oz – 160 calories, 100 calories from fat, 11 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 250 milligrams of sodium, 15 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of fiber, 0 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: Purchased on eBay for more than the price on the packaging
Size: 8.5 oz bag
Purchased at: eBay
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Really spicy, but not REALLY spicy. Complex flavor that’s cheesy, spicy, smoky, and a little limey. Better than Cheetos Crunchy Flamin’ Hot.
Cons: Difficult to find. Will eventually go back into the Cheetos flavor vault. If you do not like spicy foods, do not eat this.

REVIEW: Minions Cinnamon Banana Cheetos (Japan)

Minions Cinnamon Banana Cheetos (Japan)

Over the past year we’ve seen a lot of products with movie tie-ins. But it seems most of them have come from three movies — Frozen, Star Wars, and Minions. Sorry, Avengers: Age of Ultron and whatever DreamWorks Animation movies that came out this year.

Thanks to the shape and color of Minions and their love of bananas, it’s been easy for companies to produce fun products. One that comes to mind are the Tic Tacs with Minions faces printed on them. Another are Twinkies that can be decorated to look like Minions. And then there are these Minions Cinnamon Banana Cheetos from Japan.

Their bright yellow color instantly makes me think of Minions, but it’s a bit disappointing they’re crunchy Cheetos and not Cheetos Puffs. And it’s even more disappointing they’re not Cheetos Puffs shaped like Minions with their faces printed on them. Come on, Japan! You can make soccer playing robots, but not Minions-shaped Cheetos. You’re slipping!

What’s also disappointing about these Cheetos from Japan are how they don’t have much of a banana flavor. There was a banana aroma that came out of the bag when I first opened it, but subsequent openings produced a strong cinnamon smell.

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Instead of banana, their flavor reminds me of churros, which is still awesome, but not the flavor I was hoping for. The snack also has a slight butteriness to them that’s similar to what I experienced with the Cinnamon Sugar Sweetos released earlier this year. So if you had those, you have a general idea of what these Cheetos taste like.

The Minions Cinnamon Banana Cheetos are tasty, but the lack of banana flavor drove me…bananas. I’m sorry. That was horrible. But not horrible enough for me to use my arrow keys to erase it from the internet.

There is hope though. The Minions movie made a BILLION dollars worldwide, so there’s a BILLION percent chance there will be a sequel. And when there’s a sequel and more money to be made, there might be another version of this snack that’ll be Cheetos Puffs shaped like Minions with their faces printed on them that are banana-flavored.

(Nutrition Facts – 75 grams – 418 kcal, 24.8 grams of fat, 194 milligrams of sodium, 45.2 grams of carbohydrates, and 3.6 grams of protein.)

Item: Minions Cinnamon Banana Cheetos (Japan)
Purchased Price: $6.98 (includes shipping)
Size: 75 gram bag
Purchased at: eBay
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Tasty. Tastes like churros. Bright yellow like Minions.
Cons: Doesn’t have banana flavor. Could’ve looked like more like Minions. Can’t remember what the last DreamWorks Animation movie was.