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[Photographs: Erin Jackson]

Buddies Burgers

5854 Montezuma Road, San Diego CA 92115 (map); 619-955-5323; buddiesburgerssd.com
Cooking method: Griddled
Short Order: A burger whose only real selling point is that it's cheap
Want Fries With That? Like the burger, the beer-battered Buddie Fries are ok, but not great
Price: Burger, fries, and a drink combo, $6.95

After loving the burger at Doods Foods, I've been on a mission to uncover more cheap burgers, because while I love me some premium beef, uncovering an option that you can pay for in pocket change is even more exciting. My latest trip took me to Buddies Burgers, a burger joint in a strip mall in the College Area. The buzz was promising, as was their second-place finish in a recent readers' poll.

There are lots of burgers to choose from, including turkey burgers, two vegetarian options (black bean and Boca), and 10 different beef permutations, ranging from a classic cheeseburger, to the Buddie Combo, a quarter-pound patty topped with a grilled and split hot dog, special sauce, cheese, and veggies.

Here's the problem with the tact Buddies has taken: their basic burgers are essentially In-N-Out clones, and they're located less than nine minutes away from the In-N-Out in Lemon Grove (a quick three-mile jog down College Avenue). It's not just me who has made this observation; Buddies themselves champions their burgers as "San Diego State's version of In-N-Out Burger," and it's tough, bordering on impossible, to compete with In-N-Out. You can't beat them on price, you can't beat them on quality, and you can't beat them on efficiency. All you can beat them on is variety and sheer convenience, but when both of those come at the price of flavor, unless you live in the area and your only means of transportation is a bike, it's a losing proposition, because when you break down the burgers at Buddies, they're really not that great.

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My quarter-pound cheeseburger was squarely within "acceptable" territory, but that's the best thing I can say about it. The beef was under-seasoned, with no char or character, the bun was unevenly toasted, which skewed the bread-to-meat ratio, the veggies were bland, and the sauce was standard. Yawn. You could double (or triple) up the meat, add some premium toppings, or plop a dog on top, but all that's accomplishing is masking the fact that the patty is poorly executed, and isn't munching a tasty beef patty the whole point of eating a burger? (I vote yes).

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The "Buddie Fryer" list is quite extensive. You can get beer battered Buddie Fries, regular (non-battered) fries, sweet potato fries, tots, chips, onion rings, or chili cheese fries. I went with the battered fries, and they were about as good as the burger: passable, but ultimately forgettable. The spuds were over-cooked, which rendered them dry and mealy. Versus In-N-Out, I'd give them the edge, but no one goes there for the fries, anyway.

It's telling that in the same readers' poll that Buddies placed second, they were beat by In-N-Out. That's really the whole story. Buddies is a bit like In-N-Out, but not better. And when In-N-Out is already so frickin' good (and cheap), if you want an In-N-Out-style burger, there's absolutely no reason to go anywhere else.

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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