Ramen Jiro, Shinjuku, Tokyo

Yes, there can be not great ramen in Japan. There’s a chain in Tokyo called Ramen Jiro, which apparently is a good way to start your ramen tour in Tokyo if you’re trying to find the best ramen. I’d like to point out we first heard about this on a NY Times article about ramen (thanks Asta!). This article highlights finding the best (or local favorite) places for ramen. There are apparently blogs and serious ramen scholars dedicated to finding that perfect noodle. This article took some of those finds.

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The ramen place is on the corner of a small alley, and is actually near some other fast food restaurants we like (Mos Burger, anyone?).

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Like most ramen places, you go to the machine, put in some money, and get a ticket. We randomly picked (again) and got our tickets. This place is famous for using lots of garlic, and we hoped we bought stuff with garlic. We then sat at the counter, which was tiny. They actually had a couple booths but they reserved those for large parties of business men. By the way, the guy who took our tickets was a complete jackass. Yes, you heard it from my mouth – JACKASS. He completely ignored us, and took at least five other people’s tickets first. I was so upset.

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The chef was much more mild, and sometimes smiled. Whereas the jackass didn’t.

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This was Kyung’s. I have no idea what it was, other than it was a large size. I think it was pretty much mine, except with more noodles, while mine was smaller but had more meat. weird.

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Here’s mine. The final consensus? The broth is thick and really savory, but after like three spoonfuls of it you’ve pretty much eaten your entire meal. The meat was tough and flavorless, the noodles thick and almost too heavy in your stomach, and everything was covered in inches of sprouts. And this is supposed to be good ramen?

I think if I were drunk, and wandering the streets of Shinjuku with no shoes, I’d eat here. But otherwise, not so much.

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Daiwa Sushi, Tsujiki Fish market, Tokyo

Can you imagine waking up at 5 am and stumbling into what just happens to be one of the two most famous sushi restaurants at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo? Yeah, I’d be speechless too.

The first time we were in Tokyo, we happened to stumble into the other famous one (purely by luck, we followed a well dressed couple that was walking purposefully within the fish market). This second time, our dumb luck led us to this one too. We had no idea where we were going, so we just sort of wandered til we found the alley that had the first sushi restaurant, and went into the one next door. No line! We went in, and the chef said omakase, so we just nodded and said ok.

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This is a very tiny restaurant. Small bar that probably housed 15 max, minimal walking room, minimal seating. You’re basically rubbing shoulders with the folks next to you. Which is, in fact, how we found out this restaurant was so famous; as luck would have it, we were sitting next to two girls from SoCal, who mentioned this was one of two famous restaurants, with the other one being the one next door that we had previously eaten at. Wow. How random is that!

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The food here wasn’t as stellar as the other famous one (have we gotten spoiled?). We had a lot of ‘filler’ pieces so to speak.

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The octopus was meh. Chewy, not flavorful, I don’t know why they considered this an appropriate starter. The toro was good. I don’t like eating rice with my sushi (I prefer sashimi) so I didn’t bother eating the rice. The six piece rolls are actually 3 different types of rolls (roe, and spicy tuna, and other things). I didn’t eat the one with roe, but I tried the others (decent). I didn’t eat the uni, I traded for Kyung’s tamago. hah! The tamago was good =) I’ve seen a lot of tamago shops around the fish market, must be a regional speciality.

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This is what I mean by filler pieces – ebi and unagi. They were delicious, don’t get me wrong, but not exactly high end.

Overall the place was solidly good, but the other place was a lot better I think. It probably also explains why the long was like 3 rows deep while we walked out of this one with only a handful of people in line.

Take the Oedo line (if you’re coming from Shinjuku) on the Tokyo Metro, and pop out at the Tsukiji exit *the name is slightly longer than Tsukiji, but if you ask anyone they can tell you. As soon as you pop out, go left, then turn left at the light into the warehouse area of the fish market. Walk until you see the small rows of shops, it’s about the third one from the warehouse area to the left.

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Kouryu Ramen, Akihabara, Tokyo

Yes, we went back to Japan! Our 8 day trip has just concluded. Today is day 1 back in the States and already I’m missing good curry, ramen, and the miles of walking and subways. Kyung and I had falafels today and we were discussing how it felt so weird to not be eating a katsu or something. We also wondered if we brought falafels to Japan, would we make it big? We decided no, because one thing we’ve noticed is how homogenous the food tends to be.

