Red Mill Burgers
312 N 67th St., Seattle WA 97206 (map); 206-783-6362; redmillburgers.com (second location at 1613 W Dravus St.)
Cooking Method: Flame-broiled
Short Order: Large, cheap, messy burgers good for hunger busting; those seeking quality should look elsewhere
Want Fries with That? Sure; they're frozen, but at least they're better than the onion rings
Prices: 4-ounce Cheeseburger, $3.79; Bacon Deluxe w/Cheese, $5.80
After giving local institution Dick's Drive-In a thorough examination, it only makes sense to now turn the proverbial microscope on its closest competitor for Seattle's burger-hungry proletarians, Red Mill Burgers. As it turns out, while they make very different burgers, a common thread runs through both chains.
One notable difference is the size of the burgers; Red Mill's quarter-pound patties are definitely larger than the tiny pucks served at Dick's. They're perfectly round and preformed, and have an odd chewy texture. Hardly the solid base of a burger worthy of its inexplicable inclusion in GQ's 20 Hamburgers You Must Eat Before You Die. Once you order one of the larger burgers here, the sandwich becomes positively enormous, towering over anything on the Dick's lineup.
One bite of such a monster, like the Bacon Deluxe with Cheese, and the parallels between the two chains become visible again. Dick's uses low-cost ingredients and manages to craft something satisfying from them, and that's exactly the experience you'll have at Red Mill, just in larger quantities. The Bacon Deluxe with Cheese is bursting at the seams with lettuce, tomato, pickles, red onions, American cheese, pepper bacon, and "Mill Sauce," a mayonnaise-based spread with a nice smokiness to it. Far more than I got on any burger at Dick's, but the end result was the same: I left contented, but not much of an impression was made.
The pepper bacon deserves special note. It shatters on impact and distributes crunchy salt-chips into every bite. Good stuff. The bacon is so popular here that they cook what I estimate to be a metric ton of it in anticipation. It's hard not to be awestruck by the sheer sight of that impenetrable fortress of cured pork.
Personally, I think there's too much going on with the Deluxe. The bacon's nice, but it can get lost in all the veggies, and the thick red onion is overpowering. A better choice, in my opinion, is Red Mill's regular cheeseburger. Adorned with just lettuce, Mill Sauce, and American cheese, not only will it actually fit in your mouth, but you can taste the separate components of the burger. And I really like the way they handle the cheese here; they let it melt until it's practically liquefied so that it oozes out from under the toasted bun between bites.
Sides here seem hit-and-miss. The fries are frozen, but after their dip in hot peanut oil they develop a wonderfully crisp exterior. They're salted well, too. Babe's Onion Rings, on the other hand, suffer from an underseasoned batter that forms a tough shell around the onions. The onions themselves are tender and perfectly cooked, but the rings as a whole are bland.
An apt comparison of Dick's Drive-In is to a slightly less trashy McDonald's, and Red Mill is more like the countless roadside burger shacks populating every highway across America. Both average in every way, but totally acceptable if you're in the area. You don't need to drive up to Phinney Ridge just to have a burger like this, but it's worth a visit just to witness that massive brick of bacon. It's like a present from heaven, all wrapped up in pork ribbons and bows.
About the author: Adam Lindsley is a Seattle-based novelist and the author of the pizza blog, This Is Pizza. As a contributor for both Slice and A Hamburger Today, he is contractually obligated to say he loves pizza and burgers in equal amounts. Which is to say he is a polygamist.