Mutiple locations, but my local one is at 1611 North Vermont Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90027 (map); 323-663-3100; fatburger.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: This Los Angeles original lives up to the hype with delicious smashed burgers.
Want Fries with That? No thanks. Even though they took a special request, these frozen spuds don't stand up to good fast food fries.
Prices: Medium, $4.49; large, $5.49, w/cheese and fried egg, +$1 each
Notes: They'll actually try to cook your burger to your preferred temperature.
It seems my colleague and good friend, Nick Solares, and I have developed some kind of psychic burger connection. Without any design or discussion we both traveled to Texas this past week and both made a trip to Whataburger. What's more, we both decided to review fast food burgers this week. His review (full of some beautiful photo work) gives the lowdown on the Lonestar State's favorite burger chain. I decided to weigh in on California's second favorite: Fatburger.
If you've been following our Reality Check series, you know that I harbor few soft spots for the hard-as-hockey puck burgers that are served by most fast food chains. I didn't grow up waiting, breath bated, for my Happy Meal. For a fat kid like me, every meal was happy. That misfortune of my genes along with the good fortune of growing up in New York City during the '70s and '80s meant that fast food didn't mean a chain restaurant. Chinese from Hunan Balcony, Greek diner burgers from The Argo, and, of course, pizza from, well, everywhere—these were the quick eats I lingered over.
When I moved to Los Angeles, one of the first things I noticed was how many chain fast food restaurants there were and how few of my New York standbys I could look to. While I didn't become a McDonald's regular, I did find my way to In-N-Out and was a quick convert. Fatburger, another beloved chain, never held the same mystique for me. After heading there again recently, I wondered why it hadn't.
Fatburger, like the other beloved Western burger chains (Whataburger, In-N-Out) started off as a family enterprise over a half century ago, As the story goes, founder Lovie Yancey made a burger that was so big and juicy they could only be called Fatburger. Now the chain boasts numerous celebrity franchisees and more than a couple of mentions in song. This as all become, as you might imagine, part of the corporate lore, but Fatburger hasn't lost all of the appeal of the original. It still uses fresh beef and still offers a jukebox at every restaurant.
I ordered the medium which weighs in at 5.3 ounces, and a large, which is a full 8 ounces. They also offer a XXL burger made of two 8-ounce patties. If you order and manage to eat the XXXL or "Triple King" you get your photo taken and placed on the wall. I figure these reviews are sufficient evidence of my gluttony.
I ordered both burgers with cheese and everything, which means lettuce, tomato, onion, relish, mustard, and mayo. I added a fried egg to my large because diehard Fatburger fans seem to insist on it.
The patties are highly seasoned (salt and pepper) and come with a fantastic crust from what must be a very hot griddle. Fatburgers get a smash during cooking and can be ordered to your preferred temperature. Mine came out as closer to a proper medium rare than most higher-end restaurants. While they advertise their meat as the leanest in the business my burgers still had some serious juice.
The toppings come in portions that match the excess of their number. Usually all this condiment-ing is a at best a distraction and at worst the phantom's masked. In this case I was almost completely in support of the choice. The hefty toppings are matched by the crusty and peppery patty and come together with a pleasure of piecemeal discovery. A crunch of lettuce here, a toothsome onion there. Even my fried egg (on the large) made for a welcome added layer of fat and gastronomic excess.
The toppings are piled on to be sure, but they don't crush the fun and character out of the burger. At least, all the toppings but one. I found the sweet relish to be overpowering on both of my burgers. It wasn't a fatal addition, just one that demands too much attention. If its measure had been halved (or removed altogether) it would have made for two much better burgers out of a pair that had a lot going for them in the first place.
The final piece in the puzzle, the Fatburger bun, is a beautiful, soft, pillowy sponge that manages to hold this whole affair together. If my arm were twisted I'd side with the Medium as closer to my conception of a burger's Platonic ideal, but I can see a case to made for the large (with a fried egg), especially at 2 a.m.
Despite all this Fatburger goodwill, I still feel it's unlikely that I find myself championing a chain restaurant too often. There is just something about a small restaurant's bespoke burger and the way its subtle differences add to, rather than alloy, the pleasure of its familiarity. But if I were choosing a fast food burger chain to call my favorite, for the first time in a long while, In-N-Out has some competition.