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.

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[Photographs: Erin Jackson]

McCormick and Schmick's

675 L Street, San Diego CA 92101 (map)
70 locations in the US, full list at mccormickandschmicks.com
The Schtick: Seafood chain with a menu that changes daily
The Burger: It's a great deal, but not a great burger
Want Fries With That? A handful of tasty (if unexceptional) fries come standard
Setting: Pretty swanky for a chain. Lots of natural light inside, patio seating outside
Price: Cheeseburger, $3.95 during happy hour, regularly $10.95 (there's also a Kobe burger on the dinner menu for $16.95), prices may vary by location

Happy hour at steak restaurants is a good time to score a burger for a discount. Morton's and The Palm have cheap mini burgers and you can get a glorious half-pound burger at Fleming's for $6. But, as it turns out, an upscale seafood chain restaurant has them all beat with their $3.95 cheeseburger during happy hour. The Angus burger is approximately half a pound and comes with a handful of fries.

With the exception of the drinks, everything on McCormick and Schmick's happy hour menu is under $6, ranging from peel and eat shrimp ($2.95) to oysters on the half shell ($5.95), plus a few non-seafood options like hummus, BBQ pork sliders, and wings. Since I was on a mission for AHT, I tried the burger and an order of sweet potato fries.

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Here's the problem: during happy hour, burgers are served medium well by default (and unless business is really slow, you can't specify doneness). It may be efficient, but the result is sub-par burgers whose only selling point is the price.

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The patty had a tasty charred flavor, but it was so throughly grilled that even though it was made of fresh beef, it tasted like it could've been made of frozen. The toppings stood in stark contrast to the beef: fresh, crisp, and flavorful, with the exception of the cheese, which was cut so thin that it was transparent when it melted over the patty, and had zero flavor.

Worst of all, because the patty lounged for so long on the grill, all of the moisture was sapped out of the beef. The bun remained dry as a bone because there wasn't any juice left in the patty.

The standard-issue, cooked from frozen fries were lightly cooked, crisp, and tasty, but not terribly impressive. They get points for being included with the burger, but there's nothing about them that stood out.

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Sweet potato fries ($2.95) are a better option, but the lemon tabasco aioli they were served with had no kick, and tasted too sweet, like it was flavored with lemon Jell-O.

Everything about McCormicks and Schmick's burger, from the bun to the patty, tasted like a burger you'd buy at a charity barbecue or Costco. It might be possible to cook a burger to medium well without completely obliterating its naturally occuring flavor, but this burger didn't come close to achieving that. If all you want is a cheap burger-shaped food unit, it'll do just fine, but it's not at all emotionally satisfying.

About the author: Erin Jackson is a food writer and photographer who is obsessed with discovering the best eats in San Diego. You can find all of her discoveries on her food blog EJeats.com. On Twitter, she's @ErinJax

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