Posts Tagged ‘Bad’

The Worst of the Ballard Restaurant Project 2011

Here we go, the five Ballard restaurants that served us our least favorite meals of the Project. Unless these places step up the quality or change hands, we won’t be eating at these places again.

Neither of us enjoy giving a restaurant a bad review. We tried very hard to go into every place with an unbiased mind. Yes,  we had some negative, preconceived opinions of a few places but as we tried each restaurant, we hoped to be pleasantly surprised. Case in point, Ballard Smoke Shop Restaurant. From the outside, it looks like a seedy, greasy spoon but the great service and good, cheap breakfast changed our minds.

In the end, there were four places over the course of the project that were just not good and only one that was truly horrible. J and I aren’t posting this “Worst of” list with the idea of putting these places out of business … although one has already closed. Honestly, we kind of hope these restaurants read our reviews and try harder. That is really the common denominator of our least favorite Ballard restaurants: it seemed like these places just didn’t care about offering good food.

5. Smokin’ Pete’s BBQ

On this list because Smokin’ Pete’s was the biggest disappointment of the Project. J and I have had perfectly good BBQ at Smokin’ Pete’s before doing our “official” review but that day it seemed like they just didn’t care. Dry, tough meat shot through with gristle. Bland BBQ sauce. Mediocre sides that tasted like they came from the deli at Fred Meyer. Honestly, the BBQ warmed up in a microwave at The Viking was better. Considering the recent influx of quality BBQ available in Ballard (Bitterroot, RoRo BBQ, and The Boar’s Nest), Smokin’ Pete’s needs to step up their quality if they don’t want to be left in the dust.

4. Pho Than Brothers

Neither J nor I were fans of pho when we went to Pho Than Brothers for the Project and it did nothing to change our minds. Flavorless broth. Spongy, bland meat that only bore a passing resemblance to beef. We walked out of Pho Than Brothers not understanding, at all, the fascination with pho and remained that way until we had the outstanding pho at Pho Big Bowl.

3. Any Teriyaki Restaurant in Ballard

The teriyaki choices in Ballard range from okay (Anne’s Teriyaki) to just plain bad (Tony’s Teriyaki and Pho and Sunny Teriyaki). Dry, flavorless meat. Bland or overly sweet sauces. Limp salads. Since there are plenty of other cheap Asian food options in Ballard (Pho Big Bowl, Vietnam Cafe, and Uma Thai), J and I see no reason to ever get teriyaki in Ballard again.

2. Zesto’s

Yes, it is now closed but our meal at Zesto’s was one of the worst of the last year. Flavorless, obviously previously frozen beef patties. Lukewarm French fries. A burger that was barely a step-above McDonald’s. Once upon a time, going to Zesto’s was like taking a step back in time to the burger joints of the 1950’s but ever since they took the car off the roof, the quality disappeared. I have high hopes for RoRo BBQ which will be taking over the building and, supposedly, keeping the old Zesto’s charm.

1. Golden City Chinese Restaurant

Not only the worst meal we had in Ballard last year but the worst meal we’ve had in many years. Where to begin? An egg roll so over-fried that we couldn’t identify the ingredients. Two separate entrees that tasted as if they’d been cooked together. Pork fried rice so horrible that J described it thusly, “It tasted like it had been cooked in an old shoe … a week ago.” Golden City made Louie’s seem like the best Chinese food in Seattle. Unbelievably awful.

In retrospect, we didn’t have too many bad meals over the course of the Project. We’re lucky to live in Ballard where there are far more good to great restaurants than bad ones.

Next up with be our choices for “Best” types of food: burgers, fries, Italian, Long Island Iced Teas, etc.


