Burgers are an American icon.
Considering how much fast food I've tried, I've developed some serious opinions — see a gushing ode to the McGriddle — and that extends to the burger.
After all, I've tried McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, Five Guys, Whataburger, White Castle, even Sheetz — and that's the short list. I should have a decent grasp on what makes a good — and bad — burger.
I know that there are myriad variables at work. Is the burger too small? Too messy? Is the bun soggy? How fresh is the beef? Toppings?
Is there some gimmicky limited-edition flavor, or is it a simple, old-fashioned burger? It's a lot to mull over.
But there's one burger that outranks all the rest and wins in every category, and that's the burger at Smashburger.
In terms of quality, the burgers are as close to a nice dining experience as you can get in a fast-casual setting. They're of medium size — nothing overwhelming or gluttonously gargantuan.
The ingredients are fresh and definitely in the premium tier. Both burgers I tried at Smashburger had vibrant and natural toppings like baby spinach, tomato, and some pretty top-notch blue cheese.
The patties, although rather thin — they're "smashed" on the grill, hence the name — are savory and cooked to perfection. There's no uneasy, greasy texture to the burger, unlike at many other chains. It's a lean meat that stands out among the flavors instead of suffocating beneath them.
Its closest competitor, Shake Shack, makes delicious burgers, but they have a certain greasy unctuousness to them. They're enjoyable, but you know they're not fooling anyone in terms of health.
Smashburger is by far the least guilty burger I've tried. Even the unhealthy buffalo blue-cheese burger was wonderfully rounded in flavor and dressed with care and quality.
The company says that it uses only 100% Angus beef — and I'm inclined to believe it. While "Angus beef" has become something of a buzzword in the industry lately (even McDonald's is caving to the fresh beef push), Smashburger's beef truly tastes excellent — tender and satisfying.
The Smashburger menu offers some adventurous flavor and topping combinations, and allows you to create your own burger masterpiece as well. And while they may be pricey for burgers — roughly $8, which is cheap in New York City if you can believe it — the service and quality are worth it.
Luckily, Smashburger seems to be nearly everywhere. With locations in 37 states and ten countries, there's bound to be one nearby.
Of course, if the field is narrowed to simply fast-food chains, then the choice becomes all the more difficult.
I've found that Whoppers are great in theory, but the execution often disappoints. Big Macs are true classics, but McDonald's quality isn't always up to snuff — and with the death of "Create Your Taste," so too dies that dream. Perhaps ... Wendy's.
Yes, Wendy's, with its pig-tailed icon and its divisive square patties. It's no longer the Wendy's of yore: Quality is improving. And in light of the recent bun change, a fresh Dave's Double cheeseburger has become an incredibly satisfying sandwich.
Is there still the requisite fast-food guilt after scarfing one down? Of course. But for me, less so than others. The beef is as juicy and good as ever, the onions, pickles, and tomatoes are typically crisp, and the bun is resilient in the face of ketchup and mayo.
But until other fast-food chains step up their game, Smashburger reigns supreme.