Monday, December 11, 2017

$5 All Star Meal from Carl's Jr.

I have a thing for freebies.  Mostly, just a fun excuse to break far outside my norm, and experience something different.  Sometimes it leads me to gems like Rubio's (seriously, I love the place) or my beloved IHOP (which I review every year).

This visit was inspired by a free offer as part of T-Mobile Tuesdays, for a All Star Meal of my choosing at Carl's Jr or Hardees.

This was exciting to me on several levels, one being that I had never actually been to a Carl's Jr or Hardees before.  I enjoyed the experience.
Double Cheeseburger & Onion Rings All Star Meal.  $5.
"Get Unhungry for $5."

The $5 All Star Meals are a new-ish offering from Carl's Jr, and were fascinating to me in their own right.  There were 4 options, all of which included fries, a drink, and a cookie.  3 of the four included a double cheeseburger, in addition to a second entree.

The meal choices were interesting.  No choice on sides (fries, cookie, soft drink) are always included, and no choice on burger (double cheeseburger), but you could opt for a spicy chicken sandwich or jumbo hot dog alongside (seriously, a DOUBLE burger AND a full chicken sandwich or hot dog??) or, uh, 4 onion rings (what I went for).  The final meal doesn't include a burger at all, and only one other item: "hand breaded chicken tenders", only 3 of them.

This fascinated me at the cost level.  The cost of a full chicken sandwich, a hot dog, and only 4 onion rings is equivalent?  That is terrifying, when it comes to the quality of the hot dog and chicken sandwich.  But how about only 3 chicken tenders, equivalent to a double burger AND chicken sandwich?  Beware?

It also fascinated me at a meal size level.  3 chicken fingers, a small fry, drink, and cookie seems like a reasonable size meal.  A double burger, fries, 4 onion rings, drink, and cookie is a bit big, but please, only 4 onion rings in addition to the burger and fries isn't too crazy.  But throwing in a second sandwich or hot dog seems ... well, a bit on the large side.

Welcome to America?    The tag line of "get unhungry" indeed applies.


I visited the Hallide Plaza location in San Francisco.
Curb Appeal?
The location I visited was ... interesting.  Right at 5th & Market, right near the Powell St. Muni/Bart station, right near the mall but ... in a world of its own.

Both inside and outside were inhabited by some folks who sorta seemed like they were living there.  It somehow didn't feel too dirty, and there was a security guard walking around inside the entire time, and the staff were decently friendly, but wow, what a different sort of setting.
This particular location had regular tables for 4, high tables for 2, and a little counter.  All the tables were actually decently cleaned, which was impressive, given the area.

I was given a number to wait for my order, but the number was never called out.  Instead, the contents of my meal were called out, which confused me further as it was packaged on a tray for dine-in, and I had ordered takeout, which my number clearly said on it.  No one seemed interested in taking my laminated number back either.

Why did they bother with the numbers?
"Bakery Goodies."
Carl's Jr. has a pretty sad dessert line up compared to most fast food chains.  Notably, no ice cream or frozen desserts (unless you count the milkshakes).  Just one type of cookie (chocolate chip), and incredibly sad looking slices of "cheesecake".

These were all on display in the "Bakery Goodies" window, along with basic salads that pretty clearly screamed out "don't bother order me".
Self-Serve Soda.
The soda fountains are self-serve, Coca-Cola options (including Cherry Coke and Dr. Pepper), pus some other choices like raspberry ice tea, lemonade, and something fruity, all of which had their labels rubbed off, and were a bit difficult to figure out.

I had the lemonade, and it was not very good, watered down and too sweet somehow at the same time.

The Food

I haven't sampled most of Carl's Jr's Menu.  The menu is basic burger joint, with a few chicken options and a token salad, plus, uh, burritos, tacos, and taquitos.  No seafood, no real healthy options, although they offer lettuce wrap rather than bun.  The veggie option is kinda funny, no veggie burger patty, instead, just a bun with regular fixings, cheese, and guac.  They are aiming for a different demographic, clearly.
Boxed Up!
All Star Meals come in special boxes.

I'm not going to lie, I felt a bit proud walking out with my box.
$5 Double Cheeseburger + Onion Rings All Star Meal: Box Contents.
"Charbroiled double cheeseburger on a plain bun, 4 onion rings, small fries, small drink and fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie."