Anyway, the first time we went to Tokyo, we found a ramen place in Akihabara which we really loved. It was raining that day, and it was a haven for us from the wet. We went back again this time to see if it was a fluke but it wasn’t, we actually loved it! Kouryu is like a typical ramen shop – vending machine outside with various ramen options, toppings, and sides, and you enter your yen and receive a little ticket for each dish, side, or topping you order. Then you head inside, find a seat at the counter, and hand your tickets to the staff. People are in and out under 15 minutes. And I also found that most people in ramen shops are men. Very often I’ve been the only girl at a counter full of businessmen or teen boys. Kind of weird.

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I have no idea what I ordered, since I just randomly picked based on the picture. But – once you order your bowl of ramen, before they prepare it, they give you a sheet where you fill out things like how much oil do you want in your broth, if you want thick or thin noodles, etc. They had an English version of that luckily, so while I can’t tell you what soup base I had, I can tell you it had little oil, thin noodles, thick slices of soft pork, green onion, and a boiled egg. I also ordered a side of chicken fried rice (it was only 100 yen, which is a little over a dollar). The broth was delicious – light and savory, and it complemented the hearty pork with the thin and firm noodles. The rice was great!

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Kyung customized his noodles with thin as well, lots of pork, spicy sauce, and more oily sauce. He loved his ramen and was very glad that it was just as good as the first time. He also ordered a roe rice, but he said it was just ok. Oh well, I think it was like 200 yen (cheap!).

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If for some reason you run out of noodles, or want more sides, you can order it by placing some coins into this machine. They’ll then bring it to your counterspace so you can slurp up more things happily.

We rounded out our scrumptious meal with my favorite – glass bottle Cokes.

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I don’t know the address but if you exit the Akihabara station, it’s near one of the exits. It’s very small, so you may need to keep an eye out. Or you can ask the JR station staff. They’re usually very friendly and understanding if you don’t speak Japanese.

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Bewley’s, Dublin, Ireland

The first time I came to Dublin I tried Irish Breakfast and ever since then I was hooked. I had it once at a proper cafe, and another time at the airport on my way home because I really really wanted Irish fry. I’d like to point out the airport one was disappointing. Anyway, now that I’m back in Dublin, I really wanted to get Irish fry again. You know what’s sad? It’s been two years since I was in Dublin last, and during those two years, I kept telling Kyung I wanted to get Irish breakfast locally, and the two years came and left so quickly and I’m surprised we never actually got it. I can’t believe two years can pass so quickly without you realizing it!

Anyway, today Rock Star woke up early (as did I) so we could meet for breakfast at a place called Gruel. I’d like to point out it was closed. The restaurant lied. So we walked down the street toward Grafton St (where all the shopping is like Thomas Brown. It’s also the location of the McDonalds I went to the last time I was here and had curley fries. Yum). Once on Grafton we came to Bewley’s, which according to Rock Star is one of the oldest coffee houses around. They brew their own coffee and distribute it. They also offer a proper Irish Breakfast!

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The inside of the coffee house is as you’d expect – woodsy, very spacious, lots of giant baskets of pastries, and a ton of different coffees and teas. One thing I find nice about Dublin is that pastries are displayed in baskets or shelves. They’re not in glass plated display cases. Or like Tokyo where it’s on display on shelves but in plastic wrap.

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Lovely latte art on my cappuchino, complete with crisp hollow almond cookie. Sprinkle brown sugar into the drink, delicious!

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Finally, the REAL reason I came to Dublin (just kidding, kind of). Irish Breakfast (Irish Fry, Irish Brekkie, Morning Heart Attack) at last. Two pieces of bacon (to us Americans it looks and tastes like ham), sausage, poached egg (though normally it should be fried), potato bread, toast, tomato and tomato salsa (normally this should be baked beans and tomato), mushrooms, and white and black pudding. The white pudding was actually very oily and savory. The poached egg was great as well, especially when sopped up with the toast. The tomato salsa was great with the potato bread and the egg. YUM!

