So I always mention that while I eat clean most of the time, I do eat processed food about 20% of the time, and often I exercise some judgment (as well as obviously taste) in what I eat that 20% of the time.
Selected frozen pizzas
Despite living in arguably the pizza capital of the world, I don’t go or order out for pizza that much. First of all, that can get expensive in a hurry, there are just as many local varieties of frozen Chicago pizza in stores, and you can often get far more pizza for your buck when you buy it frozen at the store.
Usually, I try and get a pie totaling about 1200-1500 calories, something I can eat in one sitting when I need a huge protein/carb/fat boost. Most mainstream store varieties are TOO calorie dense, and taste a little too chemically plasticine for my liking. The one mainstream variety I’m still down with is the relatively light Newman’s Own, though availability is come and go in Chicago.
Here in Chicago, I usually go with Eastside Cafe, whose protein-rich local ingredients and thin crust make it far superior to everything else on the shelf. Whole Foods generally carries it in spades (I usually get cheese or sausage given that’s available on the shelf), though Eastside distributes locally in Warrenville on the far west side of Chicagoland if anyone in town is willing to make a road trip and take their pick. (Someday on a free weekday I’ll make the trip so I can finally try their pepperoni pizza)
Other local Chicago varieties I like are Screamin Sicilian (known for overloading their mid-thick pies with toppings) and Reggios (the latter of which originated as a restaurant that still runs today). Home Run Inn and Connie’s are okay (those two also run local restaurants: A Home Run Inn location is about 15 minutes from my apartment), though HRI is a little plasticine, and Connie’s frozen pizzas have a bunch of random fragments that tend to get everywhere.
The key with picking these pizzas is that they are protein rich, not TOO calorie rich, and made largely with fresh local ingredients (even if they are processed with some variety of manufactured chemicals). When I need a protein bomb on a protein-weak day, or I’m a bit too gassed to cook a meal, they are a solid fallback option.
Fairlife Reduced Fat Lactose Free Chocolate Milk
I’m not totally lactose intolerant, but my body has a shallow stop-loss when it comes to milk consumption. It’s hit and miss whether a decent quantity of milk or ice cream will send me to the crapper like a hockey player serving time in the penalty box for slashing.
This variety of Fairlife’s chocolate milk removes the lactose, eliminating that risk, and allowing me an easy opportunity to pound a taste-friendly 19 grams of protein in a 12 oz glass, or a single serve 11.5 oz bottle.
Sadly, Treasure Island Foods’ demise means I no longer have an easy go-to spot to get this, and I’ll need to find a new place to get it. But it makes for a great post-workout drink, a poor man’s protein shake… as well as a great dessert option, or even an overnight appetite-cover if hunger wakes me up during the night.
I’m not into drinking it everyday since it is flavored, processed milk. But you could do far worse with regards to chocolate milk, and it’s not as expensive as protein shakes.
English Muffin Breakfast Sandwiches
I do not discriminate much when it comes to breakfast sandwiches. If you can slap meat, eggs and cheese between two toasted english muffins, I will probably want to eat it for breakfast.
I tend to avoid breakfast these days because I value intermittent fasting, but sometimes I will pound a breakfast sandwich to start the day, often while recovering from a hard workout or when I know I’ve got a tough day ahead and will need the extra nutrition.
Starbucks’ sausage sandwiches tend to be okay but reliable, though they’re more plasticine than most sandwiches. Here in Chicago, I’ve become partial to Mariano’s Vero cafes’ sausage (Buon Giorno) sandwiches lately. Local Eva’s Cafe in Old Town makes a great sandwich, and the nearby Lakeview Rewired cafe in my neighborhood makes a great sandwich on ciabatta-style bread.
Evolve and Orgain protein shakes
When I do spend an excessive amount of money on ready-made protein shakes, my shakes of choice are Evolve and Orgain, both sold at Whole Foods. Orgain is loaded with vitamins and goes down relatively easy. Evolve is more fiber and protein rich, though lighter in calories (which may or may not be a problem depending on my needs that day).
