We visited the ‘McDonald’s of Russia’ that’s trying to take over America — here’s what it was like

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The “red stars” blin, packed to the gills with salmon caviar.
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Hollis Johnson

In Russia, a chain serving traditional Russian fare dukes it out with the likes of McDonald’s and KFC – and now it’s coming to the US.

In 1998, Mikhail Goncharov was inspired by the immense popularity of McDonald’s in his home country and decided to start a fast-food chain, Teremok, which serves Russian classics instead of burgers and fries.

Goncharov, the CEO of the chain, adapted his mother’s recipes for Teremok’s menu, which features blini, soups, and kasha. Today, there are more than 300 Teremok locations in Russia.

In the past year, two Teremok locations have opened in New York City as the chain plants a flag on American soil.

We stopped by the nearest Teremok to see if the Russian chain could compete with the hegemony of American classics like the Big Mac and the Crunchwrap Supreme.


This Teremok, one of two in New York, is at Sixth Avenue and 16th Street.

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Hollis Johnson

Inside, the atmosphere is familiar — the typical, minimal fast-casual vibes of white tile, blond wood, and a pop of color.

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Teremok is all about promoting its heritage. For those who aren’t familiar with Russian cuisine and terminology, there are numerous posters on the walls explaining what you’re ordering.

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The prices are quite reasonable — nothing is over $10, and most entrées are about $7.

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Like most fast-casual restaurants, there’s an open kitchen that’s bright and clean.

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The chain’s specialty is blini, crepelike Slavic pancakes typically wrapped around savory fillings.

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The blinis are made to order, and you can watch employees pour the batter onto the griddle. The smell of the blini and fillings like bacon and potato fill the restaurant.

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Teremok makes an effort to provide authentic Russian beverages, such as tarkhun, a tarragon drink, and duches, a pear one.

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Then there’s kvass, a carbonated, malt-based beverage that’s bready and sweet. It has no direct parallel among mainstream American beverages — the closest match would be kombucha, with a Guinness-like aftertaste. It may sound strange, but it’s oddly addictive.

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Our food was ready within 10 minutes — and we ordered quite a lot.

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To dip our toes into the sea of blinis, we started with one called “the original”: a simple meal of ham and Swiss cheese. For only $5.45 for a small, you get a hearty and compact Russian take on the croque monsieur. It’s simple, kid-friendly, and delicious.

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For the more adventurous blini lover, there’s the “butcher’s block,” stuffed with mashed potatoes, fried onions, bacon, and pickles. This isn’t necessarily a traditional blin, but it’s a full feast packed within the delicate pancake.

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For those looking for a more traditionally constructed blin, there’s the “goldie lox,” heaped with oily salmon lox, Swiss cheese, and a rich sour cream that tastes like cream cheese. It’s incredibly filling and makes a perfect meal on its own. The lox is remarkably good, exceeding expectations of quality for a fast-food chain.

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An even more decadent blin is the “red stars,” packed to the gills with salmon caviar. As one would expect, it’s salty, briny, and very texturally satisfying — the little caviar eggs burst in your mouth with every bite. It’s the most expensive item on the menu at $9.45, but it’s worth the extra cost.

The

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Kasha is one of Russia’s most popular national dishes, so its inclusion on the menu is no surprise. There are several mix-ins to choose from, including hot-dog slices, pork, salmon, chicken, and mushrooms. While Russian expats who visit may enjoy the taste of home, it was texturally displeasing and lacked the appealing flavors of the blini.

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Teremok’s side-salad selection is eclectic — there’s a Caesar salad, a Russian salad, a “vinegret” mix, and “herring in furs,” pictured below. It’s not a salad in the Sweetgreen sense, but rather an egg salad with herring and beets. If you’re an egg-salad fan, go for it; if you’re not, don’t.

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Borsch is among the best-known Slavic soups, with its rich-magenta beetroot-based broth. Teremok tweaked the traditional recipe for Western tastes, opting for a thinner, less stewy broth, and throwing bacon and tomatoes into the mix.

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A good chowder is hard to find, but at Teremok, we did. The salmon chowder isn’t the thick, viscous chowder of New England tradition, but instead a more delicate and light soup with a creamy, buttery, soft-cheese-based broth dotted with carrots and hunks of smoked salmon.

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One item no one should pass over is the pelmeni dumplings. These little doughy nuggets filled with meat are rich, oily, and heavy — the bright tang of sour cream is needed to break up a meaty monotony.

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For dessert, we ordered the syrniki, analogous to cheesecake bites. However, these are made with pressed cottage cheese and fried like little fritters, resulting in a crumbly, almost cakelike texture. The strawberry compote elevates the dessert to the next level.

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Each of these dishes could have been felled by subpar ingredients and lackluster preparation, but surprisingly — especially considering the price point — the ingredients in the salmon caviar, the strawberry compote, and many other items met a higher-than-expected standard.

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We walked in expecting fast food — craveable, but ultimately forgettable. We left eager to return.

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Hollis Johnson

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