At some point around the year 2011, I visited my first fast-casual restaurant chain. That particular restaurant was Chipotle, which does not serve burgers and so I won't elaborate on how it went, but it did serve as my introduction to the increasingly popular world of higher quality fast(er) food. I'm not sure why it took me so long; Chipotles had been popping up all over the valley since 2007 or earlier, but I was a man with simple tastes back then. If I wanted a burrito, I'd go to Del Taco. If I wanted a burger, I'd also go to Del Taco (Del Taco was really close to my apartment at the time and makes a surprisingly good double cheeseburger).
It was also around this time that I had my first introduction to Smashburger. While watching my early morning newscast, one of the field correspondents had the enviable assignment to interview the manager of a new burger chain that was taking the nation by storm. I don't know about you, but I generally wake with a ravenous appetite and only the dominate forces of laziness keep me restrained within my sheets instead of immediately making a five course breakfast each and every morning. So, the images of greasy cheesy meat patties first thing in the morning created a craving deep within me that I knew had to be quenched and soon.
I am uncertain how long I actually waited for the dining opportunity to present itself, but I do remember crying most nights knowing I had yet to sample this deliciousness. Finally, I manufactured a reasonable justification that would bring me near the area the first franchise was located and allocated time for lunch. My plans were imperfect, however, and I found myself waiting in the parking lot for 30 minutes for the restaurant to open.
But then, there I was. Inside and first in line. I was, in fact, the only one in the entire restaurant if you didn't count the two people scheduled to open that particular morning. Neither of whom seemed incredibly pleased to see they actually had a customer at 10:30 in the morning. I exacerbated the problem by blankly staring at the menu as if I hadn't been planning this assault on my intestines for around a month now while one of them waited with a forced expression of patience for my order.
If you've never been inside a Smashburger, the first thing you discover is that the marketing people clearly believe the restaurant's image benefits by the obnoxious and repetitive use of the word "smash". It is smashing everywhere. The walls hurl the word at you in various sizes of huge red font as soon as you walk through the logo emblazoned doors. To break the monotony, there are also smaller similar salutations of synonyms for salivary satisfaction such as "sizzle" and "savor", randomly written throughout the small seating area. And finally, the menu lists different smash foods in virtually every food category; Smash Fries, Smash Burger, and not to be left out, the local Smashchicken sandwich.
Marketing people annoy me.
They also, much like their fast-casual brother in arms, Chipotle, have conceptualized the interior to give you the impression you are visiting some hipster's renovated industrial loft. To be honest, I was a little surprised (and frankly, disappointed) my order wasn't taken by some bearded guy wearing fake Buddy Holly glasses and a slouchy beanie.
Anyway, I ordered the Classic Smash with Smash Fries and the experience did not disappoint. I went back a few other times throughout the years, and tried various other items from their Smash Menu, but none lived up to the smash-ifactionTM of that first visit. It is with the memories both good and bad that I re-visit this one-time favorite on my quest for the best.
This is Smashburger.
Smashburger is a relative newcomer in the burger restaurant world having opened their first location in 2007, jumping on the fast-casual craze just as it was gaining traction as a "healthier" alternative to traditional fast food.
Not surprisingly, they closely mimic the Chipotle model; doing something someone else is already doing but doing it better with fresher ingredients and making their customers feel better about eating it. Apparently, Smashburger has gone as far as having a vegetarian approved menu, which doesn't even come close to making sense to me.
Although they are limited to one West Des Moines location, the chain is spread throughout the US, Central America and surprisingly Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Smashburger's menu is heavy on the burgers, as one would expect from the name. Along with the aforementioned Classic Smash, you can order a Spinach and Goat Cheese burger, a Truffle Mushroom Swiss, a Spicy Jalapeno Baja as well as many other gourmet options.
They also design and promote regional burgers in an attempt to endear themselves to the community. Iowa's is the un-originally titled Iowa Smashburger. It has bacon on it along with Maytag Bleu Cheese, which I hear is now manufactured in Michigan.
There are chicken and salad options, and possibly a chicken salad option, but I'm not going to waste our collective time with those.
For this visit I returned to my roots and ordered the Classic Smash served with the standard compliment of toppings. A new item on the menu caught my eye this trip and I could not resist: Buffalo Fries. I'll be honest, Smashburger's fries are probably my favorite in the fry category, both the regular and the rosemary flavored Smash Fries. They are thin, crispy and damn near perfect in every way. I don't want to start a separate argument (yet) on what kind of fries are the best, but these are certainly my preference. So to see two of my favorite flavors together (fried potato and buffalo sauce), well I just had to try them.
Cheese - Not sure I have anything to say here other than the cheese fulfilled my essential requirements. It was plentiful, yet no so much so that it left yellow blobs of itself stuck to the wrapper like Five Guys and In ‘N Out, which certainly cost it a point or two, but I have no other complaints.
Cheese Score - 7/10
Meat - The patty was probably the most flavorful to date and its crispy texture and near-perfect thickness make it my favorite so far. The only negative comes from not having the option to double my meat. Maybe there is a secret handshake I need to learn to order a double cheeseburger - and if you know what it is, please share - but not having the option on the menu is just wrong. Still, it was a good burger.
Meat Score - 8/10
Bun - I'm sure you're getting bored of reading essentially the same bun review week after week, and I am tired of providing the same facts, but their egg bun is pretty much exactly like the all the others so far. It did its job well enough without any providing any additional wow-factor.
Bun Score - 6/10
Overall - I honestly did not expect to enjoy Smashburger as much as I did for this review. With the assistance of hindsight, however, I realize two of my previous three orders were from the specialty menus instead of the classic Smash. Perhaps there is a lesson here, stick to the basics and you shall not be disappointed.
As for this burger? They Smashed it!
Bonus Points - For the first time on my quest, I am awarding bonus points for fries. The Buffalo Fries reminded me of those soggy sauce drenched fries that are discovered directly under your order of buffalo wings except these were crispy and dry. The combination of grease and spice was fantastic and the ranch they served with them made the side complete. I strongly recommend these fries if your tastes are similar to mine.
Bonus Score - 2 points
Overall Score 23/30