Game of Burgers: Fast Food Fiefdom, First Round!

Sorry, ladies and germ: I really wanted to do as thorough a Game of Burgers first-round review as possible, but the news side of my life has occupied the past couple of days. Instead of being completely thoughtful, I'll try to be succinct, and offer my thoughts.

One thing I do want to explain: the overload that will be Round One of Game of Burgers. Each day will have four matchups–that's eight burgers, and we will break them up into multiple pages–no so much for the page hits (although that never hurts), but to quicken page loading times.

Anyhoo: on to my first round: the Fast Food Fiefdom! TK's versus Knowlwood's! The Habit versus Five Guys! In-n-Out versus Fatburger! Carl's Jr. versus Ruby's Diner. Let the battle begin!

Oh, and methodology: I ordered the basic cheeseburger at each location, no tomatoes, with ketchup, mustard, and whatever their sauce is. No fries, and I tried each burger in one matchup in the course of an hour.

TK's and Knowlwood's: come to the arena!

TK's vs. Knowlwood's

TK's is my Number One seed for this bracket, and eating it anew just further confirmed its ranking. It's not just the patty, juicy and a bit charred, or the crunch of the lettuce. It's not just the egg bun, which doesn't lose its structural integrity one bit (unlike its competitors–details to come…) or that mysterious secret sauce they use. It's not even the cute surfer girls they employ. It's the totality of this, the fact that, although they now have multiple locations, there hasn't been a drop in quality at all–something that can't be said about its competitors (details to come…)

Knowlwood's is almost TK's mirror image. It's a small, OC-only chain that still makes a pretty good burger.

The meat in a Knowlwood's burger is fine, but the sesame bun crumbles too easily. Worst of all, however, is the quality of ingredients. Their Thousand Islands dressing taste like it's straight from a vat; the pickles are bland, pathetic. They heavily distract from the rest of the burger, the unceremonious whoopie cushions during a symphony. TK's, meanwhile, is a friggin' Bach-on-the-harpsichord masterpiece.

WINNER: TK's. Knowlwood's: I remember you as being better. Get to that time. Next up: The Habit versus Five Guys!
The Habit versus Five Guys

Both of these chains entered Orange County a couple of years ago, breathlessly reported by the Orange County Register that they posed a challenge to our hometown heroes. P-shaw! I wasn't impressed by them the first time I tried them, and they barely improved on second try.

The Habit comes from Goleta, and advertises the Charburger as their star. I liked it better this time, but this time there was too much char–it was a smoky overload, which distracted from the rest of the burger, which wasn't bad–toasted bun, sprite pickles, and a good patty. But it's hardly a threat to our homegrown burgers.

And the same goes to Five Guys, pictured below:

You want to talk about overrated: the regular-sized Five Guys burger is expensive, not that big, and really not that tasty. Their legendary propensity to add a bunch of ingredients? It's to mask a burger that's not worth the cost. Bun is too soft, lettuce is whatever. The best part is the patty, which is slightly sweet and very juicy, and that's what gives it the victory over The Habit. But if TK's and Five Guys matched up under my auspices, it wouldn't be a contest. Let's see what Michelle has to say next week…

WINNER: Five Guys. If I don't have to visit it or The Habit again, I won't weep. Same can't be said for In-n-Out and Fatburger.
In-n-Out versus Fatburger

Do I really have to praise In-n-Out? I do think its charms are wildly overstated, but it is a great burger, from the patty to the bun to the sauce. I'll wait in line for one as long as it's no longer than 15 minutes. But I usually don't try In-in-Out because the chica swears by Fatburger

I know Fatburger has its own cult, but I didn't grow up with it like I did In-n-Out, but it's a good burger. The best part about it is the patty, which they char to obsidian perfection on the edges yet leave the interior juicy and wonderful. The relish also adds a delightful undertone, and I'd say that Fatburger is worthy of the second round–but it's up against In-n-Out. It's Rafael Nadal versus Roger Federer…in France, so Nadal/In-n-out advances.

WINNER: In-n-Out, but Fatburger is good.

Now the final match of the first round: Carl's Jr. versus Ruby's Diner. No-brainer, right?

Carl's Jr. versus Ruby's Diner

I hadn't eaten at In-n-Out in years, because I'm still mad that they got
rid of their small cheeseburger some years back. I never liked their
Famous Star, so figured their Six Dollar Burger would be equally lackluster,

But it's not. This is a bona fide good burger, with a great patty, and
that magical tartness that reminded me why I liked Carl's so much in the
first place. Great lettuce, and while the bun was as weak as I remember it, it also maintained and never tore off. And the Six Dollar Burger, much to my bemusement, isn't six bucks–it's $4 and change, and big and filling and a stellar product.

Still, I didn't think In-n-Out could possibly beat Ruby's, which I hadn't visited in a while but always had good experiences with. Not this time.

What a bland, boring burger! It wasn't a terrible thing, but there was nothing memorable about it. The patty was just meat; the bun, forgettable. The cheese was waxy; the lettuce, limp. Such a disappointment, and it's the first upset of the tournament. Carl's Jr. wins by far.

WINNER: Carl's Jr. Funny thing? A Ruby's rep got mad at Taylor because we didn't place Ruby's in the Dominion of Diners category. I originally slotted them there, but the competition was so fierce that I placed Ruby's with the fast food folks, not only because it's essentially fast food now, but because I thought it'd have a better chance of winning. WRONG!

There you have it, folks: Day One of our Game of Burgers. Bracket is updated below. Tomorrow: Edwin and his Dominion of Diners, Round One!

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