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Hungry for life with an appetite for good food.


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The Great Debate: In-N-Out Burger vs. Shake Shack


It’s been a while since I’ve posted here (apologies!). Since I last wrote on here, I worked as a food and drink writer with The Daily Meal and also launched my very own website: Samantha Lea. But I am back here today to report something extremely important: I have finally visited In-N-Out Burger and can finally weigh in on the great debate: Shake Shack vs. In-N-Out.

I recently met up with my parents in California and after asking them why we had never visited In-N-Out before, they agreed to go and drove straight there when they picked me up from the airport.

In case you may not know, the debate between these two burger chains are quite fierce. Shake Shack first started out in New York under restaurateur Danny Meyer and went public in January 2015. As of writing this, there are 129 locations around the world.

In-N-Out currently has 313 locations, however they are all native to the Southwest and Pacific regions of the U.S. and remains independently owned. That being said, In-N-Out is the winner in my book, and for a few reasons.

Prices: In-N-Out vs. Shake Shack

First, you cannot beat In-N-Out’s prices. A Double-Double cheeseburger is $3.45 and comes with two beef patties with no additives, fillers, or preservatives; two American cheese slices; lettuce; tomato; onions (sliced or grilled); and the special sauce between two toasted buns. It’s the same recipe they have used since 1948, so we’re talking about almost 70 years of an unchanged menu. A Double ShackBurger at Shake Shack costs $8.35—the single is $5.55. It’s served with two all-natural Angus beef patties, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and ShackSauce on a non-GMO potato bun.

Sauces: In-N-Out vs. Shake Shack

Speaking on the ShackSauce, I cannot explain my distaste for it. I have no idea what’s in it, however the internet tells me that it’s mayo, ketchup, yellow mustard, dill pickles, garlic powder, paprika, and a pinch of cayenne, but for me the garlic flavor comes out too much. On the other hand, In-N-Out’s sauce supposedly contains mayo, ketchup, mustard, relish, Worcestershire sauce, white wine vinegar, salt, and sugar. I’ll take Worcestershire sauce over garlic powder any day.

Toppings: In-N-Out vs. Shake Shack

I need to take a moment to acknowledge how much lettuce In-N-Out adds to the burgers and how they are so fresh and crunchy, as well as the tomatoes. I never thought I could appreciate lettuce and tomato on a burger, but In-N-Out sure made me a believer.

Fries: In-N-Out vs. Shake Shack

I will say that although I appreciate the In-N-Out’s fries are not crispy and are fried in cholesterol-free vegetable oil, I cannot deny that Shake Shack’s crinkle cut fries are delicious, as an avid French fry eater. I liked ordering the animal style fries at In-N-Out, but it was a bit much for me. The cheese fries at Shake Shack are more of my speed.

Milkshakes: In-N-Out vs. Shake Shack

I ordered the black and white shake at In-N-Out, which is chocolate and vanilla, and it tasted malty and well-balanced. Shake Shack may have more flavors, but I find them too decadent and sickeningly sweet for my liking. However, Shake Shack does make a mean lemonade, and I will give them that.

Simple really can be better sometimes, and I completely respect In-N-Out for not going public. Even if it would mean more money for them, I believe that it compromises the integrity and quality.


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Restaurant Review: Go! Go! Curry

Pork katsu curry with a side of natto at Go! Go! Curry

Pork katsu curry with a side of natto at Go! Go! Curry

I thought nothing could compare to my beloved Curry House CoCo Ichibanya in Hawaii until I found Go! Go! Curry in Midtown Manhattan.

I’m going to be completely honest, growing up I always thought Japanese curry was the only type of curry. I like Thai curry and I’m not a big fan of Indian curry. Japanese always has a special place in my heart. I grew up with Curry House in Hawaii and thought nothing could top it because the curry flavored well and the selection is diverse. You can get a plate of shabu shabu beef with spinach (my personal favorite) or even clam with cheese.

Chicken cutlet with cheese at Curry House

Chicken cutlet with cheese at Curry House

Back to Go! Go! Curry. This place and Curry House are alike in that they are both chains that originated in Japan. Go! Go! Curry has a small and cozy feel. The Midtown location is usually busy. Personally, I like the one in Chelsea because rarely anyone ventures in. Perhaps because it’s tucked away on 19th Street (and ironically two doors down from a place called Go Go Thai).

