Friday, July 17, 2009

Pasadena Chili Cheese Fries

For some reason I got it into my head that it would be a good idea to do a massive post on chili cheese fries in the Pasadena area. A couple of these are from a while ago, but most I have eaten in the last couple days. This may be a disgusting post. I don't care. Today is my birthday so I'm doing what I want.

On another birthday (7 years ago today, in fact) in New Orleans my friend Tom and I were out very late, drinking Hurricanes and Hand Grenades and all kinds of fruity-yet-delicious drinks. We were staying on Bourbon Street and before going back to the room we each grabbed a couple Lucky Dogs. If you have had one, you know how delicious those are after a night of boozing on Bourbon Street. If not, I hope you do some day. Your life will be better for it.

We got on the elevator, each carrying two hot dogs slathered in all manner of condiments. There was a gorgeous girl in the elevator, probably 21 years old, and a guy in his 50s or so. He thought it would make him look cool in the eyes of the girl to start making fun of us. We did not care. We may have been drunk idiots, but at least we weren't pathetic 50 year old dudes trying to hit on a girl 30 years younger than we were.

As we got off the elevator, the guy said to us: "Enjoy those, I hope they don't make you fat." Tom turned around and said "We don't care if these make us fat, because we're already fat." At the time I thought this was the wittiest comeback ever. Now, not so much. But the point is still relevant. I do not care if these chili fries make me fat. It was worth it.

Wolfe Burgers
Wolfe Burgers is one of my favorite places in Pasadena - they are delicious, inexpensive, they have a great patio, and they sell beer - and I love their chili, but I have never actually had their chili fries until this week. The chili was good, as always, but it didn't go well with the the fries. The chili is better by itself. I like Wolfe Burgers' freshly cut fries, but they don't get crispy enough to hold up to the thick chili. These were delicious, don't get me wrong, but the whole was definitely less than the sum of its parts.

Wienerschnitzel While not technically Pasadena, I bought these in Alhambra and ate them in Pasadena, so it's close enough. These were probably my least favorite of the bunch. The fries were very good - Wienerschnitzel makes very good fast food fries - but the chili was not. It was a runny sauce that tasted like the insides of Chef Boyardee's "99% fat free beef raviolis." And that is not a good thing.

Carl's Jr.

I have never had the chili cheese fries at Carl's Jr. This isn't terribly surprising; I don't think very much of the place. I went to the Carl's Jr. in Hastings Ranch. I hadn't been there in a year. Last summer Elizabeth and I had gone to a nice restaurant in Old Town, and, after having sat at our table for 25 minutes and been ignored by every employee - they didn't even give us menus, but they sat people next to us after we had been there 15 minutes, and taken their drink orders - we decided just to get some fast food and watch a movie at my parents' house (my parents were on vacation and we were staying at their house to watch their dog.)

We went by Carl's Jr., and as we pulled away from the drive-through window, a little girl ran out in front of our car. I jammed on the brakes, and, despite nearly giving us both a heart attack, everything was fine. Her parents were eating burgers on the sidewalk 20 feet away and they thought it was acceptable to let the two little girls run around the driveway playing tag at 11:30 PM on a Saturday night. They didn't even seem to care that the girl had jumped in front of my car. Sometimes I really hate people.

So this time, I didn't go through the drive-through, I sat inside. I was not terribly impressed when the fries arrived. They were covered with inexpensive cheese and not very good. I didn't really have high expectations for $3 fries at Carl's Jr., though, so I'm not complaining. Especially because they were actually pretty good. Not great, but better than Wienerschnitzel or Hi Life. Eventually the cheese melted, and the chili was decent, certainly better than a watery chili sauce, which is what I had been expecting. I am sure I will never eat these again, but for what they were, they were okay.

Original Tops

I've written about Tops chili cheese fries before. I do not like Tops fries at all, but I like their chil cheese fries. The fries by themselves taste like every other fried thing on their menu, a weird, cardboard-like taste. But the chili fries, drowning under a semi-solid pool of cheese, are delicious. I've never tried their chili by itself, but I should, because I really like it.

Del Taco

I went to the Del Taco on Lake to get some of their chili cheese fries. Wow. That was an experience. A lady sitting in front of the joint, wearing a faded Lakers t shirt, kept yelling out loud, repeating the phrase "Kobe is coming! Mmm hmm. You'll see." Inside, a woman who did not speak English very well was screaming at the manager because she thought an employee was giving her tacos to someone else. It didn't occur to her that there were about a dozen people waiting for food ahead of her and perhaps one of them had ordered tacos as well.

