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.
615 J Street, San Diego CA 92101 (map)
30 locations in the US, 1 in Mexico City; full list at thepalm.com
The Schtick: A steakhouse with an 85-year-history. No schtick, no schlock
The Burger: Three thick and beefy sliders that'll cost you about as much as a Big Mac
Want Fries With That? No fries, just tasty house-made potato chips
Setting: Elegant, but not overstated. Painted caricatures decorate the walls
Price: Prime Steakburger Sliders, $4.50 (Mon-Fri 4:30-6:30 p.m.)
Just when I thought I'd found the best burger deal from a (steakhouse) chain at Fleming's comes the Prime Steakburger Sliders from The Palm—three two-ounce mini-burgers topped with apple smoked bacon and pesto aioli for $4.50—in other words, about the same price as a Big Mac. And, instead of eating off a plastic tray and throwing out your own trash, you get the full table service treatment.
The mini-burgers are part of the "Prime Bites" menu, available during happy hour (actual times vary by location). Other bar bites include chicken parm and lobster BLT sliders (also $4.50), plus a jumbo shrimp cocktail for $2.50.
There are also a variety of burgers on the lunch menu, ranging from around $13 to $15, a fair price considering they are made from 12-ounces of USDA Prime Beef and come with fries.
The thick patties had a good sear on the outside and were tender on the inside. Even though the beef wasn't oozing with juices, it also was still moist (and the juicy tomato and aioli also helped the moisture factor). To be fair, I never indicated my preference for medium rare because I wasn't asked. If you like your patties cooked to anything less than medium, make sure to say so.
Though mini in stature, these burgers are big on beefy flavor. Toppings like crisp romaine lettuce, a sweet slice of tomato, herbaceous pesto aioli, and a small piece of bacon form a tasty backdrop of flavors and textures that accentuate the beefiness of the patty without overwhelming it.
The toasted bun was a bit dense, but with a patty this thick, it worked. The only difficulty was the bun wasn't very squishy, so getting a proper bite with all of the ingredients in place (and without the tomato or the patty slipping off to one side) was challenging at times.
In place of fries, the mini-burgers are served with house-made potato chips. The chips were so thinly cut and so crisp that they shattered immediately upon impact and tasted deceptively light. I didn't miss fries one bit.
Since the beef sliders were such a steal, I also tried the chicken parmigiana sliders, which were also tasty, but the sweetness of the tomato sauce threw me off. Stick with the beef.
It's hard to find fault with any plate of food that costs less than $5—much less from a steakhouse where your meal starts with a complimentary basket of bread (4 types—with whipped butter!) and doesn't end with you bussing your own table. I'm happy to report that The Palm's Prime Steakburger Sliders aren't just crazy cheap, they're also crazy delicious.
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