Taste Test Special: US Burger Roundup

Over here at Lifehacker, we do quite a bit of travelling to attend events and, collectively, we have amassed numerous trips to the US. As an avid lover of fast food, whenever I'm over there, I make it a mission to test out local burger joints. Here is my verdict on six better-known burger chains in the "land of the free" that aren't currently available in Australia... or are they? Read on to find out!

In-N-Out Burger

What Is It?

In-N-Out Burger is a burger joint in the US that has attained cult status with travellers around the world. You'll often hear returning Australians extol the deliciousness of the burgers there. (One of our meeting rooms at Allure Media is called In-N-Out so, yeah, it's kind of a big deal.)

The burger chain is famous for having a not-so-secret "secret menu" and its orderly factory line approach to making food helps to ensure quality consistency.

Taste test

Having been subjected to years of "oh my god, In-N-Out burgers are the best!" from peers who have visited the West Coast, I was itching to try them. On a sweltering summer's day in L.A., I trekked to the closest outlet to gorge on these elusive meat buns.

What struck me about In-N-Out Burger was how basic the menu is. It's a beguiling feature as I knew of a secret menu and the extensive customisation options the outlet offered.

I ordered the Hamburger (no fancy hyperbole slathered on the name, which is great). Two of them, actually. One just a straight up standard version while the other I opted for Protein Style, which replaces the bun with crisply lettuce leaves.

Given all the hype, were these burgers the best Goddamn burgers I've ever had the pleasure of eating? No. But for burgers under $US3.50, they're amazing. The standard Hamburger costs just $US2.05 and it's a decent sized burger; what a steal. The bun is soft and perfectly toasted while the meat was not cooked to death and retained a subtle pink glow in the middle with the right amount of juiciness.

As for Protein style, the texture of the chilled lettuce just brought the burger to a whole new level. Those that frequent Chinese restaurants will be familiar with San Choi Bows, and the bunless wonder is like a better version of that. It's more expensive at $US3.40 but well worth it for those watching their calorie intake.

As you can see below, Protein Style has significantly less calories than the standard Hamburger:

As with any fast food joint, they're not the healthiest things you can eat but it won't kill you to have In-N-Out burger every now and then.

The fries are worth a special mention here because they actually let you order them well done. This is a fast food joint, not your friendly local fish and chips store. Ten points to Gryffindor, I mean, In-N-Out.

A side note: In LA, In-N-Out Burgers are rarely located anywhere that has convenient public transport. I had to catch a lengthy taxi ride to get to the closest one to my hotel in the city's central.

Can you get in Australia?

In-N-Out is currently not in Australia, although it did once open a "blink and you'll miss it" pop-up store here. Keep an eye out for future appearances.

Jack In The Box

What Is It?

A burger chain with over 2200 locations across the US. Notable achievements include an E. coli outbreak at some of its outlets in 1993. Kids died, lawsuits were filed. There's also an urban legend that Jack In The Box once unwittingly served horse and kangaroo meat patties to customers (Australian connection! High-five!).

Taste test

On a lazy afternoon in San Francisco, I popped into a nearby Jack In The Box for a feed. I had never heard of the franchise before but judging by the amount of times I had seen one of them around town, I could only assume they were a pretty big deal over here.

I went in with zero expectations and had no clue what to order, so I went with my gut (pun intended) and ordered the Jack's Spicy Chicken burger. Because you can't go wrong with spicy chicken... or can you?

The burger came out and I was a tad underwhelmed. It wasn't as if the burger was roughly assembled like some that Lifehacker has encountered in the past. It just looked tired. The scant vegetables on the burger lacked vibrancy and the chicken itself was overcooked but luckily I like the taste of "fried to death" meat.

But the biggest problem I had with the burger was the bun. It looked like one you get from Woolworths only because you were out of options. It's not particularly healthy either:

Overall, the burger wasn't bad but it's nothing to write home about. The best word to describe the experience is "meh". It costs $US6.79 for a combo meal. I wouldn't call that cheap, given our crappy exchange rate right now. Best to save your lunch money and spend it elsewhere.

Fatburger

What is it?

Fatburger is a burger franchise that originated in California but has now expanded to over 29 countries around the world. It's tagline is "The Last Great Hamburger Stand".

