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El Vez’s Grilled Shrimp Tacos al Carbon Voted the Best Taco in Philadelphia

El Vez’s Grilled Shrimp Tacos al Carbon Voted the Best Taco in Philadelphia


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What makes a great taco, exactly? The best ones tend to be simple, with clean, vibrant, and varied flavors, each component good enough to stand on its own. The filling should be made with an eye for balance in taste and moisture level. The toppings, be they traditional onions and cilantro or new-wave chipotle harissa, should brighten, heighten, and tie the whole taco together into a cohesive, delicious dish.

We published our third attempt at ranking the country’s best tacos, and this year we looked to our readers to help us identify more of the best. We put out a call to action, asking them to comment on our site or our social media pages, or to email us with their nominations for the best tacos in the country. Additionally, we asked our knowledgeable Daily Meal staff and City Editors to weigh in with their picks. We gathered these nominees together and added them to all the tacos that were considered last year. In the end, we had a list of about 330 tacos, which we then compiled into a survey and sent to our distinguished panel of taco experts — food and restaurant personalities who know a superior taco when they taste one. They voted, we tallied the results, and then put together America’s 75 Best Tacos. There are some amazing tacos served around the country and, as it turns out, one can be found in Philadelphia.

Restaurateur Stephen Starr knows what people love to eat, and at Philadelphia’s El Vez he’s bringing top-notch Mexican food to the hungry masses. An order of the tacos al carbon is enough to feed two, and the grilled shrimp is the way to go; it’s a masterpiece. Homemade flour tortillas get filled with slightly spicy and super flavorful shrimp that are hot off the grill, and you can customize how much poblano pepper, pico de gallo, guacamole, and queso fresco you want to add. Thankfully, a second location opened in New York. It was voted to the #52 spot on our national list, and since it’s the only taco from the city to make our ranking, it’s also the very best one in Philly.


Review: My disappointing night at El Vez in Fort Lauderdale ended with a trip to Taco Bell | Video

My evening at El Vez in Fort Lauderdale began promisingly enough, with a terrace table overlooking the Atlantic, a pitcher of margaritas for my tablemates and a bowl of good (albeit small and, at $14, a bit pricey) guacamole. There was salt in the air from the ocean breeze and salt on the rims of the margarita glasses. We were happy. The server was cheerful and smiled.

Tortilla chips abounded, with baskets brought for a complimentary starter of chips and salsa (smoky and good) and the guacamole (creamy and vibrant with lime and serrano peppers). Seafood verde ceviche ($15) was likewise vibrant and good, although clumsily large cilantro leaves that should have been chopped finer marred the dish of shrimp, crab and fluke. A cool and smoky gazpacho ($5.50) was perfect for a humid summer night, with roasted tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers that were more subtle than spicy (piquillo and supposedly habanero),

Then, things took a wrong turn. I ordered a red sangria because I can’t drink tequila — an incident from my youth — and it came out in a tall soda glass, not the usual wine goblet, with barely any fruit and an unpalatable fizz. It tasted like a bad red-wine spritzer. I took two sips and let it sit the rest of the meal. Nobody followed up to see if there was a problem.

It was an omen for the main course, a procession of disappointing and disastrous dishes that was matched only by the growing indifference of the service. The chicken enchiladas ($15) were a mediocre mess, with mealy masa surrounding flavorless, shredded chicken and glops of cheese and sauce. Steak El Vez ($24), a sliced cut of flat iron steak, was overwhelmed by its spicy chili rub and overcooked way beyond the ordered medium rare to almost well done (thank goodness for a side serving of good corn relish). A side dish of cheesy skillet potatoes ($8) was good but seemed as if it had wandered over from Steak 954 next door, a French-tasting dish seasoned with herbs such as rosemary and thyme.


Tacos With A View at El Vez Fort Lauderdale

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Disclosure: I was invited to dine as a guest of El Vez Fort Lauderdale in exchange for this post. As always, all opinions are 100% my own.

El Vez, located at W Fort Lauderdale, is the place to go for a fun, casual beachfront dining experience — especially if you’re in the mood for some good tacos!

El Vez is part of Starr Restaurants, which has various other restaurants in Florida, as well as Philadelphia, New York, New Jersey, Washington D.C., and even Paris. I’ve been to quite a few of Starr locations in Philly (El Rey, Frankford Hall, Talula, just to name a few), both of the restaurants in Atlantic City, NJ (The Continental and Buddakan) and another here in Florida (Steak 954) and each has left a very positive impression on me. Starr Restaurants have a reputation to uphold, and from my experiences, not only do they uphold it, but they surpass it.

If Latin food is your thing, El Vez is a must. Salsas and guacamole, ceviche, nachos, tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, and specials like whole fried snapper, pollo asado and whole grilled branzino. Even better, the atmosphere is just as exciting as the food. While the vibrant inside bar is definitely lively and fun, if it’s a nice day or night, I highly suggest grabbing a table on the patio facing the ocean. Nothing beats that Fort Lauderdale Beach view!

Kick off the evening with a drink from El Vez’s vast menu featuring a long list of mezcal and tequila, beer, wine and cocktails. I’m a sucker for that smokey mezcal taste, so I chose the blackberry mezcalita, a refreshingly and subtly sweet cocktail made with blackberry jam and mint.

Everyone knows that any dinner at a Latin restaurant must always start off with guacamole. El Vez offers three different styles of guac — classic with cilantro, lime, onion, serrano and tomato Tito Santana with mango, red pepper, jicama, habanero and serrano and the Verde with poblano, mixed herbs and meyer lemon. If you like things a little spicy, go for the Tito Santana. Yes, habanero and serrano certainly do bring the heat, but the mango, red pepper and jicama balance it all quite nicely so it’s not too overwhelming. El Vez can provide celery and carrot sticks for those who can’t or prefer not to have the tortilla chips. For me, corn is a no-no, so I always appreciate it when a restaurant has veggies available to accompany any dips on the menu.

Speaking of no corn, that also means I can’t have corn tortillas (or flour, because of the gluten) with the tacos — but the team at El Vez was on top of it and brought me a plate of lettuce cups without me even having to ask! Let’s talk more about these tacos… You can go traditional with the build-your-own Tacos al Carbon. Each platter for two comes with your choice of adobo-grilled chicken, grilled shrimp or grilled skirt steak and rajas, onions, queso fresco, guacamole, crema, salsa roja and warm flour tortillas.

The classics are great and all, but I definitely recommend checking out the six other taco options available. Crispy mahi mahi, grilled local snapper, carnitas, shrimp, chicken and steak — all packed with flavor and topped with deliciousness. Each of these choices comes with three tacos, so one dish is enough to have for yourself as an entree, or you can order a variety and share with a couple other friends.

I was instantly drawn to the grilled local snapper tacos with napa cabbage and fennel slaw, red pepper and baja mayo. The fish was cooked perfectly and tasted so fresh. I loved the textures of the crunchy slaw and creamy sauce too it was a very well balanced dish. The carnitas were also a hit — tender, melt-in-your-mouth pork belly and shoulder served with salsa verde and a little extra cilantro on the side. Our third choice was the marinated skirt steak tacos, served with salsa taquera and cherry tomato pico de gallo, another palate-pleasing dish. I’m not sure I could choose a favorite — all three were unique and delicious in their own way.

Another yummy option to pair with your taco is the watermelon salad, a bright contrast to some of the spicier things on the menu, and the The watermelon is deliciously seasoned, mixed with thinly sliced cucumbers and topped with pepitas (and usually queso fresco, but no dairy for me.)

For tacos with a view, El Vez is top notch. It’s not just the food that would bring me back, though — the service was on point from the moment we walked in the restaurant and greeted at the hostess stand. Our server and management were made aware of my food restrictions ahead of time, and did their due diligence to make accommodations and double-check on things with me throughout our visit. Everyone was friendly and timely, and made us feel right at home.

El Vez is located at 401 North Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale. The restaurant is open daily for breakfast from 7-11:30am and lunch from 12-4pm. There is also an afternoon “siesta” menu available daily from 11:30am-12pm. Dinner is served Sunday through Thursday from 4-11pm and Friday and Saturday from 4pm-midnight. Happy hour is Monday through Friday from 4-7pm and features half-priced classic margaritas, frozen blood orange margaritas, draft beer and select wines by the glass, as well as a specially priced food menu.


By Robrt L. Pela

Rosaura "Chawa" Magaña of Palabras Bilingual Bookstore

As the child of immigrant parents, Rosaura “Chawa” Magaña watched her folks struggle with language barriers and discrimination. "I think the injustices against communities of color were part of what ultimately brought me to create Palabras Bilingual Bookstore," she says.

Magaña was inspired by Librería Donceles, a traveling art installation that does double duty as a Spanish-language bookseller. "I knew I wanted to create a bookstore and community space," Magaña says. "At Librería Donceles, I saw poets read in Spanish, looked through books I had never seen before about different aspects of Latinx culture, and watched a musical performance in Spanish."

She began imagining a similar space in Phoenix, one that embraced the culture and voices of people of color and could foster community connection and growth. A first-generation Mexican-American, Magaña understood that Latinx stories were rarely represented in the standard literary canon. "I thought it would be amazing to walk into a bookstore and see an intentionally diverse selection of books," she explains. "It would have made all the difference in the world to me as a kid to experience that."


El Vez

The food here is so good! I love the drinks as well. Must try, great for a date.

The food here is so good! I love the drinks as well. Must try, great for a date.

Great food and classic Margs.

Great food and classic Margs.

It was an "ok" restaurant. It's surely average because I don't think you can do too much fusion to mexican food as to let say French/Chinese or Cuban cuisines and make it hype. The service was good, the ambience was nice. Carne asada is so-so as are the crab enchiladas. The El Vez dessert is fair.

It was an "ok" restaurant. It's surely average because I don't think you can do too much fusion to mexican food as to let say French/Chinese or Cuban cuisines and make it hype. The service was good, the ambience was nice. Carne asada is so-so as are the crab enchiladas. The El Vez dessert is fair.

One of the better Mexican based restaurants in Center City. Very cool & retro interior. This should be on your short-list of Mexican restaurants to visit.

El Vez is a very good choice

One of the better Mexican based restaurants in Center City. Very cool & retro interior. This should be on your short-list of Mexican restaurants to visit.

LOVE love love this place! Awesome atmoshere, delicious and very authentic food, great drinks! The bar is in the middle of the restaurant there is a photo booth to take pictures in after dinner, went here for my birthday! LOVED it and had a cute waiter!

El Vez Restaurant is the best!

LOVE love love this place! Awesome atmoshere, delicious and very authentic food, great drinks! The bar is in the middle of the restaurant there is a photo booth to take pictures in after dinner, went here for my birthday! LOVED it and had a cute waiter!

Great atmosphere in this restaurant and the food is amazing! If you're a guacamole fan, try the platter, which samples all of the original recipes..the best I've ever had! Great servers, as well, who are knowledgeable about authentic Mexican cuisine

Great atmosphere in this restaurant and the food is amazing! If you're a guacamole fan, try the platter, which samples all of the original recipes..the best I've ever had! Great servers, as well, who are knowledgeable about authentic Mexican cuisine

We loved the tacos, the tuna appetizer and the nachos (which were a huge portion, even for gluttons!).

by tobinjan at Citysearch May 20, 2009 5 El Vez

We loved the tacos, the tuna appetizer and the nachos (which were a huge portion, even for gluttons!).

Pros: Good food, nice atmosphere.

Cons: If you are a fan of huge servings, you might be hungry.

This place is almost identical to Distrito. The food is about the same as it is at Distrito. The place looks a little worn though.

by futurechef at Citysearch May 10, 2009 5 El Vez

This place is almost identical to Distrito. The food is about the same as it is at Distrito. The place looks a little worn though.

Pros: More Food then Distrito

Cons: More Expensive then Distrito, Ambience is worse than Distrit

From the minute we walked in - we were greated with smiles. We sat in the middle of the room. It was a little dark, but enough light to read the menu and see the decor. The service was really good - Jack our waiter had the menu down to a science and was very happy to answer any and all questions. He paid just enough attention to us. Now the food - OMG - I was nervous about this place from reading some of the reviews. I ordered the taco sampler and was more than happy - beef, pork, sea bass, mahi mahi, etc. If a flower had a taste - this was it. Each one was better than the next. Kudos to the Chef and staff. Dessert -well - make sure you save room. Drinks were on the same level. This place is a class act. The price is on the higher end - but as they say you get what you pay for - this was worth it. I highly recommend it!! Enjoy.

I don't know what some of you were talking about - this place was great!

From the minute we walked in - we were greated with smiles. We sat in the middle of the room. It was a little dark, but enough light to read the menu and see the decor. The service was really good - Jack our waiter had the menu down to a science and was very happy to answer any and all questions. He paid just enough attention to us. Now the food - OMG - I was nervous about this place from reading some of the reviews. I ordered the taco sampler and was more than happy - beef, pork, sea bass, mahi mahi, etc. If a flower had a taste - this was it. Each one was better than the next. Kudos to the Chef and staff. Dessert -well - make sure you save room. Drinks were on the same level. This place is a class act. The price is on the higher end - but as they say you get what you pay for - this was worth it. I highly recommend it!! Enjoy.

the menu is creative & perhaps mexican inspired- but it's a far cry from authentic mexican food. my husband is from new mexico & we've taken numerous trips to the southwest and mexico where i've had better food from roadside carts. i went with 2 friends & we ordered 6 items to share- each greasier and saltier than the next. stop in for the atmosphere, which is fun, grab a kitschy cocktail and then go to dinner someplace else. the only thing keeping me from giving this place one star was our server- who was gracious and prompt. with so many great restaurants in philly, i'm surprised this place is still open.

by bethfox13 at Citysearch December 02, 2008 2 El Vez

the menu is creative & perhaps mexican inspired- but it's a far cry from authentic mexican food. my husband is from new mexico & we've taken numerous trips to the southwest and mexico where i've had better food from roadside carts. i went with 2 friends & we ordered 6 items to share- each greasier and saltier than the next. stop in for the atmosphere, which is fun, grab a kitschy cocktail and then go to dinner someplace else. the only thing keeping me from giving this place one star was our server- who was gracious and prompt. with so many great restaurants in philly, i'm surprised this place is still open.

Chef Jose Garces's restaurant does somethings very well - a few of my favorites being the taco tasting platter and the grilled corn on the cob, also his interpretation of tortilla soup is extremely good.

There is a great deal to chose from on this adventurous menu.

Chef Jose Garces's restaurant does somethings very well - a few of my favorites being the taco tasting platter and the grilled corn on the cob, also his interpretation of tortilla soup is extremely good.

There is a great deal to chose from on this adventurous menu.

Of the Stephen Starr restaurants, this is not my most favorite. The theme is Mexican. I think the food is ok, but not inspirational, for the pirces charged. The decor is too over the top.

Of the Stephen Starr restaurants, this is not my most favorite. The theme is Mexican. I think the food is ok, but not inspirational, for the pirces charged. The decor is too over the top.

El Vez is an awesome Mexican restaurant. You must try the guacamole. The margaritas are to die for. It is very authentic in a chic modern atmosphere. Come hungry. Great place to meet friends.

Stephen Starr Does Better than ANY

El Vez is an awesome Mexican restaurant. You must try the guacamole. The margaritas are to die for. It is very authentic in a chic modern atmosphere. Come hungry. Great place to meet friends.

I've had better Mexican Food than at El Vez, but I definitely enjoyed eating here nonetheless! The food is good, just not extraordinary, but the atmosphere makes dining here a fun option!

I've had better Mexican Food than at El Vez, but I definitely enjoyed eating here nonetheless! The food is good, just not extraordinary, but the atmosphere makes dining here a fun option!

El Vez is a good spot to go with a big group of people, but your experience can depend on where you are seated. Try to get a spot in one of the round booths, those are the most intimate and easy to hear everyone at the table. Last time we were there we sat at a table behind the bar (8 of us) and we literally could barely hear eachother speak. I had to text with my friend across the table because I couldn't hear a word she said. The music is way too loud, which makes the chatter almost unbearable.

by fermina25 at Citysearch October 08, 2008 1 El Vez

Good fun atmosphere but way too loud

El Vez is a good spot to go with a big group of people, but your experience can depend on where you are seated. Try to get a spot in one of the round booths, those are the most intimate and easy to hear everyone at the table. Last time we were there we sat at a table behind the bar (8 of us) and we literally could barely hear eachother speak. I had to text with my friend across the table because I couldn't hear a word she said. The music is way too loud, which makes the chatter almost unbearable.

Upon arriving & being seated, drinks were ordered. Once we received our drinks, one of the guests began drinking her sangria when she noticed a "insect" which city search will not allow me to name, about 3/4 of an inch long, floating in her drink. When brought to the attention of our waitress, she gave a brief unconcerned apology ("i'm sorry"), took the drink to the kitchen & proceeded to show it to her coworkers. It wasn't until about 10 minutes later that she returned to our table, upon our request to see if we were ok. Furthermore, not one staff member or manager came to rectify the situation until two of our party members went to speak to the hostess. Finally, a manager came over (10 minutes later) offering appetizers as good measure. We left as the birthday girl was disgusted and unable to eat anything.

by Foodinista at Citysearch August 15, 2008 1 El Vez

Insect in the Sangria. the type of insect that inhabits dirty homes and restaurants

Upon arriving & being seated, drinks were ordered. Once we received our drinks, one of the guests began drinking her sangria when she noticed a "insect" which city search will not allow me to name, about 3/4 of an inch long, floating in her drink. When brought to the attention of our waitress, she gave a brief unconcerned apology ("i'm sorry"), took the drink to the kitchen & proceeded to show it to her coworkers. It wasn't until about 10 minutes later that she returned to our table, upon our request to see if we were ok. Furthermore, not one staff member or manager came to rectify the situation until two of our party members went to speak to the hostess. Finally, a manager came over (10 minutes later) offering appetizers as good measure. We left as the birthday girl was disgusted and unable to eat anything.

I was looking forward to trying El Vez after hearing about their good guacamole & margaritas.

