Tempe, AZ: Affordable, Appetite-Slaying Burgers at Lobby's
3141 S McClintock Dr, Tempe AZ 85282 (map); 480-897-1113; lobbysburgers.com
Cooking method: Griddled
Short Order: A tasty, no-nonsense burger that could use some fine-tuning
Want Fries With That? Yes! They're cooked from frozen, but still very good, especially if you like dipping your fries in burger sauce
Price: Burger, $4.49 (add cheese for 59 cents); fries, $1.99
The menu, like the shop, is a simple, no-nonsense affair with Italian sandwiches, Chicago-style dogs, and 1/3-pound burgers crafted from grass and corn-fed chuck from Iowa. Coarsely ground balls of beef are smashed flat on a hot griddle, then steamed under a basting cover. Patties are served on a toasted sesame seed bun with LTO, house-made pickles, and a Thousand Island-esque sauce. Add cheddar or provolone cheese and the burger will cost you just over $5.
Fully assembled, the burger is unquestionably tasty, but a couple of executional flubs hold it back from being truly excellent. For one: the bun wasn't just toasted, it was straight-up burnt in places. That ashy, charred flavor might work on beef, but on bread? Not so much. Housemade pickles are usually a nice touch, but the ones at Lobby's were cut thicker than the beef, making it hard to get a fully composed bite without a cuke disc shooting out the back of the bun. The sauce, while tasty, was also too exposed to the heat of the meat, turning it into a messy liquid that dripped all the way down my fingers.
Closer inspection of the Lobby's website suggests that burgers are cooked to order, but I wasn't asked. My patty was cooked to medium, and despite missing a bit of pink in the middle, I really have no complaints about the beef. It had that slightly gamey flavor grass-fed beef sometimes has, and was rich and juicy without being heavy or fatty. The burger could easily sustain a second patty, and bacon would be a welcome addition.
Fries ($1.99) are of the mass-produced, cooked from frozen, crinkle cut variety, but don't let that stop you from ordering them. As far as frozen fries go, these were best in their class. Crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside and deceptively light, they were great dunked into the fry sauce, but just as tasty naked.
With a little more finesse, the burgers at Lobby's could rise from being simply straight-forwardly tasty to precisely crafted vessels of excellence, but considering that the customer base is skewed towards college and high school students, that's probably not necessary, or even the point. If you want to get down on a no-nonsense, appetite-slaying burger dripping with sauce and piled with toppings at a price that rivals fast food chains, Lobby's is a worthy spot to do so. Just make sure to grab a wad of napkins before you dig in.
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