My favorite fast-casual burger around these parts isn't from The Habit, Five Guys, or even In-N-Out; it's the one made by Fatburger, a once mighty chain that has now dwindled down to two locations in the entire county when there used to be two in Irvine alone.
Fatburger also makes what I consider the best fast-casual burger joint fries. It's even offered in two kinds: the Skinny Fries and the Fat Fries, both models of what fries should be. The Skinny Fries are thin (but not reedy), light (but not wispy) and always greaseless and crisp. And if you fancy a meatier fry, the Fat Fries are also perfectly done--crisp on the outside, fluffy like a baked potato on the inside. Yes, both the Skinny and the Fat are from frozen, but some of the best fries are.
And then there's the homemade onion rings, which, for me, completes the trifecta on why I prefer Fatburger over the rest.
Don't get me wrong: I still eat at In-N-Out more than I should. But when I tried the relatively new entrant called Smashburger, in hopes that it might fill Irvine's Fatburger void in a way that The Habit and Five Guys hasn't been able, I found a decent burger (which took nearly half an hour to be served) but also what's possibly the greasiest fries on Earth. It's called SmashFries and it's simply their regular shoestring fries slicked, no, make that soaked, in an herbed olive oil for a nominal charge.
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In picking one up and feeling the oily film on each reedy potato stick, I realized I made a huge mistake in asking for the upgrade. What little the oil adds in flavor was overwhelmed by how greasy it made the fries. The potatoes glistened as though it were wet. It also seemed to defy basic common sense: oiliness is a desired characteristic in wrestlers, not French fries.
As I left, I charted how long it would take me to get to the closest Fatburger: 11.3 miles.
SmashBurger, 3831 Alton Parkway, Irvine, CA 92606, (949) 825-6900