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.
5225 Beltline Road, Suite 254, Dallas TX 75254 (map); 972-661-3114
26 locations in TX, TN, CT, and CA; see list at mooyah.com
The Schtick: Build-your-own-burger with a health twist and emphasis on the fries
The Burger: Toppings can't save this sub-par beef
Want Fries With That? Your best bet on the menu, but large servings and hype can be let down by limp preparation
Setting: Bright, colorful, knowingly kitsch, crowded
Price: Mooyah Burger (double), $5; cheeseburger, $5.75; turkey burger, $5; fries, $2.75
Mooyah. It's fun to say. And you can tell from the decor that they're going for a playful vibe. But below the surface, the people behind this chain mean serious business.
Founded in Dallas in 2007, most of its two-dozen-ish locations are in the Metroplex area, but there are some scattered outposts from California to Connecticut. Indeed, the aim for Mooyah is very much to go national sooner rather than later, with multi-store franchisees aggressively sought: small wonder when one considers that the founders have a lifetime's worth of chain restaurant experience between them, from Romano's Macaroni Grill to Texan favorite Tin Star. But can Mooyah be their latest success story?
It depends. If their aim is to deliver a fair fast-food burger that's nothing to write home about, they're on the right track. But if they're true to their stated goal of delivering "the best burger you've ever tasted," they're seriously underperforming. Sitting down and saying, "Wait, wait... what would happen if Five Guys and In-N-Out had a baby? Let's do that!" is a nice idea, but only if it's executed properly. Here, it's not.
Walk inside, wait for your eyes to adjust to the bright reds, greens and yellows on the wall, and and pick up an order form. Yes, this is one of those places where you mark your burger on paper. And this is where you really start to understand Mooyah. Its idea of a great burger is a customized, sauce-heavy burger. They offer nine different liquid toppings—ten if you disregard their filing relish under "veggies"—along with all the usual add-ons (plus avocado.) Indeed, the only pre-defined burger is an In-n-Out-esque "Mooyah Style" offering with "L, T, P", grilled onions, and special sauce.
The word "lean" looms large on the walls, and with turkey and veggie offerings, as well as wheat buns, Mooyah is trying to position itself on the healthy side. Refusing to accept that a burger is health food, I ordered a double (6.5 ounces) on a white bun with bacon, American cheese, mustard, pickles, grilled onions, jalapeños, and relish.
In keeping with the chain's style, the kitchen is small and open, meaning you can watch the griddling action first-hand. They use a burger cover to keep the lean beef moist and to melt the cheese. While this is going on, another cook is assembling your cold toppings on the "custom-baked" bun, à la Subway. Then, there's lots of standing around for everyone.
Was it worth the wait? Not really. I thought the relish would be tomato relish but instead it was cucumber; this was my own fault, but I don't recall asking for four pounds of the stuff, so the topping imbalance is all down to Mooyah. Indeed, the toppings were all over the place. Pickles cut as thick as your wrist drip their vinegary goodness through the otherwise excellent sesame bun, while the mustard I ordered was scarcely present. This is always the danger of custom burger construction: There was no balance to it.
Yet the answer wouldn't be to simply order a burger as plain as possible. That's because the quarter-pound-ish patties themselves were dry and boring. They cooked the burger well done by default and the steam-griddling method didn't pay off in moisture terms. Although there was a small amount of tang from the meat it simply didn't sing the way a fast-food-style burger should. A lack of seasoning didn't help matters, but these dry, pallid patties were fighting a losing battle from the outset. In fact, I'd rather have had the turkey burger my wife ordered, which was, amazingly, not too dry and fairly tasty.
The idea of "fresh-cut in-house" fries set alarm bells ringing—if In-N-Out inspiration stretched this far, they would surely be terrible. In fact, this is one area where Mooyah almost gets it right. This comes from the Five Guys side of the coin—a cup filled to the brim with seasoned skin-ons, with another scoop thrown in the bag for good measure. Flavor-wise these were excellent, with just the slightest suspicion of spice. But considering the supposed "24-hour, multi-step" cooking process, someone should tell Mooyah that all of that labor is pointless if they don't come out crisp. I'm easily amused so I spent more than a few minutes bending my fries into the letter S. If cooked properly, these would be the one thing really worth going out of your way for.
As it stands, though, Mooyah simply isn't up to par. The concept is solid, and some of the execution—the buns, for example, and to some extent the fries—suggests a product that could go national. But the beef and the toppings are just so nondescript and wayward that it's hard to see what Mooyah really offers that ten other chains haven't done better before. That I can have Cholula and avocado on the burger is meaningless if the product as a whole just doesn't have it, and for all of Mooyah's grandiose claims to the contrary that's exactly where it finds itself.
About the author: Ewan Macdonald is a soccer writer who will probably die with a hamburger in his mouth. Born in Scotland, he was lured to the Dallas area by cheap beef and a love of 100 degree evenings with 60% relative humidity.