I have to tell you guys, I was a little skeptical of the McWrap. I’ve long been annoyed with the popularity of the Snackwrap, McBites, and other new menu items McDonald’s has introduced over the past couple of years. I think that for the most part, these are just ways to reuse existing items with smaller portions. Every time they push one of these, or a new coffee drink, it means we’re gonna have to wait that much longer for a new bonafide sandwich to review. At first glance, I figured the McWrap was more of the same: existing stuff mixed around and packaged as something new. Strangely enough, that’s exactly what it is, and I actually love it for it.

Wait, did McDonald's just trick me into eating a salad by wrapping it in a tortilla?? (The Chicken and Bacon is on the right)

Wait, did McDonald’s just trick me into eating a salad by wrapping it in a tortilla?? (The Chicken and Bacon is on the right)

Let me explain. First of all, the McWrap is much bigger than I expected. While Snackwraps are a single chicken finger wrapped in some lettuce and tortilla, the McWrap includes a full-sized chicken breast filet sliced up. It’s actually much bigger than the commercials suggest, which is surprising. I also didn’t realize from the ads that there are three different flavors: Chicken and Bacon, Chicken and Ranch, and Sweet Chili Chicken. There’s a lot of overlap in the ingredients, but I decided to start out with the Chicken and Bacon.

Now, how was the sandwich itself? Really good, as it turns out! The weirdest part about it is that it repurposes a lot of salad ingredients, like the salad lettuce and tomatoes and shredded Cheddar cheese. This is actually a big perk, because the salad lettuce and tomato are much nicer than the stuff they usually put on sandwiches. The lettuce isn’t shredded, and the tomatoes are sliced thicker. There’s also a garlic sauce, which is sort of like a fancy mayo with some subtle spice to it. All in all, it’s impressively high-quality for a McDonald’s sandwich, especially in this era of various “bites.”

The McWraps go for around $6 in a combo, and are definitely one of the best options for chicken on the menu right now. I’m looking forward to trying the other two varieties, but if you’re a fan of actual quality vegetables (or at least, higher quality than usual McDonald’s fare), this is not a sandwich to miss.

I’ve posted before about the noticeable shift in focus and price hike Taco Bell has undergone recently. Actually, on a recent T-Bell trip, the Loaded Grillers themselves had been hiked to about $1.19, making them all but worthless. But the flip side of Taco Bell’s gentrification is a new classier menu by celebrity chef Lorena Garcia, the Cantina line. These new offerings include a couple of burritos and salads, as well as a new guacamole, made with Hass avocados (a distinction that sounds fancy but means nothing to me. Hass avocados could very well be the lowest quality avocados that can legally be sold, for all I know).

Surprisingly enough, it actually looks a lot like this in real life. Who would've guessed?

Surprisingly enough, it actually looks a lot like this in real life. Who would’ve guessed?

I’ve had both the steak and the chicken Cantina burritos, and I’m of two minds about them. On the one hand, it’s nice to see Taco Bell branching out a little bit. In addition to the meats, the burritos contain black beans and rice, guacamole, pico de gallo, roasted corn and pepper salsa, and a cilantro dressing. There are a lot of comparatively new items here, and both the ingredients (corn and cilantro especially) and the combinations (it’s basically all sauces and medleys working together) show the clear involvement of a master chef. It’s a tasty burrito set apart from normal Taco Bell fare. But at the same time, it’s very similar to the kind of thing you can get a Chipotle or Qdoba, not to mention any number of local places. It’s a big step for Taco Bell because the bar is set comparatively low, but what’s remarkable here is only kind of average elsewhere.

The Cantina Burrito goes for about $7.50 in a combo, and is a dollar or so cheaper a la carte. It’s on the pricier end of the menu, and it’s kind of a hard sell compared to other stuff both here and elsewhere. But if Taco Bell wants to refine and rebrand a little bit, as it seems they do, it’s a good start, and I’d recommend checking it out if for no other reason than to see where things may be going.

I’ve reviewed Hot Pockets a couple of times before, and there’s not a lot of new stuff to say regarding the general concept. They’re pastry-style things filled with meats, cheeses, and (if you’re lucky) sauces or veggies. Their output varies from time to time, with some limited edition flavors, but generally it all comes back to one or two stalwarts. And two of the stalwarts are Meatball and Cheese and Pepperoni Pizza.

Some days you're writing grand odes to bacon and barbeque sauce, and some days you just gotta dash off one about Hot Pockets.

Some days you’re writing grand odes to bacon and barbeque sauce, and some days you just gotta dash off one about Hot Pockets.

I’m reviewing these two together because they follow the same basic pattern: processed Italian meats and Mozzarella cheese. They’re not fantastic by any means, but it’s decent quality meat and cheese for the price. The Pepperoni fares a little bit better for a couple of reasons. One, the inclusion of pizza sauce makes it taste a little bit more complete. But two, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the meatballs aren’t quite as spicy as they should be. I’m never a proponent of spice for spiciness’s sake (Buffalo sauce is the worst), but without a hint of some peppers or herbs, the meatballs are somewhat bland. Not inedible by any means, just mediocre.