I think I liked my first Irish Breakfast better (because of the beans and fried egg) but heck, I can’t complain!

Bewley’s Oriental Cafe
78/79 Grafton Street
Dublin 2
Tel: +353 1 672 7720

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Chapter One, Dublin, Ireland

I have a big passion for trying Michelin rated restaurants. Call it the snobbery in me, but I find it very adventurous and fun. When work called to me from Dublin, my friend Rock Star found a grand place – Chapter One! To the locals, they all recognize it as a big achievement that this restaurant has one Michelin star, since it’s the only one in North Dublin (apparently there are several in the south). The north is considered ‘rough’. What separates the two halves of Dublin is a river in between.

Behold the mysterious opening:

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You go through a green metal fence and down a set of unassuming stairs, where you’re ushered into a warm, cozy dining room with absolutely friendly service.

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Apologies for the horridly dark photos, but I was so exhausted they all came out terribly! I also forgot to put it on close up mode. Oh wells =(

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This is the Irish Angus Beef for two. Rock Star and I split it. Local beef covered in a wonderfully creamy and savory mushroom sauce with two sides of potato and veggies. The cool thing about this meal is that they rolled out a silver cart with a wooden cutting board on it, had a giant piece of beef, and sliced it in front of us, served it, then doled out the mushroom sauce on top. They also bring the veggies out in a silver pot and dole it out onto little white serving plates.

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It’s not entirely true that Dublin doesn’t have good food! This place is great! Everyone else loved their meals. Mind you, it was four girls, and we did a pretty good job in eating all our food!

Veal

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Halibut

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And of course, a cute pot of tea and the standard place of rich chocolates to complete the meal.

Dainty chamomile

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Rich cocoa

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This is definitely a JEWEL in Dublin! The last time I was here the meals I had were okay not stellar, but this goes to show that there is definitely a place for fine dining.

chapter one
18 – 19 parnell square
dublin 1, ireland
tel +353 1 873226

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Five Guys, Carson

The last entry of Burger Month!

Five Guys is the East Coast In n Out. Started in Virginia, it has a lot of the same principles that In n Out does – fresh meat patties, none of it frozen, and they started out super local and then blew up and become national. They have a very creative menu where you can put lots of toppings that you normally can’t request at a typical burger chain – sauteed mushrooms, jalapenos, bell peppers, etc. I love making my own burger creation each time I go. They don’t offer fried eggs though *sob*.

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Several months ago, when I was in New York, I actually passed a Five Guys in Greenwich Village. Unfortunately, I did not eat it then though I should have (I had just finished chowing down on some other food AND froyo a few minutes ago). More close to home, there are two Five Guys that recently opened in SoCal, one in Carson, and one in Cerritos. When Kyung and I are in SoCal, we usually drag everyone to the one in Cerritos, but this time we went to the one in Carson to meet with his parents (they thought we were crazy). As we opened the door, we were created with the signature giant boxes of shelled peanuts. There was even a sign on the door that said you could only eat the peanuts within the restaurant. Never saw that before!

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The walls are covered in articles raving over Five Guys, many from the East Coast such as Washingtonian Magazine, etc. I love the red and white too, makes the place seem more diner like than it probably really is. Friendly staff and quick food, can’t complain.

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Behold my cheeseburger. I love that the burgers come wrapped in foil. I’m so used to fast food chains wrapping everything in paper that it’s kind of nice to get a different type of wrapper for a change. The burgers taste fresh and just right – not too large, medium sized meat patty that’s not overwhelming, slightly melty cheese, fresh vegetable toppings. This isn’t a show burger, it’s a burger as you want it to be.

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I think the fries here are interesting – they still have the skin, which gives it a hearty taste and doesn’t make you feel like you’re eating artificial potatoes that were frozen ten months ago. They also have two kind – the regular, as above, and the seasoned ones, which are like fries covered in a dense layer of MSG powder. Both are good, one is easier to eat because it’s not so salty/spicy. I also love that they come in a styrofoam cup – they spill out into the paper bags your food comes in, so you have lots of surprises waiting at the bottom of the bag.

Five Guys
Southbay Pavillion
20700 Avalon Blvd
Carson, CA 90746
310-515-7700

The monthly round up – looks like Barneys wins! And there you have it! Stay tuned for next month!

