Certain foods are synonymous with delivery. Think: Chinese food, pizza, and really anything that involves a noodle. These dishes became takeout classics for a reason: They are still delicious after being shepherded across town, can be reheated at ease, and, above all else, are comforting and delicious.
Unfortunately, not all foods are created equally, and if we’re being honest, most fall victim to the temperature challenges, transit shake ups, and other issues that come with delivery.
I learned delivery how-to the hard way through dozens of botched orders. I’ve eaten my fair share of lukewarm, soggy crinkle-cut fries and melted milkshakes because I spent too much on delivery fees to justify throwing them out. And some of my personal catastrophes have even rivaled a famous avocado toast delivery fiasco. But you shouldn’t have to go through the same trial-and-error that I did.
To help you avoid mishaps and master the takeout order, we present to you this guide to the best delivery-proof dishes based on your cravings.
You want: A healthy, crisp green salad
Let’s face it: The salad you make at home is rarely as good as what you can order at a restaurant or fast-casual spot. But ordering a salad to go isn’t a solution. The way the dressing is tossed so it perfectly coats each ingredient will leave it soggy upon arrival, and you can’t quite replicate that at home even if you opt for dressing on the side. You also can’t get that magical bite where the warm ingredients hang onto their heat while the crisp cold ingredients stay crisp and cold after the salad has been sitting in a delivery bag for more than a few minutes.
Order instead: A salad from your favorite Thai spot
You don’t have to completely retire your salad cravings to find one that can withstand delivery. You just need to shift the location you’re ordering from. Staff writer Kat Thompson recently dished about her favorite Thai salads and she told me that many of them make perfect delivery candidates. Som tum is a fresh papaya salad with dried shrimp, chiles, fish sauce, peanuts, and sugar that is meant to sit marinating in the ingredients’ juices to enhance flavor, so it’ll only get better with time in a to-go bag. Larb is another great delivery option that’s a little heartier than a mixed green salad. This Thai classic combines minced meats, fresh herbs, lime, chile, and dry roasted rice. While it’s often served hot, you’ll occasionally see it served at room temperature to keep the fresh herbs in perfect condition, meaning it’ll still be delicious no matter what temperature it is when it arrives.
You want: A fast-food chicken sandwich
The beauty of a fast-food chicken sandwich is biting into crispy, hot fried chicken while the other stuff (like lettuce, tomato, hopefully a lot of pickles, and a slathering of mayo) stay nice and cold. But that combination of temperatures and textures often isn’t possible after delivery. Just ask our very own Tony Merevick. He’s eaten his way through fast food menus at chains across the country and tried dozens of chicken sandwiches along the way. Swiping the company card for fast food is quite literally his job. He admitted that chicken sandwiches can quickly get soggy but the Popeyes version (which wears the Fasties crown for best chicken sandwich) holds up “surprisingly well,” perhaps due to its thick-battered chicken and already-soft brioche bun.
Order instead: Chicken tenders or pieces
Even if some sandwiches can survive travel, a better bet for delivery is a fried chicken meal. You can go the tenders route and channel your childhood or opt for dark or white meat pieces. The best part is that you get all the sides your little heart desires so each bite can provide a different flavor experience while you mix and match what’s piled up at the end of your fork. Packaging everything up separately helps each aspect of the meal hold its integrity. Plus, if you order from a place that has flakey, buttery biscuits, you can assemble a chicken and biscuit sandwich so good, The Great Chicken Sandwich Wars of 2019 will feel a lifetime away.
You want: An Italian cold cuts sandwich
A sandwich is a great delivery option in theory, but there’s so much that could go wrong—especially with cold sandwiches like a classic Italian or hero (or hoagie or whatever you call it in your region). Tomatoes or pickles might turn the whole thing into a soggy mess. Once crisp and crunchy lettuce might be limp by the time it gets to you. The cheese might even get… kinda slimy (ew, I know). There are so many ways your sandwich could turn into a delivery fail, and honestly, you can probably make a pretty good version on your own anyway.
Order instead: A hot sandwich
If you really want to go the sandwich route, a hot sandwich is where it's at. Even if your chicken parmesan sub or reuben faces temperature woes while in transit, you can easily pop it back in the oven at 350 degrees and you’ll have a warm sandwich with a crunchy exterior in just a few minutes. Plus, you likely won’t have the ingredients for the most popular hot sandwiches at home, so that’s another notch in the win column for delivery.
You want: A burrito with all the fixings
When I order a burrito, I like it to be stuffed with literally every ingredient the spot offers. Give me every salsa, sour cream, cheese, and guacamole... you know, the works. So with that in mind, you can imagine how my ideal burrito absolutely flops during delivery. The best part of a burrito is that contrasting textures, temperatures, and flavors are all rolled into one while still holding their own, and there’s unfortunately really no way to have that after a ride across town because all of the ingredients meld together after a long period of time.
Order instead: A piled-high burrito bowl
A simple solution is a burrito bowl. Your cheese will still get a little melty and the other cold ingredients won’t be as cold as they would be if you took a bite the second it was served to you in a restaurant, but you’ll still get all the great flavor and the ingredients hold their own a bit better than when wrapped in a warm tortilla. Plus, if you have a tortilla at home, you can easily just warm it up yourself and make little burrito bites. You get more food out of a burrito bowl, anyhow.
You want: A pile of french fries
There are two types of people in this world: People who like their french fries a little on the soft side and people who are wrong. I said it! OK! Even if you order the crispiest ones—the kind of fries that are more fried bits than potato—they’ll be limp upon arrival because of the steam that collects in the container. French fries that are left to their own devices for too long get unfortunately soft and even some time in the oven often can’t save them, so you’re better off skipping them all together.
Order instead: Chips or literally any other side
If you can’t go on without a starchy side to munch on with your meal, I feel you. Chips are a great alternative if we’re talking burgers or a sandwich. But if you’re thinking of getting fries in the context of steak frites or to pair with BBQ food, just go for another side dish altogether. Potatoes are incredibly versatile and the rest of the potato’s long lineage does much better up against delivery. There's mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, potato salad... You can still satisfy your potato craving, trust me.
You want: Picture-perfect eggs Benedict
Droves of brunchers are now stuck inside without access to bottomless mimosas and eggs Benedict. If you’re among them, I’m begging you to resist the urge to order an Instagrammable brunch. Poaching eggs at home is tough, so I understand where you’re coming from, but do you really want to risk missing that yolk-breaking boomerang because the box shifted slightly on its way to you?
Order instead: An omelet or pivot to something sweeter
A safer egg option is an omelet or breakfast sandwich, both of which are made to stay sitting all together and will travel just fine. But I’d recommend shifting over to the sweeter side of brunch if you’re going to order delivery. You can probably make a decent egg breakfast for yourself, so take your ordered-in brunch up a few notches and opt for brioche french toast or fluffy buttermilk pancakes that are harder to recreate at home instead.
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