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.
2400 Historic Decatur Rd, San Diego CA 92106 (map)
6 locations in San Diego, 2 in Orange County, full list at lunagrill.com
The Schtick: Fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant that bills itself as "the ultimate kabobery"
The Burger: 1/3 pound grass-fed beef patty topped with ketchup, mustard, mayo, and the standard veggies
Want Fries With That? Go for it. Thin-cut fries come with the burger and are tastier than the other option (rice)
Setting: Modern furnishings, clean, and comfortable. Lots of outdoor seating, too
Price: Luna Burger, $8 (cheese and bacon extra)
Luna Grill, a homegrown (in San Diego) chain with a focus on healthy Mediterranean fare like kabobs, salads, and wraps, also has a small section of their menu devoted to burgers. There's a veggie burger, a falafel burger, and the Luna burger, made with a 1/3 pound of grass-fed beef on a gourmet (read: brioche) bun. Inside, it's nicer than you'd expect a chain to be. The high ceilings are decked out with oversized lighting features, and the furnishings are modern. It's a pleasant surprise, especially for a place whose priciest entrées are $12.50 (tiger prawn kabobs, salmon, or cornish hen).
Burgers are cooked to order, and topped with the standard vegetable roughage, plus ketchup, mayo, and mustard—something that, outside of fast food establishments, I haven't encountered too often. I opted for something a little more Mediterranean, nixing the wet condiments for some spicy cilantro hummus. I was happy to discover that the freshly prepared spread, which is spiced up with serrano peppers, is equally tasty as a burger sauce as a fry dip...and less excited that it was the best part of the meal.
Experienced AHT'ers probably spotted the main issue in the top photo: waaaay too much bun. The bread-to-meat ratio is way off in this burger, with the top bun approximately two inches tall. The bun was also overly sweet and eggy, and not toasted, which gave it the texture of a piece of foam.
That grass-fed beef patty that I was initially psyched about floundered, too. It looked like it had been steamed, not grilled. There was zero char on the patty, and the (mostly unmelted) cheese was covered with small spots of condensation. I requested medium rare, and there was a bit of pink in the middle, but the beef had a chewy, bouncy texture, and tasted flat and dull. Fresh produce, including some excellent tomatoes, and that delicious spicy hummus weren't enough to revive the burger. I abandoned hope halfway through and focused on the fries.
Like the burger, the fries are helped immensely by the hummus. The lightly fried, thin cut spuds were sprinkled with a bit of seasoning, and were pleasantly crisp, but dunking them in the spicy spread made them twice as tasty. Luna must agree that the fries are ripe for riffing, because they've done it with their "french fry crumble "($5), which features fries seasoned with lemon and oregano, topped with crumbled Feta cheese.
I expected a better executed burger from a place that is focused on grilled meats of all varieties, but ended up with sad, soggy beef on a foamy roll. If you're looking for a quality grass-fed burger at a chain in San Diego (or Los Angeles), I'd stick with Burger Lounge.
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