On the way from Raleigh to Cherokee, I made a pit stop at Qinji Hawaiian BBQ & Ramen in Greensboro. They specialize in Japanese ramen and Hawaiian cuisine. I opted for the Special Combo with 3 items priced at $13.95, selecting Tonkotsu ramen, an order of chicken katsu, and mini pork fried rice. The dishes were served in plastic containers with a side of dipping sauce. While it may not match the quality of Ichiran ramen, given the price, it perfectly satisfied my craving for a hearty and crispy meal. The combination of tonkotsu ramen and chicken katsu atop a bowl of fried rice provided the best of both worlds. The pork in the fried rice resembled bacon bits, infusing the dish with rich flavors. I also grabbed an order of Spam Musubi to-go for the road, and it proved to be just as delightful as the other items. Overall, a solid 4-star rating from me, considering the excellent value.
Street Burger inside Gordon Ramsay’s Food Market: I've tried Gordon Ramsay's Burger joint in Las Vegas, known for its tasty burgers, so I had some high hopes for this spot. It's another one of Ramsay's restaurants in Caesars casinos, after all. I was in the mood for a chicken sandwich that day, so I went for the Southern Yardbird—a handmade chicken patty with English cheddar, bibb lettuce, house-made pickles, and mustard BBQ sauce. It came with a side of sweet potato fries for an extra buck. This came out to a total of $18 altogether.
Just to be clear, both the sandwich and fries were delicious, but the burger-to-fries ratio is waaay off. Either I was really hungry that day or the sandwich was just that small—I practically inhaled it in three bites. On the flip side, there were way too many fries, even though they were crispy and tasty. It got boring after a while. I ended up throwing away half the box. Hate to diss on Gordon, but the best I can do is 3/5 for this meal. He would probably agree with me if he was there.
This place wasn't on my radar at all. I stumbled upon it while driving into the national park one morning. As I was fueling up, I noticed this tiny kitchen named Mabel's Kitchen right next to a gas station convenience store. I thought, why not? I'll be in the trees for the whole day; might as well treat myself to a nice breakfast. Oh boy, did I walk into a hidden gem?
You line up, order, and pay at the register first. They then give you a number plate and bring out the food once it’s ready. While lining up, I overheard a man talking to his friends behind me, saying he was going to get the kitchen sink. I didn’t even see that item on the menu at first. After hearing him say 'kitchen sink,' my morning brain took a second to process those two words, and I thought to myself, 'That sounds absolutely disgusting. Let me give it a try.'
Then came my order – Betty Lou's Kitchen Sink for $11.99 — oh boy, what a massive stack of goodness! It was bottomed with half of a biscuit, loaded with fried chicken breast, a sausage patty, bacon, shredded hashbrowns, an over-easy egg, and rich and savory gravy poured right on top of all of it, ending with the other half of the biscuit. It felt sinful to even look at it. It was so tall; that I didn’t know how to get into it, so I ended up eating a whole deconstructed sink instead. It was as delicious as it looked—a symphony of all the sinful grilled and fried items smacked right between two halves of puffy, flaky biscuits. I probably maxed out my calorie intake for the day. This lovely gentleman even got intrigued by the item and asked to take a photo of the monster. Totally understandable—I would do the same if I saw it too. Grabbed some canned coffee next door on the way out. I didn't end up trying the Snickers Iced Coffee, which will be the next, absolutely disgusting-sounding item I'd love to try. Let me know in the comments if you've ever tried this.
After a full day of soaking in golden leaves, I was craving wings, and Google led me to Blue Moose Burgers & Wings in Pigeon Forge, TN. If you're a sports fan, you'll love it here—the entire place is filled with large & clear screens playing different games. I visited on a Sunday, and NFL Sunday was in full swing with multiple games playing simultaneously on the TVs. Pair your experience with their selection of fresh drafts; the beer complements their wings exceptionally well. Speaking of wings, they are some of the most succulent and moist ones I've had in a hot minute. I ordered the 8-piece Mango Habanero and Honey BBQ-flavored wings, and both were absolutely insane. I could stay here all night with just the beer and wings.
However, I also ventured into their signature Big Mushroom Melt from their Blue’s Big Burgers selection. It was decent but not in the same weight class as the wings. I must give a shoutout to the Spicy Street Corn; This place is around a 4.2/5 for me! The total for those two items and a massive chug jug of Blue Moose American Lager from Saint John, New Brunswick came to $38 before tips.
Last but not least, there's a chain Italian restaurant called Johnny Carino’s - never been, so it's my first time trying it. I decided to cover as many menu items as possible, and they have just that on the menu—the Johnny's Combo, which comes with Johnny's Fresh Baked Lasagna, Classic Chicken Parmesan, and spaghetti with tomato sauce for $20.99.
I have to say, the lasagna is my favorite. It had a meaty, cheesy sauce that’s acidic but very nicely balanced between the layers of flat pasta, with a good mouthfeel on the chew - in Chinese saying, they are very Q彈. Chicken Parm takes the next place with its delightful crisp skin and juicy middle. The spaghetti was cooked to perfection but nothing shines too bright about it. I also got an Italian soda, which aids in downing this massive plate, along with unlimited free bread with herbs & olive oil. Solid 4 in my book.
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