We arrived at 9:30 on a Thursday & the place was prob 1/2 to 3/4 full - with lots of people at the bar and less eating. We asked the hostess if we can get a table - as our plan was to get guac, appetizers and a pitcher of margarita. The hostess told us we'd need to order entrees in order sit at a table. I found this odd -having lived in nyc & other major cities I've never seen a respectable restaurant forcing you to order a certain # of entrees to sit down. A policy of ordering food at a table is totally understandable ? but forcing you to eat a certain quantity of food, to me, signifies a low-end establishment milking revenue.

We said ok, with no real plans to order entrees, and sat down. We figured a $65 meal with a margarita pitcher, guac, and appetizers would suffice.

We then received probably the worst treatment I've ever experienced. Our waitress was rude, sarcastic, pushy and made us extremely uncomfortable. When we ordered the pitcher & guac she asked us if there was anything else we wanted to order. We said we?ll order more, but not right now as we wanted to relax and order more as we went along.

About 3 minutes later she came back asking for our order. We said not yet. 2 minutes later our pitcher came. As did more ordering questions. 2 minutes later guac came - she then pretty much wasn't leaving until we ordered more food. So we ordered an appetizer & side dish ? at the same cost as an entree. She then looked straight at me and asked me ?what I wanted for my entree?. I said, "I don't want an entree". From there it got even worse - with her talking to other waitresses and pointing and gesturing at us, making sarcastic comments about us ?drinking up? and overall being plain rude. We tried to relay our frustrations to a manager but we left after 10 min of waiting at the front desk.

Bottom line: good food & good drinks ? but bad treatment ruined it.

by MrCoHead at Citysearch June 26, 2008 2 El Vez

Good food & drinks Really bad service & treatment

I was looking forward to trying El Vez after hearing about their good guacamole & margaritas.

We arrived at 9:30 on a Thursday & the place was prob 1/2 to 3/4 full - with lots of people at the bar and less eating. We asked the hostess if we can get a table - as our plan was to get guac, appetizers and a pitcher of margarita. The hostess told us we'd need to order entrees in order sit at a table. I found this odd -having lived in nyc & other major cities I've never seen a respectable restaurant forcing you to order a certain # of entrees to sit down. A policy of ordering food at a table is totally understandable ? but forcing you to eat a certain quantity of food, to me, signifies a low-end establishment milking revenue.

We said ok, with no real plans to order entrees, and sat down. We figured a $65 meal with a margarita pitcher, guac, and appetizers would suffice.

We then received probably the worst treatment I've ever experienced. Our waitress was rude, sarcastic, pushy and made us extremely uncomfortable. When we ordered the pitcher & guac she asked us if there was anything else we wanted to order. We said we?ll order more, but not right now as we wanted to relax and order more as we went along.

About 3 minutes later she came back asking for our order. We said not yet. 2 minutes later our pitcher came. As did more ordering questions. 2 minutes later guac came - she then pretty much wasn't leaving until we ordered more food. So we ordered an appetizer & side dish ? at the same cost as an entree. She then looked straight at me and asked me ?what I wanted for my entree?. I said, "I don't want an entree". From there it got even worse - with her talking to other waitresses and pointing and gesturing at us, making sarcastic comments about us ?drinking up? and overall being plain rude. We tried to relay our frustrations to a manager but we left after 10 min of waiting at the front desk.

Bottom line: good food & good drinks ? but bad treatment ruined it.

_______________________ __________________________________ _____________________________ ____________________

by k11221122 at Citysearch June 19, 2008 3 El Vez

_______________________ __________________________________ _____________________________ ____________________

My friend and I really enjoyed dining here. It was a great vibe, really huge bar scene. We went around 10:00 and were seated promptly. The nachos mama's were amazing. A must try. They had a variety of food to choose from. I also got the enchilada's mixtas. It was delicious and HUGE. I recommend sharing this entree with two people. My friend got two different taco platters, he loved it! Overall great experience. They even had a black & white photo book that you can take pictures in. Really cute touch! Definitely give this place a try if you're in city center.

Amazing Mexican, with a modern twist

My friend and I really enjoyed dining here. It was a great vibe, really huge bar scene. We went around 10:00 and were seated promptly. The nachos mama's were amazing. A must try. They had a variety of food to choose from. I also got the enchilada's mixtas. It was delicious and HUGE. I recommend sharing this entree with two people. My friend got two different taco platters, he loved it! Overall great experience. They even had a black & white photo book that you can take pictures in. Really cute touch! Definitely give this place a try if you're in city center.

Pros: Margaritas, Food, The Bar Scene

This has got to be my favorite place in the city (next to Continental Mid-Town), especially to hang with friends. The Guacamole and everything else I've tried is awesome, the decor is fun and uplifting, the drinks are great. this place is always a good time, and even if your company is lackluster--go to El Vez. the night won't be a total bust! :)

by colleensarfino at Citysearch April 21, 2008 5 El Vez

Great food, Great atmosphere, Great times

This has got to be my favorite place in the city (next to Continental Mid-Town), especially to hang with friends. The Guacamole and everything else I've tried is awesome, the decor is fun and uplifting, the drinks are great. this place is always a good time, and even if your company is lackluster--go to El Vez. the night won't be a total bust! :)

Cons: Seating can be tough, but that just proves it's good!!

My sister and I loved this place! The hostesses were very friendly, and our server, I believe her name was Susannah, was extremely pleasant and attentive. We ordered the guacamole, bass tacos, beef gorditas, and the Short ribs. All were amazing. I loved loved loved the beef gorditas. The margaritas were also great . The food came out so fast, we were so shocked! Great atmosphere, pleasant staff, and the manager even came over to see how we were doing. I would definately recommend this place. El Vez has found new regulars.

My sister and I loved this place! The hostesses were very friendly, and our server, I believe her name was Susannah, was extremely pleasant and attentive. We ordered the guacamole, bass tacos, beef gorditas, and the Short ribs. All were amazing. I loved loved loved the beef gorditas. The margaritas were also great . The food came out so fast, we were so shocked! Great atmosphere, pleasant staff, and the manager even came over to see how we were doing. I would definately recommend this place. El Vez has found new regulars.

Pros: Pleasant staff, amazing food

Been here a few times. Although it can get a bit too loud at times, thats about the only drawback I can see. The Guacamole is fantastic and is offered in six or seven different, unique styles. Have had the taco sampler the last two times I've been here and could eat it every night if I could. Has a great bar scene and the location is great for people watching.

by Iamafatty at Citysearch February 19, 2008 4 El Vez

Great Guacamole, bar scene, great everything

Been here a few times. Although it can get a bit too loud at times, thats about the only drawback I can see. The Guacamole is fantastic and is offered in six or seven different, unique styles. Have had the taco sampler the last two times I've been here and could eat it every night if I could. Has a great bar scene and the location is great for people watching.

Pros: Guacamole, bar, taco sampler is a must to try

Cons: can get too loud at times, almost impossible to get in on weekends.

I went to El Vez with a friend on a Thursday night for drinks. We were told to wait at the bar by a few young, flighty hostesses even though there were at least ten tables open, many of which were for two people. I pointed this out and she claimed that people had reservations and that they would be clearing out the bar, tables were for "full service" only. So we waited at the bar for about 15 minutes and not one seat opened up. I asked again if we could be seated at an open table and was denied. No one at the bar was planning on leaving anytime soon, especially since I spotted several groups of people with full meals, even though the bar is supposedly just for drinks! We decided to leave and have pre-dinner drinks elsewhere. So we went around the corner to dependable and friendly Fergie's for a few drinks. Despite being initially frustrated with El Vez and the hostesses (who seemed quite flustered and incompetent), we decided to go back to the restaurant a little later for dinner at around 10PM. We were seated promptly, since we were there for "full service" and had an excellent server. Our bill totaled well over $100. We might have spent even more money had we been seated the first time around. When a restaurant is charging upwards of at least $10 a piece for drinks, you should consider seating customers at once, anywhere they like, especially if there are numerous tables open. Chances are they'll end up ordering food as well. That night, I left a comment card detailing my frustration, but never heard back from anyone. I wonder if it was even submitted by the hostess or just tossed in the trash. Upside of Anger: Everything we ordered was delicious including the Pink Cadillac Margaritas, Frozen BloodOrange Margaritas, Queso Fundido Con Carne, Chicken Mole, and Yucatan Salmon with verde rice and saffron-chile sauce. Yum yum yum.

by mediocrityrulesphilly at Citysearch January 06, 2008 4 El Vez

Excellent food, poor seating policy and flighty hostesses

I went to El Vez with a friend on a Thursday night for drinks. We were told to wait at the bar by a few young, flighty hostesses even though there were at least ten tables open, many of which were for two people. I pointed this out and she claimed that people had reservations and that they would be clearing out the bar, tables were for "full service" only. So we waited at the bar for about 15 minutes and not one seat opened up. I asked again if we could be seated at an open table and was denied. No one at the bar was planning on leaving anytime soon, especially since I spotted several groups of people with full meals, even though the bar is supposedly just for drinks! We decided to leave and have pre-dinner drinks elsewhere. So we went around the corner to dependable and friendly Fergie's for a few drinks. Despite being initially frustrated with El Vez and the hostesses (who seemed quite flustered and incompetent), we decided to go back to the restaurant a little later for dinner at around 10PM. We were seated promptly, since we were there for "full service" and had an excellent server. Our bill totaled well over $100. We might have spent even more money had we been seated the first time around. When a restaurant is charging upwards of at least $10 a piece for drinks, you should consider seating customers at once, anywhere they like, especially if there are numerous tables open. Chances are they'll end up ordering food as well. That night, I left a comment card detailing my frustration, but never heard back from anyone. I wonder if it was even submitted by the hostess or just tossed in the trash. Upside of Anger: Everything we ordered was delicious including the Pink Cadillac Margaritas, Frozen BloodOrange Margaritas, Queso Fundido Con Carne, Chicken Mole, and Yucatan Salmon with verde rice and saffron-chile sauce. Yum yum yum.

This is my first time posting. We've been to El Vez several times in the past few months and every time we've had excellent service including friendly attentive servers. Of course the margaritas are fabulous but the food is the highlight of our evening. The seafood is always fresh and cooked to perfection. Our favorite menu items include the Indian Red Lopez guacamole, the diver scallops, mojo grilled shrimp, and the Chilean sea bass when it is offered as a special. Desserts are not an after thought here, the chocolate cake is purely sublime.

if you're looking for great food, great drinks, and great service then this is your place!

This is my first time posting. We've been to El Vez several times in the past few months and every time we've had excellent service including friendly attentive servers. Of course the margaritas are fabulous but the food is the highlight of our evening. The seafood is always fresh and cooked to perfection. Our favorite menu items include the Indian Red Lopez guacamole, the diver scallops, mojo grilled shrimp, and the Chilean sea bass when it is offered as a special. Desserts are not an after thought here, the chocolate cake is purely sublime.

The portions were ridiculously small. They were not your typical Mexican either. They start with a typically Mexican dish and change it in an interesting way with a good flavor but not enough. I left hungry. The decor is interesting I grant them that. The servers are total snobs.

they think they're God's gift to Restaurants.

The portions were ridiculously small. They were not your typical Mexican either. They start with a typically Mexican dish and change it in an interesting way with a good flavor but not enough. I left hungry. The decor is interesting I grant them that. The servers are total snobs.

We went after work one day. The hostess was rude. The "manager" was even worse. I have noticed that, at the Starr restaurants, the staff acts like you are lucky to be in the restaurant (I haven't been to all of them - but the same thing happ'd at Continental).

On top of it all, the mojitos we ordered were ridiculously small. I do like the Oscar DeLaHoya bicycle atop the bar.

Avoid this place - go somewhere friendlier.

by tyuabdul at Citysearch July 23, 2007 1 El Vez

We went after work one day. The hostess was rude. The "manager" was even worse. I have noticed that, at the Starr restaurants, the staff acts like you are lucky to be in the restaurant (I haven't been to all of them - but the same thing happ'd at Continental).

On top of it all, the mojitos we ordered were ridiculously small. I do like the Oscar DeLaHoya bicycle atop the bar.

Avoid this place - go somewhere friendlier.

i never liked nachos until i ordered the macho nachos -- now i demand them once a week. great fun atmosphere, declicious affordable food, can get noisy & a bit one dimmensional -- great happy hour -- try the nachos

by pennfoodies at Citysearch April 14, 2007 5 El Vez

i never liked nachos until i ordered the macho nachos -- now i demand them once a week. great fun atmosphere, declicious affordable food, can get noisy & a bit one dimmensional -- great happy hour -- try the nachos

My wife and I just returned from dinner at El Vez. Before I go on let me say that I use and enjoy kosher and sea salt in all my cooking. If anything, I tend to err on the salty side. However, if I were to drink a glass of sea water, it would be less salty than the food I had at El Vez tonight. True to their claim, the guacamole is freshly made and tasted so. But the saltiness of the dish overwhelmed any enjoyment. Likewise, my short rib entree was also way too salty. The short ribs were very tender and fell apart with a fork but the saltiness of them and their sauce was too much too bear. Thank god I don?t get salt on my margaritas. Someone needs to instruct the kitchen staff to put the lid back on the salt shaker instead of letting it spill over.

My wife and I just returned from dinner at El Vez. Before I go on let me say that I use and enjoy kosher and sea salt in all my cooking. If anything, I tend to err on the salty side. However, if I were to drink a glass of sea water, it would be less salty than the food I had at El Vez tonight. True to their claim, the guacamole is freshly made and tasted so. But the saltiness of the dish overwhelmed any enjoyment. Likewise, my short rib entree was also way too salty. The short ribs were very tender and fell apart with a fork but the saltiness of them and their sauce was too much too bear. Thank god I don?t get salt on my margaritas. Someone needs to instruct the kitchen staff to put the lid back on the salt shaker instead of letting it spill over.

Cons: Food too salty, Too loud

I've had many good meals here, even though it seems El Vez thinks a little too highly of itself. Good food, pricey, but worth it, if you can put up with the atmosphere.

However, I may not be returning there again. Friday 1/5/07, I was treated VERY rudely by their hostess and decided to dine elswhere. My husband tried to make reservations earlier that day for 5:45 but was told that we could "just walk in and be seated around that time." So, we followed the instructions, and walked in around 5:50 PM. Several tables for two had been sitting there for some time (hubby was running late so I waited), but we were told in a nasty tone by a young woman who barely looked up from her computer screen that "we don't have anything available for at least an hour and a half." When I pointed out the empty tables behind us, she repeated herself. We left and had a great meal at Mixto instead.

Mr Starr, if you're going to charge these prices for Tex-Mex food and drinks, make sure the service is up to par.

by chellysue at Citysearch January 09, 2007 3 El Vez

Nasty hostess! I'll take my $$ elsewhere.

I've had many good meals here, even though it seems El Vez thinks a little too highly of itself. Good food, pricey, but worth it, if you can put up with the atmosphere.

However, I may not be returning there again. Friday 1/5/07, I was treated VERY rudely by their hostess and decided to dine elswhere. My husband tried to make reservations earlier that day for 5:45 but was told that we could "just walk in and be seated around that time." So, we followed the instructions, and walked in around 5:50 PM. Several tables for two had been sitting there for some time (hubby was running late so I waited), but we were told in a nasty tone by a young woman who barely looked up from her computer screen that "we don't have anything available for at least an hour and a half." When I pointed out the empty tables behind us, she repeated herself. We left and had a great meal at Mixto instead.

Mr Starr, if you're going to charge these prices for Tex-Mex food and drinks, make sure the service is up to par.

Pros: Good food, tasty drinks

Cons: Pricey, nasty hostess

The place is nice, tons of things to look at! The service was fair, not my idea of good service. The apps, were tasty, but "done up" up in a way that distracted from the taste. The Guac is good, not the best I have ever had, for being so fresh! The meals were small, but the place is a little higher end. The dishes were tasty, but not really that great. the tacos were dry, and the fish was over cooked. There are tons of places were you can get better Mexican food. I do not think I will be rushing back to ElVez anytime too soon.

by phillyguy1234 at Citysearch December 20, 2006 3 El Vez

I do not see what the hype is all about.

The place is nice, tons of things to look at! The service was fair, not my idea of good service. The apps, were tasty, but "done up" up in a way that distracted from the taste. The Guac is good, not the best I have ever had, for being so fresh! The meals were small, but the place is a little higher end. The dishes were tasty, but not really that great. the tacos were dry, and the fish was over cooked. There are tons of places were you can get better Mexican food. I do not think I will be rushing back to ElVez anytime too soon.

Although our server seemed to roam in her own world (at least she smiled when she made it to our table), the food and fun made up- and this was seated on the sidewalk. The inner decor is near whimsical- but with an hour wait at 6pm (Friday, granted), an immediate seat outside was fine. The mahi mahi tacos are highly recommended- very well done. The Margs are above average also, with a nice tequila list to go along. We had problems with a taco salad (drenched in dressing), and the gauc came to the table already mixed, not tableside as advertised. Still, I am excited to go back when friends come to visit this weekend. Its an easy restaurant to have a great night at.

Although our server seemed to roam in her own world (at least she smiled when she made it to our table), the food and fun made up- and this was seated on the sidewalk. The inner decor is near whimsical- but with an hour wait at 6pm (Friday, granted), an immediate seat outside was fine. The mahi mahi tacos are highly recommended- very well done. The Margs are above average also, with a nice tequila list to go along. We had problems with a taco salad (drenched in dressing), and the gauc came to the table already mixed, not tableside as advertised. Still, I am excited to go back when friends come to visit this weekend. Its an easy restaurant to have a great night at.

It was an ok restaurant. It's surely average though because I don't think you can do too much fusion to mexican food as to let say French/Chinese or Cuban cuisines or make it hype. The service was good, the ambience was nice.

by felipe_bardeaux at Citysearch September 16, 2006 3 El Vez

It was an ok restaurant. It's surely average though because I don't think you can do too much fusion to mexican food as to let say French/Chinese or Cuban cuisines or make it hype. The service was good, the ambience was nice.

