There are hamburgers, and there are hamburgers. Some are so different from each other that they're almost impossible to compare. One simple way to classify your hamburgers is this: did anybody ask you how you wanted it cooked? The majority of hamburgers served in the United States do not fall into that category. They are fast food burgers, with beef of unknown origin, the patties always cooked through, and occasionally sporting black grill marks. They are less expensive, usually far worse for your body, but also much more convenient.
For today's food fight we take a look at two of these fast food burgers, competing for business across the street from one another, at the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Vista, in West Hollywood.
Fatburger has, for many, been the "fancy" fast food burger option. They don't freeze their meat, they cook it to order, and they have comparatively thick, juicy patties. We ordered the simple Fatburger with cheese ($5.58), a medium on their menu, weighing in at 5.3 ounces before being cooked (as opposed to the 8 oz. Kingburger, or the 24 oz. monstrosity called the Triple King). They compensate well for the thickness of the patty by giving you a lot of crunchy lettuce, and accenting the flavor with some acidity and tang, courtesy of the pickles, sweet relish, and yellow mustard. It had, in all honesty, been a few years since we'd last had a Fatburger, and it held up to childhood memory surprisingly well. It is a moist creature, and expensive for fast food, but certainly one of the better options in its category.
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Across the street is Astro Burger, which has none of the glossy atmosphere of its competitor. Their food is cooked to order as well, though it still can take surprisingly long considering how thin the burger is. The simple cheeseburger ($3.39) comes with chopped lettuce, onion, tomato, a slice of bright orange cheese, and Thousand Island dressing. With a hamburger like this, good or bad really comes down to personal tastes and preferences. The meat itself is essentially irrelevant, a floppy grey disc lacking almost entirely in any flavor of its own. The bun is not particularly fresh, the lettuce, interestingly, is placed just below the patty, (a rarity in most instances of burger or sandwich construction) and the cheese has a tendency to take up residence on the roof of your mouth. People obviously like it, and continue to eat there, but it is perhaps best eaten when your mind is consumed by something else entirely.
So Fatburger, of course, is "better." But the more interesting question, it seems, is "how much better is it?" When dealing with fast food, price is an important part of the analysis. Is Fatburger's creation 60% better? It is certainly larger, which earns it some merit there as well. For our taste we would, finances permitting and nostalgia notwithstanding, always be willing pay the extra $2.19 for a superior product.
Noah Galuten can also be followed on Twitter via @ManBitesWorld.