The Five Best Food Categories For Control Freaks

We thought it was just us– the satisfaction felt after explaining exactly how our entree should be prepared. It's the Sally Albright syndrome. Although we quickly learned that if you don't like the selection, order something else. Changing a chef's interpretation of a dish means you've messed with the equation. If the outcome is better, great. Worse? That's back on you.

In the last year we've seen a greater influx of DIY joints than we can shake a debit card at. This further drives our point home: People secretly want to micromanage. We may be too busy to shop, prep, cook and clean, but damn, we're happy telling people what to do (or doing it ourselves, for that matter)! Depending on the brand, this easily reduces the cost of variables such as labor. The concept has been around for decades, but now it's a full-on trend. What makes these places “great”? Control, pricing and usually convenience for a product that would otherwise have a greater markup.

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1. Seafood

If imitation is the greatest form of flattery, then Oceanic Fish Grill is crushing on California Fish Grill. Soon to open at Irvine's Woodbury Town Center (Their Craigslist posting says less than a month from now), they tout “Healthy Choices with Organic Herbs and Flavors” with kabobs and salad options. We've spotted at least one other imitator, but what comes to mind instead is the Boneheads chain in Lake Forest. Featuring a South African piri piri chili pepper sauce, customers choose between tacos, sandwiches and simply grilled entrees.

2. Salads

The OG in this category is the family-friendly Soup Plantation, but Saladworks manages to corner the sneeze guard market as “One of the 10 Best Franchise Deals” and “#1 Salad Franchise” from QSR and Entrepreneur Magazines, respectively. Dave's had issues with their dressings previousy, and has called them the love child of Chipotle and Quiznos (two other groups we chose not to address, because five is enough). It's a veggie-loving paradise where prepping ingredients isn't punishment; it's mandatory. They provide possible combinations, but in the end folks are all about, “No tomatoes, extra croutons, dressing on the side!”
3. Burgers

While Gustavo debates over TK vesus In-n-Out, we get hella hungry from the discussion and drive to Mick's for a Karma patty melt. Burger King used to know how to get diners to order it “your way”, long before all those creepy Eyes Wide Shut masked King commercials aired. Then Oprah talked about The Counter, and a star was born. Their first franchised spot– also in Woodbury's land 'o chains. We happily checked off selections like items on our wishful to-do list. Joining the customized bandwagon this winter is Smashburger, with future outposts in Aliso and Mission Viejo. We're not sure we agree with the squishy concept, but it's worth a look-see. At least it might wipe away our unfortunate memories of Five Guys. . . .

4. Pizza

Whether it's Blaze, Pieology, or Pizza Press, they're all claiming to corner a concept that pizza joints always had– customers still rule the roost. Whether it's a marketing ploy to promote the newest, meatiest combo or a veggie lover's paradise, they can't make it until you decide. The only difference being a boasting of fresher ingredients, quicker turnaround time, and being in on what's shiny and new.

5. Frozen desserts

Anyone remember Penguin's? Red Mango? Pinkberry & Amex Small Bus commercials (lucky bastards)?. Yogurtland is still the biggest pimp, and not just because they're OC-based. Phillip Chang's concept leaves the outcome completely up to guests. They took fro-yo to the next level in their Ikea-furnished candyland, serving boba-popping toppings and teaming with Hello Kitty to rule the Asian persuasion.

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