El Vez had great food and service. The guacamole and chips were top-notch, obviously freshly prepared. The margaritas and tacos that we shared were very good also, all with large portions. Though the music was quite loud, it was a fun Wednesday night atmosphere, especially for travellers like us. I felt that the tariff was a bit high, though, at over $100 for 2 drinks each, guacamole, and the shared tacos al carbon. Overall it was a great experience, but it isn't up to the level of Rick Bayless's Frontera Grill in Chicago. But then, it doesn't pretend to be that same type of concept.

Mexican food for the city

El Vez had great food and service. The guacamole and chips were top-notch, obviously freshly prepared. The margaritas and tacos that we shared were very good also, all with large portions. Though the music was quite loud, it was a fun Wednesday night atmosphere, especially for travellers like us. I felt that the tariff was a bit high, though, at over $100 for 2 drinks each, guacamole, and the shared tacos al carbon. Overall it was a great experience, but it isn't up to the level of Rick Bayless's Frontera Grill in Chicago. But then, it doesn't pretend to be that same type of concept.

Pros: Overall ambience, food, drinks

Cons: Price, volume of music

First of all, this was the most fun I've ever had with family and friends! We came for my birthday and recieved fast, wonderful, friendly service complete with some of the best drinks I've ever had! *Try the Pink Cadillac Margaritas! This place was amazing! 10 stars!

by phillywhereiamfrom at Citysearch August 09, 2006 5 El Vez

You'd Be Crazy Not to Try It!!

First of all, this was the most fun I've ever had with family and friends! We came for my birthday and recieved fast, wonderful, friendly service complete with some of the best drinks I've ever had! *Try the Pink Cadillac Margaritas! This place was amazing! 10 stars!

Pros: the whole scene, service and drinks are a MUST

Cons: we waited a while, but it was worth it!

Ambiance: Very Cool, hip, young, upscale, and fun.
Dress code: college student to designer labels.
Outdoor Seating: Yes
Menu: Updated Mexican
Company Policy: Tables reserved for entree diners only. So if you just want dessert or apps don't tell them before you get seated.
Food Quality: Food looks good and tastes good.
Food Quantity: Protein lovers will be disappointed on quantity of meet included in meal, so make sure you know what you are ordering.

by cavemanguide at Citysearch July 25, 2006 4 El Vez

Ambiance: Very Cool, hip, young, upscale, and fun.
Dress code: college student to designer labels.
Outdoor Seating: Yes
Menu: Updated Mexican
Company Policy: Tables reserved for entree diners only. So if you just want dessert or apps don't tell them before you get seated.
Food Quality: Food looks good and tastes good.
Food Quantity: Protein lovers will be disappointed on quantity of meet included in meal, so make sure you know what you are ordering.

Cons: Policy on who can sit at empty tables

We stop by here fairly often to have a drink and get some food. The guacamole is amazing and the El Vex dessert is incredible. Love the bike rotating behind the bar and the bathrooms are cool.

by kdandrea at Citysearch June 28, 2006 4 El Vez

We stop by here fairly often to have a drink and get some food. The guacamole is amazing and the El Vex dessert is incredible. Love the bike rotating behind the bar and the bathrooms are cool.

Cons: maybe a little pricey

I would not recommend eating here if you are hungry. The portions are small and the prices are relatively high for what you get. The food is average. Certainly not the best mexican food in Philly. The bathrooms are cool though.

by hollerdollar at Citysearch June 26, 2006 3 El Vez

I would not recommend eating here if you are hungry. The portions are small and the prices are relatively high for what you get. The food is average. Certainly not the best mexican food in Philly. The bathrooms are cool though.

I have been to El Vez several times with friends. First, leave impatience at the door. If you want to enjoy yourself here, you must be willing to endure the long wait, loud music and packed bar. But, once you get over these minor nuisances El Vez comes alive. The bar, once you get to it, serves great drinks. I love the pomegranate margaritas! They taste great and if you like a strong drink, El Vez does not disappoint. The food - I'll admit, maybe it's the liquor I imbibe prior to every meal here, but the food is always great. Servers may be a little slow in getting it on the table. Once your meal is served, you will know it was worth the wait. I enjoy every bite of the food here. So if you really want a quiet, romantic spot for you and a lover, you may want to go somewhere else. But, if you are with a couple of fun-loving friends or you and your partner love a great time, El Vez is a great spot!

Great mexican food, great atmosphere

I have been to El Vez several times with friends. First, leave impatience at the door. If you want to enjoy yourself here, you must be willing to endure the long wait, loud music and packed bar. But, once you get over these minor nuisances El Vez comes alive. The bar, once you get to it, serves great drinks. I love the pomegranate margaritas! They taste great and if you like a strong drink, El Vez does not disappoint. The food - I'll admit, maybe it's the liquor I imbibe prior to every meal here, but the food is always great. Servers may be a little slow in getting it on the table. Once your meal is served, you will know it was worth the wait. I enjoy every bite of the food here. So if you really want a quiet, romantic spot for you and a lover, you may want to go somewhere else. But, if you are with a couple of fun-loving friends or you and your partner love a great time, El Vez is a great spot!

Pros: Atmosphere, Drinks, Food

Cons: Wait, Slow Service, Crowds

The food here is great and so is the ambience. The service is very good. The entree portions are perfect especially after the wonderful appetizers. The chips and guacamole are house made. I loved the Golden Margaritas and the desserts. Outside seating available too.

by hans_rodeo at Citysearch June 03, 2006 4 El Vez

The food here is great and so is the ambience. The service is very good. The entree portions are perfect especially after the wonderful appetizers. The chips and guacamole are house made. I loved the Golden Margaritas and the desserts. Outside seating available too.

Pros: Food, Margarita, Ambience

Yes, there is a wait. It was unclear if they take reservations because online they said no but to get seating inside, reservations were required. We got a margarita and that made the wait bearable. The food was excellent. Leon, our server, was excellent.
Yes, it is a trendy seen and we plan to go back.

by crownnglori at Citysearch May 08, 2006 5 El Vez

Yes, there is a wait. It was unclear if they take reservations because online they said no but to get seating inside, reservations were required. We got a margarita and that made the wait bearable. The food was excellent. Leon, our server, was excellent.
Yes, it is a trendy seen and we plan to go back.

Cons: long wait, reservation confusion

We finally got to this "hot" place. Mistake #1 was going on a Saturday night with another couple. No reservation and a two hour wait. No way that we would have waited, but the other couple seemed intent on it. It was very noisy & packed, however several times I saw several empty tables just sitting there.. I felt that I was part of a game, which was confirmed when I overheard one of the hostesses mimicking my wife, who told her that there was no resturant worth waiting two hours for. Ultimately I pulled a "ram" and we finally got seated, the menu had interesting items, prices were reasonable for downtown Philly and all of our meals were really excellent, the server was pleasant though we felt a bit rushed to vacate the table and it was well past 11:00PM when we left. we will pass on El Vez!

Great Food, If you don't mind waiting forever

We finally got to this "hot" place. Mistake #1 was going on a Saturday night with another couple. No reservation and a two hour wait. No way that we would have waited, but the other couple seemed intent on it. It was very noisy & packed, however several times I saw several empty tables just sitting there.. I felt that I was part of a game, which was confirmed when I overheard one of the hostesses mimicking my wife, who told her that there was no resturant worth waiting two hours for. Ultimately I pulled a "ram" and we finally got seated, the menu had interesting items, prices were reasonable for downtown Philly and all of our meals were really excellent, the server was pleasant though we felt a bit rushed to vacate the table and it was well past 11:00PM when we left. we will pass on El Vez!

Cons: noisy, crowded, slow to seat

Not even the margaritas are goood here. And, they'll hold you in the bar forever even though there are lots of tables open (seriously, I counted 5 that we open for the hour that they forced us to spend in the bar drinking bad margaritas.

by puck_brown at Citysearch December 03, 2005 1 El Vez

Not even the margaritas are goood here. And, they'll hold you in the bar forever even though there are lots of tables open (seriously, I counted 5 that we open for the hour that they forced us to spend in the bar drinking bad margaritas.

All thumbs up on this place. Friendly (though a little green) servers delicious appetizers. The tortilla soup is a real Starr on the menu. Main courses are great, too. My dining companion and I did a tapas style dinner, so I had occasion to taste 8 menu items (including a sampler of several items), all of which were well above average. Great scene, too. Bright, upbeat, busy. I'm looking forward to going back. If you're looking for a fun dining experience without any pretention, this place is highly recommended.

by michaelcox at Citysearch October 24, 2005 5 El Vez

All thumbs up on this place. Friendly (though a little green) servers delicious appetizers. The tortilla soup is a real Starr on the menu. Main courses are great, too. My dining companion and I did a tapas style dinner, so I had occasion to taste 8 menu items (including a sampler of several items), all of which were well above average. Great scene, too. Bright, upbeat, busy. I'm looking forward to going back. If you're looking for a fun dining experience without any pretention, this place is highly recommended.

Most food at El Vez is great, particularly the guacamole, crabmeat salsa (almost like ceviche), snapper and mahi mahi soft tacos. Carne asada is so-so as are the crab enchiladas. The El Vez dessert is fair. All in all it's a pretty good place but not up to par with other Starr joints like Buddakan. The restaurant itself great to look at though. Bicycle carts to make fresh guacamole tableside, a large elaborate multicolored Day of the Dead diorama with many scenes, and an old time photo booth where you can get four pictures for three bucks. The restaurant is brightly colored and much more pleasing to look at than what is outside the windows.

by bluehensfan at Citysearch June 01, 2005 4 El Vez

Now open for lunch on Saturdays

Most food at El Vez is great, particularly the guacamole, crabmeat salsa (almost like ceviche), snapper and mahi mahi soft tacos. Carne asada is so-so as are the crab enchiladas. The El Vez dessert is fair. All in all it's a pretty good place but not up to par with other Starr joints like Buddakan. The restaurant itself great to look at though. Bicycle carts to make fresh guacamole tableside, a large elaborate multicolored Day of the Dead diorama with many scenes, and an old time photo booth where you can get four pictures for three bucks. The restaurant is brightly colored and much more pleasing to look at than what is outside the windows.

The food here is simply delicious from the fresh tortilla chips and piquant salsa and fresh guacamole to the zesty, well-prepared entrees. The salsas are especially good. I've usually had fish and I've yet to be disappointed. The portion size is plenty big enough. I've taken several groups of out-of-towners here too. The only complaint I have with that is that the restaurant tends to be too noisy for discussion within a group, even if seated in one of the big curved booths.

by phillycmc at Citysearch March 07, 2005 5 El Vez

The food here is simply delicious from the fresh tortilla chips and piquant salsa and fresh guacamole to the zesty, well-prepared entrees. The salsas are especially good. I've usually had fish and I've yet to be disappointed. The portion size is plenty big enough. I've taken several groups of out-of-towners here too. The only complaint I have with that is that the restaurant tends to be too noisy for discussion within a group, even if seated in one of the big curved booths.

Pros: Good, interesting, food great salsas

Cons: Loud, way over priced margaritas

I love El Vez! I have been there twice! The tuna tostadas are a MUST TRY! So is the home-made guac--worth the $12!! The special drink menu is amazing--try it! And the sangria is great! The salmon entree is also AMAZING! So is the corn on the cob with chipolte side dish--best corn on the cob I've ever had! Truly a delight for the senses, the place is colorful and wild! Bring some dollar bills for the old-fashioned photo booth--lots of fun! Both times I was there my dinner companion and had our bill come to around $100--have a few drinks each plus food. It can pricey, but it's my favorite place to go to celebrate--the whole place feels like a celebration! LOVE IT! I might say it's even better for groups as the smaller tables are a lot less intimate.

by songremains_the_same at Citysearch February 10, 2005 5 El Vez

FOOD FOR THE EYES AS WELL AS THE PALATE

I love El Vez! I have been there twice! The tuna tostadas are a MUST TRY! So is the home-made guac--worth the $12!! The special drink menu is amazing--try it! And the sangria is great! The salmon entree is also AMAZING! So is the corn on the cob with chipolte side dish--best corn on the cob I've ever had! Truly a delight for the senses, the place is colorful and wild! Bring some dollar bills for the old-fashioned photo booth--lots of fun! Both times I was there my dinner companion and had our bill come to around $100--have a few drinks each plus food. It can pricey, but it's my favorite place to go to celebrate--the whole place feels like a celebration! LOVE IT! I might say it's even better for groups as the smaller tables are a lot less intimate.

Pros: amazing food, beautiful decor, lots of fun

Cons: not too intimate, crowded, expensive

Big glass facade with views outside and the huge circular bar are just a few of the features that makes El Vez fun to go with a crowd. The food we ordered was NOT family-style at all: small portions, but very tasty. I recommend the scallops with pesto. We shared the appetizers, and the margaritas were great. Even in the velvet booths, don't count on intimacy in this huge, refined space.

by moosie856 at Citysearch November 28, 2004 4 El Vez

Big glass facade with views outside and the huge circular bar are just a few of the features that makes El Vez fun to go with a crowd. The food we ordered was NOT family-style at all: small portions, but very tasty. I recommend the scallops with pesto. We shared the appetizers, and the margaritas were great. Even in the velvet booths, don't count on intimacy in this huge, refined space.

Pros: margaritas, atmosphere

The pomegranate margarita was pretty good, as was the guacamole and the snack mix. However, the classic mexican dishes such as the queso and chorizo dish are found much better elsewhere and for much much less. The mahi mahi tacos were ok - the cabbage slaw was much too sour, and really, one can find better at El Rio Grande. I also tried the lamb entree which was good. Overall the ambience is great, but not worth the price of the food.

Average Mexican for Above Average Prices

The pomegranate margarita was pretty good, as was the guacamole and the snack mix. However, the classic mexican dishes such as the queso and chorizo dish are found much better elsewhere and for much much less. The mahi mahi tacos were ok - the cabbage slaw was much too sour, and really, one can find better at El Rio Grande. I also tried the lamb entree which was good. Overall the ambience is great, but not worth the price of the food.

As I had a 40 minute wait for my guests I made myself at home at the bar. Initially I had some concern when I surveyed the menu,which seemed limited, and sipped on a below average but pricey margarita.When everyone arrived we were seated and served promplty.When we were almost done our meals we observed that not one of us had a complaint about the appetizers or entrees,which is to say a lot when you dine with 3 women and 2 are waitresess.

by greyson_winfield at Citysearch May 23, 2004 4 El Vez

As I had a 40 minute wait for my guests I made myself at home at the bar. Initially I had some concern when I surveyed the menu,which seemed limited, and sipped on a below average but pricey margarita.When everyone arrived we were seated and served promplty.When we were almost done our meals we observed that not one of us had a complaint about the appetizers or entrees,which is to say a lot when you dine with 3 women and 2 are waitresess.

The atmosphere was great. The drink menu was interesting and we tried a few different ones. We thought $12 was a bit much for guac made with 1 1/2 avocados. We opted for the queso fundido (really good!) because my honey already makes a great guac. DO NOT get the turkey mole. There was more sauce than turkey and it was blah.

by jaybeemac at Citysearch April 09, 2004 4 El Vez

The atmosphere was great. The drink menu was interesting and we tried a few different ones. We thought $12 was a bit much for guac made with 1 1/2 avocados. We opted for the queso fundido (really good!) because my honey already makes a great guac. DO NOT get the turkey mole. There was more sauce than turkey and it was blah.


Chicana Vegana: Fullerton, California

Orange County native Jasmine Hernandez thinks chefs are just scratching the surface of what is possible with vegan food, and she is all-in to advance the evolution. She started Chicana Vegana as a pop-up, then moved to a food truck, and most recently opened a brick and mortar location in downtown Fullerton, CA.

Hernandez’s experience with portable food is obviously paying off, as her business grows despite limitations on indoor dining during the pandemic. This young chef makes delicious vegan versions of traditional Mexican favorites like carne asada, al pastor, carnitas, and shrimp for street tacos, burritos, and loaded nachos.


I'm Todd Wilbur, Chronic Food Hacker

For 30 years I've been deconstructing America's most iconic brand-name foods to make the best original clone recipes for you to use at home. Welcome to my lab.

The sweet-and-savory breakfast sandwich made with two slices of French toast first appeared on the Burger King menu in 2019, but it was just for a limited time. In 2021, BK brought the breakfast sandwich back, and this time it came with a new ingredient: buttery maple spread. The first version of the sandwich was good, but the sequel with the new maple spread is great.

And that’s right where this clone starts. The hack here for the buttery maple spread is just three ingredients and it will chill out in your fridge while you make the easy French toast. Find small, thin slices of white bread for that. Sara Lee makes a loaf of bread called Delightful that works great.

The real French toast sandwiches come with either sausage, bacon, or ham, so pick your favorite and insert it between the egg and cheese. If your ingredients cool down as you are prepping, just pop each assembled sandwich into your microwave for about 15 seconds prior to serving for perfectly warmed French toast and gooey melted cheese.

Check out more of my Burger King copycat recipes here.

At Cosmic Wings, Applebee’s second attempt at a virtual chicken wing chain, they have a code name for the Cheetos crumbs that coat their signature wings: Cheedle. The delivery-only wing chain debuted in February 2021 and has several other more traditional sauce flavors such as classic Buffalo, honey mustard, and spicy barbecue, but it’s the sauce made with Cheetos that puts the cosmic in the wings.

The concept is simple and the hack is straightforward once you pick your flavor or Cheetos to crush. Are you going with the more mellow regular cheese flavor Cheetos, or the kicked up Flamin’ Hot Cheetos? Pick your flavor and crush up some “Cheedle” in a food processor. If you don’t have one of those you can put the Cheetos in a storage bag and whack on ‘em with a kitchen mallet or rolling pin.

Fry some wings, baste them with a buttery sauce, and toss them in the Cheedle of your choice. And if Flamin’ Hot isn’t hot enough for you, you could use Cheetos XXX Hot Flamin’ Hot Cheetos that are twice as hot as Flamin’ Hot, and you’d have kicked-up version that isn’t offered on the menu.

Find more fun and easy appetizer recipes here.

Menu Description: “A deliciously different way to taco. Tangy grilled chicken, sweet Asian chile sauce and dumpling sauce stuffed into crispy wonton shells and topped with a crunchy slaw and cilantro mix.”

