… for the convenience of 7-ElevenThe popularity of a chain restaurant is undeniable. In a world increasingly filled with unpleasant surprises, a chain is a safe, knowable entity. An Applebee's here is guaranteed to be virtually identical to one on the other side of the country. Chain restaurants don't have to bother with pesky tasks like dreaming up special dishes or menu ideas; it's food that comes with assembly instructions. And where else are you most likely to be serenaded on your birthday?
But eaters often overlook one of the biggest chains of all, 7-Eleven, with nearly 35,000 branches across the globe and at least eight locations just in the Downtown San Diego area. One of the beauties of 7-Eleven is that there are no silly rules like in a regular restaurant. Have breakfast for dinner or dinner for breakfast—no one's going to stop you.
My favorite shop is one of the Little Italy outposts, in a prime piece of real estate just a few blocks from the harbor, shaded by palm trees. It's accessible by trolley, though there is no real necessity to travel here; there is very likely a 7-Eleven opening near you as I write this.
And on Christmas, when most shops are closed, 7-Eleven comes through like a champion and my family and friends gratefully reap the benefits of same-day shopping and gift-giving. It's just tough to decide who'll get the pre-paid phone card and who'll score a dozen donuts. Speaking of donuts, did you know that 7-Eleven goes through 365,000 pounds of glaze each month on its pastries? Holy sweet tooth!
7-Eleven's most impressive specialty is its array of food in tubular form, the ultimate easy eating for people who don't want to open their mouths very wide when they eat or use both their hands to hold their food. Long sticks of dried meat that never go bad, rod-shaped popsicles called Ice Ticklers—even bagels have been made simpler, stretched into a log and pre-filled with cream cheese. You can send a thank-you note to the folks at Kraft Foods for this edible treasure.
In the evening, lines form to indulge in 7-Eleven's hot food bar, whose menu selections are superlative convenience foods. There's no need to waste precious minutes for someone to go through the effort to cook your meal and then bring it to you; this is food that you simply point to and it's in your mouth within seconds. There are no pots to clean, no tables to set, no utensils to bother with. I can eat dinner while standing in the magazine aisle, reading about the Jonas Brothers' favorite Easter memories.
Among the innovative items that turn continuously, at the ever-ready, on the rotating heat rollers are the catchy-named Go-Go Taquitos™. Sure, you can find them freshly fried at your neighborhood taco shop, but does your favorite stand have fun fusion fillings like Buffalo chicken or jalapeño-cream cheese? I've even heard about a Supreme Pepperoni taquito but haven't yet had the privilege.
Now, 7-Eleven's Big Bite Hot Dogs™, quarter-pound links of shimmering pork product, are legendary, so it's no wonder that the chain's food scientists would have the inspired idea to transform a ho-hum cheeseburger into something similar but grander, the Cheeseburger Big Bite™—a third-pound patty with cheese, all remolded into a cylindrical shape that slowly turns on the heater, developing a toothsome crust. It confounds the mind as it pleases the taste buds—is it a hot dog or a cheeseburger? It's both, but better! The Big Bites also offer you a chance to customize your meal, with a self-serve dispenser that pumps out warm, savory chili and nacho-cheese sauce. I've heard that some 7-Eleven branches try to limit you to three squirts per order, but this Little Italy location is a friendly place that seems happy to let you pump away until your dog or burger bun is awash in the savory, and free, condiments.
If I ever make it to Japan, I just might skip the touted ramen shop that makes homemade noodles and from-scratch broth and the sushi bar serving just-plucked seafood from the Tsukiji fish market, since I'll have spent too much on airfare already. Oh, thank heaven that there are more 7-Elevens in Japan than in any other country—more than 1,000 in Tokyo alone. I'll pop by the one closest to my hotel for a Top Ramen and a plastic tray of sushi, fresh enough, only sitting for a few days tops.
Maybe my hotel TV will even have a karaoke channel!
This story was part of our April Fool's Day issue of 2009. Don't believe it.