Zesto’s Burgers – 11/26/11- Closed


Location: 6416 15th Ave NW


Mon-Sun: 10am-10pm

As a teenager, I remember going to Zesto’s when we would drive out from Duvall to visit my dad’s aunt and uncle in North Ballard. If it wasn’t a holiday, my dad would usually take us to Zesto’s for lunch, more because of the classic car on the roof than for the food. Much later, when I had moved to Ballard, my dad continued to insist we take visiting relatives to Zesto’s for lunch. For the longest time, until I actually moved to here, I associated Ballard with Zesto’s.

Zesto’s has sat in its spot next to Ballard High School since the 50’s. It’s an old school burger joint in the mold of Arnold’s Diner from Happy Day’s. Red vinyl booths with Formica tables. Black and white photos from Zesto’s hey-day decorate the walls. The menu is what you would expect from a burger joint in Seattle. Burgers. Fish and chips. Milk shakes.

The Service:

The two guys behind the counter were really friendly and our food came out in a reasonable amount of time.

The Drink:

J had a Mr. Pibb Extra and I chose the Chocolate Milk Shake. The shake was passable. Not as thick as I like and a little mild on the chocolate flavor but not horrible.

The Food:

J ordered the Mushroom Burger with Swiss cheese and a side of fries. Not good at all. The patty was obviously previously frozen. The mushrooms were really greasy. He said it tasted like the crappy burgers he remembers from the high school cafeteria. The burger was better than the fries, which were barely cooked. The worst burger in Ballard.

I chose the Bacon Burger meal with fries and a milk shake. My burger had that “flame-broiled” flavor I associate with Burger King. It was a dry sesame seed bun containing a flavorless patty. The “special sauce”, which I usually hate, actually gave the burger some much needed flavor. The bacon was the best part and it was merely okay. The French fries, which were obviously frozen and from a bag, were lukewarm and forgettable.

The Price:

Mushroom Burger with fries and a drink: 8.99

Bacon Burger with fries and a milk shake: 9.99

The Verdict:

Sometimes doing these reviews is not fun. I remember when Zesto’s was better than average. The guys behind the counter were really nice and I hate to give a bad review but we have to be honest. Zesto’s is barely a step above McDonald’s and Burger King. Flavorless, frozen burger patties. Lukewarm fries. Greasy burgers and barely passable milk shakes. It’s really bad that, other than the service, the best thing we can say about Zesto’s is that neither of us got sick. Sure, if you feel nostalgic for the burger joints of your youth or are a teenager with no taste and a cast-iron stomach, I suppose Zesto’s is okay but in our opinion they have the worst burgers in Ballard.

At this point, we’ve visited all the burger joints in Ballard. Both J and I agree that the best burger is at King’s Hardware for their creative selection, flavorful beef, and .28 cent buffalo wings. The Counter and Hamburger Harry’s tie for second because I preferred the former and J, the latter. Then it depends on what you’re looking for in a burger. Scooter’s or Red Mill are good for relatively quick and cheap burgers. If you want a hipster atmosphere, Hattie’s Hat is a good bet. After that, it goes Zak’s, because their burgers were okay but not memorable and in last place is Zesto’s.

Of course, the best burger in Seattle remains Norm’s in Fremont.

Golden City Chinese Restaurant– 10/22/11

No Website

Location: 5518 20th Ave NW


Daily: 10:30-2

Golden City Chinese Restaurant sits between Market Street and 56th on 20th Avenue. The front spans three doorways underneath a fading red awning. Door number one leads to Golden City, the restaurant. Door number two, goes to Golden City, the dive bar that was picked out of all the Chinese restaurant dive bars in the city to be mentioned in the Seattle’s Best Dive Bars book. The third door, where once there was a Scream barbershop, opens to a gaming off-shoot of the bar, a long room with ping pong tables and video games.

To be honest, we’d heard tales of Golden City that made us leery of eating there for the project. Bad service. Stabbings. The type of place taken right out of a John Woo movie. With this in mind, we chickened out, by-passing the bar for dinner in the slightly less sketchy restaurant that looks like every Chinese restaurant ever depicted in movies or on TV. Bright white walls with dark wood accents. Red vinyl booths and Formica tables. Wall decorations straight out of whatever restaurant store caters exclusively to Chinese restaurants across the US.