The main difference (and drawback, in my opinion) about Go! Go! is that they don’t have the diverse selection that Curry House does. They have pork katsu, chicken katsu, sausage, and shrimp tempura. Then you can get toppings, but really that’s it. Curry House gives you a gigantic menu with all sorts of combinations. Also, the curry looks and tastes a little different. Curry House makes a light brown sauce with the option of ordering it regular or spicy. Go! Go! Curry has a darker color because they let the curry stew and mature for about two hours. They’re both good, it’s just a matter of preference.

My strongest recommendation for Go! Go! Curry is to order the Home Run Curry, a menu option exclusively in the states, or the Grand Slam Curry and share with a friend. Not only does it save you money, it’s just a good way to sample everything that Go! Go! has to offer. And stop by on the 5th, 15th, or 25th of the month to get a free coupon topping. I personally love natto, the fermented soybean with a stringy, slimy texture, and this seems to be the only place I have found that serves it. So that’s another perk!

Japanese curry is the best comfort food and to fill you up. If you are based in New York and haven’t tried it yet, I highly suggest you make a trip to this place to see what the hype is about.

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Restaurant Review: Picnic Garden

The name Picnic Garden may deceive you, but it is no walk in the park.

Picnic Garden is an all you can eat Korean BBQ restaurant located on 14742 Northern Blvd. Flushing, NY in Queens. I was impressed by the fact that it’s all you can eat.

I often refer to Korean BBQ as “yakiniku,” which is actually a Japanese term to cook meat or vegetables on a grill, like hibachi (for my definition of hibachi, refer to my previous restaurant review).

As I walked in, I was amazed by the buffet because in my past yakiniku experiences, the restaurants provided a menu and charged by the plate. At Picnic Garden, they have a set price of $22.99 for lunch and $29.99 for dinner on weekends.

After my friends and I were seated, we immediately grabbed plates in the buffet line and piled on the food. The main attraction in yakiniku is meat. There was an assortment of thinly sliced beef, short ribs (kal-bi), beef/pork spareribs, spicy pork and chicken, Italian sausage (which I thought was interesting), and a thick bacon, just to name a few.

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The reason why I say that Picnic Garden is no walk in the park is because you cook your own meat. There is a grill in the center of the table that is used to cook the raw meats or grill vegetables such as raw onion slices and garlic.

I wasn’t feeling adventurous, unfortunately, so I decided to stick with the thinly sliced beef also known as “bulgogi.” I’m picky when it comes to pork, but I did try the thick bacon. It was chewier and fattier tasting than regular bacon. It is definitely worth trying. The bulgogi was tasty. It was marinated in a sweet soy sauce and satisfied my bulgogi craving.

The proper way Korean BBQ is to cook your meat on the grill and place it on a piece of lettuce. Usually, there are side dishes placed around the grill called “banchan” to add to the lettuce such as kimchi, garlic cloves, and namul (seasoned shredded root). You can also add a miso paste for flavor. So, it’s pretty much like a lettuce wrap.

I am unconventional when it comes to Korean BBQ/yakiniku. I cook the meat and just eat it with rice. Occasionally I’ll have some of the banchan, but I mainly focus on the meat. One of my favorite sides, however, is called ddukbokki. It is a simple dish of rice cake in a thick, spicy sauce. I’m a fan of mochi, so this is just right up my alley.

Picnic Garden had ddukbokki and kimchi, but not much of anything else that interested me. I think the only thing I was disappointed in with this place was the selection. I especially expected more thinly sliced beef. The quality of meat was also not like what I’ve had in the past, but it wasn’t terrible.

The only downfall of yakiniku, as always, is that your clothes smell like barbecue when you walk outside. There is no way to avoid it. The smoke will stain your clothes and hair.

All in all, it was an enjoyable experience for a decent cost. I’d go again because I do like that it is all you can eat. Next time, I definitely want to break out of my comfort box and venture into the spicy pork. As for quality, I’ve had better, but it is the first yakiniku I’ve had in New York and until I find a better place, this will do.

So, the next time you’re in the mood for yakiniku, barbecue in the garden–that is, Picnic Garden!