But the key to Hot Pockets, the whole draw of them, is that they’re cheap and easy and quick. They’re one step up from Tornados on the effort scale. Hot Pockets run for about $3 for a pack of two, and are cheaper in bulk. They’re no one’s dream sandwich, to be sure. But sometimes you’re cheap, lazy, or just in a hurry, and then, my friend, Hot Pockets are the sandwich for you.

I’m going to admit upfront that this review kind of stretches the definition of “sandwich.” Personally, I’ve refined my idea of what a sandwich is to be a food item/filling (normally meats, cheeses, or vegetables, or a combination of those) wrapped in bread, for ease of eating (in that you use your hands). This concept includes wraps, hot dogs, tacos, and the like, but not, for example, ravioli.

It also includes Tornados, a brand of taquito-type snack foods sold at finer convenience stores nationwide. Tornados consist of a fried corn crust wrapped around any number of fillings. The most common variants tend to include steak and chicken, Tornados have been filled with everything from sausage and eggs to apples and cinnamon to meatballs and marinara sauce. The key to these little products is that they can be cooked on the same rollers as hot dogs, allowing nearly anyone with a concession stand-style hot dog roller to sell them. It was this ingenuity which first drew me to them.

A Whirlwind of Flavor!! (to say the least)

Tornados are generally pretty good, as cheap, greasy snack food goes. I tend to like options with cheese over others, and the breakfast versions can be hit or miss. The key is that they’re only about a dollar apiece, and they’re a hot entree that’s not a hot dog you can buy from a gas station or convenience store. I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to try one, but next time you’re at the gas station (or if, like me, you live a couple blocks away from a Circle K), pick one up. Trust me, there are worse ways to spend a dollar.

I haven’t yet reviewed Taco Bob’s, a Kalamazoo mainstay, primarily because I would usually eat there during work at my internship, which kept me pretty busy. But Taco Bob’s is an important part of the Kalamazoo area foodscape, because it’s quick, tasty and features friendly service. As for what the food is like, I can sum it up in one sentence:

Taco Bob’s is exactly like Taco Bell, if Taco Bell was awesome instead of mediocre.

Like Taco Bell, Taco Bob’s offers a number of rather Americanized takes on tacos, burritos, enchiladas and the like. And like Taco Bell, the food is prepped while you wait, more like fast food than a sit-down restaurant. However, Taco Bob’s features fresh vegetables and higher quality meats than the average fast food fare. It’s prepared when you walk in, with an eye for customer service and satisfaction. And its locally owned, which is always a plus.

“Comedy duo Cheesy Taco and Funny Taco reunite in… Road to Deliciousness!!”

My usuals are the Funny Taco and the Cheesy Taco, which are kind of analogous to the Cheesy Gordita Crunch and maybe a Cheesy Double Beef Burrito (but smaller) respectively. It’s weird, because there’s really not a whole lot to say about them, that I haven’t said. Just imagine Taco Bell, then imagine not having to hate yourself afterwards.

Taco Bob’s runs slightly pricier than Taco Bell, since they don’t have a dollar menu. Combos run for about $6-8. Still, if you’re interested in some quick Mexican food, Taco Bob’s is more than worth the extra change. Taco Bob’s has a couple of locations in and around Kalamazoo, check them out!!

The newspaper I write for, The Kalamazoo Gazette, was part of an ongoing project last week by reporters throughout the state to find the best Coney dog in Michigan.  As a sandwich aficionado, I’m all for this.  A lot of people don’t realize that Coney Island hot dogs originated in Michigan, rather than New York.  Throwing chili, onions and mustard on a hot dog is one of the best things you can do with it (in my humble but correct opinion), and there are places throughout the state which do a great job.

A Polish and Chicago dog from Dogs with Style. I've tried (and enjoyed) their Coney as well, I'll probably be posting a review soon.

The full archive is available here.  I’ve also included a link to my thoughts on some of the non-Coney offerings at Dogs with Style, one of the Kalamazoo spots the team visited.

In the tradition of the KFC Double Down and other infamous meals, Taco Bell has released the Doritos Locos Tacos, a taco supreme wrapped in a Doritos Nacho Cheesier corn chip shell. Weird naming issues aside (“tacos” is used a the singular form here?), it’s an interesting concept, and the combination of two heavyweight junk foods has promise, at least from a novelty standpoint.  But does it deliver?

TACO TOWN!!

Barely.  Really, the problem with this thing is that it’s not over the top enough.  The taco supreme base is standard ground beef with lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream and cheese.  There’s nothing there that’s super interesting.  The shell is alright, but the Nacho flavoring isn’t strong enough to make it worthwhile.  The combination of Doritos and sour cream is a start, but there needs to be another sauce or something. Again, it’s not so much that it’s bad, it’s just not very different from a normal hard-shelled ground beef taco.

The Doritos Locos Tacos is about $2 and can be bought as part of a $5 box meal.  It’s worth checking out once if you’re curious, and more times if your happen to really like taco supremes. Outside of the novelty though, there’s not much to recommend for this one, so don’t feel bad if you miss it.  I do hope they go back to the drawing board on this one, I’d like to try a more innovative take on it.

