Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dan's Hambugers - Austin, TX

Dan’s Hamburgers in Austin, TX was the closest of the popular hamburger stands when I was on a recent furniture expedition in Austin. I found it to be a fun, low-key place for a quick burger.

Dan’s is in its own freestanding building several miles north of Downtown Austin. I was greeted by very friendly people; just like everyone else I met in Austin. They were astonished to hear I had never been to Dan’s. When I told them this would be my first Austin hamburger, they we very excited. The menu offered three sizes small, medium (quarter pound) and large (6 oz). I ordered the medium cheeseburger ($3.14) with everything, small French fries ($1.29), onion rings ($1.79). The guy at the counter said the strawberry shake ($1.59) was the best they had so I stepped up to the plate on that as well.

I took my number, my shake and a seat in one of the faux wood booths. I am in the furniture business and have never seen a laminate like these. Multicolored and rough-hewn looking, they gave the place a unique charm. The shake was creamy, cold and sweet. It tasted very fresh. It was thick so the extra fat straw was a nice touch. The shake was very refreshing on this 100-degree day.

The burger, fries and o-rings arrived quickly. The hamburger bun was impressively grilled inside and out. The burger was a thin quarter pound patty matching the size of the bun. It was loaded with the lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, mustard, ketchup and American cheese. It was hot and the vegetables were crisp and cold. I didn’t find it terribly distinctive, but it was god for what it was. It just didn’t put much emphasis on the meat.

The onion rings were thick, hot, crisp and cornmeal crusted. The fries were hot and salty, skinless and medium thick-cut.

Overall, I would say Dan’s does a nice job, but doesn’t distinguish itself on the burger. I will say the place is friendly and the food was hot and fast.

Burger 3.0 spatulas out of 5
Fries 2.5 spatulas
Onion Rings 3.5 spatulas
Shake 4 spatulas

Dan’s Hamburgers
5602 N. Lamar
Austin, TX

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Charcoaler Restaurant- El Paso, TX

The Charcoaler in El Paso, Texas, looks like it fell out of time capsule from the 1950s. That is a good thing. A beautiful glass fronted open building sits back from busy Mesa Drive with an expansive lawn stretching to the seriously retro sign out front. This is truly a classic drive through restaurant.

You pull your 1955 Chevy up to one of four speaker signs depicting a chef holding a big sign with the menu on it. A helpful voice crackles on the speaker asking you for your order. You reply Cheeseburger ($1.95), French fries ($1.00), Onion Rings ($1.55) and a chocolate shake ($1.20). “Sorry, we only have vanilla shakes today.” The voice crackles back. You answer that is fine. “That will be $6.19. Please pull around to the window.”

You oblige and pull up behind three other hamburger hopefuls in the queue. When you get to the window, a neatly dressed young man takes your money and hands you three identical white paper sacks, with the Charcoaler logo on them and a small red cup with your vanilla shake. You thank the man and pull the car under one of two 100-foot long awnings, that will shield you form the Texas sun while you feast.

In bag number 1, you see your hamburger, wrapped in white paper. It is a thing of classic burger beauty. Maybe 2 or 3 ounces of a thin beef patty sitting on a pillowy white bun with sesame seeds. The diameter of the bun and hamburger patty are identical. You take a bite and savor the combination of meat, bun, onion pieces, pickle chips, and American cheese. But what’s this? The ketchup is spicy - an unexpected pleasure for your taste buds.

The onion rings are something completely unexpected. Huge slices of sweet onion, lightly battered in tempura-like crust. Perfect if they only had ranch dressing in which to dunk, but spectacular none-the-less with ketchup. The fries disappoint in relation to the rest of the experience. They are hot, thick and a little too greasy, but not bad.

You get ready to pop the clutch in your muscle car and hit the streets, when you remember you are driving a Chevy Tahoe burning $4 gas every 12 miles or so.

Burger 4 spatulas out of 5
Fries 3 spatulas
Onion Rings 5 spatulas
Vanilla Shake 4 spatulas

The Charcoaler Drive-In Restaurant
5837 N. Mesa Drive
El Paso, TX

Breaded Cheesburger - Yum?

From deepest darkest Indiana, burger safari expert, Curt has found the rare and sought after breaded cheeseburger. The photo says it all. All hail to my home state!

Friday, July 25, 2008

In-N-Out Burger - best thing about the U.S.A.

In-N-Out Burger in Mountain View, CA is a California burger chain. According to two young ladies visiting the U.S. from Mexico for the first time ever, it is the best thing about the United States.

For a few years now I have worked with kids in Juarez Mexico with a charity I co-founded called the Juarez Children’s Education Program. We sponsor children through school in Mexico that would otherwise drop out for lack of money. Recently two of our best students graduated from high school and came to California for 4 weeks of cultural exchange ad English immersion.

At the end of the 4 weeks, I asked them what their favorite thing was on their visit. In-N-Out burger they both answered without hesitation. Their graduation celebration had just ended so we decided to take them to the In-N-Out for a final celebration.

Both of them had the #2 combo, of a single burger with fries and a drink. I had a #1 Combo of a Double-Double, Fries and a drink ($5.54).

We took our number and set down at the spotless white and red booths. In-N-Out is family owned and runs all its own stores without franchising. They pay their employees relatively well and everyone that works there is courteous and hard working. This store is always packed, so you have to wait a good 10 minutes for your meal, but when your number is called the food is always hot and fresh. Why is that so hard for all the other fast-food chains?

