Burger Mania – A Personal Journal


Burgers.  First, let’s just set aside any of the normal fast food options (regional or national chains that have drive-thrus).  And, let’s rule out burgers in restaurants that don’t specialize in burgers – Chili’s, Outback’s, etc.  One notable exception was a brief period of time when a little drive-thru version of Backyard Burgers in East Cobb certainly drew my attention as a stand-out amongst its peers.  But it wasn’t convenient.

What I like in a burger includes meat that tastes like it’s been cooked on a grill, retaining moisture and not so saturated with spices that the meat loses its flavor.  Medium… medium well… and it should be served hot.  It’s juices should be present, grease that flows from each bite is certainly a no-no.

Now, I’m not so predisposed to advertising that I insist the every hamburger look like an advertising picture.  On the other hand, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and other garnishments should increase the vertical stature of the sandwich.  It shouldn’t be flattened, nor should the bread.  Similarly, things like pickles should be spread around the patty, not thrown on in a heap.  Ketchup and mayonnaise should be lightly spread across the bun, not flowing from it’s edges.  Ideally, you should be able to hold the burger in its entirety with good odds of keeping everything on it.

I think that pretty well sums it up, other than mentioning that red peppers are a favorite, but rarely offered.  Somewhere in the above are the elements of a grading system…

I never really paid much attention to the number of options that were otherwise left in the mix.  Rhea’s Burgers has been a long time tradition in the area, and I’ve always liked “hole in the wall” eating as long as there are no holes in the wall.  I can’t say the same for my family, and thus it’s an occasional “eat by myself” detour.  Their burgers in no way should be perceived as healthy.  Still, B-

Life was okay.

When Five Guys first moved to Atlanta, I had never heard of them.  I thought the name was sort of odd, because from the sign, I couldn’t tell what their business was.  Five Guys Hair Styling?  Five Guys Surf Shop?  Five Guys Dating Service? It wouldn’t take too long to realize that they were a nice addition to the area – better than average hamburgers amongst not much competition.  Good fries, but I’d rather buy a single portion at a single price.  B-  (But credit given for redefining burger expectations.  They’re a model of consistency).

Other options kept coming along.

Then The Counter showed up in Roswell, a mathematicians dream for possible combinations of ingredients.  One visit revealed prices that were a little too high, service that was AWOL, and fries that didn’t satisfy as the required complement to a burger must.  The burger was oFlip Burger Boutiquekay; I have no need to go back.  Did I mention it was extremely noisy?  No.  Well, now I have. 

Red Robin might come to mind.  They certainly have good burgers, but… the venue is just a bit overdone for something that should be served fairly simply.  Fuddrucker’s – not convenient, but consistently a good performer at a better price than the chains exploding around town.  They need to work on the “destination” feel; it’s feeling a bit tired.

If Red Robin is a little too fancy for a burger joint… try Flip Burgers, sorry… Flip Burger Boutique.  The name makes it okay to overspend.  I took my daughter and, $35 later, we had decent burgers from a rather odd (flipped?) assortment of options, plus fries, and a very unusual shake (Krispy Kreme made from… yeah, Krispy Kremes).  I would say that we each had a milkshake, but at $35 with tags, tax and title, no.  Sometimes, It’s better to share.  They cater to the “Go to see and be seen” crowd, but for the taste/dollar ratio clearly warrants:  C- (If they had ranked higher, I would have subtracted more points due to very cramped seating.  It’s difficult to hold a conversation.)

I at one point found my way to “gastro-pubs,” which, I have to say, can be pretty darn good.  The Bookhouse Pub continues to satisfy in every way, including some sleight of hand of building a beautiful, dark wood interior in what certainly qualifies from the outside as “a hole in the wall.”  Never mind the holes in the pavement.  Still, they get an A.

Inner city folks will point towards The Vortex as the final solution.  They’re admittedly very good, with a varied menu.  The decorationsIMG_2049 at both locations qualify as destination burger outlets… but I really don’t like cigarette smoke.  Still, A- and a nice walk on the wild side if in the area.

A Smash Burger just opened near my office.  It’s very similar to Five Guys in its interior.  The menu is a little larger, and the burger was solid.  Actually, maybe I had too many frills.  I ordered the Spicy Baja burger, which includes pepper jack cheese, guacamole, lettuce, tomato, spicy chipotle mayo, jalapenos on a spicy chipotle bun.  There was a 8 oz. certified angus beef patty in their somewhere, but it got lost in the sensory input. Still, paying $11.52 for a burger, fries and drink remains a little steep for a “solid” burger presented in a fairly Spartan environment, not to mention in this economy.  IMG_2056

I’ll try it again, but Smash Burger isn’t a burger destination.  but still rises above the closest convenience.  If you’re wandering what that means, how many times do you choose a national chain because they paid for the location that happens to be where you and most others find convenient?  They get a B.

Yeah Burger is decisively good, another chain that has made a savory splash in Atlanta, and is worthy of remaining on the “if in the area, eat there” list.  Their 50/50 fries/onion rings option seals the deal, though still a pricey one.

But my “best burger of the year” award has to go to Mugshots, in Vestavia Hills, AL.  I never said there were rules photofor geographic limits.  This chain, which started in Missippi (spelled the way it’s pronounced by residents) as a college town bar has been gradually expanding.  The Vestavia location borders on having the “chain restaurant” feeling, mostly due to its newness.  To its credit, the seating is not inordinately packed in, as Five Guys and others tend to do.  But the burger… quality.  Even cooking with excellent grilled flavor, with ample condiments to build it per taste.  Even better, it’s  bundled up in, basically, split yeast rolls that serve as the bun.  These add a certain sweetness, as well as, from an engineering perspective, a welcome cladding material to actually hold the juices, extras, etc. until the last bite.  That’s rare.  A+

Honorable Mention: Fuddrucker’s, which should nevertheless fear being passe in the current explosion of burger options.


  1. Fuddruckers was my burger of choice, but the location near my office closed down (after years of declining crowds). I don't know if the entire chain is closed or not. Their 1.4 pound burger (rare) was incredibly awesome, despite needing to cut it in half so the middle didn't sag in your hands (it's a BIG burger!)


  2. An interesting dissertation to say the least! My tastes lean to the simple. First, as you mentioned, the burger must taste like it has touched flame. Second it must be cooked perfectly. Well scratch that. No one will cook me a medium rare burger. Therefore, it must be moist. Once you go to medium or worse, it makes no difference. But it needs to be moist.

    After that, the simplest of ingredients: mayo, catsup, lettuce, tomatoes, and a pickle or two. If they are all fresh, the only place I can think that can match what I want comes from the kitchen of The King. If the ingredients are fresh, blah.

    As for the other burger houses, good for two things: spending more money and that mental mast thing. =)