The menu has all the usual cheap Chinese restaurant suspects. Chow Mein. Pot stickers. Egg rolls. General Tso’s chicken. Sweet and sour pork. All available in various permutations of combos. You could go to virtually any cheap Chinese restaurant west of Mississippi (barring San Francisco) and find exactly the same menu.

The Service:

Our server was super friendly, answering questions and making suggestions. Our order came out at a pretty good pace.

The Drink:

We both just drank from the large pot of hot Green Tea. It didn’t taste as grassy as some green tea I’ve had. Kind of a generic green tea.

The Food:

J ordered Pot Stickers as an appetizer. The plate arrived with six large pork pot stickers. After taking one bite, J said they reminded him of the traditional pot stickers he’d gotten on the East coast. The exterior dumpling had a nice contrast between the doughier top and a nicely seared, crispy bottom. The pork filling wasn’t too greasy and actually tasted like pork.

For my meal, I ordered the Garlic Chicken Individual Combo which included egg drop soup, an egg roll, BBQ pork, pork fried rice, and chicken and vegetables in a garlic sauce. The Egg Drop Soup tasted like it had come from a can with a heavy, salty broth, strings of egg white, and translucent, flavorless, orange-colored chunks of what I assume were carrots. J and I split the small Egg Roll. It was greasy and over fried to the color of cardboard. The filling consisted of limp, hot cabbage or lettuce … couldn’t tell which … and some unidentifiable meat. It came with a large bowl of red, sweet sauce that was oddly bland. With the egg roll came four pieces of BBQ Pork that was actually okay. The red rimmed and moist slices looked and tasted like pork.

My main dish was Garlic Chicken, chunks of chicken breast, carrot, onion, green pepper, mushrooms, and dried chips of garlic in a brown sauce. Initially, the dish tasted okay but after a few bites, the overly sweet tomato base turned me off. The thick, syrupy sauce overwhelmed everything it touched to the point that I could barely distinguish the other elements, except for the garlic chips, which tasted spoiled and funky. The chunks of chicken were moist and the vegetables weren’t overcooked which is pretty much the only good thing I can say about this entrée.

My garlic chicken came with a huge scoop of Pork Fried Rice. Terrible. Awful. I took one bite and left the rest because it was musty, dry, and two minutes away from being spoiled. J tasted it and declared, “Tastes like it was cooked in an old shoe. How can you screw up fried rice? This is an abomination.”

J chose the Chef’s Special Lo Mein, chicken, pork, and shrimp over noodles. He has been searching for good Lo Mein ever since moving to Seattle from Pittsburgh … and continues his search. This dish tasted as if they had cooked our two entrees together, added pork, shrimp, and broccoli to half and called it the Chef’s Special Lo Mein. The worst part was, instead of using actual lo mein noodles, they merely poured the meat, vegetables, and sauce over spaghetti noodles. He hated it.

The Price:

Pot Stickers: 6.50

Garlic Chicken Individual Combo: 10.50

Chef’s Special Lo Mein: 8.25

The Verdict:

J made an interesting observation after we left Golden City, “It’s almost worse when a restaurant does one or two things well and the rest is horrible than when a place is overall bad. It means they just don’t care enough to try to do everything well.” Golden City didn’t even try. The horrible pork fried rice. The “garlic” sauce that was interchangeable. The over fried egg roll. The spaghetti lo mein. This place made Louie’s seem amazing. Needless to say, we won’t ever go back.

Frankly, Ballard just doesn’t have a good Chinese restaurant. Louie’s is clean and has okay food. Ballard Mandarin had good food but was not particularly clean and Golden City was terrible. Since clean trumps good food, whenever we’re too lazy to take the bus down to the International District, we’ll probably end up at Louie’s when the craving for Chinese food hits.

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