After hearing about all the good things about America, I carefully planned to visit San José for a month to thoroughly experience its food and sights, and also to visit my roommate from Korea University’s Summer Program who’s from San José. America is a wondrous place with a multitude of restaurants. Some took my breath away, whilst some of the restaurants made me wonder – how do they still exist? Here’s a breakdown of my experience, with Singapore’s food as a benchmark against what I’ve had in The Bay – as well as quick reviews of my impressions on the food I’ve had.
1. IN-N-OUT BURGER
In-N-Out Burger, California
In-N-Out is the icon of the West Coast, and one of the first things mentioned when talking about California. Located just beside the airport (a quick drive), In-N-Out was the first place I visited, and is also the place that I was so hyped about. From a $2.75 cheeseburger to a $3.90 double patty, In-N-Out is THE most affordable and value for money item in California. Using never frozen meat, freshly sliced potatoes and toasted buns, In-N-Out screams quality. I was so excited from lining up to holding the burger in my hands, and was almost shaking from finally visiting the legendary In-N-Out burger that everyone raved about. From the first bite, I was blown away – the buns were perfectly toasted giving a light crunch with each bite. Every patty was succulent and juicy, and you could taste the difference with every mouth. American cheese was melted between the beef patties, gluing the meat together, allowing for optimum efficiency in devouring the burger, which was inhaled in under a minute. It was accompanied by Animal Style fries from a freshly cut potato, and smothered in In-N-Out’s not-so-secret sauce with grilled onions, and completed with free flow soda, with options like Dr. Pepper, Cola etc.; common drinks found in almost every fast food restaurant in Cali. They also offer shakes, and you can order a Black & White, which is a famous and popular choice at Shake Shack. The vanilla/chocolate layered combo is fantastic, but I feel that Shake Shack has a slightly thicker shake compared to In-N-Out.
In-N-Out also offers customization to any style or variation you’d like – no tomatoes, grilled onions, raw onions etc.
What I tried:
1. Patty, cheese, raw onion, tomato
2. Patty, cheese, raw onion
3. Patty, cheese, grilled onion
4. Patty, cheese, animal styled
My favourite variation ended up being option 4, the Animal Styled Burger, created with no additional charges. The Animal Styled Burger also seems to be something commonly ordered, with them knowing how to create it without any further instructions. It is a double double covered in their Animal Styled sauce (the same sauce used for their fries). In-N-Out ended up being my go-to snack, meal and overall favourite of the trip.
In-N-Out VS Shake Shack
Of course, no In-N-Out review can be complete without a comparison to Shake Shack. Among these, I tried Shake Shack first and was blown away. In-N-Out did not give me the same mind-blowing reaction, probably because it was so hyped up by my friends. Apart from Shake Shack’s potato buns, I generally feel that In-N-Out is a better choice. I went to Shake Shack in LA, and after multiple meals of In-N-Out, Shake Shack was no longer able to hold its crown.
1. Quality patties
2. Same cheese
3. Short wait for the burger, long lines to order
There is fierce competition here.
1. Shake Shack’s 🏆 potato buns tastes significantly better and has a consistency which I prefer in comparison to In-N-Out’s grilled buns.
2. Shake Shack 🏆 is also more modern looking, with better advertising and accessibility with chains worldwide. In-N-Out keeps an “old school” look, consistent in every outlet.
3. Shake Shack 🏆 also offers a better shake and more options with their burgers, offering chicken as an option to people who cannot eat beef.
4. Price, price, price. In-N-Out 🏆 is simply insane value. The price you pay for a single burger can get you a whole meal at In-N-Out.
5. Shake Shack offers Crinkle Cut Fries, and In-N-Out does regular cut fries. However, both fries to me are still not as good as McDonalds.
Overall, despite strong competition from Shake Shack, both offer a decent burger, with marginal differences not worth the large price point difference. However with the quality and price considered, and with a pretty similar quality patty, In-N-Out🏆 is an easy win for me at $3.90 for a double double VS $7.45 for a double Shackburger. Writing this post actually gave me an intense craving, and I thoroughly understand why In-N-Out is synonymous with California.
2. CINNABON BAKERY
Cinnabon, Great Mall, Milpitas
Cinnabon is a popular snack/bakery in USA, with its main rival being Auntie Anne’s in Great Mall. They make phenomenal cinnamon rolls, offered in various sizes. It was a refreshing change from the Auntie Anne pretzels that I’m used to, covered in cinnamon sugar. Cinnabon offers a warm, fragrant bun with sweet, sugary icing on top that makes a quick and delicious calorie-dense snack as we were shopping in the Great Mall. It also offered a sweet perfume to everyone within a 5-10M radius, providing a delicious scent to the mall. I remember being blown away by how good it was upon the first bite, and craved it once again the next day. It was definitely a refreshing change, but definitely something I would avoid eating too often due to its high sugar/calorie content.
