1301 Boylston St., Boston MA 02215 (map); 617-425-4444; tastyburger.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Still working on getting the fat back in this grilled burger
Want Fries With That? 7 times out of 10, yes
Price: Hamburger, $4; cheeseburger, $4.50; Butta Burger, $5.50; Spicy Jalapeno, $5.50; Onion Burger, $5.50; fries, $3
When Tasty Burger opened this past fall, it formed a Fenway Park burger sandwich with Uburger, its fast food-style burger rival on the other side of the park. The red-washed shell of the building, the retro neon sign, and the walk-up order window evoke feel-good Americana in the form of summer shacks and drive-in hamburger stands. That's the outside.
Inside, the restaurant is less soda shop and more car shop. Bay doors flank the front and rear of the room, playing up the vestiges of the garage operation that pre-dated the eatery. A free pool table and a bustling bar lands the steel gray painted interior on the figurative "other side of the tracks" from the car-hop hamburger stand. But the owners of Tasty Burger also own Franklin Cafe and the other new Fenway addition, Citizen Public House And Oyster Bar. Tasty, like its restaurant siblings, is designed to accommodate the late-night crowd.
Tasty Burger began using 100 percent ground tenderloin—an odd choice for a burger, given its leanness and lack of flavor. After the inevitable criticism, the kitchen adapted and introduced some 80 percent lean chuck into the mix. Still not tasty enough, the tenderloin got ditched all together, leaving pure chuck cut from Omaha Hereford beef.
Like Uburger, Tasty Burger uses beef that is ground daily. In their case, a local butcher does the grinding for them. The flat patties are hand packed—compactly. And despite the burger recipe overhaul, the chuck burgers still come out lean. Most of the fat seems to wind up on the outside of the meat, rather than juicing up the inside. On the whole, the 6-ounce patties are best described as springy.
Although the style of menu (patty add-ons, wieners, shakes, and loaded fries) suggests Shake Shack inspiration, electing to grill rather than griddle the beef puts these sandwiches more in the backyard burgers camp. That goes for the consistency as well. The default doneness is medium, but that's a loose measure at best. Check out this cheeseburger and jalapeño burger side-by-side:
That's a broad spectrum on the medium color scale. Despite spotty temping, the kitchen does accommodate doneness requests, unlike some of the other fast food style burger places in town. Furthermore, the request for a medium rare burger did produce a patty with a rosy pink interior.
If you like cheese sauce, this is your place. There are at least three specialty burgers that come with different varieties of cheese sauce, though oddly, regular cheese slices are limited to Colby-Jack, cheddar, or Swiss. No American? Cheeseburgers and hamburgers come minimally dressed with iceberg and tomatoes. Topping portions and layout are all over the map: Pickles added came segregated under the patty on one burger and amidst the lettuce and tomato on another. And the burger-to-topping ratio can vary from a hunk of lettuce as thick as the patty to a couple of leaves.
The key with toppings is to be specific. The specialty burgers, of which there are 11, only come with the toppings listed. If you want more than just cheese sauce and jalapenos on your Spicy Jalapeno Burger, or more than just butter on your Butta Burger, say so. Don't count on the staff to ask you. Condiment caddies are on each table, so don't worry about naming those. Buns are soft and seeded, and speaking for the single patty burgers, they hold their own.
In addition to extra toppings, consider adding fries. They most closely approximate the cut of a Wendy's fry, and the chunkier cut showcases the fluffy interior of the well-salted, hand-cut spuds.
There is something incongruous about Tasty Burger. The name doesn't sum up the experience. If you aren't chasing the all-American dream burger, and having a cold beer and free pool are high on your list of burger eating priorities, then Tasty Burger will satisfy. But it doesn't deliver on the facade's suggestion at an old-fashioned hamburger stand burger.
About the Author: Mike Honcho has been working the pickle juice out of his 'stache at Kenmore burger joints since he arrived as a freshman at Berkeley in 1982. His band hasn't made it big yet, but his gut has.