The Costco food court is not the most glamorous of eateries, but it has, like many things Costco, attained a certain following. Some people are simply in need of sustenance after an afternoon of flighting through crowded aisles lugging enormous mayo jars and gallons of laundry detergent works up a hearty appetite that even the most generous end-of-aisle sample can't satisfy. But others are just there to enjoy some inexpensive, generously portioned eatin', some of which is actually quite solid, and some of which should probably go the way of the discontinued Polish sausage.
To sort the good from the bad, we snagged a Costco card, rolled into the mega-store and ordered one of everything in order to save you some post-shopping heartache. And heartburn. Here's how it all stacked up.
The Acai bowl debuted at many Costco locations last year in an attempt to pivot to some "healthier" options on the food court menu, which is all well and good, but this one misses the mark. Generally speaking the assorted shrapnel on top -- blueberries, strawberry bits, banana chips and a smattering of granola -- acquits itself just fine. But the acai soft serve itself has an astringent taste and chalky texture that just undermines the whole operation.
9. Double cheeseburger
You can tell they were trying here -- there's some vaguely orange burger sauce, a smattering of vegetation, and a fluffy, brioche-esque bun that actually holds the operation together quite well. But the sauce was more obnoxiously sweet than tangy, and, more importantly, the oven-warmed burger patties just weren't up to the task. If you've ever been at a point in your life when you saw one of the off-brand frozen cheeseburgers at a corner store and thought "that's what I need right now" then you know the taste and texture of which we speak. If it's meat and carbs you're seeking, you have better options here.
8. Chicken Caesar salad
What do you get when you put a pile of iceberg lettuce, a mound of chicken chunks, and a pinch of half-frozen shredded cheese into a big plastic bowl with a lil' cup of Caesar dressing and a questionably low price point? You get Costco's other de facto "healthy item."
It's not bad, per se. It's just incredibly basic. But hey, still beat the burger!
7. Turkey provolone sandwich
This was surprisingly intense. With cheese, herbs, and Italian dressing flavor coming out like a firework grand finale of deli tastes, it was actually kind of hard to eat. It tastes like a turkey sandwich, times 1,000. Like Costco's R&D department was like, "Hey, let's make this turkey sandwich taste like a turkey sandwich that's stuffed with a turkey sandwich that was made with turkeys who have been fed a strict diet of only turkey sandwiches for their entire lives." Which is to say, it's a bit much for such a simple concept.
They were… umm, yeah…. they're fine. It's soft-serve ice cream. It's hard to screw this up.
5. BBQ brisket sandwich
In real life, this actually looked better than it did on the stock menu shot, which hardly ever happens. The brisket tasted…. agreeable? Yes, yes it did. It's still kind of surprising. The coleslaw that came lovingly atop was also fresh, and that Wonder Bread-esque bun held it all together. A+.
But here's the catch (there's obviously a catch): The BBQ sauce was one of the weirdest things I've ever tasted. It was sweet, and not subtly so. More like, "Wait, did they melt 300 Skittles and put them on top of this brisket? Why did they do that?" Like the turkey sandwich, it was hard to eat because it was just too much.
4. Hot dog
Costco's $1.50 hot dog and soda is something of a food court calling card, and it's understandable given the impressive bun-eclipsing size of the frankfurter you received for mere pocket change. The bun is soft. The dog is hot. It's a winning combination to be sure.
That said, it fell a little short of other items further up the list, as there was just enough of a hint of textural oddness to remind you that, well, you are eating a very large and cheap hot dog. On balance, though, this one's still a winner.
3. Chicken bake
People legitimately love this thing, which is kind of like a mutant Hot Pocket stuffed with chicken, three kinds of cheese, bacon, and Caesar salad dressing. That weird mishmash of flavors turns out to taste like somebody hollowed out a jumbo-sized breadstick and filled it with Chunky Pub Style Chicken Pot Pie™ soup. Which, as you can tell by its placement on this list, is not a bad thing.
Like everything else in the food court, it's strangely soft and chewy. It actually tastes like somebody took a Funfetti cake, sucked out the Funfetti (but kept the fun!), stuck that inside a sugar-coated tube the size of a 7th grader's forearm, and covered it in cinnamon. It is not "authentic." It does not matter. It's soft and cakey and delicious and deserving of no snark whatsoever.
The pizza at Costco isn't what you would call "great", at least by broader worldwide pizza standards. You wouldn't be like, "Hey Grade-School Soccer Team, let's all celebrate today's win with a nice big Costco pizza!" But you could well be like, "Hey honey, let's make amends for that fight we had in the detergent section with some amply sized slices featuring what definitely appears to be cheese sitting atop some almost alarmingly (yet also addictively?) soft dough.
Costco pizza is a clear product of its time and place. And its place is Costco, its time is whenever you have a minute to pull your overstuffed cart over. It serves this moment in your life near perfectly. And for that, it deserves a second of your recognition. Or at least a casual head nod as you plan your escape from the store.
Oh, and get the plain cheese, as the toppings only dilute this pizza's bargain-basement greatness. Trust us. We ate every hypnotizing inch of it.
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Wil Fulton is a staff writer for Thrillist. He actually blames Gwyneth Paltrow for most of the world's problems. Follow him @wilfulton.
Matt Lynch is a senior editor at Thrillist. He thinks Gwyneth gets a bad rap. Follow him @mlynchchi.