Burger City Grill: Messy and expensive (like city life)

There are so many right things about Burger City Grill’s burgers, yet so many things went wrong when I tried them.

I’d recommend a trip for the burger lovers and foodies, but with cautions, especially to those on a budget.

Here’s the lowdown.

My first trip to a Burger City Grill was a few years ago at the restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway in Lomita. Indigestion marred what was a tasty bacon cheeseburger and fries before meeting up with an old friend.

When the chain recently opened up a restaurant just a mile south of the campus on Artesia Boulevard, I decided to give it a second chance.

No heartburn from a bacon cheeseburger and chili cheese fries as the double-down dare. And despite a flinch from the receipt, it was a good experience to say, “hey, let’s review this place for the upcoming blog, with one more trip for photos, a shake and a wild-card burger.”

The third trip, however, was a disaster. And I think it best illustrates the highs and lows of this gourmet burger joint.

I decided to take risks with my custom-made burger in terms of budget and toppings: a single patty with lettuce, cheddar cheese, pineapple and pastrami, no sauce.

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Behold, the item my doctor will point at as the cause of my arteries being clogged.

That pastrami was the mistake of the outing.

It tasted great. It could have starred in a sandwich or masqueraded as good corned beef on its own.

But it was also greasy, and too much for the “signature bun” of Burger City Grill. It turned to mush from the grease of the meats, and the pineapple and pieces of beef fell to the paper and plastic basket, which already had a pool of oil that formed while I took photos of the food. I ended up using a fork to eat the final bits of hamburger, bread, cheese, lettuce, bacon, pineapple and pastrami strewn across the paper. I digress — are there burger Nazis who freak out over eating these things with forks, like some folks do over slices of pizza?

By the way, someone take note: this is probably a good cholesterol, er, casserole recipe.

I would’ve taken a picture of this horror, but I didn’t want to grease up a school camera, nor risk spending minutes cleaning burger gunk off my cell phone. Bad enough some of that grease leaked out onto my white mock turtleneck when I picked up the sandwich basket and took it to my table.

The ride home on the freeway, my car smelled like a delicatessen. Not a bad thing, other than reminding me that I shouldn’t wear white.

And I can’t say the burger wasn’t bad. Hell, it tasted great even as mush on my fingers.

But the real downside for the El Camino College crowd is this — price.

A B.C.G. (whoa, letters) single, offering pickles, tomatoes, lettuce, onions and spread is $4.35 — without cheese. Cheese is 70 cents more and additional toppings cost $1.60 each. So my single-patty bacon cheeseburger with pineapple and pastrami ($2.75 extra) and the $5 shake (OK, $4.95, but I had John Travolta’s $5 milkshake lines from Pulp Fiction going through my mind when I looked at the receipt) was just a few dollars under $20 when the cashier totaled it up.

Not good for the budget, especially when a McDonald’s is within walking distance of the campus and a Jack in the Box is a good hike away, offering far cheaper fare.

In price and quality, Burger City Grill occupies the tier with Five Guys, Smashburger and The Counter. On its own merits among this crowd, it was better tasting than Smashburger (which was far messier — I’ve never seen a thin burger patty fall apart after a bite, and their fries were annoyingly spaghetti-thin shoestrings that left crumbs all over the place) and quicker, less pretentious and expensive than The Counter, which came in above the price tag of Burger City Grill. And I went to The Counter with a freaking coupon.

However, I will defend The Counter on one item: it had the best shake I’ve ever had, a mocha and vanilla combination that had the flavor atoms in such proportion they didn’t cancel the other one out. Burger City Grill’s shake didn’t come close, nor did I have the same closing line as Travolta when Uma Thurman let him sample the $5 milkshake from Jack Rabbit Slim’s. The basic offerings of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate are tame, and the vanilla oddly had the same flavor and texture as Yoplait yogurt; not a bad thing, just weird.

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It didn’t taste like bitter Greek yogurt, which was my first impression from the texture.

In short: Burger City Grill is messy and expensive, like city life. You can visit this city and enjoy it, but you don’t want to live there.

Eat here as a celebration burger. You aced the midterm or got an A on your project, eat your heart out.

In the meantime, stick to McDonald’s and Jack in the Box for your wallet’s sake, or do a roadie to In-N-Out or The Habit — the latter being my personal favorite and the happy medium between fast food burgers and gourmet hamburger joints such as Burger City Grill.

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Burger City Grill is located at 3605 Artesia Blvd. in Torrance. To look up its menu and learn more, go to burgercitygrill.com.

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