When my colleague Jim and I went to a journalism conference in Los Angeles, he thought it was all about the journalism and the conferencing. But I knew it was about the In-N-Out burgers. For what could be sweeter than a handmade burger on an expense account?
And what finer pleasure is there in travel than to eat inexpensive chain food fare that you can’t get at home?
I’m not talking about the national steakhouse chains or pseudo-Italian places that you can find in any strip mall in the nation. I’m talking about the hamburger joints and the chains of sandwich shops that are familiar to the locals and that thrive in their own corners of the world, despite the omnipresent competition of McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
It’s almost a disappointment when these chains reach the Northeast and lose their cachet as a travel treat. Johnny Rocket’s and Krispy Kreme come to mind.
But there are still plenty of places left in the world for me where the food is inexpensive and reassuringly familiar but not yet boring. Here’s my rundown:
Chez Cora, Canada: These restaurants, most of them in the province of Quebec, serve breakfast into the early afternoon. And what a breakfast it is – crepes stuffed with cheese, fruit or vegetables, along with traditional breakfast fare.
Cien Montaditos, Spain: This chain serves "100 tiny bites" – 100 different savory little sandwiches on crispy little rolls. Oh, and beer. You have to like that.
Sanborn’s, Mexico: This chain is something like a cross between a Friendly’s restaurant and an old-fashioned department store. The food is reasonably priced, if a bit predictable, and the blended juice drinks are divine.
Teremok, Russia: OK, so the website is in Russian. But you can see the pictures of what I’m talking about: chocolate blini with bananas. This chain of blini kiosks is the main reason I got fatter in Russia.
In-N-Out Burger, western United States: This chain of fast-food joints where the burgers are juicy and fresh-cooked, is found only in California, Arizona and Nevada. There’s one in Los Angeles at the edge of LAX, where the jets go thundering overhead in dramatic fashion.
Chick-Fil-A, almost everywhere but here: This chain serves tasty chicken sandwiches at 1,300 restaurants in 37 states – and not one of them is here in Connecticut. The outlet opposite Gate A10 in the Atlanta airport has saved me repeatedly from the danger of in-flight starvation.
Cafe du Monde, New Orleans area. Yes, it’s a chain, with seven locations around the New Orleans area serving chicory coffee and hot, fresh beignets. By far the most famous outlet is at the French Market, open 24 hours, 364 days a year.