Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Friday, January 13, 2012


Over on Facebook, my buddy Eric is jonesing for a double Whopper with cheese... which set me to thinking about Fast-Food Burgers.

I’ve had an off-again, on-again love affair with Fast Food Burgers for as long as I can remember. I’m old enough to remember when the standard-issue McDungheap’s burger cost one thin dime, and I still recall my first encounter with the Whopper foldly.

Burger King was still a fairly young operation when I first tasted of the Whopper. It was in North Miami Beach - BK was, at the time, a Miami-based operation - on NE 163rd Street, and that burger was a revelation to my 8-year-old self. To my young eyes, accustomed as they were to the thin, dried-out McDungheap burgers, it was humongous... and it had a fine, charcoal-broiled taste that McDungheap's couldn't touch with the proverbial ten-foot pole. Moreover, it came decorated with the Holy Trinity of hamburger condiments: ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise. (The McDungheap-burger, by contrast, would be dressed only with its traditional squirt of ketchup and slice of pickle.)

McDungheap’s, of course, had to strike back. There came the Big Mac, which upped the ante with an extra patty and layer of bread. I was not impressed. But when the Quarter-Pounder came along, that was something else again.

The Quarter-Pounder with cheese (in France, the Royale with cheese) was, at its heart, a thoroughgoing piece of crap. A plain bun, a steamed, grey meat-patty (albeit a full quarter-pound before cooking), a slice of half-molten American cheese-oid, a scattering of chopped onions, a squirt of ketchup - and yet, in some bizarre way, the Quarter-Pounder was greater than the sum of its parts.

When I drove a Good Humor truck in the summer of 1973 - the job from hell - the Quarter-Pounder was my go-to supper of choice as I wended my way back from my daily route. Sometimes I would devour two: a guilty pleasure.

Just a few years after that I found myself in Houston, where I used to roll for the Great Corporate Salt Mine’s bowling league (another guilty pleasure). On my way to the bowling alley after work I would stop off at Burger King and grab a Whopper. All too often, it was a double Whopper. This did little to help me retain the svelte figure I had when I entered the workforce.

For years, I avoided Wendy’s on account of their square burgers. Square burgers! Just like the ones that would come with our twenty-five cent school lunch back in elementary school, a thin grey patty with globs of Meat-Grease served on a (yech!) buttered bun. But one day in Houston, possibly out of sheer boredom or desperation, I tried a Wendy’s burger. Not bad! (Not great, either.)

She Who Must Be Obeyed still harbors a deep and abiding love for Whataburger, a venerable Texas chain that makes a pretty respectable hamburger sandwich. To me, the best thing about the Whataburger is the easy availability of jalapeño slices as a condiment. Yowza!

As for who offered the best Fast Food Burger, the Elisson fedora-tip has to go to Hardee’s - at least, the Hardee’s of yesteryear, once upon a time a brash start-up out of Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Whether they’re still any good is open to question, but back in the day they offered a tasty charcoal-grilled hamburger that was second to none. Not even the Whopper of yore could touch it.

Krystal, White Castle, Royal Castle and the like have their fans, but the only thing these operations have going for them is Cheepnis. Their burgers are dirt-cheap, possibly because dirt is a primary ingredient. In the world of hamburgers - like the world at large - you may not always get what you pay for, but if you always go with the low bidder, you’re gonna get more than your share of crap.

An aside regarding condiments: There are real regional differences as to condiment preferences. In the New York area, burgers come with tomato ketchup. That’s all: just ketchup. In Texas, on the other hand, the standard-issue Burger Decoration is mustard. Most other parts of the country, your burger will arrive wearing a combination of ketchup and mustard. As for mayonnaise, further your deponent sayeth not.

I don’t indulge in the Fast-Food Burger these days, especially since the best one in these parts - Back Yard Burgers - folded up shop a few years back. Their offerings really did taste like the burgers you might have grilled in your back yard over a nice charcoal flame, plump and juicy. Alas. But since I need to be eating Rapidly Prepared Comestibles about as much as I need a second asshole, I harbor no regrets at their departure.

What’s your favorite Fast-Food Burger?


Anonymous said...

.... I think the main reason that I enjoy Whoppers so much is the mayo they use...... a burger just ain't right without mayo....


Joseph said...

This is a topic close to my heart, and not in the coronary artery plaque way, either.

