OPINION: However eye wateringly good our culinary scene gets - and it's pretty damn fabulous - we still seem to pine for food from across the sea. America remains the world's fast food Mecca, and every trip there comes with a compulsory list of icons to eat our way through. You have to try Taco Bell! You have to try In N Out! You have to devote yourself to rolling in sugar and fat until your arteries seize up and you have to be rolled back onto the plane home!
I decided to shoulder the heavy burden of eating this list, sampling America's best and biggest fast food icons. All to answer the question once and for all: are we really missing out?
1. Taco Bell : Maybe we are… do we have a market for Mexican Maccas?
I was warned about Taco Bell. Probably because the franchises have as much charm as a disused morgue. It's painted in old hospital colours: disinfectant green, Cheetos dust orange and beige the colour of the nearly dead. However, the food belies the decor. I had the cool ranch Doritos tacos with steak. And when you could stop retching at the clumps of stringy orange cheese then the taco itself was ok. The shell had crunch, the lettuce was green (not white) and had a little bite, the sauce was tasty-ish, and the steak was cut from animal muscle (not boiled off the carcass.) Now it's not exactly fun to eat, but it's cheap, mechanically fast and thoroughly edible. If we need basic fast Mexican then this could be it.
2. Cinabon YES. YES. YES.
Oh my….Oh my…oh my, these are aptly named. Cinabon delights: two pockets of fluffy batter plugged full of a whipped creamy something. The cinnamon and sugar crust is so thick it crunches like pastry, the batter is a succulent cloud and the creamy stuff is so scandalously good it's probably illegal in Texas. No wonder there's a queue as people lining up for a bite of instantaneous, hot sin. It blows all Kiwi competitors out of the deep fat frier. Dunkin' donuts ain't got nothing. Forget bringing in Krispy Kremes, we are definitely, definitely missing out by not having these in NZ.
3.IHOP: Yes, but it's basically what Denny's could be if it weren't such a basket case.
IHOP is beautiful not for the food but for the predictability. You know exactly what cookie cutter carb hit that you're going to get. The pancakes are good. Well, it's not the "this-is-remarkably-similar-to chewing-a-sofa-cushion" experience. The cooked breakfast is as un-digestible as the coffee - which I'm sure is used to strip hardened bacon fat from the tables. But if IHOP sticks to what it's good at, pancakes with a side of irrepressible enthusiasm, then this could certainly work in Auckland. It would be a welcome relief from picking a brunch spot in NZ, which can often be as simple and pain free as choosing your future career.
4. Cream: WE NEED THIS MORE THAN WE NEED FREE PUBLIC WIFI
Dear God. Americans do two things well. Endless optimism and ice cream cookie sandwiches. Cream is the talk of LA right now, and I was told that leaving LA without going there would be akin to not seeing the Hollywood sign. Cream is a rapidly expanding desert fast food chain that's latched on to the idea of gourmet desert take away. It bakes its own cookies, scoops ice cream between them and covers it in toppings such as crushed Oreos, sprinkles, or anything you could imagine that gives you diabetes. It's so good that there's a constant 10 minute queue. This is childhood in a paper cup. The cookies have crunchy crusts and gooey cores, the ice cream feels like it's just come out of a cow carved from sugar and there's enough toppings to satisfy a junior school full of toddlers. New Zealand has a huge sugary space where the take away dessert food market should be. Cream needs to fill it.
Verity Johnson is a Newshub columnist. She travelled to LA courtesy of Air New Zealand.
Air New Zealand offers double daily non-stop flights to Los Angeles from Auckland. A variety of inflight product choices are available including Economy, Economy Skycouch, Premium Economy and Business Premier. One-way Economy fares start from $909 (inclusive of taxes). Visit airnewzealand.co.nz for more details and to book.