Re-creating this hit appetizer requires cloning four parts none of which are difficult: Grilled chicken, coleslaw, secret dumpling sauce, and the crispy wonton shell to hold all of it together. For the chicken, we’ll grill a couple of thighs and chop them up. Then we’ll use bottled sweet chili sauce—usually found in your grocery store where Asian foods are parked—to punch up the flavor.

The coleslaw is easy with a dressing that’s only five ingredients. The slaw is best when it has some time to sit and wilt a bit, so plan ahead for the best flavor. You can slice the cabbage yourself, but a coleslaw kit that’s a combo of sliced cabbage and shredded carrots is a big time-saver. Just measure out 4 cups of the cabbage blend and mix it with the minced cilantro and dressing.

Wonton taco shells are not a thing you can usually find in stores, so we’ll make our own using wonton wrappers and a skillet of hot oil. When the oil is hot, add a wonton wrapper and use tongs to fold it over diagonally as it fries until it’s crispy on both sides. It takes less than a minute to fry each wonton taco shell, and you’ll get better at it as you go. Just be sure to leave plenty of room in the taco for the delicious fillings to come.

I've cloned a lot of dishes from Applebee's. See if I hacked your favorites here.

For a great chicken tortilla soup that doesn’t skimp on chicken and comes packed with other goodies like two kinds of beans, corn, chiles, onion, celery, garlic, and cilantro you’ll want to hack Chick-fil-A’s hearty version. Their soup is not only surprisingly good for a fast food chain, but it could also stand up to tortilla soups from any full-service chain, and these preparation secrets will guide you through a spot-on at-home clone.

For the white beans look for canned navy beans or small white beans. Cannellini beans and Great Northern beans are too big for a perfect clone, but if that's all you can find they’ll still work here.

The chicken is made the same way as in my Top Secret Recipe for Chick-fil-A Southwest Chicken Salad—it’s brined for four hours to infuse it with flavor before it gets grilled. Keep that extra prep time in mind when planning your soup.

Chick-fil-A uses natural roasted chicken flavor in their version, and we can do the same by using Better Than Bouillon Roasted Chicken Base found in many stores and online. That particular ingredient will give you the best clone, but if you can’t track it down you can also use regular bouillon cubes.

Top your soup with fried tortilla strips sold in bags or just crumble some of your favorite tortilla chips over the top, and grab a spoon.

This huge chicken chain offers seven delicious dressings to top three salad choices, and this is my current favorite of the bunch. The Avocado Lime Ranch Dressing is best on a Southwestern-style salad like the one on Chick-fil-A’s menu with mixed greens, black beans, corn, spicy chicken, and tortilla strips on top. But it’ll work on just about any mixed greens salad or burrito bowl you come up with at home or use it as a dip for chicken fingers, taquitos, and Southwestern eggrolls.

For a good home clone be sure to smash the avocado until no chunks remain and let the dressing sit for at least an hour before you use it so the dried herbs, onion, and garlic can rehydrate and the flavors can bloom.

Click here for more of my Chick-fil-A copycat recipes.

Menu Description: Tender marinated steak, fire-roasted poblanos, cilantro pesto, yellow onions, Mozzarella, Monterey Jack and fresh cilantro. Served with housemade salsa verde.

One of California Pizza Kitchen’s most popular “globally-inspired” pizzas is this fabulous pie topped with strips of marinated flank steak, cilantro pesto, and fire-roasted poblano pepper. I broke it down and hacked all the parts for you—including the awesome salsa verde that goes on top—so that you can assemble two beautiful pizzas that look and taste like the real thing.

Sometimes deliciousness requires patience, so be sure to plan this clone one day in advance to allow your dough to properly proof and the steak to fully marinate. You can also prep the pesto, salsa verde, and roasted poblano one day in advance so that when it comes time to make pizzas the next day, you just need to cook the carne asada, build the pizzas, and bake.

The Southern-themed chain famous for its gift shops filled with made-in-America products and delicious homestyle food is also known to have a particularly good meatloaf. This dish ranks high in popularity, right up there with the Chicken ‘n Dumplins and the Hash Brown Casserole, so a good hack is long overdue.

Making meatloaf is easy. What’s hard is making it taste like the meatloaf at Cracker Barrel which is tender and juicy, and flavored with onion, green pepper, and tomato. I sought to turn out a moist and tender loaf of meat, and one that’s not dry and tough, but my first attempts were much too dense. I wasn’t happy about that, but my dog was thrilled.

After playing around with the eggs-to-breadcrumbs-to-milk ratios and being careful to use gentle hands when combining everything and pressing it into the loaf pan, the final batch was a winner and I get to pass it along to you.

It's best to use a meatloaf pan here which has an insert that lets the fat drip to the bottom, away from the meat. A regular loaf pan will still work, but you’ll want to pour off the fat in the pan before slicing.

Satisfy your Cracker Barrel cravings with more of my copycat recipes here.

If you didn’t know this salad came from Chick-fil-A you could easily be fooled into thinking it was a much more expensive salad from a casual chain like T.G.I. Friday’s or Chili’s. The bed of greens is built with crisp romaine, green leaf, and red leaf lettuce, and without a speck of tasteless iceberg in sight. On top of that are ingredients you don’t associate with fast food, like grilled corn, black beans, roasted peppers, spicy chili lime pepitas, and crunchy tortilla chips. Everything works great together, and now I can show you how to make all of it for a spot-on home hack.

Chick-fil-A knows chicken, so of course the spicy chicken served on top of the salad is delicious. We can easily clone it by marinating chicken fillets in a special spicy brine for a few hours to infuse it with flavor and juiciness, then grilling it, chilling it, and slicing it thin.

The biggest star of the salad is the secret recipe that kitchen cloners have requested most: the creamy salsa dressing. To make your own version roast some peppers, mix those with the other ingredients in a blender until the dressing is smooth and creamy, and you’ll get a bright, spicy dressing that’s perfect for this salad, or any other home-crafted salads in your future.

Hungry for more Chick-Fil-A? Find my clones for their famous chicken sandwich, mac & cheese, and more here.

Korean chicken is famous for its extra crispy coating, and Bonchon’s recipe—especially the wings—is one of the best in the world. That chain's famous formula is why there are now over 340 Bonchon outlets in nine countries, including over one hundred in the US and more planned to open here in the near future.

The biggest challenge when recreating Korean chicken wings is finding the perfect magical mixture for the batter that fries to a golden brown, and with tender crispiness that stays crunchy long after the wings have been brushed with the flavorful glaze.

I knew that a traditional double-frying technique would help create the crunchy coating we needed, but it would take some trial-and-error to determine the best time splits. The wings are par-fried, rested, then fried again until done, but just how long to give each stage was yet to be determined since every recipe I found for Korean chicken used different times and temps. Some recipes even changed the temperature between frying steps, but I found those made the recipe too difficult to manage when frying multiple batches.

I eventually settled on 350 degrees F with most of the frying done up front in the par-fry stage. A three-ingredient batter is all that’s needed for crispy golden-brown wings, and the soy garlic sauce is an easy hack that’s made quickly in your microwave oven. The spicy version is made by adding Korean red chili paste (gochujang) and Korean red pepper powder (gochugaru) to the soy garlic recipe. You can find these ingredients at Asian markets or online, and if you like your wings spicy you'll want to add these perky ingredients.

Click here for more delicious appetizer recipes.

Imagine a giant soft sugar cookie with sweetened cream cheese on top and served warm as if it just came out of the oven and you have California Pizza Kitchen's Butter Cake, a delectable dessert described on the menu with five simple words: “Trust us…just try it.”

This dessert is an easy one to prep in the restaurant since the cakes are made ahead of time and chilled until ordered. Once an order comes in the cake is zapped for a minute in the microwave, then topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and surrounded by dollops of whipped cream. You can prepare yours this way at home as well—make your cakes in advance, then chill them until dessert time. Or, you can serve the cakes right after they come out of the oven. Either way works.

The construction is an easy one—you’ll need four 4-inch cake pans, or ramekins, or anything you can bake in that is 4-inches across. To make the batter I used a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and it worked great, but a hand-held granny mixer also works.

I think you're gonna love this one. Trust me. just hack it.

Find more amazing CPK copycat recipes here.

Braised and shredded pork shoulder is a staple of Mexican cuisine that Chipotle prepares with a simple blend of flavors, and a surprising ingredient you may not have expected: juniper berries. Once you track those down (they’re easy to find online), the berries are combined with thyme and bay leaves in a braising liquid that will transform your own pork roast into an easily shreddable thing of beauty in under 3 hours. Then you can use your freshly cloned carnitas on tacos, in burritos, or in a bowl over rice and beans just like they do in the restaurant.

When picking your pork roast, try to find one without too much fat. If your roast has a thick cap of fat on it, trim off the excess. You want some fat in your braising liquid, but if the cap of fat is too thick, it may not fully render down and you’ll get chunks of fat in the shred.

It’s often assumed that the pork butt is from the rear end of the pig, even though cuts from the back region already have a name: ham. The pork butt, also known as a Boston butt, is cut from the other end, the upper shoulder of the pig. It’s called a “butt” because in pre-Revolutionary War New England the roasts were stored and transported in barrels called “butts”, and the confusing name stuck.

I’m not sure why Einstein Bros. claims there are just four cheeses in the new Twice-Baked Hash Brown when the ingredients clearly list six kinds of cheese, plus cream cheese. Regardless, the shredded Asiago, Romano, Parmesan, provolone, and mozzarella listed there can be found combined in an “Italian Blend” at many supermarkets, making for an easy start to our home clone. And don’t just be thinking about breakfast for these cheesy potatoes. They work great as a side for any meal.

In the detailed description of the new item, Einstein Bros. claims the hash browns contain two kinds of schmears, which is true, but a little misleading because one of them is just plain cream cheese. The other is onion-and-chive cream cheese, which we can make from scratch. We’ll combine those two shmears into one blend by doubling the cream cheese added to our onion-and-chive schmear formula.

Mix everything together and load the ingredients into a standard 12-cup muffin pan with circles of parchment paper cut out to fit into the bottom of the 12 cups. Without these parchment circles, the hash browns may stick and break when they’re released. You can also use paper muffin cups, if you don’t mind the less crispy, ridged sides.

Bake them the first time for 30 minutes, then cool and store. Now you have a dozen servings of cheesy hash brown potatoes that are easy to finish off by baking them a second time until crispy. They are great served with breakfast, or for dinner as your starchy side alongside beef, chicken, lamb, and many other savory entrees.

You can also make homemade Einstein Bros bagels, sandwiches, and shmears. See if I hacked your favorites here.

Menu Description: "Lightly fried Brussels sprouts tossed in Big Poppa Smokers Desert Gold seasoning with sweet sriracha crema."

Brussels sprouts have been exploding on chain restaurant menus in recent years, and the best I've tasted are served as starters. The cruciferous wonders are usually roasted or fried, then dressed with a sauce meant to override the sprouts' inherent bitterness. And when they’re done right, those Brussels sprouts will be the most memorable dish at the table.

BJ’s preparation technique of choice for Brussels sprouts is to fry them, then sprinkle them with a lemony seasoning blend by Big Poppa Smokers just before they get drizzled with sweet sriracha crema. For the seasoning, there’s no need to buy the real thing since I’ve come up with an easy hack. And the sriracha crema copycat couldn’t be simpler, with just four ingredients.

This recipe makes a share plate appetizer-size serving for 2 to 4 people, but you'll have enough seasoning and sauce here for a bigger serving (such as a side dish) if you just add more sprouts.

Now, how about a bowl of famous chili or a Pizookie from Bj's Brewhouse?

Menu Description: “This fresh-baked pull-apart bread is topped with caramelized butter, brown sugar and cinnamon, baked to a golden brown finish and then topped with vanilla bean ice cream.”

BJ’s signature dessert, and probably its most famous single menu item, is the Pizookie, which is a cookie baked in a small pizza pan, served hot with ice cream on top. But the cookie in the pan isn’t always a cookie. Sometimes it’s a brownie, or in the case of this recent variation on the famous dessert, freshly-baked monkey bread.

Just as in the restaurant, the monkey bread in this clone isn’t originally baked in the 6-inch cake pans (or pizza pans) it’s served in. The monkey bread is baked ahead of time in a larger pan, then the sections of bread are placed into the smaller serving pans, with the gooey side up, and they’re warmed up just before serving.

Great monkey bread needs to be made from scratch, and it’s not hard. Many of the most popular recipes for monkey bread you’ll see are made with instant biscuits in a tube. This is an easier solution to be sure, but monkey bread made with quick dough—dough that’s chemically leavened with baking powder—rather than with hardier yeast dough just doesn’t match up to what you get at the restaurant.

Rather than making the monkey bread in a Bundt cake pan as most traditional recipes call for, we’ll make this one in a single layer in an 8-inch cake pan or deep-dish pizza pan. When the bread is cool, it’s broken up and transferred to two smaller cake pans, warmed up, topped with ice cream, and served.

Make it a complete meal and try my clone recipes for Bj's Avocado Egg Rolls and famous chili.

Over the years I've hacked a bunch of items from Chili's menu, including their Fajitas, Baby Back Ribs, Salsa, Chili Queso, Southwestern Eggrolls, Chicken Crispers, Boneless Wings, and more, but it wasn’t until recently that I got the chance to work on a hack for the chain’s award-winning Original Chili. Why it took so long, I have no idea.

The chili served at Chili’s is a Texas-style con carne recipe, which traditionally means no beans and no tomato. You won’t find any beans in this recipe or chunks of tomato, but their chili does have a tomato base to boost flavor, so I’m adding that into the mix by including one 6-ounce can of tomato paste. As it turns out, that small can is just the right amount.

The preparation technique is simple: brown the beef, drain off the fat, then add some of the fat back to the empty pan to sauté the onions and peppers in. When those are done, you add the beef back to the pan along with the remaining ingredients and simmer for 1½ hours. That will be just long enough to braise the beef and tenderize it, and to thicken the chili to a perfect consistency.

When the chili’s done, top each serving with a cheddar/pepper Jack blend, and some crispy tortilla bits. Then pass out the spoons.

Check here more of my Chili's copycat recipes.

If you like Bojangles’ famous flakey buttermilk biscuits, then you’ve got to be a fan of the chain’s popular Bo-Berry Biscuits. Bojangles’ transforms their great top-secret buttermilk biscuit recipe into a popular dessert item by adding blueberry bits and a drizzle of sweet glaze over the top. Really good just got better.

The basic recipe here for the biscuits is the same as my clone for Bojangles’ Buttermilk Biscuits, because I wouldn’t want to change a thing. The new secrets you’ll get here are for the glaze and a handy trick for getting the dried blueberries chopped into little bits without making a sticky mess.

I suggest margarine for a fluffier final product, but you can replace the margarine with butter if you want more butter flavor in the biscuits. Just as with the plain buttermilk biscuits recipe, make sure all your ingredients are cold and your oven is very hot. And don’t overmix or overwork the dough if you want flakey, fluffy biscuits that look and taste just like the real ones.

Once you have the basics down, most coconut shrimp comes out tasting the same. But Bahama Breeze uses a special secret ingredient that makes its signature appetizer stand out above all the rest.

Adding Coco Lopez cream of coconut—a mixer often used to make pina colada cocktails—to the batter gives the shrimp a burst of coconut flavor that it won’t get from coconut flakes alone, plus a perfect sweetness. After the shrimp are dipped in the batter, they are coated in a blend of breadcrumbs and shredded coconut and fried for just three minutes.

I’ve also included my hack for the delicious citrus-mustard sauce served on the side for dipping, but the shrimp are so good on their own you could eat them straight up.

Bojangles’ was founded in 1977 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and today the 750-unit chain is famous throughout the southeastern U.S. for its juicy fried chicken, fluffy buttermilk biscuits, and Cajun dirty rice.

And just like McDonald’s, Bo’s has a special sauce that’s pretty famous too. It’s arguably much better than McDonald’s Big Mac sauce, especially if you like the flavors of horseradish and roasted red bell pepper. The lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and sugar team up for the appropriate sweet-and-sour notes found in any decent special sauce, and the herbs add a nice finish you don’t get with other sandwich sauces. You might also like to know that my version is made without the high-fructose corn syrup that’s listed as the third ingredient in the real thing.

Mix everything in a bowl and park it in the fridge for a spell so the flavors can mingle, then use the sauce as you see fit on sandwiches made with fried chicken, grilled chicken, and roast beef, or as a dip for chicken fingers and nuggets.

Crispy cauliflower appetizers are abundant at the chains these days, and not all of them are good enough to be clone-worthy, but CPK’s take on breaded cauliflower in buffalo wing sauce is one of the best I’ve had. The crispy florets are made gluten-free with rice flour and they are beautifully presented in a puddle of ranch dressing, sprinkled with Gorgonzola cheese, and topped with julienned celery and green onions.

For the sauce, CPK chefs combine the flavor of traditional buffalo wings with sriracha and then sweeten it a bit. After a few tries, I came up with a hack that’s ridiculously easy, requiring only four ingredients.

The batter is even easier, with only three ingredients— rice flour, buttermilk, and salt—and once your oil is hot enough, it takes under 3 minutes to cook the cauliflower to perfection. After a gentle toss in the secret sauce, you’re ready to plate your trendy, tantalizing appetizer.

For your main course, check out my clone recipes for popular CPK pizzas, soups, and salads here.

For decades, Carl’s Jr. has effectively cornered the market on fried zucchini at major fast food chains by serving a great crispy breaded version that’s flavorful all the way through. Now you can make zucchini that tastes just as good, as long as you know the secret step that other fried zucchini recipes miss. It makes all the difference.

The secret is a brine. I found that this fried zucchini tastes best when it takes a salted water bath before breading. In 60 minutes, the salt in the brine is absorbed by the zucchini, spreading good flavor all the way through. After the brine, the zucchini is rinsed, coated twice with flour and once with seasoned breadcrumbs, and fried to a beautiful golden brown.

