Cook Out is a small fast food chain of about 200 stores in the Southeastern US that specializes in burgers, BBQ, and hot dogs. The first location opened in Greensboro, NC in 1989 and they currently have locations in about seven states from Georgia to Delaware and into Western Kentucky and Tennessee.
The stores are set up with a BBQ/western theme and guests in the dining room sit at large picnic tables. Paper towel rolls are available but also regular napkins, and a handy sink is located by the front door to wash away any stickiness.
The menu is full of all the stuff you’d expect to see at a restaurant like this: burgers, BBQ chopped pork (Carolina-style, of course), hot dogs, and the usual sides like fries, onion rings, slaw, and even hushpuppies. But then Cook Out also offers some unexpected alternatives such as a BLT and quesadilla.
Cook Out seems to be big on giving you a lot for your money. Their popular “tray” is a combo with one menu item, two sides (or smaller items) and a drink. At the Alpharetta, GA location where I tried them, all that could be had for $4.99.
I tried their burger and their BBQ, both of which will be reviewed in separate articles. All in all, though, I liked the straightforward manner in which Cook Out operates. Lots of choices without the menu seeming uncluttered; quick, friendly service; and a very informal fast food dining atmosphere.
Pollo Tropical is a small regional fast food restaurant that began in 1988 with its first location in Miami. The fast food chain now has stores in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and a handful of international locations in the Caribbean and Latin America. Like the Mexican chain El Pollo Loco on the West Coast, Pollo Tropical specializes in a variety of grilled chicken, beef, and pork dishes, but with a distinctly international Caribbean vibe.
Pollo Tropical has a large menu of specialties, including roasted pork, “Caribbean” ribs, chicken wraps, and salads. One of the unique features is a great salsa and condiment bar, with quite an extensive array of flavors to add to your already flavorful order.
America’s Taco Shop is a small local chain in the Phoenix area. In this case, “America” refers to the founder America Corrales, not the country. Still, good catchy dual-purpose name.
The menu at America’s Taco Shop is classic Mexican street fare. Street tacos, or slightly-larger-than your typical street taco, are the signature menu item. Here’s the “America’s Favorite” #1: three tacos, one Carne Asada, one Al Pastor (pork) and one Chargrilled Chicken.
You place your order and are given a number. The food arrived picture-perfect as you can see above. I mean wow – this is a food stylist’s dream. The chicken taco (at the top in the pic) was tasty but the meat was your basic white meat chicken breast. The Carne Asada (at the bottom in the pic) was also nothing to write home about. The meat was salty and tough. But the middle taco in the picture, the Al Pastor was just right. They describe it as “Slow roasted, citrus spiced marinated pork, thinly sliced and topped with fresh pineapple” but it tasted even better than that. The meat was red and looked like something that’d be at home in a curry dish. Very flavorful, with the pineapple slices providing a nice sweet contrast.
The tacos come to the fiesta dressed in a chopped pico blend and a smooth “homemade” non-confrontational guacamole. They are accompanied by a pair of salsas, both tasty with the edge going to the sweet yet spicy yellow version.
My wife tried the Chicken Quesadilla. Again, the chicken is basic and uninspired. However, she appreciated that there was lots of it, as many times you’re left asking “where’s the chicken?” The quesadilla, as with apparently all of the menu items, is also topped with the guacamole, which we should probably call a guac sauce. It had more of the consistency of mayo than guacamole. Here it is.
Chips and a drink are ordered as a side item to make your meal a combo. I really have an issue with places that don’t give you free chips, as I am programmed to automatically expect them when I eat Mexican. On top of this, the chips and the salsa both tasted store-bought. The salsa served with the sides is regular or spicy and is different from the fabulous salsas served with the menu items. But you get more of it. Not a good thing. Here’s a tip: either give the chips away or, if we must pay, give us the “good” salsa.
This is a new chain looking to expand through franchises. There was nothing offensive to the palate of Americans across the nation who might like something a bit more authentic than what they may find at other major “fresh” Mexican chains. And for those of us lucky enough to grow up in a border state, America’s Taco Shop fits right in with a local flavor that I’d welcome tasting while traveling in far flung places not known for good Mexican food.
Grow and prosper, America’s Taco Shop. Viva!