My Life on the Dollar Menu
Fast food and I have a complicated relationship. I only eat it approximately zero to one times per year, but I'm not one to scoff. I think adults should eat what they want, and if what they want is a chicken tender buried in mashed potatoes and sprinkled with corn, that's no ominous gray gravy off my back.
Over the past three days—in a noble pursuit of "cheap eats"—I have consumed more fast food than usually passes my lips in three years. I gained 75 pounds. My aorta is clogged with nuggets. Soon I will give birth to the Hamburglar's baby, which is not a baby, but a squeaking litter of small hamburgers. Then I will eat my young.
In the spirit of cheapness, I decided to limit myself to the very cheapest offerings at my chosen cheap restaurants: dollar menus, value menus, seriously-we'll-pay-you-$5-to-eat-this menus. My first stop was McDonald's (1122 Madison St and a zillion other places). I ordered one cheeseburger ($1), one Grilled Chipotle Barbeque Snack Wrap ($1.49), and one Crispy Ranch Snack Wrap ($1.49). The McDonald's cheeseburger is an enduring classic, offering simple, compact satisfaction, with pickle and finely chopped onion. Someone very close to me semiregularly feeds McDonald's cheeseburgers to her small dog. It's an interspecies taste sensation.
The snack wraps are new to me. A dryish tortilla swaddles a chicken finger (available either deep-fried or with unconvincing grill marks), some iceberg lettuce, shredded cheese, and a McSauce of your choice. Wraps are weird. Are you a taco? Why are you better than a naked chicken finger dipped in ranch dressing? I mean, I ain't mad atcha, snack wrap. On the whole, not a bad snack.
NEEEXT! It was time for Wendy's (2543 Rainier Ave S, many others). It had been years since my last Frosty, and—as a lady who can't abide a runny milkshake—I couldn't wait. The classic Frosty (small, $1.19) is less a milkshake than a giant cup of beige ice cream ("Made with real milk!" crows the Wendy's website). Apparently, sometime in the past year, somebody fed the Frosties after midnight, and they spawned a half-dozen unholy offspring: vanilla bean, chocolate fudge, strawberry, cookie dough, whatever. I stayed away. For the sake of novelty, I paired my classic Frosty with a Sour Cream and Chives Baked Potato ($1). Again, from the Wendy's website: "Slow-baked in an oven, not zapped in a microwave. Need we say more?" Yes: "Needs salt."
Ahhh, Burger King (3301 Fourth Ave S, many other places). This creepy magic kingdom yielded possibly the most satisfying straight-ahead fast-food bargain of the bunch: The Whopper Jr. ($1), a good burger with fine accoutrements that is way more substantial than the McDonald's cheeseburger. If you are poor and hungry, you should eat one. It's that simple.
There's nothing simple about Burger King's Spicy CHIK'N CRISP Sandwich ($1), which gets downright existential: "This crispy chicken filet with a spicy kick comes prepared with garden-fresh iceberg lettuce and creamy mayonnaise all sandwiched in a fresh sesame seed bun. All this for $1. Isn't life great?" Well, no. Life isn't great. I'm eating a dry, orange chicken puck from Burger King because I only have $1 to my name. But thanks for reminding me, asshole. (I should have gotten a Whopper Jr.)
Lucky for all, Taco Time (2212 N 45th St, so many others) remains a winner. Mexi-Fries ($1.69), always and forever. The surprisingly delightful Crisp Chicken Burrito ("All-white chicken, cream cheese, onions, and mild green chilies," $3.89) was accurately described by a friend as "the crab Rangoon of Mexican food." But the best thing about Taco Time is its signature sopaipilla-like dessert Crustos ($1.49), fried pieces of fried stuff—I hesitate to call them tortillas—covered in cinnamon and sugar and early-morning eye gunk. But seriously, they're delicious.
According to Pizza Hut (2743 E Madison St, but you know they deliver, right? 325-3200), fuck Italy. Real pasta comes from New York City. Their current ad campaign for Signature Tuscani Pastas ($11.99—feeds four!) pulls a Folger's-style switcheroo on some "real New Yorkers" who are uniformly bamboozled into thinking that these bites of gooey Meaty Marinara or Creamy Chicken Alfredo came from an actual Italian restaurant instead of a garbage hut! Sorry, but there's no way that happened. This pasta—excuse me, browned mush loaf—tastes somewhat pleasantly like school lunch. But fancy food it is not. Thanks to some more aggressive marketing, I also tried the Hershey's Chocolate Dunkers, which are just breadsticks dipped in chocolate syrup (full disclosure: I ate like six of them).
The last and most terrifying item on my list was the Cheeseburger Big Bite ($1.79) from 7-Eleven (103 15th Ave E, many others). My editor had ordered me to give it a shot—"you just have to take one bite!" The Cheeseburger Big Bite is, as far as I can tell, a glob of ground meat and cheese formed into a hot-dog shape and then slowly petrified on satan's greasy hamster wheel all week. It looks like a turd fossil. One bite is too much. One bite is two too many. There are some sacrifices I'm just not ready to make—I don't care how cheap your Frankenstein-monster burger log is.
It's been fun, fast food. See you in 600 years. Or hell.