Barney’s
Fatburger
Sonic Drive In
Red Robin
Five Guys
Tommy’s
Bullshead
Clarke’s Charcoal Broiler
Bob’s Big Boy
St. John’s Bar and Grill

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Red Robin, Santa Clara

You know, for all the flack that ‘chain restaurants’ get, Red Robin actually makes a decent burger. On top of that, they were Zagat rated as best burger in 2009. It seems almost unheard of, since places like Outback don’t get Zagat rated for best steak. Regardless, I do have fond memories of a few of the RR burgers, including the Royal Red Robin burger and the Lettuce Wrap burger.

I went with Lady D the other night for a quick bite. We were seated right away, luckily. This particular Red Robin is in the Rivermark plaza in Santa Clara, which is usually full of working professionals, families, and coffee snobs.

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I’ve seen coworkers at this location before. I guess it’s a popular destination!

I ordered the Royal Red Robin, and I did it for the fried egg (if you saw my Fatburger post, you’ll know it’s a soft spot of mine when there are eggs in a burger).

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The burgers here are large and juicy, and I love that egg flavor as it oozes over the meat. It’s slightly less junky and more ‘wholesome’ tasting than Fatburger, but still quite a novelty. I like the fat fries that the burgers come with, though they only give you a few (but it’s bottomless so you can always ask for more!). I like the garlic fries here, the regular ones are kind of plain unless you toss on a lot of the RR seasoning (MSG on steroids).

I still enjoy a good chain meal, this is a definitely a good rec for a fat burger that gives you some service.

The roundup:

Barney’s
Fatburger
Sonic Drive In
Red Robin
Tommy’s
Bullshead
Clarke’s Charcoal Broiler
Bob’s Big Boy
St. John’s Bar and Grill

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Sonic Drive In, Gilroy

I only just now noticed that what everyone calls ‘Sonics’ is really ‘Sonic Drive In.’ That doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as easily as Sonics does, I suppose. So, what is the big deal about Sonics? Well, besides the unusual menu selection of burgers, hot dogs, and breakfast sandwiches made with texas toast, why, the limeades and TOTS of course!

Drive ins are a dying art. Where are the cute roller girls that bring your burgers to your car? This place has some sort of roller skating staff, and minimal outdoor seating.

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The menu is conveniently placed next to your window, although sometimes you have to get flexible when it comes time to push the button. And they’re hard to understand over the intercom. Might I mention they mess up your order quite often? Must be the craptastic acoustics.

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Kyung and I ordered a lot of food – behold.

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A Sonic Burger with Cheese, no sauce. My usual order. Besides when I’m ordering the breakfast burrito. The burger is small but satisfying, and definitely a notch above McDonalds. I’d probably equate this burger to a tiny, less junky diner burger. Somewhat bland, but the soft bread and small meat patty are somehow still good.

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Kyung’s large coney dog. This is also his usual order. It’s pretty average, salty with a piece of bun missing! He likes the chili and onions in it though, which is why he continues to order it.

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Not a great picture, but the usual cherry limeade that I order. I think it’s just carbonated soda with syrup but hey, can’t complain. They put a cherry in it too. Yummy.

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Here’s the order fail. Everytime we go to Sonics there’s always something that goes wrong. In this case, our chili fries became ‘chili tots.’

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Okay here’s the real deal. At least there is no cheese. The fries are average, the chili not as good as the Tommy’s chili. But eh, chili is chili!

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And now I leave you with my favorite part of Sonics – the TOTS. TOTS TOTS TOTS. If it wasn’t for the tots, I probably wouldn’t make the trek to Gilroy for Sonics. Or Tracy. Or SoCal.

Sonic Drive In
6921 Cameron Boulevard, Gilroy
(408) 846-6400

The lowdown so far:
Barney’s
Fatburger
Sonic Drive In
Tommy’s
Bullshead
Clarke’s Charcoal Broiler
Bob’s Big Boy
St. John’s Bar and Grill

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Fatburger, Orange

Fatburger is such an awesome burger place. It’s a place I always want to go back to because I think of fried eggs and their burgers and it all just seems to make sense. Fatburger is another SoCal favorite – old school (opened the 50s, which seems to be a theme for all really good burger places in SoCal), and yet it has spread to beyond just SoCal – locations in other places of the US as well! According to Wikipedia there’s supposed to be a Fatburger in the Bay Area but I cannot find it. What a tease!

