It used to be that there were just a few options for folks who were craving a big juicy burger. When I was little the choices included your standard fast food burgers, the burgers at your local greasy spoon, the amazing In-N-Out Burger (only available in Southern California when I was growing up; thank GOD we traveled a lot!), or whatever you’d cook up in your backyard during summer barbeques. Nowadays, specialty burger joints are everywhere, offering anything from your standard cheeseburger with bacon, to more adventurous (read: ridiculously priced) burgers that will set you back about $80.
Many of these newer establishments call the East coast or Midwest their home, but over the past few years some of them have found their way to the West coast. Five Guys – which happens to be President Obama’s burger of choice, and which I have yet to try – is popping up all over California, and a couple others are making their mark here as well. But it’s Denver-based SmashBurger that is swiftly becoming a favorite of mine.
SmashBurger opened up its first Sacramento-area locations a little over a year ago. I’d heard plenty of hype about it on the local news, so I was curious to try them at some point. After all, any place that’s going to offer me a burger with things like brie & bacon without charging $15-$20 for it has my attention. However, their locations are too far away for me to get to without a car, and not so easily accessible on public transit. Fortunately, my pal, Ms. Munchie, seems to score free tastings to SmashBurger pretty often, and she’s been gracious enough to let me tag along with her to some of them.
My first visit to the Citrus Heights location was last summer, and I left relatively content with what I’d had. As planned, I ordered their NorCal Burger, which is the special “area burger” for this part of the state. Part of what makes SmashBurger unique is that, in addition to their regular menu items, each location offers one special burger to reflect the spirit & flavors of the particular city. The NorCal Burger definitely fits our style up here, topped with a thick slab of brie cheese, applewood smoked bacon, grilled onions, lettuce and balsamic-marinated tomatoes- a very NorCal set of toppings, indeed. And after perusing the regional menus of other SmashBurger locations, it’s safe to say that if I travel to any of these other cities, I will be trying that “area burger” (particularly the San Diego burger… OMG!), because some of them look quite fantastic.
Back to my first burger, though: I felt it was okay. I appreciated the brie and that smoky bacon, but it just didn’t knock my socks off as I’d hoped. I remember telling Catherine that I felt it needed something other than mayo as a sauce, just to give it an extra kick. It wasn’t bad at all, I just wasn’t completely blown away by it. The SmashFries, on the other hand, absolutely sold me! Thinly cut, hot crispy fries are tossed with the perfect amount of olive oil, rosemary and garlic, for a fabulous treat that puts many other fries to shame. It’s not a rocket science flavor combo, but the ratio of each ingredient and the quality & freshness of the potatoes really makes these fries stand out. On that first visit, I think Catherine had ordered some of their Haystack Onions, and even though I’m not the hugest onion ring fan, I thoroughly enjoyed that side as well. Again, fresh, thinly cut, hot, and not swimming in grease. Major points for that, SmashBurger!
On our next visit, they had just rolled out their SmashChicken menu, featuring both grilled or crispy chicken to go on their new chicken sandwiches. Since it was a special tasting event, we were encouraged to try some of the new items, so we tried one of their new chicken salads, some chili, and a sample of their crispy chicken breast. The Honey Mustard Chicken Salad was good, but I found the dressing to be a bit too rich for my liking. Catherine seemed to enjoy her chili quite a bit, and the giant Haagen Dasz shake she got also looked scrumptious. Both of us were a little wary of the crispy chicken, since most crispy chicken is either too greasy or too dry or 10 parts batter to 1 part “chicken”. The crispy SmashChicken pleasantly surprised us by being a lightly battered, real chicken breast that was tender, juicy and flavorful. Way better than what you’ll get at your standard fast food joint!
But, we’re both very set in our ways, so we also placed our usual orders: Spicy Baja Burger for Catherine, and a NorCal Burger for me. This time around, my burger did blow me away, and for awhile I was so blissed out I couldn’t even think of what had changed to make it better. After collecting myself, I dissected each aspect of the burger, and soon enough realized that the “extra kick” I’d been hoping for the first time was actually lent by the balsamic-marinated tomatoes. I think my first burger only came with fresh tomatoes, and while I love those, they didn’t offer the same delicious flavor combination as the marinated ones. But when served as written, this NorCal burger is just fabulous! I highly recommend it to those who are looking to enjoy something other than your standard cheeseburger.
All in all, I really enjoy eating at SmashBurger. As a huge In-N-Out Burger fan, I’ve always been a little wary of trying other burger joints, for how could they possibly compete with a classic Double Double and some Animal Style Fries? SmashBurger, however, has convinced me that there is plenty of room in my heart (and stomach) for another quality burger joint.If you’re into more conventional burgers, don’t fret! The regular menu at SmashBurger also offers the Classic, the Mushroom & Swiss, and the BBQ, Bacon & Cheese. You can choose your size of burger, too, which is great for folks who have lighter appetites but still want to enjoy a good burger. The selection of sides is pretty awesome, with your usual fries & onion rings, as well as more adventurous options like Sweet Potato Fries and Veggie Frites (sort of a fast-food style fritto misto). All sandwiches range from $5-$7 in price, which I believe is an excellent value, considering they use fresh, quality ingredients, and all their burgers are made from 100% certified angus beef. Most fast food chains will charge the same amount for lower quality food and a smaller, less interesting selection.
Now, if only we could get them to open up a spot in Midtown….