The New Burger Kings: Smashburger vs. Culver's
Ever since Supersize Me came out, I've been loathe to dine at fast food restaurants. But with so many locals extolling the meaty virtues of the new pseudo-gourmet hamburger chains that have been popping up around the Valley, it was impossible to resist pitting two of these gut-busting gastronomic giants against each other.
Meet the next generation of burger kings...
In One Corner: Smashburger
777 S. College Ave. in Tempe
Weighing in at: 1/3-1/2 lb.
Cost: $5-6 for a basic cheeseburger, $8-10 for a combo (or $7 with ASU ID)
Gimmick: 100% Angus beef, cooked to order and smashed on the grill
Why it's better than BK: No creepy mascots
Denver-based Smashburger is a fast-casual chain with restaurants in 15 states and an expansion plan to rival Caesar's. Basically they're riding on In-N-Out Burger's coattails, claiming to offer a better burger experience than the longtime fast food giants.
Like with Internet dates, first impressions are everything at fast food places. There are no playgrounds or plastic crowns here. Smashburger is sleek and modern, with white walls and shiny red wall decals that entice guests to "savor" and "sizzle."
Silly, yes. But better than a pedo clown in a yellow jumpsuit.
Patrons can order a pre-designed burger or build their own from a menu of cheeses, veggies and miscellaneous toppings like fried eggs and bacon. Smashburger even offers salads and chicken sandwiches for the *cough* health conscious crowd. My companion and I ordered up a 1/3 lb. classic bacon cheeseburger with fries that couldn't possibly stick in my gullet as much as the combo's $10 price tag.
The burger arrived in a basket, split in half on a potato bun and topped with fresh lettuce and tomato. It had the greasy sheen of fast food meat and a smell reminiscent of a July 4 picnic. We bit in and were surprised by the juiciness of the beef. Clearly, Smashburger's trick of smashing a meat patty on a grill and quick-cooking for three minutes really does seal in the juices. Or at least, the greases.
Some of the bacon was slightly crisp, while other parts were limp and fatty. Sigh. For ten bucks, it should've been crisp enough to break apart when we breathed on it. The flavor was good, though -- smoky, with a hint of sweetness from the applewood. The sharp cheddar was tangy and smooth and the veggies fresh, even if the tomato was a little green.
The biggest disappointment was the beef.
"It's good, but a little greasy," said my friend. "I definitely use a leaner cut of meat than this to make burgers at home." The next ten minutes were spent taking bets on whether it was 80/20, 70/30 or the "Grade D, but edible" meat I once saw workers hauling into my college cafeteria. Shudder.