DRIVE-BY TASTING: Carl’s Jr.

diningI’m not ashamed to admit to being a virgin. Truth is, I was saving myself.
Oh, not for marriage. Sex? God, no — that boat left the dock, like, 30-plus years ago.

No, I mean that I hadn’t eaten at a Carl’s Jr. Not until this week.
Strange, maybe — the one on Lemmon Avenue has been there since early last year, and the chain first made entrée into the Metroplex market in late 2010.

And I didn’t let the paint on In-N-Out Burger dry before standing in line for their “animal” burger. I’m not sure why I waited. I just knew I wanted it to be at the right time.

And the right time was after running on a treadmill do get a stress test. Hungrifiying, that.

I stuck to one item on the menu: the steakhouse burger with a single patty (though the doubles and triples weren’t that much more expensive). I was curious how a fast-food joint would tackle something of a specialty burger.

As is usually the case, the one handed to me through the drive-up window did not look as mouthwatering as the picture menu, where the meat glistened with moistness and fat, the onion strings sat atop the burger like a coronet encircling the head of a new monarch, the blue cheese sprinkled like rose petals before a marriage bed.

No, my version was flat, the onions mashed down, the cheese lopsided favoring one side of the bun.

But that didn’t really matter: It still tasted good.

I’m a peculiar onion eater: I hate raw onions on burgers, and cooked ones in spaghetti sauce or pizzas. But caramelize them in soup, or deep-fry them in string form, and I love ’em. That’s what Carl’s Jr. does, and it’s an improvement worth respecting.

Even pressed like a corsage in a yearbook, the onions still retained some crunch, and the blue cheese — while hardly the veiny, aromatic treat of an aged Maytag — melded well with the meat (overcooked, as all fast-food burgers are, but still satisfying) and the surprisingly crisp, fresh lettuce. The tomato, as we have come to expect, was mealy and pale, but it hardly mattered. At under four bucks, it sated my grumbling belly as only bad-for-you burgers can.

Yes, I’m no longer a virgin at Carl’s Jr. But I was glad I waited. When you need a meal to hit the spot, you don’t wanna miss.
Recommended: Yes

Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

QUICK BITE: GOOD 2 GO TACOS

2011 was the year we leapt the threshold between “taco” and “burrito” and the distinction began to seem meaningless.

In Mexico, tacos are petite things meant for quick snacks: A shaved bit of protein, a dollop of salsa, some melted cheese, a garnish of cilantro, maybe garlic. Whatever. The are designed to be small bites — one is rarely enough for a meal. You want a big meal? That’s a burrito.

But Texas proudly claims it does everything bigger, and that counts for tacos, too. And few are as big as the tacos at Good 2 Go.

At about four bucks each, they’re pricier than Jack in the Box — for good reason. I’ve never had more than one at a sitting, though I’ve certainly craved them.

The menu (it’s open for breakfast and lunch only, five days a week) is limited but endlessly inventive and devilishly clever, thanks to the camp sensibilities of partner-owners Colleen O’Hara and Jeana Johnson.

Feel like chicken spiced with jerk seasonings? It’s called the “Navin R. Johnson” — after Steve Martin’s name in The Jerk. Unlike Martin, I doubt this taco was born a poor black child, though it does have the taste profile of Jamaica, with coconut rice and mango conjuring a day in the islands — a terrific fantasy as the winter weather sets in.

The equally groan-inducing “swine bleu” (pictured) is actually exactly what its name implies: braised pork and blue cheese slaw. And boy is there pork:  The flour tortilla is as bulbous as a cast member of 16 and Pregnant: The ladle of slaw looks like it might smother the pork, but no: The flavors meld better than a barbershop quarter, the tang of blue cheese pitch-perfect.

Service is friendly and knowing. A taco I ordered to eat-in came out faster than a male drum major at band camp; a few minutes later, when I walked back in to grab some utensils to tame the cabbage and pork overflowing the large tortilla, the busboy barely glanced up before grabbing a fork and walking it toward me. They’ve seen this kind of behavior before. It’s weird feeling like you’ve been bested by a taco. But so worth it.

— A.W.J.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 6, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens