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[Photographs: Todd Brock]

La Parrilla

865 North Main Street, Alpharetta GA 30004 (map); 678-339-3888; laparrilla.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Your typical Mexican restaurant—great for tacos, burritos, fajitas, and margaritas...but not for burgers
Want Fries with That? No; stick with a more appropriate side like chips and salsa
Price: Mexican Cheeseburger, $7.99

Why is your favorite Mexican joint your favorite? Is it the potency of the margaritas? The guacamole with the just-right consistency and texture? The saltiness of the tortilla chips or the frequency with which they're replenished? The fact that it's tantalizingly near your home or office? Lots of things can make that Mexican dive in the local strip mall a regular hang for you—but chances are, their cheeseburger ain't on that list. Hell, most Mexican restaurants don't even serve a cheeseburger, save for the obligatory ninos version.

But I had heard whispers of a regional mini-chain whose burger was described as really good. Not just "good for a Mexican place," but "really good, period." And although I usually view a queso-drenched chimichanga or a platter of blackened fish tacos as a welcome change of pace from my hamburger habit, I'm helplessly intrigued by the idea of discovering a hidden gem in the unlikeliest of spots. La Parrilla may translate to "the grill," but that doesn't mean everything they cook on it there is worth your hard-earned pesos.

At La Parrilla's 17 locations—spreading from ITP ("inside the perimeter" that encircles Atlanta proper) all the way to Dothan (across the border in Alabama) and Savannah—the Mexican Cheeseburger appears on the "American Fusion" portion of the menu. That's awfully high-falutin' language for a four-item list that also includes a chicken sandwich, a tortilla-based pizza, and wings. It's described thusly: "Delicious Mexican burger topped with lettuce, avocado, jalapeños, bacon, and yellow American cheese." Throwaway adjective-starting-with-D aside, that's a fine start to burger goodness in any language.

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The presentation kept my hopes afloat. A glossy seeded bun crowned what looked to be a half-pound of meat, blanketed in beautifully-melted golden cheese and topped with curled and crisp bacon. Avocado wedges, a hockey puck of a tomato slice, and some pretty pale lettuce were served on the side, along with a tortilla shell-cup of pickled jalapeños. I had felt like a stupid gringo ordering the burger in the first place—like every Cinco de Mayo reveler at the bar was snickering uncontrollably into their cerveza. But the Mexican Cheeseburger looked better than halfway decent; it was almost enough to alleviate the twinge of jealousy I felt about the sizzling steak fajitas sitting just across the table.

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Things went downhill muy rapido when I bit in. Creamy avocado and melty cheese can cover up a multitude of sins, but they can't completely resurrect overcooked, underseasoned beef. That "Mexican burger" I read about had me wondering momentarily if this might be some cool custom blend—maybe a beef and chorizo mashup—but this meat had no character whatsoever. I hadn't been asked for a doneness preference (though the fajitas' grilled steak was a gorgeous medium, as requested), so the cook apparently went for "all the way done" on the burger.

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No pink anywhere to be found, and even less juiciness. Had there been any, I don't think the bottom half of the bun would have lasted five minutes; it was barely hanging on as it was. The bacon was actually a plus, and the jalapeños brought some heat to remind me I was at a Mexican joint. Combined with the avocado, cheese, and tomato, I was happy only in those fleeting moments when I fooled myself into believing I was eating some sort of south-of-the-border take on a BLT. And then that bad beef showed up to crash the party. (Pay no attention to that char job; that's all the color this patty had.)

And the fries weren't even worth mentioning. (But I will.) I was expecting tragic french fries from a Mexican restaurant...and that's what I got. Despite the menu's promise of "seasoned fries," these spud sticks were bland and boring. Half of them sat untouched and got cleared with the dishes.

I already know what you're going to say. I know. What was I thinking? Why go to a place like La Parrilla (or sub in the name of your local Mexican dive) and order a cheeseburger?! Well, that's what I do. So fine: take me to task in the comments section below. I have it coming. I know it was a mistake. I regret it, and I wish I could take it back. But then again, haven't we all said pretty much the same thing the morning after a highly questionable decision at our favorite Mexican restaurant blew up in our face on Cinco de Mayo?

About the Author: Todd Brock lives the glamorous life of a stay-at-home freelance writer in the suburbs of Atlanta. Besides being paid to eat cheeseburgers for AHT and pizzas for Slice, he's written and produced over 1,000 hours of television and penned Building Chicken Coops for Dummies. When he grows up, he wants to be either the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys or the drummer for Hootie & the Blowfish. Or both.

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