I opened my box to find my bounty.  The burger was wrapped up in its own wrapper, standard fast food burger style.  The cookie was in its own sleeve.  The onion rings and fries though were just jumbled together on the side.  Three ketchup packets were thrown on top.

Presentation? A bit lacking.
Double Cheeseburger.
"Two charbroiled all-beef patties topped with American cheese, onions, ketchup, mustard, dill pickles on a plain bun."

I didn't actually really want a burger, much less a double burger, but, well, that is what the All Star Meals come with.  Carl's Jr also makes a slew of other burgers, including fancier ones with sesame seed or "premium" buns rather than plain, additional sauces (special sauce, teriyaki glaze, bbq, santa fe), more veggies (lettuce, tomato, red onion, pineapple), premium toppings (bacon, onion rings, guac), and other cheeses (swiss, pepperjack).  They also have much thicker patties, the 1/3 pound "Thickburger", which alone is $6.

But my meal had the standard, but, uh, double, cheese burger

It looked like any other basic fast food burger out there and was decently assembled, not too sloppy, not mushed.

The bun was soft and plain (no sesame seeds, etc), but actually toasted lightly on the inside.  The top layer above the patties and cheese adjacent to the top bun had ketchup and mustard, that soaked into the bun a bit.

The burger patties were thin and cooked well done, as expected.  Not juicy, not moist, but I guess they did taste charbroiled ... although I took it as slightly burnt.  They tasted very beefy, but not in a good way.  I didn't care for the burger patties.

The cheese, standard American cheese, was also double layered, one for each patty.  It was fast food science perfection, expertly melty.
Under the Patties.
Under the patties was the remainder of the fillings, another layer of ketchup and mustard, two slices of pickle, a few rings of white onion.

I loved the pickles.  I really, really love fast food pickles in general, which is a bit hilarious as I grew up in a pickle making family.  I basically like two kinds of pickles: home made, or fast food.  There is no in-between.  I hate pretty much all grocery store pickles, no matter if they are cheap Vlasic ones, or ones attempting to be artisinal.  These were classic fastfood style, and, I plucked them out happily.  Only two though.  (Note to self: extra pickles).

The onion was fresh enough tasting, crispy, white onion.

Overall, the burger wasn't for me, but I didn't expect it to be.  Credit for the soft toasted bun, the nicely melted cheese, and decent toppings.
Small Natural-Cut Fries & Onion Rings.
"Premium-quality, Skin-on, Natural Cut French Fries."

Every All Star Meal comes with a small fries.  Their fries are listed as "natural cut", and, actually do seem so.  My fries did have skin remaining on most tips, and some edges.

The fries were ... decent.  Standard thinner fast food style fries.  They weren't particularly hot and fresh, but weren't too soggy.  The color was pale, but I think that is due to the more baked style?  They were really not greasy at all.  Like, shockingly not greasy.

Overall, fine, a very different style from McDonald's.  I'd prefer thicker fries, crispier fries, more seasoning, etc, but, again, they were absolutely fine for what they were.

Carl's Jr gets some points for offering more exciting side options than most.  Not as part of the $5 All Star Meal, but they also have jalapeno poppers, crisscut fries, and fried zucchini bits, in addition to the regular fries and onion rings.
Onion Ring.
"Onion rings cooked up crispy and golden brown." 

Now we were getting to the good stuff, what I really went for.  Onion rings.  I adore onion rings.

The All Star Meal says it comes with 4 onion rings, but mine came with 4.5.  Bonus!  I'm not sure what a regular side order comes with.

I liked the onion rings.

They were crazy crispy, in a cooked-too-long kind of way, but, I liked that.  They did have real full rings of onion inside.  The onion inside wasn't slimy.  The coating was not oily.  It didn't slide off easily.  Just, decent onion rings.

The rings were assorted shapes and sizes, but mine were all mostly quite large.

They don't come with any kind of dipping sauce, but I brought my own BBQ, since I thought the ketchup would be a bit boring.

I'd gladly get onion rings again.
Chocolate Chip Cookie.
You know I'm a dessert girl, but, cookies are always at the bottom of the list for me.  

My meal included a chocolate chip cookie, so, I tried it, but, it was as expected.  Just a generic cookie, little chocolate chips, not buttery, no depth of flavor.  Not too crispy, but not the soft style I like. 

Very meh.
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