Food: 3/5
Ambiance: 5/5. I liked how the lights were dim and the sitting areas were like picnic tables! It gave off a casual vibe. I can imagine it’s great for people to meet after work.
Service: 5/5. The waitresses were great about coming over to cut up the meat with cooking scissors to make the meat manageable to cook.
Price: $$

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Restaurant Review: Benihana, 56th St. Manhattan, NY

*I have a supplemental podcast! Click here to listen!

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Food: 4/5. I love how Benihana serves SO MUCH FOOD! Particularly with a hibachi order. Out of everything, my favorite is surprisingly the house salad. It is served with a tangy ginger dressing that I love! I think I’m just a sucker for tangy dressings, but this one does not have an acidic taste like Italian dressing as an example. Also, the sushi was tasty! The crispy spicy tuna and shrimp crunchy roll pictured above were excellent. I will say that this category did not receive a 5/5 because my main hibachi entree did not taste as good because it was not prepared in the kitchen as opposed to the open teppanyaki grill.

Ambiance: 5/5. My friend and I sat in the lounge area downstairs instead of the teppanyaki room upstairs because it was too crowded. The lounge was such a great atmosphere! It felt very modern because of the decor and dim lighting. The tables and chairs were smaller than usual, just like what you would find at a Japanese restaurant.

Service: 5/5. I will admit that the friend I dined with works here, so call me biased if you will. But I noticed that the servers were incredibly friendly and outgoing. The food was also prepared very quickly! About 20 minutes after my friend and I ordered, it was brought to our table. And I think we ordered a lot of food. I do think that this is because we were seated in the lounge area. So, BIG TIP: if you are in the mood for teppanyaki but you wish to bypass the show that the chef puts on in the teppanyaki room, opt for lounge seating.

Price: $$$. Benihana is quite expensive (unless you’re dining with someone who works there, like I did. In that case, they can apply their large employee discount). Hibachi plates range from $30-$40. Special sushi rolls range from $5.25-$13.00. AND the extra bonus with sitting at the lounge are the lounge specials! These items, such as the crispy spicy tuna, are in the $10 price range.

*By the way, I just wanted to note that the difference between teppanyaki and hibachi are the way that they are cooked. Teppanyaki uses a flat, iron or steel surface and hibachi is like an open flame barbecue that uses charcoal to heat up. The two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but according to my research, this is the difference.

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Restaurant Review: Junior’s

Yesterday, I took two of my friends to lunch at the famous Junior’s in Times Square for some legen…..(wait for it)…..DAIRY cheesecake.

They do not call themselves the “Most Fabulous” for nothing. Junior’s has been around since 1950 and first opened in Brooklyn. Their popularity of cheesecakes has become internationally renowned and loved just the same. Along with cheesecakes, Junior’s offers a deli/diner style breakfast, lunch, dinner, and anything inbetween. The atmosphere is very casual and busy. The restaurant is almost always packed with people, so be prepared to wait.

I ordered the chicken salad sandwich. This was my first chicken salad anything, but it is what you would expect it to be. I liked that it was served on a thick Texas toast, too. Pickles, cole slaw, and beets were also served with the meal. All of them were a bit too sour for my liking, but it didn’t bother me because of what was to come:

This is what we came for: the cheesecake. We each ordered our own. I ordered the strawberry cheese pie and it was AMAZING. Good thing I had it all to myself.

The past couple of times I visited Junior’s, I ordered the mini raspberry swirl cheesecake and the strawberry shortcake cheesecake. I remember looking at this on the menu and thinking, “cheese… pie?” Don’t let that combination fool you. It’s just cheesecake on pie crust topped with strawberry sauce, strawberries, and all sorts of amazing. The difference between this pie and the strawberry shortcake is that the shortcake is layered, fluffy, and cake-like. The cheesecake has a light, whipped texture and an extremely creamy taste. It does not feel as heavy to my stomach as other cheesecakes have in the past.

Chocolate Mousse Cheesecake.

Red Velvet Cheesecake.

Junior’s never disappoints because you CAN have your cake and eat it too. If anyone was wondering how this stacks up against Cheesecake Factory, all I can tell you is “Fuhgeddaboudit.” The next time you are in New York and want a cheesecake, pay a visit to Junior’s.

Note: All photos taken with the iPhone 4S.