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McDonald’s has made some fairly large (for them) changes to their menu recently. Last spring they introduced several new Signature Crafted burgers in an attempt to offer fresher and more varied choices to diners as they face competition from fast casual burgers chains in all markets. This follows a failed attempt to induce customers to customize their burgers via kiosk, which never was fully implemented nationwide. The Signature Crafted burgers have some customization options (as I’ll detail below), but they’re primarily offered as set sandwiches, with your choice between Sweet BBQ Bacon and Pico Guacamole, with usually a third option that varies locally. It took me some time to make it to a McDonald’s to give the new selections a taste, but I’m sucker for a guacamole burger, so I always knew I’d make it in eventually.

McDonald’s Pico Guacamole Burger contains “freshly prepared Pico de Gallo, creamy guacamole, real buttermilk ranch, white cheddar, and lettuce … served with a fresh lime wedge.” I ordered it as a meal with a large fries and soda, which was $8.79 before tax.

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Before I go into how the food actually tasted, I think it makes sense to review the ordering procedure because it was confusing. As someone who used to work at a McDonald’s and has been eating there pretty much my whole life, the ordering process for the Signature Crafted sandwiches was unclear.

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For these sandwiches, there’s a three-step map which is laid out on a mat by the counter. It makes sense in hindsight, but confused me as a first time consumer. The first step is to choose your protein: a burger or piece of crispy/grilled chicken. Second step: choose your toppings (i.e. Pico Guacamole). Lastly, you must select your bun, which can be an artisan roll or sesame bun. Seems straightforward, right? However, I couldn’t just go up and order a Pico Guac burger. Their register is set up to do it step by step, and I got tripped up when I made my order, the needed to retrace my steps so the cashier could input all of the information.  I also was trying to order the Buttermilk Crispy Tenders, and the worker at the register misheard my order and almost gave me a different burger. It took us a minute to sort out what I actually wanted.

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Now that I’ve done the blogging equivalent of yelling at clouds for a few paragraphs, how about I discuss the burger?! The Pico Guacamole burger came boxed, wrapped in paper and served with a lime on the side. The box is standard now for “fancy” burgers, but I have never been served a piece of fruit with my order at any fast food restaurant. And in an industry which sometimes struggles to give good, fresh produce as sandwich toppings, the lime looked surprisingly healthy. I don’t think the burger necessarily needed the lime, but as a courtesy, I gave the inside of the burger a squirt before starting to eat.

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The paper worked to keep the burger in one piece. My first bite wasn’t too special; just like a regular cheeseburger. The toppings were inconsistently applied and I was eating on the barer side. While this is a general strategy of mine so the last bites are always the best, perhaps I should start giving myself better first impressions.

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When I got to taste everything together, I enjoyed the burger. This is a classic fancy burger combination, so the flavors combine well and my overall enjoyment came down to the individual components, which were fine to quote good. The pico de gallo and guacamole were the standouts, as they should have been considering the name of the burger.

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Tasting some of the pico alone, I was pleasantly surprised by how fresh it tasted, unlike most fast food vegetables. I also detected some salt and other seasoning (may have been the lime). While I’m not 100% certain I’d want to eat a whole bowl of this with some chips, I’d definitely champion it over the soupy flavorless concoctions most fast casual chains call salsa. Plus, as someone who despises raw onions, keeping the tomato:onion ratio tilted heavily in favor of tomatoes is a major plus for me. While not every burger can have pico, maybe this is a solution around mealy/limp fast food chain tomatoes. Just chop them up and season them to hide them!

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I also want to compliment the guacamole. It had chunks of actual avocado and some spice, maybe from some jalapeños. This was another quality condiment, and as someone who’s a sucker for guacamole burgers the toppings here are really top notch. Because it was actual guacamole and not too soupy or dense, the guacamole generally stayed in its place on the bun.

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Running through the other toppings here, the white cheddar was not good. Somehow it didn’t melt, which was off-putting. It was sandwiched between room temperature to slightly cool pico and guacamole on one side and adhered to what should have been a hot burger on the other side, yet it never melted into meat.

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The lettuce was also not really needed. The burger already had a veggie component and the pico de gallo added some crunch, so the lettuce was literally just filler. Lastly, the burger patty was typical McDonald’s. It served as a vehicle for everything else without detracting too much from the proceedings. The meat is always going to be on the dry side, but I like their burger seasoning.

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There was a buttermilk ranch added to the sandwich. I can’t say that it stood out in any way, but there’s always the chance that it provided some tang to the other ingredients and elevated their flavors. Or it added unnecessary calories.

The paper wrapper kept the burger together and generally in one piece until the very end, making it easier to eat (and take notes) without using 50 napkins. Not every chain can pull that off so it should be noted when it occurs.

