Food & dining

Doritos, Slim Jims, Fruit Loops, Twinkies: Some call it junk food, these chefs call it inspiration

Local chefs have elevated junk food like Doritos, Slim Jims, Fruit Loops, and Twinkies to edible art.
Local chefs have elevated junk food like Doritos, Slim Jims, Fruit Loops, and Twinkies to edible art.

Fritos. Doritos. Slim Jims. Snacks reserved for late-night binges or for teens with fast metabolisms, right? Perhaps not: Earlier in August, a three-day pop-up called The Spotted Cheetah launched in New York City. No, it didn’t serve exotic African fare. Instead, the menu consisted of Cheetos. That’s right, the neon-orange crunch-pipes of your youth. At the helm? TV chef Anne Burrell, cohost of “Worst Cooks in America.” On the menu: Cheetos meatballs, Cheetos-crusted chicken Milanese, even Cheetos cheesecake.

Guess what? Seats sold out fast, and the wait list had more than 1,000 names on it. (Take heart: There’s a cookbook available online, so you can still create these delicacies at home.)

While Boston lacks a dedicated Cheetos restaurant, there’s still plenty of junk food to be had on local menus, and in some rather unlikely places. MET Back Bay serves French toast coated in Cap’n Crunch cereal. South Boston’s Coppersmith has a riff on Pop Tarts. Buttermilk & Bourbon serves macaroni and cheese topped with — that’s right — Flamin’ Hot Crunchy Cheetos. And there’s more. Ahead, here are some of our very own snacky standouts at places where you can actually snag a table.


O Ya’s Housemade Fingerling Potato Chip, $16


“I try to incorporate junk food into my life however I can,” admits O Ya’s Tim Cushman, who has served this dish at his Leather District sushi palace ever since one of his chefs put rice atop a Lay’s potato chip during a staff meal. The pairing inspired Cushman, who recalled a dish he made while cooking in France — thinly sliced potatoes topped with truffles, goose fat, and salt. Here, he serves house-made chips made from La Ratte potatoes topped with homemade dashi mayonnaise, mixed with smoky pickled onions and minced celery, shaved truffles, and micro celery sprouts. The result? A one-bite snack that’s better than anything you’ll find in a bag. “I didn’t think people would buy it, but I ran it for a couple nights, and people went nuts,” says Cushman (who confesses a weakness for Cape Cod chips).

9 East St., Boston, 617-654-9900,

Uni’s White Castle Burger Roll, $10

Uni’s White Castle Burger Roll.
Uni’s White Castle Burger Roll.
Get The Weekender in your inbox:
The Globe's top picks for what to see and do each weekend, in Boston and beyond.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Uni at the Back Bay’s Eliot Hotel has dim lighting, bracing beverages, and creative sushi and Asian small plates. It’s your classic second-date spot: Share sake, split some Japanese milk bread — and, if you dare, order this protein-packed paean to the classic fast-food joint. Executive chef Tony Messina created the four-piece maki roll as a nod to partner Ken Oringer, who grew up in New Jersey, prime White Castle territory. “This was the food of his childhood,” says Messina (who hails from East Boston). The roll is filled with beef, a tangy mustard-mayo sauce with cucumber pickle brine, cheddar, and tomato, elegantly finished with crispy potato strings. Here, your junk-food fantasies might actually appear refined.

370 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-536-7200,


The Revere Hotel Boston Common’s Beef Jerky, $6

The Revere Hotel’s Beef Jerky.
The Revere Hotel’s Beef Jerky.

This meaty treat is served at the Revere’s lobby bar and at its rooftop pool, popular spots for downtown revelry. “I grew up in Virginia, and a highlight of road trips for me was getting Slim Jims from my dad,” says executive chef Sean Dutson. “Then it graduated to jerky when my palate got more sophisticated.” He’s re-created his childhood snack with an upscale spin, marinated overnight in soy sauce, brown sugar, and cayenne. It’s served in a compostable bamboo cone for easy mingling.

200 Stuart St., Boston, 617-482-1800, www.reverehotel

Tico’s Spicy Cheese Chicharrones, $8

“I’m a fat kid in the fall and winter,” jokes Tico executive chef Leo Asaro, who indulges in this crispy, spicy fried pork skin during the cooler months. Asaro coats the skin in a blend that includes powders of yellow cheddar and pepper jack cheese, onion, chive, garlic, and ramen, plus the restaurant’s own blend, a take on togarashi spice. Presto: a crunchy snack that possesses the come-hither orange glow of Cheetos and tastes like Cool Ranch Doritos. Find it on his Back Bay menu come September.

222 Berkeley St., Boston, 617-351-0400, www.tico


Earls’ “Fruit Hoops” shooter, $10

Remember when you were a kid, watching cartoons and slurping sugary cereal? Remember how delicious your milk tasted once those Apple Jacks or Cocoa Krispies had sat there a while? Wouldn’t “The Smurfs” have been so much better with a little booze thrown in? That’s the theory at Earls Kitchen + Bar at Assembly Row (and, soon, the Prudential Center). Beverage director Cameron Bogue created a series of cereal-themed shooters, including Apple Jack, Cinnamon Crunch, Coco Poofs, and Fruit Hoops. “There’s an emotional connection to memories” with these drinks, Bogue says. His favorite is Hoops, made with vodka, Raspberry Pucker, fresh lemon juice, and lemongrass syrup. “I think lemongrass tastes like Fruit Loops,” he says.