I get the vanilla varieties of either one. But at $3+tax a pop, I don’t drink them regularly.
Epic Sea Salt Pork Rinds
These are also expensive at $4+tax, but each bag of these pork rinds contains about 40g of protein, and they are hearty pork rinds without the annoying thick patches of random hardened skin that most varieties of pork rinds provide you. This is another snack food I’ll pound when I want a protein boost, and the bag is usually done right after I open it.
Kettle Style Potato Chips
I’m a sucker for kettle style potato chips, and I’ll usually try to get varieties cooked in avocado, sunflower, coconut, etc oil rather than vegetable or canola oil. Because if I’m going to eat awful junk food as a snack, it had better at least be cooked in some healthy oil, right?
I’m partial to the salted-no-flavor varieties of Kettle brand chips and Boulder Canyon avocado oil chips.
365 brand veggie chips
If I’m going to delude myself into believing that veggie chips are a better snack for me than potato chips, I’ll get the Whole Foods 365 brand, because those tend to be plainer and cleaner than other varieties, plus the bag is not as big… making the act of housing the whole bag in one sitting slightly less regrettable.
Fresh old fashioned chocolate glazed donuts
They don’t make donuts like they used to. The average hipster donut place makes the bread more like cake, and they put nonsense like bacon on top of it. If I want bacon I’ll just get an actual sit-down breakfast at a diner.
When I want an honest to goodness old fashioned made from scratch chocolate glazed donut, it’s hard to find great places that serve one anywhere. In Chicago, I will vouch for Firecakes in Lincoln Park. The only other place I’ve recently found great old fashioned donuts is Lee’s, a stand in the Granville Island Market in Vancouver BC Canada.
I am also amenable to maple glazed donuts and (when in the right mood) plain sugar glazed donuts. But generally, if I can’t get a chocolate glazed donut I just won’t bother. I don’t do sprinkles or neon colored glaze.
Truffle oil french fries (bonus if cheese sauce is an option)
If you’re a bar that serves a heaping pile of french fries as a dish, I’m generally down if I would like to eat.
The Reservoir in Uptown serves a great version cooked in truffle oil that’s garnished in parmesan. The Res is general is highly recommended if you ever land in Chicago, not just for that but for a vast alcohol selection and some of the nicest people running a bar in Chicago.
The Bar on Buena in Buena Park will serve you a side of home made melted cheese with their fries, which I also like.
But the kings of cheese fries in Chicago are Devil Dawgs, who serve a large bowl-caliber cup of cheese fries done right: They don’t just pour cheese over the top of the fries, but mix in cheese with the fries throughout the cup as they pile them on. When I want a sloppy cup of cheese fries every now and again (with a hot dog, of course!), that’s the place to go for me.
Beef taquitos (rolled tacos)
Why have beef taquitos gone away as a dish? This makes me sad. First of all, Mexican restaurants in Chicago don’t really serve them without charging too much for them. Secondly, stores that used to carry them like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have stopped carrying them.
They’re the best kind of rolled tacos! I’ll eat them plain, though I definitely won’t complain if you top them with cheese and guacamole (but I WILL if you top it with sour cream, which I do not like). Chicken doesn’t cut it, and sorry Trader Joe’s but the bean and cheese variety simply isn’t the same.
I have always been a mark for fried chicken. Even during my chicken allergy phase I’d gladly break off any boycott to eat it.
I’m not as high on the varieties at supermarkets, or breaded chicken tenders. Chicken nuggets are okay, though it does depend on how they’re made. Places like Church’s or Popeye’s are just okay. KFC has cleaned up a bit over the years and now that I can eat their chicken without suffering dysentery I think they’re alright.
Locally, there’s a lot of “wait 20 minutes” boutique joints in Chicago and many cities with shops that’ll gladly serve you “home cooked” fried chicken. They’re okay, but most are probably not worth the premium price or the wait.