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Overall, the burger is a solid win for McDonald’s. I can’t speak for the other new topping combinations, but I would 100% consider ordering the Pico Guacamole Burger again if it stays on the menu. The flavor profile was quite good. There was a lingering spice, I think from the guacamole, that was pleasant and not overpowering. The fresh vegetable toppings lifted the burger beyond a normal fast food experience, which is what McDonald’s was aiming for. I think if you’re a fan of guacamole burgers, this one is worth your time. Or, if you find yourself at a McDonald’s and want something that strays beyond their normal comfort zone, then this is also worth a shot.

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After the Sriracha craze a few years ago, where it seemed like half the internet was composed of love letters to the sauce, things have calmed down. It has settled in as a good hot sauce, different than a Tabasco or Frank’s in taste and texture, but good in the right amounts on the right foods rather than slathered onto everything. Wendy’s, in their laudable quest to ensure I have new content as long as I continue to update this blog, decided to utilize Sriracha on their Spicy Chicken Sandwich (IMO, the GOAT of fast food chicken sandwiches). I originally wasn’t going to try this, but after a request from a loyal reader, I decided to eat the Spicy Sriracha Chicken Sandwich.

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The Spicy Sriracha Chicken Sandwich is priced at $5.49 (!) for the sandwich and $8.19 for a meal with a medium soda and fries. According to Wendy’s, the Spicy Sriracha Chicken Sandwich is their “iconic Spicy Chicken, topped with one of kind Sriracha Jack Cheese, thick-cut Applewood Smoked Bacon, creamy Sriracha aioli, spring mix, and red onion … on a toasted Sriracha-infused bakery-style bun.” The sandwich was presented in a box, but it was so large that it was awkward to pick it up, which I remember happening before at Wendy’s. If these boxes are here to stay, they need to make them larger so one’s fingers can get around the sandwich.

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Upon opening the box, the sandwich smelled great; it was that spicy fried chicken aroma which I’ll never tire of. The bun looked bland. I originally thought it was a Brioche bun, but Fortune has corrected me. I would have preferred a regular seeded bun, but Wendy’s doesn’t actually serve those, so I’m tilting at windmills here.

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I lifted up the bun and saw the inevitable raw red onion. I did my best to take it all off, but I know I missed at least part of that mess. I also saw that the cheese hadn’t really melted yet. The sandwich, in particular the chicken, didn’t taste cold, so I don’t know why the cheese didn’t melt, but maybe Wendy’s needs to raise the temperature on their food holders.

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The bun was toasted and tasted like wheat…. with spice. It was a little weird and I wasn’t 100% certain that it was spicy until I confirmed it on the Wendy’s website. It was a nice touch to add Sriracha, but it didn’t stand out unless I was eating the bun without anything else. The chicken was a regular spicy chicken patty. No complaints, it was great. That Sriracha aioli was basically Sriracha sauce cut with some mayo. Since they couldn’t just spread Sriracha on the damn sandwich without scorching everyone’s taste buds, this was the way to go. It became easily spreadable while retaining its heat.

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I did manage to get one bite with every ingredient (including the onion). Of course, the onion overpowered everything. In the non-onion bites, the bacon was a standout in the sandwich. Wendy’s puts bacon on everything, and it worked really well here. It was smoky and crispy and helped balance every other ingredient which contained Sriracha. They were also good about putting enough bacon on the sandwich so that almost every bite had some. The Sriracha Jack Cheese, as mentioned before, wasn’t full melted. The cheese didn’t have a strong taste and if it hadn’t; been on the sandwich, I doubt I would have missed it.

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Through the first half of the sandwich, the Sriracha Spicy Chicken Sandwich tasted like a Spicy Chicken Sandwich turned to 11. Even though Sriracha was the star, the heat built steadily. My mouth wasn’t on fire from the first bite. I could see anyone who is sensitive to spice not liking this sandwich, because it is more intense than the Spicy Chicken sandwich. To help make this more palatable to more people, I think adding a tomato slice would have helped. I’m actually surprised the sandwich didn’t have a tomato, considering we got raw onion

 

While on the subject of vegetables, I do need to compliment the spring mix. Wendy’s has really stepped up their game in this area recently, and I do appreciate their effort. By giving better greens on the sandwich, it feels less like a fast food burger. I applaud the move away from pale, limp iceberg lettuce. When talking about a bacon spicy fried chicken sandwich, this is a minor point, but it’s the little things that add up to create a better whole.

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One of my usual Wendy’s complaints, and a distinct worry when I started eating this particular sandwich, was that it was going to be terribly messy. The sandwiches themselves don’t stay together, sauce leaks everywhere, and I need about twenty napkins to get through the experience, not including extra napkins if I plan on typing notes for this blog. I can say that the Spicy Sriracha Chicken Sandwich did stay together with minimal leakage. The bread was strong enough to keep everything in one place and soak up the sauce to ensure it didn’t get on my hands.