Kyung used to eat a ton of Fatburger when he was living in SoCal, post college, and he’s always keen on going back there. We went a couple nights ago to get some good grubbin.

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This place isn’t fancy – it’s a franchise after all. But it’s decently clean, the food is great and satisfies any junk food addiction, and the staff is actually very friendly. The girl behind the counter was super chatty, and brought our food to us with a huge smile.

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My favorite part about this place is the fried egg in the burger. You may think it’s no big deal, you can get that at many other burger places, and while that’s true, there’s something about the way they do it here that’s great. The fried egg is thick – it’s not thin, it’s not watery, and it provides a significant contribution in terms of taste and texture – it’s not just some runny white yellow thing oozing over your meat patty. The meat patty is thick, the bun soft, the cheese mostly melted but not overly so, it’s a great burger that’s further enhanced by a great side.

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I ordered a medium, by the way. I originally was going to order a small, but those are super super tiny. It’s about 2.5 oz of meat pre cooked if you get the small. The medium is 5 oz or so. Our table had a small ordered and it was TINY! Slider sized!

Kyung ordered the chili cheese fries and a hamburger. The chili cheese fries were just ok, the chili and fries were thick but the cheese was shredded and just tossed over the beans and fries so they weren’t a gooey melty mess. More like gooey chunky mess.

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I think Fatburger has one of the best fast food burgers, period. The burger is well put together and tastes wholesome and like someone spent time thinking about it, not just a thin meat patty sandwiched between thin buns with two squirts of ketchup and mustard. Gimme my egg on top!

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Fatburger
2318 N. Tustin Ave. Suite C
The Mall of Orange
Orange, CA 92865
P: 714-974-0395

The lowdown so far:
Barney’s
Fatburger
Tommy’s
Bullshead
Clarke’s Charcoal Broiler
Bob’s Big Boy
St. John’s Bar and Grill

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St. John’s Bar and Grill, Sunnyvale

St. John’s is a pretty good low key local place to get burgers. It’s family oriented, cheap (every day they have some sort of burger that’s half off), and has some okay eats. I think over the years though, the place has gone slightly downhill. I seem to remember my first experience there being a lot better. Maybe I was really hungry. My subsequent attempts to go back have been met with no luck – everytime I tried to go back (3 or 4 times) the place was always closed! Finally, it was open this past week at a time I went.

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You can actually see St. John’s off of Lawrence Expressway (perhaps on your way to Fry’s, or the Kaiser Hospital) but it’s located inside a strip mall next to a florist and some shady looking insurance company with some giant banner with a smiling Asian woman.

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Once inside, you’re met with a lot of dark wood and big booths. There’s a long countertop where the burgers are made, but they’re so high that you can’t see what goes on back there anyway. After you order from their decent menu, you are given a beeper. The menu is pretty standard – various versions of hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and of course, chicken.

I ordered a cheeseburger with grilled mushrooms, and Kyung ordered a hamburger with garlic. We also ordered onion rings and buffalo wings.

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I was not impressed by my cheeseburger. It arrived without mushrooms, so I went back to the counter. The guy takes the bun with his ungloved, non food friendly grubby hand, reaches into a giant metal vat of precooked mushrooms, tosses it onto my burger, and unceremoniously replaces the bun and says nothing. The burger was salty, and the mushrooms didn’t taste like grilled oiliness, I don’t know what it tasted like. Not good, is the best way to put it. The onion rings, on the other hand, were great – fat and crispy. I ate mostly that. I am not a fan of buffalo wings in general so I only took one bite but Kyung thought they were great.

Each burger comes with a bag of lays chips. We left our bags unopened on the table.

St. John’s, you’re not as good as I remembered. I don’t know if I want another round.

St. John’s Bar and Grill
510 Lawrence Expy
Sunnyvale, CA 94085
(408) 738-8515

The lowdown so far:
Barney’s
Tommy’s
Bullshead
Clarke’s Charcoal Broiler
Bob’s Big Boy
St. John’s Bar and Grill

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