Usually the girls had eaten much slower than me when we had meals. Not here, they dug right into their food with gusto. My Double-Double was great as always. The small beef patties are all fresh cooked, buns baked locally. The lettuce and tomato are crisp and fresh. American cheese is melted over the whole mess. I add grilled onions to mine. Their special sauce is thousand-island like and great.

Fries are cut right before they go in the fryer and come right out of the fryer onto you tray. They are thin, salty and hot and don’t taste like any other fries I have tried. They have an unusual spongy quality and aren’t crisp on the outside like other fries. Some people like them more than the burgers.

A few days later I took the girls back to their homes in Juarez. We flew into the El Paso airport and before crossing the border back to El Paso, I asked them where they wanted to eat. They both said In-N-Out even though they know there are none in Texas. We settled for Wendy’s, but that is another review.

Burger 4.5 spatulas out of 5
Fries 5 spatulas

In-N-Out Burger
1159 Rengstorff Ave.
Mountain View, CA

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Dairy Belle - Belmont, CA

The Dairy Belle in Belmont is a classic ice cream burger place along the lines of Fosters or Dairy Queen Brazier. I got an email from someone who recommended the burger. I told him I would meet him there and try it out. But one day I was driving by and couldn't wait. So I stopped in and checked it out.

According to their website, Dairy Belle is a franchised chain with 11 locations in the Bay Area. I have seen others, but not eaten there, so cannot vouch for their consistency.

It is a clean. remodeled version of an old drive-in. A big bright sign behind the counter clearly lists all the choices. I ordered a Bacon Cheeseburger ($4.89), Fries ($1.29), O-rings ($1.69) but for some reason I can't recall, did not get a shake. What was I thinking? It is the "Dairy" Belle.

The burger came quickly. The soft white sesame bun was grilled. American cheese and crisp bacon were joined by the standard mix of lettuce, tomato, onion. I liked the thousand island style sauce. Oh, I almost forgot, there was a small burger patty in there as well. It was okay, but nothing to get too excited about.

The onion rings were circles of breading with little pieces of onion mixed in. Not the best, but hot. The fries were thin cut, overcooked and a little cold.

The Dairy Belle is pleasant enough place - nicely maintained and convenient. But I think next time I will have a shake.

Burger 2.5 spatulas out of 5
Fries 2 spatulas
O-Rings 2.5 spatulas

Dairy Belle Freeze
575 Ralston Avenue
Belmont, CA 94002
(650) 592-0505

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Counter - San Jose

The Counter in Santana Row in San Jose is the second location for the gourmet burger chain in the San Francisco Bay Area. Like its sister restaurant it has a menu where you build your burger from choices. The menu is the same. I am happy to report, so is the quality.

The restaurant itself is much bigger than the Palo Alto Counter. It has the same terra cotta counter, metal chairs and outdoor seating. I sat at the counter and had good service from a young man with extensive and impressive tattoos on his arms. I asked how long they took to do and he answered 16 hours per arm. I ordered my favorite 1/3 pound burger with gruyere cheese, bacon and horseradish mayo. I thought I ordered it on a white bun, but I got a whole wheat. Also a tomato slice, lettuce and some carrot shavings I didn't recall getting at the Counter in Palo Alto. It was still very good and kid of a nice twist.

The fries and onion strings were delectable as well. Prices seem to have gone up a little from my original review of the Palo Alto Counter. About $18.50 for burger, fries, o-rings and a coke. Up from $16 a few months ago in Palo Alto.

All in all I think it still deserves the same ratings for the items as in Palo Alto.

Burger 5 spatulas out of 5
Fries 4
Onion Rings 4.5

The Counter
Santana Row
3055 Olin Avenue Suite 1035
San Jose CA 95128
408 423 9200
408 423 9299 FAX

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Burgers in Paris? Oui

Even the French are getting into the act. Great article in the NY times

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Burger Consumption UP! Fries down!

Michael Bauer from the San Francisco Chronicle states that while consumption of French Fries are down, burger consumption is up.  See the article.  Does that mean cole slaw is on the rise?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Whataburger - El Paso, TX

Whataburger in El Paso, Texas is a ubiquitous presence. You cannot drive more than a few miles without seeing another of the anachronistic orange W hanging up in the air. The logo reminds me of the logo for the band Weezer. For this reason alone, I had to check it out, even if it is a chain. Their site says they have stores in 10 southern states. My friend Steve, who used to live in El Paso, said they are all over the place.

The orange theme runs strongly throughout the store. It came off charmingly seedy and dated. But the place was clean and well lit. I ordered at the counter. $5.69 for a Bacon & Cheese Whataburger Combo with fires and a drink. I was handed an orange striped Styrofoam cup and a number 3. I filled up with iced tea and took a faux-oak booth.

In no time at all a very sweet girl clad in the orange uniform brought out my lunch to the table. Besides my meal on its tray she carried a molded plastic tray with compartments for condiments, napkins and other assorted necessities. It was orange of course. I thought a unique and nice touch - worth the trip alone.

The burger appeared to be your standard 1/4-pound patty. It sat on a white, ungrilled bun. The whole team accompanied the burger - lettuce, tomato, bacon, American cheese, mustard, onion and pickle. It was surprisingly good for a chain burger. What a Whopper probably tasted like before microwave ovens.

The fries were thin and crisp and salty, sort of like McDonald’s. At least the closest I have tasted. I mean that as a compliment.

Burger 3 spatulas out of 5
Fries 4 spatulas

Multiple Locations
El Paso, Texas