Taste test

Earlier this year, I was over in LA to cover the E3 Expo. After a long day of running around the convention centre with no time to eat, I was famished and desperately needed to scoff down a burger. I managed to drag myself to a Fatburger nearby. I was particularly excited as Fatburger refers to itself as "the last great hamburger stand". Big call, so naturally my expectations were high and I was expecting to be absolutely blown away.

The burgers come in various sizes ranging from small to 3XL. Bearing in mind that almost everything is bigger in the US, I thought the small burger Fatburger (which uses a beef patty)would suffice. It costs $US4, which is more than a standard hamburger at In-N-Out so I anticipated a burger that would match that size.

Oh, how wrong I was. The Fatburger came out I had never been more disappointed. The burger was no bigger than my palm and I have small hands. It didn't look particularly remarkable either with shredded lettuce, a slice of tomato and a roughly packed patty wedged between two pieces of bread bun.

I felt a rage burning in my belly, as though I had been wronged. I may have gotten a bit emotional as I sat and observed my minature burger. I was the embodiment of "hangry".

"But wait," I thought to myself. "Perhaps I should reserve my judgment until after I tasted the burger."

That was my silver lining. I sunk my teeth into the burger, taking off almost half of it, eagerly awaiting for the flavours to overwhelm me with pleasure. That never happened. All I tasted was bitter disappointment as I masticated the souless lump in my mouth.

For me, it was just an unremarkable burger with no distinct features that warrants a second visit. Coupled that with the teeny weeny serving size, Fatburger left me feeling hungry and ripped off.

Also, that nano burger packed a whopping 400 calories. It probably went straight to my thighs too. Boo-urns:

Can you get in Australia?

Fatburger is in the US, Canada, Indonesia, China, Korea, the UAE and Saudi Arabia but not Australia. Not that you're missing out on anything special.

Super Duper Burger

What is it?

Super Duper Burgers is a small burger franchise that operates in the San Francisco and Bay Area. It's more upmarket than most of the other burger chains in the US and is known for its Super sauce.

Taste test

On my first trip to San Francisco, my local friends insisted I tried Super Duper Burgers but sadly I missed out. On my second time over there, a Super Duper outlet was situated right across the road from the hotel I was staying in. Recognising that it must be serendipity, I waddled my way over for dinner.

My initial impression of the burger joint was that it's a hipster hangout. What gave it away? The trendy décor, the strategic dim lighting and the big sign advertising "organic soft serve ice cream". The prices also reflected a higher end clientèle... well, for a burger joint anyway.

Not feeling particularly hungry for Super Duper's famous double patty burger, I decided to try the mini single patty version, which set me back $US5.50. That's quite a lot of money considering this is just fast food. After placing my order, I noticed a sign at the counter notifying customers that the burgers are cooked medium rare and are extra juicy. Just the way I like it.

When the burger came out, I was surprised at how good it looked. It could almost pass for ones you see in professional food photos. The lettuce, tomato and onion inside carried a vibrant colour. The rustic patty was lightly browned and had a juicy gloss to it. Overall, the burger looked extremely appetising.

Luckily, it had a taste that matched the aesthetics. True to Super Duper's promise, the meat was moist and was well seasoned too. I have to say, the Super Duper sauce didn't really do it for me but it didn't detract from the flavours of the beef.

What I do need to call out is the bun. Oh, sweet Jesus, the bun was a work of art, down to the even spread of sesame on top. It was lightly toasted, bringing a slight crunch when I bit into it. This was the epitome of burger buns done right.

If you're heading over to the US and staying in the San Francisco and Bay Area, I would highly recommend you try out Super Duper Burgers. It's a bit pricey, but at least you get what you pay for.

Can you get it in Australia?

Considering Super Duper isn't even available across the rest of the US, no chance of it opening up a store in Australia any time soon. Profound sadness.

Umami Burger

What is it?

Umami Burger is a fledgling burger chain that opened its first store in Los Angeles in 2009. The franchise has since attracted a cult following for its savory truffle burgers. It currently operates in California and Florida specialising in upmarket service, complete with waiters and licenced bars. The company is also famous for its limited-edition M.N.O Burger which sells for a ridiculous $US75. (Unfortunately, it wasn't on the menu during my visit.)