I’m giving you a couple choices here. You can make the recipe all the way through and serve it immediately, or if you want to serve it later, you can par-fry the zucchini and freeze it for several days. After that, when an occasion arises, a couple minutes is all it takes to finish off the dish and serve it. This recipe makes enough for a small gathering, but you can easily cut it in half for a more intimate hang.

Click here for more amazing Carl's Jr. copycat recipes.

The new Mac & Cheese at Chick-fil-A is baked fresh every day, and the recipe is more complex than you might expect from a fast food chicken chain. According to the official list of ingredients, the formula includes several different kinds of cheese including Parmesan, Romano, and award-winning hard cheese from Wisconsin called BellaVitano. The BellaVitano cheese adds a subtle nuttiness to the mix and all three hard cheeses contribute big umami flavor that nicely complements the blend of white and yellow cheddars.

Those five kinds of cheese combine to make a great flavor, but the blend would melt into a greasy mess if it weren’t for the assistance of one more ubiquitous cheese: American. The benefit of American cheese—which makes up for its lack of flavor—is found in the sodium citrate it contains. This natural sodium salt is an emulsifier that keeps the fat in the cheese from separating (and it also happens to be useful in preventing kidney stones!). By first melting several slices of American cheese in the milk we don’t need to make a roux to create a perfectly smooth cheese sauce.

As for cooking the macaroni, here’s another secret: don’t follow the directions on the box for al dente pasta, because you don’t want the pasta to be al dente, or slightly tough. You want to cook the elbow macaroni for 20 minutes so that it absorbs as much water as possible. This will ensure that the pasta won’t suck up liquid in the cheese sauce when they are combined, and the sauce will maintain a perfectly creamy consistency.

If you like this copycat Chick-fil-A mac and cheese recipe, click here for more Chick-fil-A clone recipes.

There’s one copycat recipe for these famous biscuits that’s posted and shared more than any other, and it’s downright awful. The dough is formulated with self-rising flour, baking powder, powdered sugar, shortening, and buttermilk, and many complain that the recipe creates dough that’s much too loose and the resulting biscuits are a complete disaster. Yet there the recipe remains on blogs and boards all over the interweb for unsuspecting home cloners such as yourself to waste time on. But that won’t happen anymore, because I have made a good copycat Bojangles' buttermilk biscuits recipe that works the way it should, guaranteeing you’ll get amazing golden buttermilk biscuits that look and taste just like a trained Bojangles’ pro made them.

In addition to the obvious overuse of buttermilk, the popular recipe I found online has many problems. The author gets it right when calling for self-rising flour, which is flour containing salt and a leavening agent (aka baking powder), but why would the copycat Bojangles biscuit recipe be designed to use self-rising flour and then add additional leaving? Well, it probably wouldn’t. Biscuits are job number 1 for self-rising flour, and the leavening in there is measured for that use, so there’s no need to add more. If you were planning to add your own leavening, you’d probably start with all-purpose flour, which has no leavening in it. And let's just be clear: baking powder tastes gross, so we want to add as little as possible, not more than necessary.

It’s also important to handle the dough the same way that workers at Bojangles’ do. They make biscuits there every 20 minutes and there are plenty of YouTube videos showing the preparation technique. In a nutshell, the dough is mixed by hand (in the restaurant they use their hands because the quantity is so large, but for this recipe use a mixing spoon), then it’s folded over a few times on a floured countertop before it’s rolled out. This gentle handling of the dough prevents the gluten in the flour from toughening and adds layers, so your biscuits come out of the oven tender and flakey.

For the best results, find White Lily flour. This self-rising flour is low in gluten and makes unbelievably fluffy biscuits. If you use another self-rising brand, you’ll still get great biscuits, but the gluten level will likely be higher, the biscuits will be tougher, and you’ll probably need more buttermilk. Head down to the Tidbits below for details on that.

And I noticed another thing most copycat Bojangles biscuit recipes get wrong. For biscuits that are beautifully golden brown on the top and bottom, you’ll want to bake them on a silicone baking mat (or parchment paper) at 500 degrees F. Yes, 500 degrees. That may seem hot, but this high temp works well with self-rising flour, and in 12 to 15 minutes the biscuits will be perfectly browned.

Counterintuitively, it’s the lower temperatures that end up burning the biscuits, while the higher temperature cooks them just right. At lower temps the biscuits must stay in the oven longer to cook through, which exposes the surfaces to more heat, and they end up too dark on the outside, especially the bottom. For even better results, if you have a convection setting on your oven, use that and set the temp to 475 degrees F. Your biscuits will look like they came straight from the drive-thru.


I'm Todd Wilbur, Chronic Food Hacker

For 30 years I've been deconstructing America's most iconic brand-name foods to make the best original clone recipes for you to use at home. Welcome to my lab.

The sweet-and-savory breakfast sandwich made with two slices of French toast first appeared on the Burger King menu in 2019, but it was just for a limited time. In 2021, BK brought the breakfast sandwich back, and this time it came with a new ingredient: buttery maple spread. The first version of the sandwich was good, but the sequel with the new maple spread is great.

And that’s right where this clone starts. The hack here for the buttery maple spread is just three ingredients and it will chill out in your fridge while you make the easy French toast. Find small, thin slices of white bread for that. Sara Lee makes a loaf of bread called Delightful that works great.

The real French toast sandwiches come with either sausage, bacon, or ham, so pick your favorite and insert it between the egg and cheese. If your ingredients cool down as you are prepping, just pop each assembled sandwich into your microwave for about 15 seconds prior to serving for perfectly warmed French toast and gooey melted cheese.

Check out more of my Burger King copycat recipes here.

At Cosmic Wings, Applebee’s second attempt at a virtual chicken wing chain, they have a code name for the Cheetos crumbs that coat their signature wings: Cheedle. The delivery-only wing chain debuted in February 2021 and has several other more traditional sauce flavors such as classic Buffalo, honey mustard, and spicy barbecue, but it’s the sauce made with Cheetos that puts the cosmic in the wings.

The concept is simple and the hack is straightforward once you pick your flavor or Cheetos to crush. Are you going with the more mellow regular cheese flavor Cheetos, or the kicked up Flamin’ Hot Cheetos? Pick your flavor and crush up some “Cheedle” in a food processor. If you don’t have one of those you can put the Cheetos in a storage bag and whack on ‘em with a kitchen mallet or rolling pin.

Fry some wings, baste them with a buttery sauce, and toss them in the Cheedle of your choice. And if Flamin’ Hot isn’t hot enough for you, you could use Cheetos XXX Hot Flamin’ Hot Cheetos that are twice as hot as Flamin’ Hot, and you’d have kicked-up version that isn’t offered on the menu.

Find more fun and easy appetizer recipes here.

Menu Description: “A deliciously different way to taco. Tangy grilled chicken, sweet Asian chile sauce and dumpling sauce stuffed into crispy wonton shells and topped with a crunchy slaw and cilantro mix.”

Re-creating this hit appetizer requires cloning four parts none of which are difficult: Grilled chicken, coleslaw, secret dumpling sauce, and the crispy wonton shell to hold all of it together. For the chicken, we’ll grill a couple of thighs and chop them up. Then we’ll use bottled sweet chili sauce—usually found in your grocery store where Asian foods are parked—to punch up the flavor.

The coleslaw is easy with a dressing that’s only five ingredients. The slaw is best when it has some time to sit and wilt a bit, so plan ahead for the best flavor. You can slice the cabbage yourself, but a coleslaw kit that’s a combo of sliced cabbage and shredded carrots is a big time-saver. Just measure out 4 cups of the cabbage blend and mix it with the minced cilantro and dressing.

Wonton taco shells are not a thing you can usually find in stores, so we’ll make our own using wonton wrappers and a skillet of hot oil. When the oil is hot, add a wonton wrapper and use tongs to fold it over diagonally as it fries until it’s crispy on both sides. It takes less than a minute to fry each wonton taco shell, and you’ll get better at it as you go. Just be sure to leave plenty of room in the taco for the delicious fillings to come.

I've cloned a lot of dishes from Applebee's. See if I hacked your favorites here.

For a great chicken tortilla soup that doesn’t skimp on chicken and comes packed with other goodies like two kinds of beans, corn, chiles, onion, celery, garlic, and cilantro you’ll want to hack Chick-fil-A’s hearty version. Their soup is not only surprisingly good for a fast food chain, but it could also stand up to tortilla soups from any full-service chain, and these preparation secrets will guide you through a spot-on at-home clone.

For the white beans look for canned navy beans or small white beans. Cannellini beans and Great Northern beans are too big for a perfect clone, but if that's all you can find they’ll still work here.

The chicken is made the same way as in my Top Secret Recipe for Chick-fil-A Southwest Chicken Salad—it’s brined for four hours to infuse it with flavor before it gets grilled. Keep that extra prep time in mind when planning your soup.

Chick-fil-A uses natural roasted chicken flavor in their version, and we can do the same by using Better Than Bouillon Roasted Chicken Base found in many stores and online. That particular ingredient will give you the best clone, but if you can’t track it down you can also use regular bouillon cubes.

Top your soup with fried tortilla strips sold in bags or just crumble some of your favorite tortilla chips over the top, and grab a spoon.

This huge chicken chain offers seven delicious dressings to top three salad choices, and this is my current favorite of the bunch. The Avocado Lime Ranch Dressing is best on a Southwestern-style salad like the one on Chick-fil-A’s menu with mixed greens, black beans, corn, spicy chicken, and tortilla strips on top. But it’ll work on just about any mixed greens salad or burrito bowl you come up with at home or use it as a dip for chicken fingers, taquitos, and Southwestern eggrolls.

For a good home clone be sure to smash the avocado until no chunks remain and let the dressing sit for at least an hour before you use it so the dried herbs, onion, and garlic can rehydrate and the flavors can bloom.

Click here for more of my Chick-fil-A copycat recipes.

Menu Description: Tender marinated steak, fire-roasted poblanos, cilantro pesto, yellow onions, Mozzarella, Monterey Jack and fresh cilantro. Served with housemade salsa verde.

One of California Pizza Kitchen’s most popular “globally-inspired” pizzas is this fabulous pie topped with strips of marinated flank steak, cilantro pesto, and fire-roasted poblano pepper. I broke it down and hacked all the parts for you—including the awesome salsa verde that goes on top—so that you can assemble two beautiful pizzas that look and taste like the real thing.

Sometimes deliciousness requires patience, so be sure to plan this clone one day in advance to allow your dough to properly proof and the steak to fully marinate. You can also prep the pesto, salsa verde, and roasted poblano one day in advance so that when it comes time to make pizzas the next day, you just need to cook the carne asada, build the pizzas, and bake.

The Southern-themed chain famous for its gift shops filled with made-in-America products and delicious homestyle food is also known to have a particularly good meatloaf. This dish ranks high in popularity, right up there with the Chicken ‘n Dumplins and the Hash Brown Casserole, so a good hack is long overdue.

Making meatloaf is easy. What’s hard is making it taste like the meatloaf at Cracker Barrel which is tender and juicy, and flavored with onion, green pepper, and tomato. I sought to turn out a moist and tender loaf of meat, and one that’s not dry and tough, but my first attempts were much too dense. I wasn’t happy about that, but my dog was thrilled.

After playing around with the eggs-to-breadcrumbs-to-milk ratios and being careful to use gentle hands when combining everything and pressing it into the loaf pan, the final batch was a winner and I get to pass it along to you.

It's best to use a meatloaf pan here which has an insert that lets the fat drip to the bottom, away from the meat. A regular loaf pan will still work, but you’ll want to pour off the fat in the pan before slicing.

Satisfy your Cracker Barrel cravings with more of my copycat recipes here.

If you didn’t know this salad came from Chick-fil-A you could easily be fooled into thinking it was a much more expensive salad from a casual chain like T.G.I. Friday’s or Chili’s. The bed of greens is built with crisp romaine, green leaf, and red leaf lettuce, and without a speck of tasteless iceberg in sight. On top of that are ingredients you don’t associate with fast food, like grilled corn, black beans, roasted peppers, spicy chili lime pepitas, and crunchy tortilla chips. Everything works great together, and now I can show you how to make all of it for a spot-on home hack.

Chick-fil-A knows chicken, so of course the spicy chicken served on top of the salad is delicious. We can easily clone it by marinating chicken fillets in a special spicy brine for a few hours to infuse it with flavor and juiciness, then grilling it, chilling it, and slicing it thin.

The biggest star of the salad is the secret recipe that kitchen cloners have requested most: the creamy salsa dressing. To make your own version roast some peppers, mix those with the other ingredients in a blender until the dressing is smooth and creamy, and you’ll get a bright, spicy dressing that’s perfect for this salad, or any other home-crafted salads in your future.

Hungry for more Chick-Fil-A? Find my clones for their famous chicken sandwich, mac & cheese, and more here.

Korean chicken is famous for its extra crispy coating, and Bonchon’s recipe—especially the wings—is one of the best in the world. That chain's famous formula is why there are now over 340 Bonchon outlets in nine countries, including over one hundred in the US and more planned to open here in the near future.

The biggest challenge when recreating Korean chicken wings is finding the perfect magical mixture for the batter that fries to a golden brown, and with tender crispiness that stays crunchy long after the wings have been brushed with the flavorful glaze.

I knew that a traditional double-frying technique would help create the crunchy coating we needed, but it would take some trial-and-error to determine the best time splits. The wings are par-fried, rested, then fried again until done, but just how long to give each stage was yet to be determined since every recipe I found for Korean chicken used different times and temps. Some recipes even changed the temperature between frying steps, but I found those made the recipe too difficult to manage when frying multiple batches.

I eventually settled on 350 degrees F with most of the frying done up front in the par-fry stage. A three-ingredient batter is all that’s needed for crispy golden-brown wings, and the soy garlic sauce is an easy hack that’s made quickly in your microwave oven. The spicy version is made by adding Korean red chili paste (gochujang) and Korean red pepper powder (gochugaru) to the soy garlic recipe. You can find these ingredients at Asian markets or online, and if you like your wings spicy you'll want to add these perky ingredients.

Click here for more delicious appetizer recipes.

Imagine a giant soft sugar cookie with sweetened cream cheese on top and served warm as if it just came out of the oven and you have California Pizza Kitchen's Butter Cake, a delectable dessert described on the menu with five simple words: “Trust us…just try it.”

This dessert is an easy one to prep in the restaurant since the cakes are made ahead of time and chilled until ordered. Once an order comes in the cake is zapped for a minute in the microwave, then topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and surrounded by dollops of whipped cream. You can prepare yours this way at home as well—make your cakes in advance, then chill them until dessert time. Or, you can serve the cakes right after they come out of the oven. Either way works.

The construction is an easy one—you’ll need four 4-inch cake pans, or ramekins, or anything you can bake in that is 4-inches across. To make the batter I used a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and it worked great, but a hand-held granny mixer also works.

I think you're gonna love this one. Trust me. just hack it.

Find more amazing CPK copycat recipes here.

Braised and shredded pork shoulder is a staple of Mexican cuisine that Chipotle prepares with a simple blend of flavors, and a surprising ingredient you may not have expected: juniper berries. Once you track those down (they’re easy to find online), the berries are combined with thyme and bay leaves in a braising liquid that will transform your own pork roast into an easily shreddable thing of beauty in under 3 hours. Then you can use your freshly cloned carnitas on tacos, in burritos, or in a bowl over rice and beans just like they do in the restaurant.

When picking your pork roast, try to find one without too much fat. If your roast has a thick cap of fat on it, trim off the excess. You want some fat in your braising liquid, but if the cap of fat is too thick, it may not fully render down and you’ll get chunks of fat in the shred.

It’s often assumed that the pork butt is from the rear end of the pig, even though cuts from the back region already have a name: ham. The pork butt, also known as a Boston butt, is cut from the other end, the upper shoulder of the pig. It’s called a “butt” because in pre-Revolutionary War New England the roasts were stored and transported in barrels called “butts”, and the confusing name stuck.

I’m not sure why Einstein Bros. claims there are just four cheeses in the new Twice-Baked Hash Brown when the ingredients clearly list six kinds of cheese, plus cream cheese. Regardless, the shredded Asiago, Romano, Parmesan, provolone, and mozzarella listed there can be found combined in an “Italian Blend” at many supermarkets, making for an easy start to our home clone. And don’t just be thinking about breakfast for these cheesy potatoes. They work great as a side for any meal.

In the detailed description of the new item, Einstein Bros. claims the hash browns contain two kinds of schmears, which is true, but a little misleading because one of them is just plain cream cheese. The other is onion-and-chive cream cheese, which we can make from scratch. We’ll combine those two shmears into one blend by doubling the cream cheese added to our onion-and-chive schmear formula.

Mix everything together and load the ingredients into a standard 12-cup muffin pan with circles of parchment paper cut out to fit into the bottom of the 12 cups. Without these parchment circles, the hash browns may stick and break when they’re released. You can also use paper muffin cups, if you don’t mind the less crispy, ridged sides.

Bake them the first time for 30 minutes, then cool and store. Now you have a dozen servings of cheesy hash brown potatoes that are easy to finish off by baking them a second time until crispy. They are great served with breakfast, or for dinner as your starchy side alongside beef, chicken, lamb, and many other savory entrees.

You can also make homemade Einstein Bros bagels, sandwiches, and shmears. See if I hacked your favorites here.

Menu Description: "Lightly fried Brussels sprouts tossed in Big Poppa Smokers Desert Gold seasoning with sweet sriracha crema."

Brussels sprouts have been exploding on chain restaurant menus in recent years, and the best I've tasted are served as starters. The cruciferous wonders are usually roasted or fried, then dressed with a sauce meant to override the sprouts' inherent bitterness. And when they’re done right, those Brussels sprouts will be the most memorable dish at the table.

BJ’s preparation technique of choice for Brussels sprouts is to fry them, then sprinkle them with a lemony seasoning blend by Big Poppa Smokers just before they get drizzled with sweet sriracha crema. For the seasoning, there’s no need to buy the real thing since I’ve come up with an easy hack. And the sriracha crema copycat couldn’t be simpler, with just four ingredients.