698 Assembly Row, Somerville, 617-666-1790, www.earls

Yvonne’s After-Dinner “Twinkie,” $7

Yvonne’s After-Dinner “Twinkie.”
Yvonne’s After-Dinner “Twinkie.”

Spongy, cream-filled, a glowing shade of yellow — Twinkies were a staple of any 1980s childhood. Now they’ve reappeared at Downtown Crossing’s Yvonne’s, but be forewarned. “This is more decadent than a regular Twinkie,” says pastry chef Liz O’Connell, who says it’s one of the restaurant’s most popular desserts. Her version is a chocolate cake (Twinkie-shaped, of course) filled with ricotta, vanilla extract, cognac, and sugar, coated with chocolate ganache.

2 Winter Place, Boston, 617-267-0047, www.yvonnes


Lincoln Tavern & Restaurant’s Hot Pockets, $5

Lincoln Tavern & Restaurant’s Hot Pockets.
Lincoln Tavern & Restaurant’s Hot Pockets.

On Fridays and during the weekend, the staff at South Boston’s Lincoln tests unusual dishes. One such delicacy? “Hot pockets” made with puff pastry crust. Executive chef Nick Dixon has riffed on many pocket permutations, including a version injected with Cap’n Crunch-infused pastry cream. “Instead of using normal cream, we steep the Cap’n Crunch in the cream as if it were cereal milk, strain it, and pipe it into the hot pocket, then we crush up a bunch of cereal and sprinkle that on top,” he says. This is a labor of love. “I think it’s one of those things that my generation grew up on, fun cereal. I’m 34 now, and I haven’t eaten it in 15 years, so if there’s a way to bring it back, I will,” he says.

425 W. Broadway, Boston, 617-765-8636,

Sulmona’s Classic Burger, $16

Sulmona’s Classic Burger.
Sulmona’s Classic Burger.

Sulmona’s Delio Susi calls his burger a “mock Mac.” As a first-generation American in an Italian family, he adored the novelty of Big Macs. His tribute version is more upscale than what you might snag at the drive-thru, though. It’s a mix of chuck, short rib, and brisket, cooked on a griddle to lock in the juices. His sauce is based on Big Mac’s special sauce — “but we use confit heirloom tomato puree in it,” he says. It’s topped with Irish white cheddar, gem lettuce, and house-made pickles, served on a buttered sesame seed brioche bun. “This is Americana,” he enthuses.

608 Main St., Cambridge, 617-714-4995, www.sulmona

Crunchy, Salty, Spicy

The Automatic’s Frito Pie From Hell, $7

The Automatic’s Frito Pie From Hell.
Remi Thornton/Creative Katz
The Automatic’s Frito Pie From Hell.

“When I was a kid, all the walk-up places like Dairy Freeze had Frito pie. I didn’t realize that everyone in the world wasn’t eating them,” says The Automatic’s Dave Cagle, who grew up in Arkansas and whose great-grandmother Ruby worked there and slipped him a free snack now and then. His Cambridge version involves a small, ripped-open bag of Fritos dolloped with beef chili, longhorn cheese, onions, and a healthy drizzle of Inner Beauty hot sauce.

50 Hampshire St., Cambridge, 617-714-5226,

Little Donkey’s Donkey “Doritos,” $5

“Everyone loves Doritos, but they don’t get the limelight. You don’t see people doing riffs on them. They don’t have that sexy cachet,” laments Little Donkey co-owner Ken Oringer. Oringer and partner Jamie Bissonnette make tortilla chips and toss them with a Doritos-style seasoning using cheddar powder, buttermilk powder, espelette pepper, and pimentón. Behold: a snack reminiscent of Cool Ranch Doritos, sometimes served alongside queso fundido or wild boar chili on their late-night menu. “Everyone has those memories of eating Doritos after school as a kid,” says Oringer. And they still have appeal. “People love the crunch. They love the seasoning,” he says.

505 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-945-1008,

Bukowski Tavern’s Mac & Cheese, $11.95

Bukowski Tavern’s Mac & Cheese.


For Bukowski Tavern’s Brian Poe, macaroni coated with beer cheese sauce recalls a simpler, stingier time. “It’s like when you’re in college and had no money. If you had a little money, you’d buy the good Velveeta,” he says. His grown-up version incorporates PBR, Velveeta, cilantro, and serrano chiles. It’s topped with actual Cheez-It crackers. (“I tried to make them, but it was taking too much time,” he says.) And the sauce is such a hit bothat sometimes guests order it on its own as a secret, off-menu item for fry-dunking.

1281 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-497-7077, www

Kara Baskin can be reached at