The best fast food burger IMO is the In-N-Out Double-Double. However, as I do not live in the California-Arizona-Nevada stomping grounds of In-N-Out, I'll choose more accessible selections.

Back Yard and modern Hardee's are tied for first. Both are much closer to what you'd cook yourself than anything else in the genre. Both are also only borderline fast-food these days as you have to order and sit a spell while they cook it.

Since I made that point, I'll add Five Guys to the list, here. For those that don't know, Five Guys is the closest you can get to In-N-Out if you don't live in the aforementioned In-N-Out stomping grounds, with one caveat: price. Five Guys is about 2-3x more expensive than In-N-Out, which is notoriously cheap and therefore frequented by the broke college student crowd. However, it is obvious where those five guys got their inspiration.

This is getting long, so I'll wrap by saying that Burger King comes next on the list, but not for the Whopper (though I like Whoppers). Nay, BK's signature contribution to the fast-food burger pantheon is their old Bacon Double Cheeseburger. It can be had now as the BK Double Stacker, but only sans that hideous sauce they put on the Stacker.

The rest of the places - for burgers, at least - are beneath mention and tied for "I usually order something other than a burger when I eat there" place.

Kevin Kim said...

Five Guys burgers are indeed nasty-good. So are their hot dogs. And their "regular"-sized fries can feed three Kevins.

og said...

We have Schoops here. Schoops is a good handmade burger, started by a guy back from serving in WW2. The burgers were and are so good,my friend Jon said 'They kept me going in The Nam. Every time I ate cold shit out of cans in stinking wet muddy shitholes, I thought about getting a Schoops Double Cheeseburger. When I got off the bus, I stood my duffel outside the door, walked in and ordered one with fries and a Green River. It made coming home worthwhile. I ate that burger even before I saw my mom, just a block away"

Schoops is still there- though now a chain- and the burghers are still made the same way, and that way is good. Everything else leaves me cold.

I did read at one point that White Castle used the best quality meat of all the national chains. I don't know what the criteria were.

DogsDontPurr said...

Carl's Junior has the burger that Paris Hilton is supposedly eating while wearing a bikini and washing a car in those controversial commercials she made a while back.

Of course, I had to run out and try one. And I must say, it was pretty fabulous. But I'm also pretty sure that there's no way you're going to maintain a "smokin' hot bikini bod" if you more than one of those in your lifetime!

But I think it was by far the only fast food hamburger that I wold go back for. (Unless you count the illusive McRib as a burger. Then it's a close second.)

JT said...

#1 is Whataburger in the truest sense of 'fast-food'. Mooyah, otherwise, though they are 'fast-casual' and have no drive thru. We have In-and-Out here in North Texas now, though I haven't traveled across town to try it.

Anonymous said...

Billie Bob used to call burgers with mayo "sissy burgers".

- Morris William

BobG said...

When I was growing up Arctic Circle had some of the most popular (they used mayonnaise and a touch of ketchup) in theirs.
In-N-Out has recently come here, they are quite good.
If I want to really abuse my arteries, though, Ab's is where I go. No factory patties or fries, all patties are handmade, just like the regular and curly fries (with or without cheese and chili).

Rahel said...

Burgers Bar is pretty decent out here.

mostly cajun said...

Whataburger. But they're scarce outside Texas, so the shopper is my other fave...

Anonymous said...

I dislike chain burgers.

But if I had to choose one, it would be the bacon/cheese/burger at the local Miss Peppers :-)

Yabu said...

I don't do any fast food at all. Stopped over twenty five years ago, well I take that back. I had a BK Cheese Whopper about eight years ago, and it made me major sick. If you stay off fast food for as long as I have, there is no going back. My body was mad at me. I have no problem with people who choose to eat it, I'm just not one of 'em. For me, it ain't worth it, I'd rather not eat.

The Maximum Leader said...

I'll go with Kevin and name 5 Guys as my favorite...

It isn't fast food... But I did once have one of Daniel Baloud's $50 burgers at the Wynn in LV. It was the greatest burger I've ever had. Stuffed with foie gras, braised short rib meat, gooey cheese... It was good...

diamond dave said...

The Western Bacon Cheeseburger from Carl's Jr. I went to Houston for Christmas and when I discovered they now had Carl's Jr, I wept with joy.

Honorable mentions: In-n-Out Double Double, anything from Whataburger.