Having conquered breakfast, paninis, and “healthy” fare, Hot Pockets are expanding their empire into more snack-based offerings.  Though their “Snackers” line falls just outside of my purview, the recent “Sideshots” line is somewhat more sandwichy.  You may recognize them from this horrifying TV ad:

Seriously, what the hell?  Anyway, I tried the Cheeseburger and Buffalo Chicken versions, mainly because they didn’t have the Sloppy Joes at Target.  They’re actually pretty good.  Unlike regular Hot Pockets, Sideshots don’t include crisping sleeves, but they manage to keep the bread soft and flaky.  The Cheeseburger Sideshot tastes EXACTLY like a fast food cheeseburger you’d get from McDonald’s or Burger King.  It’s uncanny, and somewhat reminiscent of the cheeseburger-flavored Doritos, although less creepy.  I was a little less crazy about the Buffalo Chicken, but it was still pretty decent quality chicken meat.  Dipping it in Ranch dressing helped a lot, and the shape and style of the bun made dipping an easy and fun option.

I'm honestly slightly surprised they don't have a picture of one with a hat and glasses cowering in terror.

Hot Pockets Sideshots come four to a box, packaged in pairs.  In my experience, it takes about four to make a satisfying meal, but two could be a nice quick snack option.  They cost about $2 per box, which is a pretty good deal.  I wouldn’t get them every time, but the Sideshots are a nice change of pace from the usual Hot Pockets.

Hot Pockets. You may have heard of them. A pastry-style crust wrapped around a usually meat and cheese based filling.  It’s designed to be heated up in the microwave in a cardboard sleeve to maximize crispness.  Is it a sandwich?  Strictly speaking, no.  But Hot Pockets make up a pretty large part of the frozen meal section of most grocery stores, and they’re sandwichlike enough for me to count them. 

First up is the Barbecue Beef Hot Pocket.  Before we go any farther, I’d like to direct your attention to this little detail of the packaging:

“Barbecue Sauce with Beef in a Crust.”  As though the beef was just an afterthought, when people complained a big BBQ sauce Pop-Tart was too runny.  Advertising missteps aside, the Barbecue Beef Hot Pocket is actually pretty good.  The beef isn’t the highest quality, but it’s a bit thicker than lunch meat so it has some texture to it.  The barbecue sauce itself is actually really good, sweet while still maintaining a bit of spice.  All in all, it tastes like a barbecue pulled pork sandwich, which isn’t bad at all.

Panini?

The second Hot Pocket I tried was the Steak and Cheddar Panini.  You may remember it from the TV ads which reminded you that “you know it’s a Panini because of the marks on it!!”  (This is not how a Panini works.)  The Steak and Cheddar Panini isn’t too bad.  The crust is flakier and better tasting than the average Hot Pocket, and the shape of it is more similar to a sandwich.  The steak and cheese are fine, nothing too noteworthy but definitely worth eating.  The one issue with the Panini line is that they’re about twice as big as normal Hot Pockets, but you only get one per box, as opposed to the normal two.  That, combined with the triangular, sandwich-like shape, means that these Hot Pockets are designed as meals, rather than the quick, on-the-go option they’re known for.

Hot Pockets are a quick and easy sandwichesque option.  They’re pretty good, and they go for a couple of dollars at most grocery stores.  While they’re not nearly as high quality as most restaurant sandwiches, they’re perfect for the busy sandwich aficionado.

Ok, I’m gonna be totally upfront about this, this post is kind of stretching the definition of a sandwich, even beyond the idea of wraps or flatbreads.  If you’re a sandwich purist who will be offended by the term “sandwich” used so liberally, you should probably stop reading and maybe seek help.  For everyone else, read on!!

Auntie Anne’s is a pretzel bakery chain based in Pennsylvania.  They have numerous locations across the country, and have generally moved towards the food court model.  You’ve probably seen them in malls, airports, and anywhere else with multiple counters and common seating.  They offer a number of different pretzels in both sweet and savory flavors, but what we’re here to talk about today is their pretzel dog.

Apparently, they pretzel dog dare you. (???)

The pretzel dog is exactly that, a hot dog (a “Nathan’s Famous” hot dog, according to their website) wrapped in pretzel dough.  It’s similar in concept to a corn dog or pigs in a blanket.  It is delicious.  The dough has enough flavor to bring something new to the hot dog, and the fact that it’s warm is a definite plus.  The hot dog is comparatively high quality, and doesn’t have the mystery meat flavor of some lower class dogs.  It’s delicious on its own, but adding a bit of mustard makes it even better.  It’s probably the best sandwich which is debatably not a sandwich I’ve ever had.

The downside of the pretzel dog goes back to the food court business model Auntie Anne’s employs.  Since food courts generally have a captive audience (people shopping or waiting, who can’t easily leave to eat somewhere else), they can jack up their prices pretty high.  The pretzel dog usually goes for three or four dollars alone, and combos (which include only a drink) go for more.  It’s a bit pricey, but next time you’re struggling to make up your mind at the mall, go with a pretzel dog.

P.S.  According to the website, they have a jalapeno cheese pretzel dog.  This is the best news I’ve gotten all day.