Here in Chicagoland, the king for me remains Evanston Chicken Shack in Evanston. I abhor traveling to Evanston but am always willing to make a stopover if given the chance.
In Seattle, I’ll vouch for Ezell’s like many others, but the founder’s spinoff shop Heaven Sent Fried Chicken in Lake City is honestly the king there. If you live in Seattle and like Ezell’s, I encourage you to go to 145th and Lake City Way and try out the original.
If you’re in Portland OR, go to The Screen Door. It’s a sit down meal, it’s a bit pricier and there probably will be a wait, but you probably won’t regret it.
I generally will mark out for a wide variety of local fried chicken. Again, I don’t like to fry food at home, but am more than happy to pay someone else to do the frying. If you drag me to a fried chicken place I will probably be happy with your decision.
Mission style burritos
I was first introduced to big Mission style burritos not by Chipotle, but by Seattle’s famous burrito shop Gordito’s, known for making burritos as big as newborn babies. Fresh, delicious, and if you don’t arrive starving you will probably have to bring some home with you.
Since then, Chipotle has made the big burrito famous, and America has gradually wised up to the fact that Mexican restaurants have been making these burritos for generations. But I had wised up long before this, and have always loved the big Mission style burrito.
Here in Chicago, I fortunately live about five blocks from what I consider the best place to get a carne asada burrito: El Burrito Mexicano, right under the Addison CTA station near Wrigley Field. It’s cash only and it’ll run you $10-12 after tip for a plate. Plus, obviously, avoid going on a Cubs game day because it’ll be stupid-packed. But the massive burrito is chock full of great steak, refried beans, tomatoes and cheese. It’s a total winner, but given I don’t usually carry a ton of cash it’s only an occasional treat for me.
Does sushi count as processed food?
I mean, I guess it does. Seaweed paper has to be processed. Sushi grade rice is as well, as is soy sauce. Even if all the other ingredients are fresh, there’s a lot of processed sodium-rich stuff in sushi, which is another food I love when the price is right.
I’m a mark for Alaskan (salmon avocado) and other salmon rolls, as well as Negi Hamachi Rolls (yellowtail and scallions), and various creative dragon-style combo rolls rich with salmon. If a sushi restaurant offers fried calamari or salmon bits as a side, I am all over that.
Here in Chicago, I don’t have crazy expectations. I like Gorilla Sushi in Lincoln Park because it’s affordable and their offerings are solid. But Chicago’s got quite a few good spots, especially Lakeview. Rollapalooza and Sumo are good Chicago sushi spots.
Seattle’s rising expense has taken away my favorite kaiten spots, so I don’t know what’s good there anymore. In Vancouver BC Canada, Miku Restaurant is the king, a very pricey and upscale joint that is absolutely worth the cost. But Vancouver has a LOT of great, affordable sushi options too numerous to name or visit.
When my dad takes me to his favorite sushi place in Vegas, Sushi Wa, I will pretty much eat anything he shoves in my direction. They make such a wide variety of sushi I wouldn’t otherwise have any idea about 20% of their best stuff.
Sushi is terrific, and if somehow I ended up filthy rich I’d probably eay it way too often.
Don’t even get me started on how much I love ramen. Another pricey but terrific food I have to be careful about eating too often.
I’ve dabbled with and enjoyed spots in Chicago and Las Vegas, but nothing I’d fall over to recommend.
In Seattle, Aloha Ramen was easily the best ramen spot, in no small part thanks to their garlic-rich fried rice.
In Vancouver I LOVED Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, which is famous for their excellent pork gyoza but also makes good ramen and backdrops it with terrific friendly service.
I admit I’m still a mark for cheap generic top ramen out of a package, however. Often, given the option and the craving, I’ll just eat that.
I just wrote far too much about food you and I should not be eating that often. As I do after eating any of the above, I regret none of it.
P.S. I also didn’t mention ice cream, which I don’t do much at all anymore, but I remain partial to Ben and Jerry’s Peanut Butter Cup, and Häagen-Dazs Caramel Cone.