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As mentioned above, the Sriracha Spicy Chicken Sandwich was hot, but not overwhelmingly so. It was a well put together sandwich where everything made sense (except the onion) and worked together to make a really good eating experience. Though the use of the Sriracha makes this a gimmick item that will never become a permanent staple of the menu, I do hope it’s brought back for return engagements in the future so anyone who likes the Spicy Chicken Sandwich but wants something a bit spicier can give this a try. If you’re in a Wendy’s and see this on the menu, it is definitely worth your time.

In honor of Chinese New Year, we’re taking a break from our regularly scheduled posts to review another fast food item from China! I’ve spent far too much time in my life in Shanghai Pudong Airport, but one advantage to flying from that location is that it contains one of the few Burger Kings I’ve seen in China. Since I’m usually flying back to the United States from Pudong, it’s a tradition of mine to fill up at the local BK before hopping on a 10-15 hour flight, and this past week was no different.

Looking over the menu, there were two items which are not currently available at U.S. locations: a Spicy Whopper and an Italian Stacker. Since I guessed the Spicy Whopper was just a burger with some hot sauce, I though the Italian Stacker would make for a better post, so that was my choice.

The Italian Stacker is offered with up to four patties on the burger. I opted for the single version, which only had one burger patty. The sandwich was 23 RMB alone or 40 RMB for a meal, which came with a medium fries and medium soda. The meal price increased 8 RMB for each additional beef patty, which seemed reasonable enough.

Upon ordering the sandwich, I had literally no idea what to expect. I couldn’t access wifi in the airport, so I couldn’t do any research on the sandwich beforehand. In fact, I still don’t actually have an official description of the sandwich. A cursory Google search returned no results, and not even Wikipedia includes a mention of the Italian Stacker in its article on the BK Stacker (someone should edit that- is this blog credible enough to serve as a source?).

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Anyway, the picture on the menu looked like there was some sauce and bacon and cheese. I noticed that this location offered chili fries (which were called spicy meat sauce fries) and I hoped that this chili was not going to serve as Italian tomato sauce. I … was wrong.

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Upon opening the wrapper, the burger looked a little small, but I did order the single, which is the equivalent of a regular cheeseburger. It had the regular sesame bun and the patty looked like a regular American burger. It smelled like bacon, which gave me some hope for a good experience. I lifted the top bun, and the insides looked kinda gross. The sauce definitely looked like the chili, and the bacon was not typical American style crispy bacon: it was wide cut and soggy.

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I picked up the burger and it was a tad messy and soggy from the sauce. My first bite had an overwhelming bacon taste. I wish it had been crispy though. On the second bite, I realized the sauce was definitely chili, but it had a slightly off taste. It was a thin tomato sauce with chunks of ground beef. It could have used some more seasoning, especially salt, and maybe some spice. I thought I taste a hint of oregano, but that may have been wish casting. Instead, the main seasoning seemed to be diced onions. Perhaps it’s my personal taste in not liking onions, but the sauce seemed to get more oniony as I continued eating.

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Other than the bacon, cheese and chili, nothing else was on the burger. Luckily the bacon carried most of the taste when it was in a bite, because I was not a big fan of that chili. The burger itself had that same flame-grilled (TM!) taste you’re used to, but it was smaller than the bun. There was a good amount of bacon on the burger, and it did start to overwhelm the patty at times. I think if I’d gotten at least a double, the beef would have stood up better

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The best bites of the burger were where the sauce ended up melting the cheese, so they combined into a gooey, cheesy sauce. It helped to hide the strong onion flavor, and it paired really well with the burger and bacon. Towards the end, I tried to create as many of those bites as possible, but there was only a single slice of cheese to work with.

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As a novelty item, this was fine. I probably shouldn’t; have expected a semi-authentic tomato sauce, and I’m guessing I, and other foreigners, would be more receptive to the taste if it was marketed as a chili cheese burger, and not something with Italian flavor. I’d also prefer crispy bacon, but that’s probably asking too much. I would be interested in an actual Italian burger (free idea Burger King!), having tomato sauce paired with provolone. But until that’s a reality, I’ll probably stick to a safer choice next time I’m in China.

When I was putting together my thoughts back before I started this blog, I was drawn to choosing new items because fast food chains, as well as stadiums, seemed to revel in outdoing themselves in creating imaginative items that sound repulsive, but when given a second thought, intriguing in the sense that they may have stumbled across a new combination of items from their kitchen that could be refashioned into a new, and tastier treat. I’ve been writing off and on (mostly off) for the past 2.5 years, but I believe Burger King has recently released a food item that is the platonic ideal of this blog. Without further ado, I give you the first new food I’ve eaten since the restart a few weeks ago: Burger King’s Whopperito.

