Built Custom Burgers
3584 South Figueroa St., Los Angeles CA 90007 (map); 626-795-5800; builtcustomburgers.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A solid entry into the crowded fast casual burger scene
Want Fries with That? Yes, but only if you are ok with a quickly cooling shoe string fry
Price: Burger with choice of cheese and basic toppings, $6.75; + fries and drink, $9.75
It seems foolish for a restaurant group to think now is a good time to enter the crowded fast casual burger market—a market that looks like it reached its saturation point long ago. But when your particular restaurant group could be credited with being among those that launched the trend, perhaps it only seems fair that you get a piece of the action.
Back in 2003, The Counter—a mid-scale, sit-down burger restaurant—opened on a sleepy street in Santa Monica with a simple idea: you know what kind of burger you like better than they do, so why not allow the customers to, well, customize? It caught on; they've since opened and franchised to over 30 locations worldwide.
Now the folks behind The Counter want in on some of that fast casual fast money. Enter Built Custom Burgers by The Counter. Yes, it's in oddly long name, and yes, it's clearly a business development strategy disguised as a restaurant, but that doesn't mean they can't serve good burgers. And, as it happens, they do. Mostly. Let's take a closer look and agree that we'll just call it Built from now on.
The underlying architecture of this fast casual burger customization outfit is the assembly line. You've seen it before and you'll see it again because it works. Subway and Chipotle figured out that we like watching our food prepared under our instructions. (I find sometimes people enjoy this a little too much, at least the giving instructions part.) Built takes the same approach to your burger preparation. It's an eight-step ordering process, which sounds like a lot because it is. You order the basics (type of patty, toppings, and bun) and then make your way down the line. The process was awkward during my visit, but seeing as they just opened in March, I'm sure it'll get smoother as they work out the kinks.
I ordered their basic beef patty with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onions on their standard hamburger bun with a side of Thousand Island dressing. Add a side of fries and drink and it all comes to under ten bucks. This seems the right price point for what you get.
The patty sounds a bit undersized at 1/4-pound—I'd choose a 1/3-pound as the Platonic ideal—but I didn't find it to be woeful. I wouldn't opt for the double on a Built burger. The beef was full of flavor from a hearty bit of seasoning which, I'm happy to report, seems less dangerous than we might have once thought. Built won't give you much temperature control over your patty, which is too bad because this beef is good enough for a proper medium-rare cooking. To their credit, my patty still showed some juice even in its overcooked medium-well presentation.
The toppings were all solid and tasty. It turns out I do know what I like on my burger. What I don't like is a weak bun, and again, to Built's credit, theirs is a good one. At first I thought it was too big for a single patty, but I ended up enjoying the substantial bun.
The "shoestring" fries were not so much disappointing as poorly constructed for this concept. The thin cut (a little thicker than traditional shoestring) of these spuds works with a hot-out-of-the-oil side of fries, but even then you get a scant couple of minutes of tastiness before they cool and lose their bite. Mine made their way onto my plate well before my burger was ready, so they had cooled passed their sweet spot. Built would do better with a wider cut fry that holds the heat a bit longer.
You can tell Built is still ironing out some of the operational wrinkles, but the basics seem to be in order: good burgers at a fair price. Perhaps there's always room for that.