This recipe makes a share plate appetizer-size serving for 2 to 4 people, but you'll have enough seasoning and sauce here for a bigger serving (such as a side dish) if you just add more sprouts.

Now, how about a bowl of famous chili or a Pizookie from Bj's Brewhouse?

Menu Description: “This fresh-baked pull-apart bread is topped with caramelized butter, brown sugar and cinnamon, baked to a golden brown finish and then topped with vanilla bean ice cream.”

BJ’s signature dessert, and probably its most famous single menu item, is the Pizookie, which is a cookie baked in a small pizza pan, served hot with ice cream on top. But the cookie in the pan isn’t always a cookie. Sometimes it’s a brownie, or in the case of this recent variation on the famous dessert, freshly-baked monkey bread.

Just as in the restaurant, the monkey bread in this clone isn’t originally baked in the 6-inch cake pans (or pizza pans) it’s served in. The monkey bread is baked ahead of time in a larger pan, then the sections of bread are placed into the smaller serving pans, with the gooey side up, and they’re warmed up just before serving.

Great monkey bread needs to be made from scratch, and it’s not hard. Many of the most popular recipes for monkey bread you’ll see are made with instant biscuits in a tube. This is an easier solution to be sure, but monkey bread made with quick dough—dough that’s chemically leavened with baking powder—rather than with hardier yeast dough just doesn’t match up to what you get at the restaurant.

Rather than making the monkey bread in a Bundt cake pan as most traditional recipes call for, we’ll make this one in a single layer in an 8-inch cake pan or deep-dish pizza pan. When the bread is cool, it’s broken up and transferred to two smaller cake pans, warmed up, topped with ice cream, and served.

Make it a complete meal and try my clone recipes for Bj's Avocado Egg Rolls and famous chili.

Over the years I've hacked a bunch of items from Chili's menu, including their Fajitas, Baby Back Ribs, Salsa, Chili Queso, Southwestern Eggrolls, Chicken Crispers, Boneless Wings, and more, but it wasn’t until recently that I got the chance to work on a hack for the chain’s award-winning Original Chili. Why it took so long, I have no idea.

The chili served at Chili’s is a Texas-style con carne recipe, which traditionally means no beans and no tomato. You won’t find any beans in this recipe or chunks of tomato, but their chili does have a tomato base to boost flavor, so I’m adding that into the mix by including one 6-ounce can of tomato paste. As it turns out, that small can is just the right amount.

The preparation technique is simple: brown the beef, drain off the fat, then add some of the fat back to the empty pan to sauté the onions and peppers in. When those are done, you add the beef back to the pan along with the remaining ingredients and simmer for 1½ hours. That will be just long enough to braise the beef and tenderize it, and to thicken the chili to a perfect consistency.

When the chili’s done, top each serving with a cheddar/pepper Jack blend, and some crispy tortilla bits. Then pass out the spoons.

Check here more of my Chili's copycat recipes.

If you like Bojangles’ famous flakey buttermilk biscuits, then you’ve got to be a fan of the chain’s popular Bo-Berry Biscuits. Bojangles’ transforms their great top-secret buttermilk biscuit recipe into a popular dessert item by adding blueberry bits and a drizzle of sweet glaze over the top. Really good just got better.

The basic recipe here for the biscuits is the same as my clone for Bojangles’ Buttermilk Biscuits, because I wouldn’t want to change a thing. The new secrets you’ll get here are for the glaze and a handy trick for getting the dried blueberries chopped into little bits without making a sticky mess.

I suggest margarine for a fluffier final product, but you can replace the margarine with butter if you want more butter flavor in the biscuits. Just as with the plain buttermilk biscuits recipe, make sure all your ingredients are cold and your oven is very hot. And don’t overmix or overwork the dough if you want flakey, fluffy biscuits that look and taste just like the real ones.

Once you have the basics down, most coconut shrimp comes out tasting the same. But Bahama Breeze uses a special secret ingredient that makes its signature appetizer stand out above all the rest.

Adding Coco Lopez cream of coconut—a mixer often used to make pina colada cocktails—to the batter gives the shrimp a burst of coconut flavor that it won’t get from coconut flakes alone, plus a perfect sweetness. After the shrimp are dipped in the batter, they are coated in a blend of breadcrumbs and shredded coconut and fried for just three minutes.

I’ve also included my hack for the delicious citrus-mustard sauce served on the side for dipping, but the shrimp are so good on their own you could eat them straight up.

Bojangles’ was founded in 1977 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and today the 750-unit chain is famous throughout the southeastern U.S. for its juicy fried chicken, fluffy buttermilk biscuits, and Cajun dirty rice.

And just like McDonald’s, Bo’s has a special sauce that’s pretty famous too. It’s arguably much better than McDonald’s Big Mac sauce, especially if you like the flavors of horseradish and roasted red bell pepper. The lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and sugar team up for the appropriate sweet-and-sour notes found in any decent special sauce, and the herbs add a nice finish you don’t get with other sandwich sauces. You might also like to know that my version is made without the high-fructose corn syrup that’s listed as the third ingredient in the real thing.

Mix everything in a bowl and park it in the fridge for a spell so the flavors can mingle, then use the sauce as you see fit on sandwiches made with fried chicken, grilled chicken, and roast beef, or as a dip for chicken fingers and nuggets.

Crispy cauliflower appetizers are abundant at the chains these days, and not all of them are good enough to be clone-worthy, but CPK’s take on breaded cauliflower in buffalo wing sauce is one of the best I’ve had. The crispy florets are made gluten-free with rice flour and they are beautifully presented in a puddle of ranch dressing, sprinkled with Gorgonzola cheese, and topped with julienned celery and green onions.

For the sauce, CPK chefs combine the flavor of traditional buffalo wings with sriracha and then sweeten it a bit. After a few tries, I came up with a hack that’s ridiculously easy, requiring only four ingredients.

The batter is even easier, with only three ingredients— rice flour, buttermilk, and salt—and once your oil is hot enough, it takes under 3 minutes to cook the cauliflower to perfection. After a gentle toss in the secret sauce, you’re ready to plate your trendy, tantalizing appetizer.

For your main course, check out my clone recipes for popular CPK pizzas, soups, and salads here.

For decades, Carl’s Jr. has effectively cornered the market on fried zucchini at major fast food chains by serving a great crispy breaded version that’s flavorful all the way through. Now you can make zucchini that tastes just as good, as long as you know the secret step that other fried zucchini recipes miss. It makes all the difference.

The secret is a brine. I found that this fried zucchini tastes best when it takes a salted water bath before breading. In 60 minutes, the salt in the brine is absorbed by the zucchini, spreading good flavor all the way through. After the brine, the zucchini is rinsed, coated twice with flour and once with seasoned breadcrumbs, and fried to a beautiful golden brown.

I’m giving you a couple choices here. You can make the recipe all the way through and serve it immediately, or if you want to serve it later, you can par-fry the zucchini and freeze it for several days. After that, when an occasion arises, a couple minutes is all it takes to finish off the dish and serve it. This recipe makes enough for a small gathering, but you can easily cut it in half for a more intimate hang.

Click here for more amazing Carl's Jr. copycat recipes.

The new Mac & Cheese at Chick-fil-A is baked fresh every day, and the recipe is more complex than you might expect from a fast food chicken chain. According to the official list of ingredients, the formula includes several different kinds of cheese including Parmesan, Romano, and award-winning hard cheese from Wisconsin called BellaVitano. The BellaVitano cheese adds a subtle nuttiness to the mix and all three hard cheeses contribute big umami flavor that nicely complements the blend of white and yellow cheddars.

Those five kinds of cheese combine to make a great flavor, but the blend would melt into a greasy mess if it weren’t for the assistance of one more ubiquitous cheese: American. The benefit of American cheese—which makes up for its lack of flavor—is found in the sodium citrate it contains. This natural sodium salt is an emulsifier that keeps the fat in the cheese from separating (and it also happens to be useful in preventing kidney stones!). By first melting several slices of American cheese in the milk we don’t need to make a roux to create a perfectly smooth cheese sauce.

As for cooking the macaroni, here’s another secret: don’t follow the directions on the box for al dente pasta, because you don’t want the pasta to be al dente, or slightly tough. You want to cook the elbow macaroni for 20 minutes so that it absorbs as much water as possible. This will ensure that the pasta won’t suck up liquid in the cheese sauce when they are combined, and the sauce will maintain a perfectly creamy consistency.

If you like this copycat Chick-fil-A mac and cheese recipe, click here for more Chick-fil-A clone recipes.

There’s one copycat recipe for these famous biscuits that’s posted and shared more than any other, and it’s downright awful. The dough is formulated with self-rising flour, baking powder, powdered sugar, shortening, and buttermilk, and many complain that the recipe creates dough that’s much too loose and the resulting biscuits are a complete disaster. Yet there the recipe remains on blogs and boards all over the interweb for unsuspecting home cloners such as yourself to waste time on. But that won’t happen anymore, because I have made a good copycat Bojangles' buttermilk biscuits recipe that works the way it should, guaranteeing you’ll get amazing golden buttermilk biscuits that look and taste just like a trained Bojangles’ pro made them.

In addition to the obvious overuse of buttermilk, the popular recipe I found online has many problems. The author gets it right when calling for self-rising flour, which is flour containing salt and a leavening agent (aka baking powder), but why would the copycat Bojangles biscuit recipe be designed to use self-rising flour and then add additional leaving? Well, it probably wouldn’t. Biscuits are job number 1 for self-rising flour, and the leavening in there is measured for that use, so there’s no need to add more. If you were planning to add your own leavening, you’d probably start with all-purpose flour, which has no leavening in it. And let's just be clear: baking powder tastes gross, so we want to add as little as possible, not more than necessary.

It’s also important to handle the dough the same way that workers at Bojangles’ do. They make biscuits there every 20 minutes and there are plenty of YouTube videos showing the preparation technique. In a nutshell, the dough is mixed by hand (in the restaurant they use their hands because the quantity is so large, but for this recipe use a mixing spoon), then it’s folded over a few times on a floured countertop before it’s rolled out. This gentle handling of the dough prevents the gluten in the flour from toughening and adds layers, so your biscuits come out of the oven tender and flakey.

For the best results, find White Lily flour. This self-rising flour is low in gluten and makes unbelievably fluffy biscuits. If you use another self-rising brand, you’ll still get great biscuits, but the gluten level will likely be higher, the biscuits will be tougher, and you’ll probably need more buttermilk. Head down to the Tidbits below for details on that.

And I noticed another thing most copycat Bojangles biscuit recipes get wrong. For biscuits that are beautifully golden brown on the top and bottom, you’ll want to bake them on a silicone baking mat (or parchment paper) at 500 degrees F. Yes, 500 degrees. That may seem hot, but this high temp works well with self-rising flour, and in 12 to 15 minutes the biscuits will be perfectly browned.

Counterintuitively, it’s the lower temperatures that end up burning the biscuits, while the higher temperature cooks them just right. At lower temps the biscuits must stay in the oven longer to cook through, which exposes the surfaces to more heat, and they end up too dark on the outside, especially the bottom. For even better results, if you have a convection setting on your oven, use that and set the temp to 475 degrees F. Your biscuits will look like they came straight from the drive-thru.


I'm Todd Wilbur, Chronic Food Hacker

For 30 years I've been deconstructing America's most iconic brand-name foods to make the best original clone recipes for you to use at home. Welcome to my lab.

Menu Description: "Large shrimp sauteed in extra-virgin olive oil with white wine, garlic and lemon."

Once you have the onion, garlic and parsley all chopped up, this clone of a top appetizer pick at the Olive Garden takes only a few minutes to assemble. Cooks at Olive Garden speed up the process by using what they call "scampi butter"—chilled blocks of butter with all the spices, garlic, and onions already in it—so that each serving is prepared quickly and consistently without any tedious measuring. When the shrimp is done, each one is placed on the inside end of five toasted Italian bread slices (you can also use a French baguette) and a delicious sauce is poured over the top. I've included diced roma tomato here as an optional garnish, since one Olive Garden used it, but another location on the other side of town did not. As for the shrimp, use medium-size (they're called 31/40) that are already peeled, but with the tails left on. Butterfly the shrimp by slicing almost all the way through the middle. As the shrimp cooks, they will curl and spread open.

Scampi lovers will also enjoy my clone recipe for Olive Garden Chicken Scampi. You can snag that recipe here.

With over 100 million dollars given to charity since 1982, Newman's Own products have become an American favorite. One variety of the brand's dressings that really stands out is this exceptional Caesar salad dressing, probably the best commercial Caesar dressing on the market. Part of the secret for this special recipe is the inclusion of Worcestershire sauce. Not only does Worcestershire give your dressing the perfect flavor and color of the original, but the sauce is made with a fishy ingredient that's crucial for a good Caesar dressing: anchovies.

Source: Even More Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

El Pollo Loco, or "The Crazy Chicken," has been growing like mad since it crossed over the border into the United States from Mexico. Francisco Ochoa unknowingly started a food phenomenon internacional in 1975 when he took a family recipe for chicken marinade and opened a small roadside restaurante in Gusave, Mexico. He soon had 90 stores in 20 cities throughout Mexico. The first El Pollo Loco in the United States opened in Los Angeles in December 1980 and was an immediate success. It was only three years later that Ochoa got the attention of bigwigs at Dennys, Inc., who offered him $11.3 million for his U.S. operations. Ochoa took the deal, and El Pollo Loco grew from 17 to more than 200 outlets over the following decade.

Re-create the whole El Pollo Loco experience at home with my copycat recipes for avocado salsa, pinto beans, Spanish rice, and bbq black beans.

Menu Description: "Meaty and spicy, served piping-hot with chopped onions, shredded cheddar, and a whole jalapeño."

When you're craving a big hot bowl of hearty chili to warm the bones and fill your belly make one that has become a classic. This hack of the Lone Star signature dish is easy-to-make, low in fat, and delicious. And if it's super brisk outside, you might want to add an additional tablespoon of diced jalapeño to the pot to aggressively stoke some internal flames.

Check out my other clone recipes for top dishes from Lone Star Steakhouse here.

The first Auntie Anne's pretzel store opened in 1988 in the heart of pretzel country—a Pennsylvanian Amish farmers' market. Over 500 stores later, Auntie Anne's is one of the most requested secret clone recipes around, especially on the internet. Many of the copycat Auntie Anne's soft pretzel recipes passed around the Web require bread flour, and some use honey as a sweetener. But by studying the Auntie Anne's home pretzel-making kit in the secret underground laboratory, I've discovered a better solution for re-creating the delicious mall treats than any clone recipe out there. For the best quality dough, you just need all-purpose flour. And powdered sugar works great to perfectly sweeten the dough. Now you just have to decide if you want to make the more traditional salted pretzels, or the sweet cinnamon sugar-coated kind. Decisions, decisions.

Jerrico, Inc., the parent company for Long John Silver's Seafood Shoppes, got its start in 1929 as a six-stool hamburger stand called the White Tavern Shoppe. Jerrico was started by a man named Jerome Lederer, who watched Long John Silver's thirteen units dwindle in the shadow of World War II to just three units. Then, with determination, he began rebuilding. In 1946 Jerome launched a new restaurant called Jerry's and it was a booming success, with growth across the country. Then he took a chance on what would be his most successful venture in 1969, with the opening of the first Long John Silver's Fish 'n' Chips. The name was inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. In 1991 there were 1,450 Long John Silver Seafood Shoppes in thirty-seven states, Canada, and Singapore, with annual sales of more than $781 million. That means the company holds about 65 percent of the $1.2 billion quick-service seafood business.

Along with your meal at this huge national steakhouse chain, comes a freshly baked loaf of dark, sweet bread, served on its own cutting board with soft whipped butter. One distinctive feature of the bread is its color. How does the bread get so dark? Even though this recipe includes molasses and cocoa, these ingredients alone will not give the bread its dark chocolate brown color. Commercially produced breads that are this dark—such as pumpernickel or dark bran muffins–often contain caramel color, an ingredient used to darken foods. Since your local supermarket will not likely have this mostly commercial ingredient, we'll create the brown coloring from a mixture of three easy-to-find food colorings—red, yellow and blue. If you decide to leave the color out, just add an additional 1 tablespoon of warm water to the recipe. If you have a bread machine, you can use it for kneading the bread (you'll find the order in which to add the ingredients to your machine in "Tidbits"). Then, to finish the bread, divide and roll the dough in cornmeal, and bake.

Check out more of my copycat Outback Steakhouse recipes here.

Here's a technique for making flavorful butternut squash that's crazy easy. Most of your time will be spent cutting the squash into 1-inch cubes so that you can steam it. Use a sharp peeler to remove the tough skin, then skip on over to the chopping block (but please, no skipping with a sharp knife). You can alternately use a microwave to cook the squash whole (see Tidbits), although I prefer the texture from good old-fashioned steaming. After the squash is cooked, mash it up, mix in the other ingredients, and you've got a great side that fits right in with many meals, especially spicy dishes. Since this squash comes in varying sizes, you may want to start with just 1/4 teaspoon of salt, give it a taste, then add more as needed.

Menu Description: "Hearty grains, wholesome oats, almonds and English walnuts."

Wholesome grains and nuts get it on in this clone for the signature pancakes from the country's largest pancake chain. The whole wheat flour and oats add more flavor, while the nuts pitch in for a crunch in every bite. Take a break from gummy, bland traditional pancakes. Make a breakfast that pacifies your pancake urge, and leaves you feeling peppy.

If you start making black bean soup in the morning using other recipes out there, you're lucky to be slurping soup by lunchtime. That's because most recipes require dry beans that have to re-hydrate for at least a couple hours, and many recipes say "overnight." But, you know, tomorrow is just too far away when you're craving soup right now. So, for this often requested clone recipe, I sped up the process by incorporating canned black beans, rather than the dry ones. That way, once you get all the veggies chopped, you'll be souped up in just about an hour. Friday's version of this soup has a slightly smoky flavor that's easily duplicated here with just a little bit of concentrated liquid smoke flavoring found in most supermarkets. Just be sure to get the kind that says "hickory flavor."