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Burger King frequently plays around with the Whopper, its signature sandwich, but that usually involves some BBQ sauce, bacon, special cheese, or hot sauce. This is the first time they’ve changed the actual concept of the burger, turning into a “burrito”. Per the official description, the Whopperito is “savory flame-grilled 100% beef and seasoned with a special blend of spices […] with a creamy Queso, pickles, diced onions, juicy tomatoes, and crisp lettuce all wrapped in a warm flour tortilla.” At the location I visited, the sandwich cost $3.29 on its own and $5.49 as a meal with a small soda and fries. I opted for the meal, which may have been a mistake because I’d just visited Taco Bell for some research on future blog posts. Don’t ever think I’m not dedicated to this… or have a slight disregard for my health.

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Anyway, the sandwich took a long time to put together considering no one was in front of me in line. It’s still a new item and it’s completely out of line with all other Burger King offerings, so slack can be cut, but we’re talking five or so minutes for a fast food sandwich. I originally sat down in a booth to eat this delicacy… then immediately had to move to a table with a harder chair. The sinking feeling did not sit well with the Taco Bell and the thought of eating this monstrosity. I’m saying Burger King needs firmer booths.

To get to the actual food (finally!), the Whopperito comes wrapped in sandwich paper. With the way it was wrapped, you couldn’t quite unfold it and keep it wrapped as a regular burrito, so I took it completely out, which of course imperils the integrity of the bottom of any good burrito. Upon first glance, the Whopperito looked thin for a burrito, but it was, uh, quite lengthy. The tortilla also was slightly frayed at the edges and didn’t look fresh. I tore off the top because the first bite was only going to be that old tortilla, which would be a terrible first impression.

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My first bite was beef and tomatoes. Not gonna lie, it was weird. It wasn’t bad, but my head was having a hard time wrapping itself around the idea of this being a burrito. After that bite, there was some spice that crept up on me. I realized that it came from the raw onion, which is a taste I usually hate, except for Mexican food. And it pains me to say it, but it really worked here. I liked the taste of raw onion in a Burger King burrito. Words I never thought I’d say.

The burrito was really beefy, because there was no rice or beans filler. Think of it like a legit carne asada burrito, San Diego style. Except instead of carne asada, it’s a Burger King burger… with Whopper toppings. So just like the concept of a carne asada burrito. Of course that simplicity also meant that the Whopperito lives and dies with the burger meat. The beef was a typical Burger King burger, just chopped up. The pieces were inconsistently spiced, but when the special blend of spices showed up, the sandwich was really good.

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Around halfway through, as I was pondering the sandwich as well as my own existence, I came to the realization that if I thought of the Whopperito as a cheeseburger wrap, and not a burrito, the concept makes sense and is easier to accept. If you go into the experience thinking you’re eating a burrito, you’ll likely be disoriented and disappointed.

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In that vein, the pickles really shone though. While they’d be unwelcome on a burrito, they provided a good burst of flavor and contrast with the other ingredients. Since there’s no pico de gallo or hot sauce, the pickles were the only acid represented and my favorite bites of the sandwich always had a pickle. The tomatoes were good for the juiciness, but were cut way too big. I think instead of chunks, they should have diced. This would have been helpful on two fronts: 1) I think they’d be distributed better inside the tortilla and 2) more of the juice would be released, so the sandwich would be moister. The lettuce was filler. I don’t usually get lettuce in my burritos and I wasn’t a fan, but it makes sense with the sandwich as presented.

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Now onto more of the actual problems and not my quibbles with the Whopperito. The creamy Queso was there, but it was flavorless. Cheese would have been a big addition. I think a melted piece of cheese would have served this better than the flavorless sauce, or a cheesier queso. It also had the consistency of a sauce, and wasn’t as thick as a decent queso. In addition, the sandwich, particularly the meat, was extremely oily. I don’t think regular burgers at Burger King are like that and I don’t know where it came from here. The leaking also produced a giant oil slick on my tray as I was eating. Lastly, the tortilla added nothing. The best that could be said is that it held the ingredients and didn’t fall apart, though it could not contain the meat oil.

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So where do we end? Burger King took a giant swing on this one and came up with a surprisingly bland sandwich. The queso didn’t work, which is probably the real failing. Without that cheesy flavor, the Whopperito lived and died on the meat and pickles. In what was already an unorthodox sandwich, maybe adding bacon would work. I understand calling this a burrito produces intrigue and marketing #buzz, but embracing this as a wrap could allow Burger King to be more creative. Or, if they want to follow the burrito route, get some guacamole in there. This isn’t a complete loss, but it was disappointing. The Whopperito just needs one more flavorful ingredient to shine through and make this a win.