Look, we know everyone should try to eat healthily. We understand the dangers of sugar, saturated fats, trans-fats and salt. We know. But, well, there’s nothing wrong with dipping your toes into the fast-food world every now and again. And frankly it’s unreasonable to think every meal can be a home-cooked bowl of quinoa and organic pulses. So, if you do find yourself at a counter in a food court – and you will, we promise – here’s what we think you should order.
Five Guys cheeseburger
The cheeseburger with fried onions and, importantly, nothing else. Don’t get suckered into adding lots of additional things because it becomes unwieldy and ends up tasting of everything except the burger and cheese. What makes this perfect is the combination of soft bun, a patty that hasn’t had all the juice squeezed out of it and a slice of cheese that has properly melted into the meat. The onion gives a kick without dominating the flavour. It’s all about balance and this is burger perfection. When the Five Guys first opened in Dubai Mall there was a queue out of the door for the first two weeks, although that was probably just due to the staff trying to upsell at the counter – they’re the worst for this – but it’s worth the queues and hassle for one of their cheeseburgers. Even the celebrated chef Heston Blumenthal said of their cheeseburgers, “they make me happy”.
Burger King fries
In almost every aspect of the menu, McDonalds beats Burger King, but the one thing the King will always reign supreme with is his fries. In fact, his fries are the best of all the fast food places. They’re bigger than their rivals’ and the coating is a lot crispier. The larger size then means that once past the coating there is more of a centre to them, which translates into a better, more rounded flavour. Although they are a lot saltier than their rivals’, the increase in size means they carry it well, creating a more balanced eat. But crucially they’re not so big that they encroach into the territory of the British chip, comparisons to which they might lose. As fries, though, they’re big winners.
Price: AED7 for medium
Original glazed Krispy Kreme doughnut
When wading through options on a fast food menu, sometimes it pays to realise that original is often best. While Krispy Kreme do versions that include chocolate iced with M&Ms, New York cheesecake and a many more, the original is one of life’s great treats. Made from a recipe that dates back to the 1930s, they’re unlike most other doughnuts in that they’re light, soft and airy with a coating that gives you a hit of sweetness, without a dense mouthful of sugar – cupcakes we’re looking at you here. And each one carries about 200 calories, which is about the same as a small bag of crisps. Just try to limit yourself to one.
Pumpkin spiced latte from Starbucks
Just as the groundhog in Punxsutawney tells us if winter is over yet, so the arrival of Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spiced Latte tells us that autumn has begun. And it’s not long now. As a seasonal item, the PSL appears at some point in September and is available until the end of the year. Essentially just a mix of traditional autumn spice flavours (cinnamon, nutmeg and clove), steamed milk and espresso, topped with whipped cream and pumpkin pie spice, it’s a combination that WIRED Magazine described as a “perfectly engineered brain bomb”, citing the blend of caffeine, sugar, fat and salt that causes a reaction in your brain releasing a pleasurable dopamine rush. Yes, a grandé PSL has 420 calories and is like drinking cake, but now there’s a seasonal way of drinking cake at breakfast.
The vanilla malted shake at Johnny Rockets
Remember in Pulp Fiction how John Travolta’s character was shocked at the idea of a “five dollar shake”? Well, it’s not 1994 anymore and you’ll now pay over seven dollars for a really good one, but some shakes are worth the extra – and this is one of them. With an ideal viscosity, moreish flavour and smell it shows up modern “freakshakes” as the garish abominations they are. Enjoy it best in the restaurant, sitting in one of their booths and slightly squinting while imagining that you’re back in the 1950s. At a whopping 890 calories though, it would take a three-hour walk to burn it off, so don’t make it a regular thing.
Sausage and egg McMuffin at McDonalds
Even in this part of the world, the sausage tastes just like it does in London, New York or Rome thanks to the light addition of herbs. The combination of lightly toasted and buttered English muffin, sausage patty, slice of cheese and an egg cooked in a Teflon circle to form it into the famous puck shape is like the Beatles of fast food. Everything just comes together, each element complementing the others. While the egg muffin was added to the menu in 1972 and launched a breakfast menu that now makes McDonalds around $5 billion a year, the sausage and egg variety only arrived in 1984 but was a clear upgrade. It’s the best thing that McDonalds serves and the finest breakfast items on any fast food menu.
Moto bites from Burger Fuel
The little barrel-shaped bites are a blend of crumbed pumpkin, carrot, chickpea and ginger and they come with a small dipping pot of lemon aioli, or if you prefer, yoghurt relish. It all sounds like something you’d get as a starter in a fancy organic restaurant rather than a New Zealand burger chain, but as a side accompaniment to burger and fries these are big winners. Some say they’re a gateway food to veggie burgers, which is controversial but not without merit, as they’re proof that lighter and more animal-friendly fast food can also hit the spot. The flavour is natural, they’re airy and the dips have none of the artificial edge of dips at rival chains, showing that fast food is adapting to wider, modern demands.
Price: AED25 for 8