Menu Description: "Shredded napa cabbage, chilled grilled chicken breast, julienne cucumbers, edamame, crispy wontons, peanuts, cilantro, julienne carrots, red cabbage and scallions tossed with a lime-cilantro dressing. Topped with crispy rice sticks and Thai peanut dressing."

You can plan ahead for this amazing salad clone by first grilling the chicken and chilling it, then preparing the cilantro-lime dressing and the peanut sauce in advance. The menu description says that the salad is topped with "crispy rice sticks," but they look to me like crispy bean threads, cooked in a flash when dropped into hot oil for a few seconds. The crispy wontons are made from frying thinly sliced wonton wrappers in the same hot oil. For the edamame (soybeans), look in the frozen food section, and if they're still in their pods, be sure to take them out before measuring and tossing them into the salad. Once you've got everything chilled and chopped, building each dish is a breeze, and you'll have four huge dinner-size salads that will each be enough for an entire meal.

I've cloned a ton of dishes from California Pizza Kitchen. See if I hacked your favorites here.

IHOP claims to sell over 400,000 pancakes each day. That's a lot of pancakes. So many, in fact, what if all of those flapjacks were served up on one plate, it would make a giant stack taller than the Sears Tower in Chicago. And much tastier.

According to servers, of all the pancakes flavors and varieties, the Banana Nut Pancakes are one of the most often requested. I've included a recipe for the banana-flavored syrup here, but you can use any flavor syrup, including maple, on these dudes. Check out my other IHOP recipe clones here.

Update 2/8/17: Rather than combining all of the ingredients together in this IHOP banana nut pancake recipe in step #2, use two bowls. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in one bowl. In the other bowl combine the buttermilk, egg, oil, sugar, and banana flavoring with an electric mixer on medium speed. Combine the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients, mix until smooth, and move on to step #3.

The number one appetizer on Joe's menu is called Blue Crab Dip but you don't need blue crab to clone it. You don't even need to use fresh crab. I used some delicious lump crabmeat from Phillip's Seafood that comes in 16-ounce cans (you may find it at Costco, Sam's Club, Walmart, and Vons) and the dip turned out great. You could also use the crabmeat that comes in 6-ounce cans found at practically every supermarket—you'll need two of them. Just be sure to get the kind that includes leg meat, and don't forget to drain off the liquid before you toss it in.

Menu Description: "Chopped lettuce, basil, salami, chilled roast turkey breast, diced tomatoes and Mozzarella cheese tossed in our herb-mustard Parmesan vinaigrette topped with scallions."

It's the delicious herb-mustard Parmesan vinaigrette that makes this salad so good. And since freshly made dressings are way better than anything you'll buy in a store, heres a great clone for vinaigrette that you can use either on the chopped salad clone here, or on any salad you assemble with ingredients on hand. After heating up these vinaigrette ingredients for a couple minutes, let the mixture cool, and then drizzle a thin stream of olive oil into the dressing as you blend it with an electric mixer on high speed. This will create an emulsion to thicken the vinaigrette and hold all the ingredients together even as the dressing chills.

In the 1970's, food conglomerate General Mills expanded its growing restaurant business. A research team was organized to study the market, and to conduct interviews with potential customers on what they want in a restaurant. Seven years later, in 1982, the first Olive Garden restaurant opened its doors in Orlando, Florida. Today it is the number one Italian restaurant chain in the country with over 470 stores.

One of the all-time favorites at Olive Garden is the Italian salad dressing served on the bottomless house salad that comes with every meal. The dressing was so popular that the chain sells the dressing by the bottle "to go." You won't need to buy a bottle, though. With our Olive Garden Italian salad dressing recipe you can make your own version that tastes just like the original, and it's way cheaper. The secret to thickening this dressing is to use dry pectin, a natural ingredient often used to thicken jams and jellies. Pectin can be found in most stores in the aisle with baking and cooking supplies or near the canning items.

Now, what's for dinner? Check out all of my copycat entrées here.

Elaine: "Do you need anything?"
Kramer: "Oh, a hot bowl of Mulligatawny would hit the spot."
Elaine: "Mulligatawny?"
Kramer: "Yeah, it's an Indian soup. Simmered to perfection by one of the great soup artisans in the modern era."
Elaine: "Oh. Who, the Soup Nazi?"
Kramer: "He's not a Nazi. He just happens to be a little eccentric. You know, most geniuses are."

Kramer was right. Al Yeganeh—otherwise known as The Soup Nazi from the Seinfeld episode that aired in 1995—is a master at the soup kettle. His popular soup creations have inspired many inferior copycats in the Big Apple, including The Soup Nutsy, which was only ten blocks away from Al's original location on 55 th Street. Yeganeh's mastery shows when he combines unusual ingredients to create unique and delicious flavors in his much-raved-about soups. In this one, you might be surprised to discover pistachios and cashews among the many vegetables. It's a combination that works.

I took a trip to New York and tasted about a dozen of the Soup Nazi's original creations. This one, the Indian Mulligatawny, was high on my list of favorites. After each daily trip to Soup Nazi headquarters (Soup Kitchen International), I immediately headed back to the hotel and poured samples of the soups into labeled, sealed containers, which were then chilled for the trip back home. Back in the lab, portions of the soup were rinsed through a sieve so that ingredients could be identified. I recreated four of Al's best-selling soups after that trip, including this one, which will need to simmer for 3 to 4 hours, or until the soup reduces. The soup will darken as the flavors intensify, the potatoes will begin to fall apart to thicken the soup, and the nuts will soften. If you follow these directions, you should end up with a clone that would fool even Cosmo Kramer himself.

Update 2/6/18 : The recipe can be improved by doubling the curry (to 2 teaspoons) and reducing the water by half (to 8 cups). Cook the soup for half the recommended time or until it's your desired thickness.

Check out my other Soup Nazi copycat recipes here.

Popeyes Famous Fried Chicken and Biscuits has become the third-largest quick-service chicken chain in the world in the twenty-two years since its first store opened in New Orleans in 1972. (KFC has the number-one slot, followed by Church's Chicken). Since then, the chain has grown to 813 units, with many of them overseas in Germany, Japan, Jamaica, Honduras, Guam, and Korea.

Cayenne pepper and white pepper bring the heat to this crispy fried chicken hack.

Did you like this recipe? Get your hands on my secret recipe for Popeyes Chicken Sandwich and other Popeyes dishes here.

This fast-growing West Coast chain is another popular contender in the home meal replacement biz, which includes Boston Market and Kenny Rogers Roasters. In 1990, shortly after Kenneth Berg sold his mortgage banking business for $125 million, he came across a little two-unit chicken chain in Los Angeles that seemed to attract clientele from an income bracket above that of typical burger chain customers. Kenneth discovered that the chicken served in these stores was not only delicious but also prepared with a secret marinade and baste that allowed the chicken to be cooked in a more health-conscious way—without skin. The owners of the restaurants, brothers Michael and Raymond Badalian, created a marinade of juices and spices that kept the chicken moist and juicy inside. The company claims the chicken is marinated for up to seventy-two hours in this secret concoction and then brushed with a tangy baste when grilling. Just three months later, Kenneth purchased the chain for $2.5 million—ten times what it was earning each year—and expanded into other Western states, growing the restaurant to around forty units strong. That's about the time the company merged with Family Restaurants, the corporation behind the El Torito and Chi-Chi's Mexican food chains.

Complete your meal with these incredible copycat side-dishes.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size–2 pieces
Total servings–4
Calories per serving–195
Fat per serving–8 g

At only 10 1/2 ounces per serving you might think this drink a bit wee. But I assure you, one of these packs a wallop, and two will get you speaking in haiku. This delicious raspberry margarita, along with an incredible southwestern cuisine, is making this small chain a big success story.

In 1991 Kentucky Fried Chicken bigwigs decided to improve the image of America's third-largest fast-food chain. As a more health-conscious society began to affect sales of fried chicken, the company changed its name to KFC and introduced a lighter fare of skinless chicken.

In the last forty years KFC has experienced extraordinary growth. Five years after first franchising the business, Colonel Harland Sanders had 400 outlets in the United States and Canada. Four years later there were more than 600 franchises, including one in England, the first overseas outlet. In 1964 John Y. Brown, Jr., a young Louisville lawyer, and Jack Massey, a Nashville financier, bought the Colonel's business for $2 million. Only seven years later, in 1971 Heublein, Inc., bought the KFC Corporation for $275 million. Then in 1986, for a whopping $840 million, PepsiCo added KFC to its conglomerate, which now includes Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. That means PepsiCo owns more fast food outlets than any other company including McDonald's.

At each KFC restaurant, workers blend real buttermilk with a dry blend to create the well-known KFC buttermilk biscuits recipe that have made a popular menu item since their introduction in 1982. Pair these buttermilk biscuits with KFC's mac and cheese recipe and the famous KFC Original Recipe Chicken, and skip the drive-thru tonight!

Nougat is an important ingredient in the 3 Musketeers Bar, as well as in many other candy bars created by Mars. Nougat is made by mixing a hot sugar syrup with whipped egg whites until the solution cools and stiffens, creating a frappe. Other ingredients may be added to the nougat during this process to give it different flavors. In this recipe, you'll add chocolate chips to create a dark, chocolaty nougat.

But the 3 Musketeers Bar wasn't always filled with just a chocolate nougat. In fact, when the candy bar was created back in 1932, it was actually three pieces with three flavors: vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate. After World War II, the product was changed to a single chocolate bar because that was the favorite flavor, and customers wanted more of it. Thankfully they didn't change the name to 1 Musketeer.

You'll need a heavy-duty electric mixer for this recipe.

Check out more of my candy bar clone recipes here.

Menu Description: "Made from scratch in our kitchens using fresh Grade A Fancy Russet potatoes, fresh chopped onion, natural Colby cheese and spices. Baked fresh all day long."

In the late sixties Dan Evins was a Shell Oil "jobber" looking for a new way to market gasoline. He wanted to create a special place that would arouse curiosity, and would pull travelers off the highways. In 1969 he opened the first Cracker Barrel just off Interstate 40 in Lebanon, Tennessee, offering gas, country-style food, and a selection of antiques for sale. Today there are over 529 stores in 41 states, with each restaurant still designed as a country rest stop and gift store. In fact, those stores which carry an average of 4,500 different items apiece have made Cracker Barrel the largest retailer of American-made finished crafts in the United States.

Those who know Cracker Barrel love the restaurant for its delicious home-style breakfasts. This casserole, made with hash brown-sliced potatoes, Colby cheese, milk, beef broth, and spices is served with many of the classic breakfast dishes at the restaurant. The recipe here is designed for a skillet that is also safe to put in the oven (so no plastic handles). If you don't have one of those, you can easily transfer the casserole to a baking dish after it is done cooking on the stove.

Love Cracker Barrel? Check out my other clone recipes here.

In early 1985, restaurateur Rich Komen felt there was a specialty niche in convenience-food service just waiting to be filled. His idea was to create an efficient outlet that could serve freshly made cinnamon rolls in shopping malls throughout the country. It took nine months for Komen and his staff to develop a cinnamon roll recipe he knew customers would consider the "freshest, gooiest, and most mouthwatering cinnamon roll ever tasted." The concept was tested for the first time in Seattle's Sea-Tac mall later that year, with workers mixing, proofing, rolling, and baking the rolls in full view of customers. Now, more than 626 outlets later, Cinnabon has become the fastest-growing cinnamon roll bakery in the world.

This popular pick from Boston Market may be called a side dish, but it tastes more like dessert. With the brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter in there, and the oatmeal streusel on top, you will be reminded of sweet potato pie yet the dish goes great alongside meals as varied as low-key chicken dinners or bigger-key holiday banquets. And the great part is, if you're planning to use this for entertaining, you can make everything but the streusel a day ahead so you won't be stressed at crunch time. Just cover the filled baking dish and pop it in the fridge. Take it out a few hours before you plan to bake it so the casserole can come close to room temperature, then you simply top it off with your streusel and pop the whole thing in the oven.

Check out my other clone recipes for Boston Market favorites here.

This KFC mashed potatoes and gravy recipe duplicates the tasty tan stuff that's poured over fluffy mashed potatoes at the Colonel's chain of restaurants. And since the original recipe contains MSG (as does their chicken), this mash potato & gravy sauce clone was designed with that "secret" ingredient. You may choose to leave out the MSG, which is a natural amino acid found in vegetables and other foods, but your clone won't taste like the real thing without it. Also try our KFC Potato Salad copycat recipe.

It's been an Iowa tradition since 1926, and today this sandwich has a huge cult following. It's similar to a traditional hamburger, but the ground beef is not formed into a patty. Instead, the lightly seasoned meat lies uncompressed on a white bun, dressed with mustard, minced onion, and dill pickles. Since the meat is loose, the sandwich is always served with a spoon for scooping up the ground beef that will inevitably fall out.

When this clone recipe for Maid-Rite was originally posted on our website several years ago, it elicited more e-mail than any recipe in the site's history. Numerous Midwesterners were keyboard-ready to insist that the clone was far from accurate without the inclusion of a few bizarre ingredients, the most common of which was Coca-Cola. One letter states: "You evidently have not ever had a Maid-Rite. The secret to the Maid-Rite is coke syrup. Without it you cannot come close to the taste." Another e-mail reads: "Having lived in the Midwest all of my life and knowing not only the owners of a Maid-Rite restaurant but also many people who worked there, I can tell you that one of the things you left out of your recipe is Coca-Cola. Not a lot, just enough to keep the meat moist."

On the flip side, I received comments such as this one from an Iowa fan who lived near Don Taylor's original Maid-Rite franchise: "The secret to the best Maid-Rite is the whole beef. Don had a butcher shop in his basement where he cut and ground all his beef. Some people still swear they added seasoning, but that is just not true. Not even pepper."

Back in my lab, no matter how hard I examined the meat in the original product—which was shipped to me in dry ice directly from Don Taylor's original store in Marshalltown, Iowa—I could not detect Coca-Cola. There's no sweetness to the meat at all, although the buns themselves seem to include some sugar. When the buns are chewed with the meat, the sandwich does taste mildly sweet. I finally decided that Coca-Cola syrup is not part of the recipe. If it is added to the meat in the Maid-Rite stores, it's an insignificant amount that does not have any noticeable effect on the flavor.

Also, the texture is important, so adding plenty of liquid to the simmering meat is crucial. This clone recipe requires 1 cup of water in addition to 1/4 cup of beef broth. By simmering the ground beef in this liquid for a couple hours the meat will tenderize and become infused with a little flavor, just like the real thing.

When the liquid is gone, form the ground beef into a 1/2 cup measuring scoop, dump it onto the bottom of a plain hamburger bun, then add your choice of mustard, onions, and pickles. Adding ketchup is up to you, although it's not an ingredient found in Maid-Rite stores. Many say that back in the early days "hobos" would swipe the ketchup and mix it with water to make tomato soup. Free ketchup was nixed from the restaurants way back then, and the custom has been in place ever since.

Just think of all the famous sandwiches you can make at home. I've hacked the Popeye's Chicken Sandwich, McDonald's Big Mac, Chick-Fil-A Chicken Sandwich, and many more. See if I've duplicated your favorite here.

Menu Description: "Our famous Big Boy soups and chili are made fresh daily from fresh vegetables, pure cream and only the finest ingredients."

In 1936, Bob Wian had to make the painful decision to sell his cherished 1933 DeSoto roadster to buy a ten-stool lunch counter from a pair of elderly ladies in Glendale, California. He named his new restaurant Bob's Pantry, and went to work behind the counter himself. Receipts form his first day totaled only twelve dollars. But with the creation of a new hamburger just the next year, and a name change to Bob's Big Boy, business took off. Within three years Bob had expanded his first store and built another location in Los Angeles. In 1948 Bob Wian was voted mayor of Glendale.

A cup of broccoli soup makes a great first course or a nice partner to a sandwich. I first designed this recipe using frozen broccoli, but the frozen stuff just isn't as tasty as a big bunch of firm, fresh broccoli. So go shopping, and get chopping.

Served in a large bowl, this soup can be a small meal in itself, or serve four as an appetizer that you can pair with my Bob's Big Boy Double Decker Hamburger.

Exclusive signed copy. After 10 years of research in the Top Secret Lab, America's Clone Ranger emerges with his highly anticipated follow-up to the best-selling Top Secret Restaurant Recipes cookbook.

Author Todd Wilbur reveals 150 new secret formulas for duplicating the taste of your favorite dishes from America's biggest restaurant chains including Applebee's, Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse and many others.

Todd's simple recipes and detailed blueprints will have you creating culinary copycats that will fool even the most critical connoisseurs at a fraction of the cost of eating out. But beware, everyone will be so amazed, you may have to start taking reservations!

Discover the secrets to making your own versions of Original Pancake House Apple Pancake, Olive Garden Sicilian Scampi, The Cheesecake Factory White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cheesecake, Chili's Grilled Baby Back Ribs, Romano's Macaroni Grill Penne Rustica, Applebee's White Chocolate & Walnut Blondie, Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuits, Tony Roma's Baked Potato Soup, Houston's Chicago-Style Spinach Dip, Benihana Ginger Salad Dressing, IHOP Country Griddle Cakes, Carrabba's Chicken Marsala, T.G.I. Friday's Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad, Chili's Southwestern Eggrolls, Olive Garden Lemon Cream Cake, Bennigan's The Monte Cristo, P.F. Chang's Orange Peel Chicken, Outback Steakhouse Kookaburra Wings and many more.

