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. This column is here to help you decide when to go for the burger, and when you're better off sticking with the chicken fingers.
380 K Street, San Diego CA 92101 (map)
64 locations in 28 states; full list at flemingssteakhouse.com
The Schtick: Your standard steakhouse, with "5 for $6 til 7" specials in the bar
The Burger: A tasty, premium beef burger that's an absolute steal at $6
Want Fries With That? Hope not, because fries aren't an option
Setting: The main dining area is fairly stuffy, the bar is more casual
Price: Fleming's prime burger, $6 until 7 p.m. in the bar, daily
There's no sense in burying the lead on this one: When it comes to a great deal, few restaurants can beat Fleming's "5 for $6" menu—which includes five classic cocktails, wines by the glass, and appetizers like beef tenderloin carpaccio, roasted mushroom ravioli, and seared ahi tuna for $6 each.
The last item on the menu, listed alone (and seemingly as an afterthought) is Fleming's prime burger, topped with pepper bacon and your choice of blue, swiss, or cheddar cheese. Like everything else, the half-pound behemoth costs just $6 in the bar before 7 p.m.. After 7 p.m., it's $12.
The only catch? No fries. But, the complimentary (and bottomless) bowls of house-made chips (plus a few onion rings, if you swing that way) make up for the omission. And really, when you can get a top quality, steak-house style burger for $6, going without fries is a small price you'll be willing to pay.
A bowl of crisp and salty house-made chips arrived at the table first, and was quickly demolished, despite my best effort to save some to eat with the burger. Luckily, the bowl was replenished quickly, but the chips were so tasty, I hid the remainder of the second bowl behind a cocktail menu to avoid eating every last one.
The burger was topped with a layer of melted (and partially congealed) cheddar and two slices of crisp and peppery bacon. On the side were little bowls of ketchup, Dijon mustard, and Thousand Island dressing, plus a pile of standard burger roughage (iceberg lettuce, tomato, and red onion). The hockey puck-shaped patty was so thick that I didn't want to add any unnecessary height to it, so I stuck with just a slice of tomato to cut the saltiness of the patty.
The outside of the patty had a substantial amount of char, and was well seasoned with plenty of salt and fresh-ground black pepper. Cutting the patty open revealed a deep red center that was full of juice and also quite greasy, giving the burger an intensely beefy flavor. The patty was on the rare side of my requested medium rare, but still expertly cooked. If you love a rare burger, this is a great place to get one.
Surprisingly, the toasted brioche-style bun held up to the onslaught of juices until the very last bite.
Onion rings aren't my thing, and unfortunately, these particular rings didn't wow my dining companion, who said they were too skimpy on the batter to be worth eating. If you have a particularly flexible jaw, I could see adding one of them to the burger.
These days, $6 barely buys you a combo meal at McDonald's, but at Fleming's, you can get a top-notch steakhouse-style burger, unlimited house-made chips, and a few onion rings (not to mention table service, and the option of a cocktail). With over 60 locations in 28 states (including 11 in California), this should be good news for AHT readers across the country.
About the author: Erin Jackson is a freelance food writer and photographer who is obsessed with discovering the best cheap and tasty eats in San Diego, including all things sweet and sugary, for her dessert blog San Diego Sugar