I took my chili fries to my car, made sure I hadn't been followed by anyone thinking I had taken their food or wanting to talk about the impending reduction in the NBA salary cap, and started eating. I have always liked Del Taco's fries but the thin chili sauce doesn't add anything to them. It's not terrible but all I could think as I was eating these was 'man, I wish I'd just gotten regular fries.'

Hi Life Hamburgers

I did not go to Lucky Boy because I think their fries are almost always undercooked and their chili is incredibly bland. So I went to Hi Life and got undercooked fries and bland chili. I know Hi Life has a devoted following but I imagine it has more to do with them having grown up on Hi Life than the actually quality of the food. These were not impressive at all.

Johnny Rockets
Johnny Rockets definitely has some of the above-average chili fries in Pasadena. The potatoes aren't the best but they are fried until they are perfectly cooked and piping hot. The chili is very high quality. I love the fact that the cheese is shredded right onto the chili before it's served and then it's allowed to melt as you eat the fries. I threw some chopped raw onion on a couple bites of fries but that didn't add anything.

Original Tommy's
I have to say Tommy's were my favorite fries I had this week. (I did not go to The Hat. Well, I went to The Hat but there was a line of about 20 not-too-bright people ahead of me. After standing in line for about ten minutes, during which one person was able to order, I walked out.) It's been many years since I have had Tommy's chili cheese fries. Usually my M.O. is to order a chili burger and regular fries and just hold the burger over the fries as I eat. There is such a generous amount of chili on each burger that I am able to get chili over most of the fries.

Tommy's fries, although thick cut, which I don't usually like, are almost always fried perfectly. They hold up very well against the chili. The fries only cost $3 and there is a ton of chili and cheese - two layers that melt together into a brick that gives you heartburn after 2.5 bites. But totally worth it.


Zachary said...

First, Happy Birthday!
Second, what about Wonder Burger, Pharo's Burger (technically not in Pasadena, I know), Rick's, Fatburger, or Jake's?
Third, I'm not sure all those places have chili cheese fries, but they should.

JustinM said...

Well, I had to make some choices. I ate more chili fries than I should have and now my stomach hurts. I've never been a Wonder Burger fan. I like Jake's but I don't like their fries at all. (Their onion rings are 100x better and that's what I always get.) Rick's doesn't have chili cheese fries. There isn't a Fatburger within miles of here.

I'm thinking somewhere down the road there will be a Part 2 to this, with The Hat, Pharo's, Connal's, etc.

Zachary said...

Fatburger on Arroyo is gone? I've been MIA for too long...

JustinM said...

Yeah, that closed many years ago. Now the nearest one is the Hollywood location, according to the Fatburger website. The one in Monrovia was only open for a couple years and then turned into T Burgers. I have an acquantaince who wants to open a Fatburger in Old Town, but the city doesn't want that, as it might interfere with their plans to turn OT into the largest collection of sushi and frozen yogurt joints in the world.

Anonymous said...

So you want a heart attack for your birthday? Well, I guess that would be the second best way to go :)

JustinM said...

You mean other than dying of happiness from seeing Joe Saunders pitch a perfect game tonight? I agree.

SuperLarge said...

Ok, I'll totally accept that you preferred the Tommy's chili-cheese fries, but you have to acknowledge that they look absolutely ... well, just damn gross. I won't elaborate.

Happy birthday amico!!

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday Hombre!!!


A guy not quite 50 who dates a girl not quite 21...

JustinM said...

If you're who I think you are, trust me, you are way cooler than that dude in the elevator. You could have had that girl and me and Tom.

Unknown said...

I've been reading your blogs for a while, and this is the one i love best since i love chilicheese fries. Which hat did you go to? normally the one in Temple City is always fast, if you want to try another good one...try Helmo's near the Arcadia mall (its on Baldwin about a block before the mall)

JustinM said...

Thanks, Anthony, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I went to the Hat on Lake Ave in Pasadena. I am probably exaggerating when I say there were 20 people ahead of me, but there were at least a dozen, and they didn't seem to know what they were doing.

You may not believe this, but I have never been to Helmos. I have driven past it perhaps thousands of times in my life and never gone in.

Unknown said...

Your time is due my friend, i'm expecting a blog sometime soon!

Anonymous said...

Try nicks burgers chilI cheese fries in east l.a.
On Hendricks and whittier

JustinM said...

Thanks for the tip but I live in Brooklyn now. Hopefully someone else can take advantage of your advice.