Contents
Applebee's Mud Slide
Applebee's Perfect Apple Margarita
Applebee's Perfect Sunrise
Applebee's Onion Peels
Applebee's Baked French Onion Soup
Applebee's Santa Fe Chicken Salad
Applebee's Almond Rice Pilaf
Applebee's Bourbon Street Steak
Applebee's Chicken Fajita Rollup
Applebee's Crispy Orange Chicken Bowl
Applebee's Honey Grilled Salmon
Applebee's Tequila Lime Chicken
Applebee's White Chocolate & Walnut Blondie
Benihana Ginger Salad Dressing
Benihana Japanese Onion Soup
Benihana Mandarin Orange Cheesecake
Bennigan's The Monte Cristo
Buffalo Wild Wings and Sauces
--Spicy Garlic Sauce
--Medium Wing Sauce
--Hot Wing Sauce
--Caribbean Jerk Sauce
California Pizza Kitchen California Cosmo
California Pizza Kitchen Thai Crunch Salad
California Pizza Kitchen California Club Pizza
California Pizza Kitchen Jamaican Jerk Chicken Pizza
Carrabba's Bread Dipping Blend
Carrabba's House Salad Dressing (Creamy Parmesan)
Carrabba's Chicken Marsala
The Cheesecake Factory Mini Crabcakes
The Cheesecake Factory Sweet Corn Tamale Cakes
The Cheesecake Factory Chicken Madeira
The Cheesecake Factory Bang-Bang Chicken & Shrimp
The Cheesecake Factory Original Cheesecake
The Cheesecake Factory White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cheesecake
Chevys Fresh Salsa
Chevys Mango Salsa
Chevys Chile Con Queso
Chevys Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Chevys Sweet Corn Tomalito
Chevys Flan
Chili's Salsa
Chili's Boneless Buffalo Wings
Chili's Boneless Shanghai Wings
Chili's Chicken Crispers
Chili's Chili Queso
Chili's Lettuce Wraps
Chili's Southwestern Eggrolls
Chili's Chicken Enchilada Soup
Chili's Southwestern Vegetable Soup
Chili's Honey Mustard Dressing
Chili's Grilled Baby Back Ribs
Chili's Chocolate Chip Paradise Pie
Chili's Molten Chocolate Cake
Claim Jumper Garlic Cheese Bread
Claim Jumper Fire-Roasted Artichoke
Claim Jumper Cheese Potatocakes
Claim Jumper Spicy Thai Slaw
Claim Jumper Meatloaf
Denny's Fabulous French Toast
Denny's BBQ Chicken Sandwich
Denny's Club Sandwich
Hard Rock Cafe Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup
Hard Rock Cafe Bar-B-Que Beans
Hard Rock Cafe Pig Sandwich
Houston's Chicago-Style Spinach Dip
Houston's Honey Lime Vinaigrette
Houston's Cole Slaw
IHOP Cinn-A Stacks
IHOP Country Griddle Cakes
IHOP Country Omelette
IHOP Harvest Grain 'N Nut Pancakes
IHOP Pumpkin Pancakes
Islands China Coast Salad Dressing
Islands Island Fries
Islands Tortilla Soup
Islands Yaki Soft Tacos
Joe's Crab Shack Blue Crap Dip
Joe's Crab Shack Garlic King Crab Legs
Lone Star Steakhouse Lettuce Wedge Salad
Lone Star Steakhouse Baked Sweet Potato
Lone Star Steakhouse Lone Star Chili
Margaritaville Crab, Shrimp and Mushroom Dip
Margaritaville Jamaica Mistaica Wings
Margaritaville Key Lime Pie
Marie Callender's Lemon Cream Cheese Pie
Marie Callender's Pumpkin Pie
Mimi's Cafe Carrot Raisin Bread
Mimi's Cafe Corn Chowder
Mimi's Cafe French Market Onion Soup
Olive Garden Limoncello Lemonade
Olive Garden Bruschetta
Olive Garden Sicilian Scampi
Olive Garden Stuffed Mushrooms
Olive Garden Toasted Ravioli
Olive Garden Pasta e Fagioli
Olive Garden Minestrone Soup
Olive Garden Chicken Scampi
Olive Garden Chocolate Lasagna
Olive Garden Frozen Tiramisu
Olive Garden Lemon Cream Cake
Olive Garden Tiramisu
Original Pancake House Apple Pancake
Original Pancake House German Pancake
Outback Steakhouse Honey Wheat Bushman Bread
Outback Steakhouse Grilled Shrimp On The Barbie
Outback Steakhouse Kookaburra Wings
Outback Steakhouse Bleu Cheese Dressing
Outback Steakhouse Caesar Salad Dressing
Outback Steakhouse Honey Mustard Salad Dressing
Outback Steakhouse Ranch Salad Dressing
Outback Steakhouse Tangy Tomato Dressing
Outback Steakhouse Cinnamon Apple Oblivion
Outback Steakhouse Sydney's Sinful Sundae
P.F. Chang's Mai Tai
P.F. Chang's Chang's Spare Ribs
P.F. Chang's Chicken in Soothing Lettuce Wraps
P.F. Chang's Shrimp Dumplings
P.F. Chang's Garlic Snap Peas
P.F. Chang's Chang's Spicy Chicken
P.F. Chang's Dan-Dan Noodles
P.F. Chang's Lemon Pepper Shrimp
P.F. Chang's Mongolian Beef
P.F. Chang's Oolong Marinated Sea Bass
P.F. Chang's Orange Peel Chicken
P.F. Chang's Chocolate Torte
Red Lobster Tartar Sauce
Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuits
Red Lobster Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp
Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Crab Bake
Red Lobster Parrot Bay Coconut Shrimp
Red Lobster Red Lobster New England Clam Chowder
Red Lobster Teriyaki Glazed Fresh Fish
Red Robin Seasoning
Red Robin 5 Alarm Burger
Red Robin Banzai Burger
Red Robin Teriyaki Chicken Burger
Roadhouse Grill Roadhouse Rita
Roadhouse Grill Roadhouse Cheese Wraps
Roadhouse Grill Baby Back Ribs
Romano's Macaroni Grill Chicken Portobello
Romano's Macaroni Grill Chicken Scaloppine
Romano's Macaroni Grill Penne Rustica
Ruby Tuesday Creamy Mashed Cauliflower
T.G.I. Friday's Black Bean Soup
T.G.I. Friday's Broccoli Cheese Soup
T.G.I. Friday's Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad
T.G.I. Friday's Sizzling Shrimp
Tony Roma's Blue Ridge Smokies Sauce
Tony Roma's Baked Potato Soup
Tony Roma's Maple Sweet Potatoes
Tony Roma's Carolina Honeys BBQ Salmon
Waffle House Waffles

Exclusive signed copy. The original clone recipe king has done it again. For the last thirty years Todd Wilbur has been creating amazing culinary carbon copies of all your favorite brand-name foods using his special techniques.

In Todd Wilbur's Top Secret Recipes Unlocked, his 9th cookbook, the Clone Ranger brings you over 100 new kitchen clones! Todd reveals key ingredients and the secret-yet-simple steps for duplicating famous foods from Starbucks, McDonald's, Panera Bread, Subway, Burger King, Mrs. Fields, Taco Bell, Orange Julius, Boston Market, Popeyes, Sonic Drive-In, KFC, and many more.

Every recipe is created from scratch in Todd's top secret test kitchen, so you know you're getting the best original clone recipes on the planet!

Contents
Arby's Horsey Sauce
Baja Fresh Salsa Baja
Bisquick Original All-Purpose Baking Mix
Boston Market Butternut Squash
Boston Market Garlic Dill New Potatoes
Boston Market Sweet Potato Casserole
Budweiser Chelada
Burger King Onion Rings
Burger King Zesty Onion Ring Dipping Sauce
Carl's Jr. The Six Dollar Burger
Carnegie Deli Classic New York City Cheesecake
Chex Mix Bold Party Blend
Chick-fil-A Honey Roasted BBQ Sauce
Chick-fil-A Carrot & Raisin Salad
Chipotle Mexican Grill Chipotle Honey Vinaigrette
Chipotle Mexican Grill Barbacoa Burrito
Cliff & Buster Coconut Macaroons
Cocoa-Cole Blak
Crunch 'N Munch Buttery Toffee Popcorn with Peanuts
Dairy Queen MooLatte
Del Taco Crispy Fish Taco
Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Yellow Cake Mix
Dunkin' Donuts Coffee Coolatta
Einstein Bros. Bagels Santa Fe Egg Sandwich
El Pollo Loco Avocado Salsa
El Pollo Loco BBQ Baked Beans
El Pollo Loco Creamy Cilantro Dressing
Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookies
Fritos Hot Bean Dip
Hellman's/Best Foods Mayonnaise
Hidden Valley The Original Ranch Dressing
Jack in the Box Pumpkin Pie Shake
Jacquin's Peppermint Schnapps
Jason's Deli Creamy Liqueur Fruit Dipping Sauce
Jimmy Dean Breakfast Sausage--Regular
Jimmy Dean Breakfast Sausage--Maple
Jimmy Dean Breakfast Sausage--Hot
KFC Cajun Honey Wings
KFC Chicken Pot Pie
Kozy Shack Rice Pudding
Kraft Miracle Whip
Krispy Kreme Original Glazed Doughnuts
Lawry's Red Pepper Seasoned Salt (made with Tabasco)
Lipton Brisk Iced Tea
Lipton Diet Green Tea with Citrus
Lincoln Snacks Poppycock
Maid-Rite Loose Meat Sandwich
M&M/Mars Munch Bar
Mauna Loa Kona Coffee Glazed Macadamias
McDonald's Sweet Tea
McDonald's Vanilla Iced Coffee
McDonald's Cinnamon Melts
McDonald's Fruit & Walnut Salad
McDonald's Tangy Honey Mustard
McDonald's Lobster Sandwich
Mrs. Fields Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies
Mrs. Fields Pumpkin Harvest Cookies
No Pudge! Original Fat Free Fudge Brownie Mix
Nuts 4 Nuts Candied Nuts
Old Bay Seasoning
Orange Julius Banana Julius
Orange Julius Strawberry-Banana Classic Smoothie
Pal's Sauceburger
Panera Bread Broccoli Cheddar Soup
Panera B read Cranberry Walnut Bagel
Panera Bread French Onion Soup
Panera Bread Spinach Artichoke Baked Egg Soufflé
Pepperidge Farm Soft Baked Snickerdoodle Cookies
Popeyes Buttermilk Biscuits
Popeyes Cajun Gravy
Popeyes Cajun Sparkle
Popeyes Red Beans and Rice --Improved
Ragu Pasta Sauce--Meat
Ragu Pasta Sauce--Tomato, Basil, and Italian Cheese
Rondele Garlic & Herbs Cheese Spread
Sabra Classic Hummus
Skyline Chili
Sonic Drive-In Peanut Butter Shake
Sonic Drive-In Peanut Butter Fudge Shake
Sonic Drive-In Strawberry Cheesecake Shake
Sonic Drive-In Sonic Burger
Sonic Drive-In Hickory Burger
Sonic Drive-In Jalapeno Burger
The Soup Nazi's Crab Bisque
The Soup Nazi's Cream of Sweet Potato Soup
The Soup Nazi's Indian Mulligatawny
The Soup Nazi's Mexican Chicken Chili
Spatini Spaghetti Sauce Mix
Starbucks Caramel Macchiato
Starbucks Frappuccino (Bottle Version)
Starbucks Gingerbread Latte
Starbucks Hot Chocolate
Starbucks Mocha Coconut Frappuccino
Starbucks Carrot Cake
Starbucks Classic Coffee Cake
Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bar
Starbucks Lemon Loaf
Starbucks Maple Oat Nut Scone
Starbucks Peppermint Brownie
Starbucks Pumpkin Bread
Starbucks Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffin
Starbucks Pumpkin Scone
Starbucks Vanilla Almond Biscotti
Stouffer's Macaroni & Cheese
Subway Bourbon Street Glaze
Subway Chipotle Southwest Sauce
Subway Sweet Onion Sauce
Taco Bell Baja Sauce
Taco Bell Chicken Quesadilla
Taco Bell Mild Border Sauce
Wendy's Garden Sensations Mandarin Chicken Salad
Wendy's Wild Mountain Bacon Cheeseburger
Weight Watchers Smart Ones Banana Muffins
Yonah Schimmel Low-Fat New York City Knish

Menu Description: "Our most popular chicken dish! Sauteed chicken breast topped with fresh asparagus and melted mozzarella cheese, covered with fresh mushroom madeira sauce. Served with mashed potatoes."

What makes this Cheesecake Factory's "most popular chicken dish" is the sweet madeira wine reduction sauce spooned over the top. Man, I could slurp that stuff straight from a glass. It's that good. And—get this—it's easy. Even though the real stuff appears to include veal stock, we can concoct a great knockoff using canned beef stock. Get sliced mozzarella cheese from your deli section and be sure to pound the chicken breasts very thin using plastic wrap to cover each one before you get medieval on it. Also, in typical Cheesecake Factory style, their entrée is huge, including two chicken fillets and a giant pile of mashed potatoes on the side. This Cheesecake Factory Chicken Madeira recipe makes a total of four chicken fillets, which divides into two servings if you're at the restaurant. At home though, this is probably the perfect amount for a tribe of four.

Check out more of my copycat Cheesecake Factory recipes here.

Exclusive signed copy. Ever wonder what makes McDonald's Special Sauce so special, or puts the supreme in a Taco Bell Burrito Supreme, or makes Newman's Own Creamy Caesar Dressing so darn good?

This cookbook includes all the step-by-step instructions for making your own professional quality clones. With a dash of spicy humor, a spoonful of food facts, and a hearty serving of culinary curiosity, Todd Wilbur serves up another batch of America's favorite recipes. Todd puts his sleuthing taste buds to work to bring us over 85 amazing new clones in Even More Top Secret Recipes.

Armed with his recipes and blueprints, you can now duplicate your favorite brand-name food, from famous hamburgers to candy bars and snack cakes, right in your own kitchen without spending a lot of dough. Discover how to make your own versions of KFC Extra Crispy Chicken, Girl Scout Cookies Thin Mints, Kraft Stove Top Stuffing, McDonald's French Fries, Panda Express Mandarin Chicken, Wendy's Spicy Chicken Fillet Sandwich, Cadbury Creme Egg, Boston Market Meatloaf, Cinnabon CinnabonStix, Hot Dog On A Stick Hot Dog, Drake's Devil Dogs, Nestle Baby Ruth, and many, many more!

Contents
Arby's Bronco Berry Sauce
Auntie Anne's Pretzels
Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream Cake
Boston Market Meatloaf
Bull's-Eye Original BBQ Sauce
Burger King Big King
Burger King BK Broiler
Burger King Breakfast Sandwich--Biscuit Sandwich
Burger King Breakfast Sandwich--Croissan'wich
Cadbury's Creme Egg
Carl's Jr. Bacon Swiss Crispy Chicken Sandwich
Carl's Jr. Ranch Crispy Chicken Sandwich
Chef Paul Prudhomme's Poultry Magic
Cinnabon Cinnabonstix
Dolly Madison Zingers (Devil's Food)
Doubletree Chocolate Chip Cookies
Drake's Devil Dogs
Emeril's Original Essence
Fatburger Original Burger
French's Classic Yellow Mustard
Girl Scout Cookies Shortbread
Girl Scout Cookies Thin Mints
Good Seasons Italian Salad Dressing Mix
Grandma's Cookies Oatmeal Raisin Big Cookie
Grandma's Cookies Peanut Butter Big Cookie
Great American Cookies Snickerdoodles
Great American Cookies White Chunk Macadamia
Heinz 57 Sauce
Heinz Ketchup
Hershey's Payday Candy Bar
Honeybaked Ham Glaze
Hot Dog On A Stick
K.C. Masterpiece Original BBQ Sauce
Kellogg's Cocoa Rice Krispies treats
Kellogg's Peanut Butter Chocolate Rice Krispies Treats
Kenny Rogers Roasters Corn Muffins
KFC BBQ Baked Beans
KFC Extra Crispy Chicken
KFC Honey BBQ Wings
KFC Macaroni & Cheese
KFC Mashed Potatoes & Gravy
KFC Potato Salad
Kraft Deluxe Macaroni & Cheese
Kraft Shake 'N Bake
Kraft Stove Top Stuffing
Kraft Thousand Island Dressing
Lawry's Seasoned Salt
Lawry's Taco Spices & Seasoning
Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies
McDonald's Arch Deluxe
McDonald's BigXtra
McDonald's Biscuits
McDonald's Breakfast Bagel Sandwich--Ham & Egg
McDonald's Breakfast Bagel Sandwich--Steak & Egg
McDonald's Breakfast Bagel Sandwich--Spanish Omelet
McDonald's Breakfast Burrito
McDonald's French Fries
McDonald's Hot Mustard Sauce
McDonald's Special Sauce
McDonald's Sweet & Sour Dipping Sauce
McDonald's Yogurt Parfait
Mrs. Dash Salt-Free Seasoning Blend
Nabisco Cheese Nips
Nabisco Nilla Wafers
Nestle Baby Ruth Candy Bar
Newman's Own Creamy Caesar Dressing
Pace Picante Sauce
Panda Express Mandarin Chicken
Panda Express Orange Flavored Chicken
Papa John's Dipping Sauces--Special Garlic Sauce
Papa John's Dipping Sauces--Cheese Sauce
Papa John's Dipping Sauces--Pizza Sauce
Pepperidge Farm Ginger Man Cookies
Progresso Italian-Style Bread Crumbs
Sabrett Onions In Sauce
Schilling Salad Supreme
Sunshine Lemon Coolers
Taco Bell Burrito Supreme
Taco Bell Chicken Fajita Seasoning Mix
Taco Bell Fire Border Sauce
Taco Bell Mexican Pizza
Taco Bell Soft Taco
Taco Bell Taco Seasoning Mix
Tommy's Original World-Famous Hamburgers
Wendy's Chicken Caesar Fresh Stuffed Pita
Wendy's Classic Greek Fresh Stuffed Pita
Wendy's Spicy Chicken Fillet Sandwich
Wienerschnitzel Chili Sauce

Exclusive signed copy. It's no longer necessary to stand in line for a table at T.G.I. Friday's or Red Lobster, Olive Garden or Outback. You can make the menu items you love right at home—with ingredients from your local supermarket. Included in this book are some of the best-kept restaurant secrets that let you eat in with the great taste of eating out!

In this unique cookbook Todd Wilbur re-creates more than 100 signature dishes from America's most popular chain restaurants—including such hot theme eateries as the Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood.

Wilbur's easy-to-make knock-offs, the product of years of research, are indiscernible from the originals—and the most ingenious way we know of to cut down on the cost of eating out. But watch out, once you start cooking, people may start calling for reservations at your dinner table!