3. YARD HOUSE
Yard House, Santana Row
Yard House prides itself as being a restaurant/bar that offers the world’s biggest selection of draft beer. We went there on our first night, absolutely exhausted after the long flight. Yard House is primarily a beer place, offering an exhaustive menu, but with pretty average food. They have, however, great onion rings and beer. We ordered a Half Yard (pictured) and thoroughly enjoyed the beer. Yard House also provides a great atmosphere, with a busy crowd and TVs all around, making it a great place for socializing with friends and family.
Costco Wholesale, a membership-only wholesale grocery store offers AMAZING food and portions. At $1.50 per hotdog + drink (free refills), Costco delivers great value at low prices. I tried their hotdogs, pizza, ice cream and chicken bake. I’ve heard great things about Costco’s Kirkland brand, and it never failed to deliver in their quality food. Costco’s hotdog also easily beats everything I’ve had in Singapore. With a length about as long as my forearm, topped with onions and ketchup, the hotdog is juicy and absolutely delicious. Personally, it is one of the best hot dogs I’ve had – easily smashing Singapore’s IKEA’s hotdog to the ground. I’ve had it for too many meals – I loved it that much. I also devoured 2 hotdogs for lunch which left me extremely full. Costco also offered a great slice of pizza, which is about twice the size of a slice in Singapore. We also ordered cooked, cold shrimp on the side. It was sweet and at $13, gave a generous portion. Costco ended up being the to-go place after gym for us, or whenever we wanted to save money. Their food easily beat most food I’ve tried in America, surprising me with the quality, size and price.
6898 Raleigh Rd, San Jose, CA 95119, USA
10:00 am ~ 6/8:30 pm
Treatbot, San Pedro Square
Homemade ice cream? I’m sold! Located in Downtown San Jose, Treatbot is an ice cream truck inside San Pedro square offering handmade ice cream. San Pedro square is also conveniently located with a 10 minute walk away from the SAP Stadium, and offers a variety of food and beer, with a great atmosphere to hang out in.
On the recommendation of our American friend, we visited Treatbot and was greeted with a long continuous line. Reaching at about 4pm, their most popular flavours were already sold out. I ordered the Chocolate Rain flavour, which is handmade chocolate ice cream with chunky chocolate chips. Their ice cream tastes amazing. It was not as good as Penny’s ice cream or Tinpot, but it is definitely one of the better ice cream options. They also offered a variety of ways to enjoy it, and I chose my ice cream to be wedged between 2 homemade chocolate chip cookies. The homemade ice cream + homemade chocolate chip cookies made an impressive combination. The warm cookies were great on its own – sweet, soft and starchy, while the ice cream was thick, creamy, chocolatey and flavourful. After finishing this deadly combination, I had to grab a bottle of water – but it was totally worth it. I only regret not having the more popular flavours, and will definitely return to try it again.
6. THE HALAL GUYS
The Halal Guys, Plant Shopping Center
The Halal Guys offered a refreshing change to our usual meats and burgers that we had every other meal. As a Singaporean, I wanted to see how the American rendition of a Halal meal is like. I’ve also heard fantastic reviews about Halal Guys – how it used to be a food stand in New York, to an international franchise now – and how everyone speaks greatly about their legendary White Sauce. Even as someone who regularly eats Halal food in Singapore, The Halal Guys provided a tasty, filling meal with a generous portion of Turmeric rice, cabbage and tomatoes, a choice/mix of grilled beef/chicken covered with their white sauce and BBQ sauce, and topped with 2 pieces of gyros. It was one of the best meals I’ve had in America at its price point of $7-$8. The cabbage/tomato combination provided a sweet crunch with each mouth of rice, with the very tender meat providing an aromatic flavour, topped with the creamy white sauce and BBQ smell made for a stunning combination. It was so much so that we went out of the way thrice – to have that for supper and to even buy some for breakfast the next morning. The Halal Guys is such a simple conception, but provides such satisfaction at a low price point, and despite how it looks, tastes AMAZING. Daniel says that he always tries to have it once a week or whenever he’s in the vicinity – and I agree.
The Halal Guys, Plant Shopping Center
81 Curtner Ave #20, San Jose, CA 95125, USA
11:00 am ~ 10 pm