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By Steven Li on 2006-02-25

February 25, 2006

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I rarely crave burgers but always appreciate a nice toasty bun hugging a fair sized grilled patty, sauteed onions, tomatoes and lettuce piled high. My most memorable burger was at Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridian in NYC. Kua Aina back home does a mean avocado burger (and their fries are pretty damn awesome!) There are so many elements that determine what makes a good burger excellent and it many in fact have a lot to with the atmosphere. A dirty little spot hidden in the corner of an elaborate hotel, walking though the curtains of Burger Joint solicits a degree of secrecy. Greedily consuming a thick cheeseburger, medium-rare with juice spilling down the side of your hands in such at setting makes your actions seem out of place yet deliciously forbidden – enhancing the “burger experience.” Who would refuse a half pounder at our local Kua Aina, made better with a generous helping of buttery avocados and a side of salted crispy shoestring fries? Sitting outdoors with friends on a lazy Sunday afternoon, it isn’t hard to imagine that you would enjoy the burger more dining in the company of others than alone.

I’m not quite sure what I’m getting at, but it seems to me, that in the case of burgers, ambiance and company play a key role. I have no desire to eat at In-N-Out alone but enjoy discovering a little bakery or devouring toasted challah and a bowl of hot borscht at B&H Dairy on my own. Burgers are a funny thing. I like to eat them, but not alone. But aside from burgers, I actually prefer eating alone! Not alone alone. But as a single diner in a restaurant where I can observe people or strike up conversations with strangers. I don’t know if that’s good/bad – but it always makes my day much more interesting. We can leave it at that.

Well now that you’ve read my bit on burger eating, I reward you with…pictures from In-N-Out. Hooray! A friend and I stopped here for a quick Friday lunch. This was a particularly tiny In-N-Out, with nearly ten workers crammed inside a miniscule kitchen. I have no idea how they do it – I’d suffer from claustrophobia after working there for an hour.

On our menu was the #2: Cheeseburger, Fries and Soda combo. Though better than average, their burgers are far from exceptional. The thin patty is always overcooked and dry (does anyone else think McDonald’s patties are juicer?) However they redeem themselves with buttery grilled buns. The buns are wonderfully crisp, borderline burnt around the edges and soft and spongy on the inside. I could just eat four or five buns as a meal.

About the fries – these need to be wolfed down in the first two minutes of getting because the second they cool down the taste quality deteriorates very quickly. So whip out the ketchup, dip and eat while finger burning hot and you’ll be rewarded with deep fried crunchy sticks of goodness.

We also ordered the Hamburger, animal style. For those unacquainted with their “secret menu” (which happens to be posted on their website, so much for secret!), you can get any burger and request that it be made “animal style.” This means that your beef patty is cooked with mustard, served with pickles, a looot of extra mysteriously delicious spread and grilled onions. It’s the onions that does it. Onions on burgers (espcially when they’re slowly caramelized) make the world go round as far as I’m concerned. No milkshake today – but if you’re ever in the mood, I’m a strong supporter of the chocolate flavor! It’s toothachingly sweet but fun to eat like melted ice cream with a spoon. You’ll just feel kinda gross and fat afterwards.

The verdict? It’s a fast food burger for sure, but I don’t feel like I’m succumbing to “fast food” when I come here because it’s a family owned chain that emphasizes quality and freshness. The extent to which they actually adhere to those principles is beyond my knowledge, but I’m more than willing to pay the extra money as long as my bun is grilled crisp on the edges!



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