Taste Test

Umami Burger is one of the most trafficked eateries at LAX airport — a testament to the deliciousness of its burgers. I opted for its speciality Truffle Burger which packs in the holy trinity of truffled aioli, house truffle cheese and truffle glazed American Wagyu beef. I also ordered a side of thin-cut fries with house truffle cheese. (That's a lot of truffle!)

Upon receiving my burger, I was immediately impressed with the artful packaging — the burger comes wrapped up like an origami flower. Unfortunately, the actual burger was put together with less care. But that taste would make us forgive anything.

Without a doubt, the Umami Truffle Burger is one of the most flavoursome and velvety burgers that I have ever tasted. It is decadence write large. In addition to a mouth-watering glaze of truffle, the meat is seasoned in house with a mixture of soy sauce, ground porcini mushrooms and dried fish heads. While the concoction sounds pungent, the result is deliciously smooth. Highly recommended.

Can you get in Australia?

Unfortunately not, but there are plenty of upmarket burger joints that offer savory Umami-style burgers, complete with truffle oil and cheeses.

Carl's Jr

What is it?

You might remember Carl's Jr from its lurid advertising campaign with super-model Kate Upton writhing around lasciviously inside a convertable. It also does burgers.

Taste Test

Being a fan of all things spicy, I naturally plumped for the Jalapeno Thickburger which comes with a charbroiled Black Angus beef patty, Pepper Jack cheese, sliced jalapeno peppers, tomato, lettuce, Spanish onions and spicy Santa Fe sauce inside a freshly baked bun.

If you're used to budget fare from Hungry Jack's and McDonald's this will likely be one of the juiciest and most flavoursome burgers you're ever likely to devour. In terms of quality, it hovers somewhere between McDonald’s M Selections range and an upmarket burger from Grill’d. It was also packed with plenty of heat — chili fans will not be disappointed.

Here's a look at the calorie damage:

Can you get in Australia?

Carl's Jr has announced its intentions to launch its first Australian store in December. We hope Kate Upton comes down for the opening.

Additional reporting by Chris Jager.

WATCH MORE: Travel Ideas

Comments

    Arby's, Wendy's and Whataburger are other popular chains. I'm a fan of Wendy's.

      A lot of people bag on Arby's but I'm personally a fan, I really enjoyed what they did. Same with Wendy's, though I would always order the salad bar (when they still did that) and make a giant monster salad.

      I was a weird kid. (Still am, I guess.)

        Not a fan of Arby's myself. But then I like Taco Bell which is kind of seen as pretty low down on the level of good food places from what I can tell.

          Yeah, Taco Bell doesn't have a great reputation but at the same time it's not that bad.

      +1 for Wendys
      A crying shame they do not have any stores here in Aus. The closest ones are in NZ.
      I miss their Mushroom Melt and the chili

      For those who have had burgers in NZ, Burger Wisconsin are by far the best ones I've had (though that was a decade ago)

        I got a killer burger in Burgers in Paradise in Hawaii. Not sure if that's a chain or one off but man, so good.

    Signed in just to comment no word on shake shack burgers? I consider myself somewhat of a burger aficionado and hands down one of the best burgers I've ever had. Simple but delicious!

      I only posted about the burger joints I visited recently. I have been to Shake Shack before but htat was years ago. I'll pop in the next time I get the chance :)

    Spandas is a qt

    when i was in chicago in 2013 i found the Five Guys burgers were pretty damn awesome and no Im not talking about the shitty twitter war that is Gamergate. the outlets had that 1950's diner feel and the burgers were best burgers ive ever gotten from a chain food joint

    Umami Burger - Truffle Burger is indeed delicious. I had one recently heading through LAX. I scoffed it down so quickly, it just came apart so nicely.

    As someone mentioned, Shake Shack has good burgers.

    In N Out was fine. Yeah it was nice, but it wasn't anything amazing. I asked my American friend who was raving about them and she said that they use fresh ingredients and real food which is why they are so good. She was very insistent that most fast food restaurants don't use real food. The beef is all pink slim and so forth. I think she was just a bit off the mark on this.

    @spandaslui What did the Umami Burger meal cost?

    BTW nice roundup -- made me hungry!

    Last edited 12/10/15 10:50 am

      Hiya! The truffle burger is around US$10-15 by itself :)

    you have to go the Sourdough Jack at Jack in the Box. it's the only decent thing on the menu, although quality varies by store. it used to be my go-to post-pacific-flight-hangover cure when i travelled to san francisco a lot...

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