7007 Friars Road, San Diego CA 92108, plus a location in Torrance and one in Cerritos opening this fall (map); 619-225-7900; stacked.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Tasty enough burgers that are fun to custom design by using an iPad
Want Fries With That? Hell yes! And make sure to try the flavored mayos
Price: Custom-stacked cheeseburger: $6.66; King Fusion burger, $6.99; Sweet potato fries with two flavored mayos, $3.46; Chocolate coconut shake, $5.86
Last week, a new "burger concept" opened in Fashion Valley Mall. The concept is simple: like The Counter, diners can customize their burger with dozens of toppings. But instead of checking off boxes on a paper form, at Stacked, all of the ordering (and customization) is done at the table, using an iPad.
The concept sounds a little gimmicky at first, but it's actually pretty brilliant. With so many options—seven types of patties and cheeses, plus over 40 toppings, ranging from iceberg lettuce to roasted shallot mayo—the iPad helps you to visualize your burger, and putting it together is just plain fun. In addition to burgers, you can also customize (or "stack") a pizza, sausage, salad, or shake.
Part of me wanted to build a crazy Frankenburger piled high with multiple toppings (if only to get a photo of it) but the King Fusion, one of the pre-designed burgers, sounded compelling enough as is. This Asian-fusion burger is made with an Angus beef patty, topped with cucumber, wasabi mayo, sriracha mayo, and pickled ginger slaw. The only change I made was swapping out the brioche bun for a pretzel roll.
The ginger-heavy King Fusion reminded me of bánh mì with its tasty Vietnamese flavor profile. The wasabi and sriracha mayos gave it a spicy kick, and the slaw and cucumber worked surprisingly well to lend crunch without being overwhelming. All of the toppings were well portioned and remained within the confines of the toasted pretzel roll, which was the only downfall. In hindsight, I should have stuck with the suggested brioche bun—the pretzel roll was too dense for this particular burger.
As much as I liked the King Fusion, it will probably alienate burger purists. With so much going on in the way of toppings, the beef was overwhelmed, which made it taste more like a Vietnamese hamburger patty sandwich.
To get a burger baseline, I also "stacked" a classic cheeseburger with the standard lettuce, tomato, and pickles on top. The burger had all of the expected flavors: tangy cheese (though the slice was too small and too thin), bright and crunchy pickle, and a couple slices of sweet, ripe tomatoes. Still, even without all of the crazy toppings and multiple mayos, the taste of the beef was secondary to the cheese and pickles. When I tried it by itself, it had a mild beefy flavor and even tasted a bit like grass-fed beef, but most of the flavor was muted by the pickles. For a fast-casual burger, it was good for the price, but unless you pile on the toppings and push your burger boundaries, it's not going to change your life.
One thing I really liked about Stacked was that you could also specify cooking temperature—anywhere from well-done to rare. I ordered the King Fusion rare and the classic burger medium rare, and sure enough, the King Fusion was slightly pinker (though not quite rare) and noticeably more moist and juicy. Consider ordering your burger one shade rarer than usual.
What will change your life are all the extras. The coconut chocolate shake (made with chocolate syrup, toasted almonds and coconut, and Almond Joy bars) was like German chocolate cake in beverage form. I've sipped shakes all over San Diego and none of them can touch this one.
Crisp sweet potato fries are also a must, if only as a vessel for the multitude of flavored mayos, which are a mere 30 cents extra. I can personally vouch for the sriracha and butternut squash, which has a generous shake of cinnamon. The former will heat up your tongue and the latter will cool it down, kind of like jumping back and forth from a pool to a hot tub.
Stacked is worth a try for a fun night out. The beef may not be gourmet quality, but that's besides the point. This place is all about fun, and on that front, it excels. With so many burgers on my to-eat list, it'll probably be awhile before I go back for round two, but I will rush back for another shake and sweet potato fries with flavored mayo.