Of course we love our mom & pops, and our favorite burger joints around the country are pretty much all independently owned, but there are certain times in life—overnight layovers, hungover Sunday mornings, all-day shopping trips at the outlets—that the only options around are the chains. Chain Reaction is here to help you decide when to go for the burger, and when you're better off sticking with the chicken fingers.
743 5th Ave, San Diego CA, 92101 (map)
Over 1000 locations in 51 countries; visit tgifridays.com for full list
The Schtick: Menu features eight burgers ranging from a basic cheeseburger to a Southwest Burger topped with onion rings and avocado
The Burger: A simple, tasty cheeseburger—heavy on the cheese
Want Fries With That? Yes, but go for the sweet potato fries (it's worth the extra charge)
Setting: A one-size-fits-all, sit-down restaurant chain with an emphasis on classic American food and "Ultimate" (i.e., large) cocktails.
Price: Friday's Cheeseburger and combo fries $5.99 at lunchtime (regular price $8.49)
TGI Friday's isn't a place I have much of a history with. I've only dined there a handful of times, and have always ordered a simple pasta dish. My strongest reference point with the restaurant is Jennifer Aniston's character in the seminal '90s comedy Office Space, who quit working at a restaurant based on TGI Friday's because she didn't want to add any more "flair" to her uniform. These days, like several other casual dining establishments, Friday's has rebranded themselves to be a bit more high-end—the type of place you could take a date to if you live in the suburbs. Even so, I'd already formed a back-up lunch plan in case their burgers turned out to be no good.
The menu at TGI Friday's includes an entire page of burgers (turkey, Jack Daniel's glaze, BBQ, etc.), which seems impressive until you realize the entire menu is over a dozen pages long. The Friday's Cheeseburger is served on a toasted bun (whole wheat or sesame seed) with a handful of shredded lettuce, tomato slices, pickles, onion, and two slices of gooey American cheese.
My initial impression? The burger looked great, but the combo fries were the same color as my skin after a Canadian winter (which is to say, excessively pale). Both varieties were standard-issue and obviously cooked from frozen, but the sweet potato fries, which were acceptably crisp and fluffy, had the edge over the regular fries, which were undercooked and bland. Make sure to upgrade your fries, or go an entirely different direction and get a fruit bowl (a choice that's easy to make when the calorie content is on the menu!)
Overall, the Friday's Cheeseburger was surprisingly good. The beef was coarsely ground, loosely packed, and fairly juicy. The patty, which was cooked only slightly past my requested medium rare, had a light crust on both sides and a hint of char, which added to the flavor. The only downside was the burger was a touch over-salted, and due to the placement of the toppings, slightly lopsided. Still, I was gobsmacked that a completely acceptable burger and fries could be had for about the same price as a McDonalds combo meal ($5.99 at lunchtime). TGI Friday's burger wasn't perfect, but it still beats the pants off Ronald's.
TGI Friday's wasn't on my radar as a place for a good burger, until now. The regular price ($8.49) is admittedly a lot less sweet, but it's comforting to know that when I'm in an unfamiliar city, there's always at least one option for a cheap and tasty lunch.