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Reviews of fast food burgers and a look at how the real life version compares to the advertised beauty shot.

Good Toppings Can't Save Olive Garden's New Italiano Burger

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[Photographs: Top, Olive Garden, all others, Erin Jackson]

As part of an ongoing effort to be more competitive by offering a broader variety of menu items, Olive Garden recently added an Italian-inspired burger to their lunch menu. Dubbed the Italiano Burger, it features a six-ounce beef patty topped with crisp Italian prosciutto, mozzarella, arugula, marinated tomatoes, and aioli. The suggested retail price is $9.99 (with Parmesan garlic fries and unlimited breadsticks and soup or salad) but varies by location. In San Diego, I paid $12.99.

The promo shot shows a thick and juicy patty crowned with perfectly placed arugula and three meaty slices of tomato. A lone piece of crisp prosciutto peeks out from underneath a melted, milky slice of mozzarella. I wish that's what I received. Instead, I got one measly slice of tomato, haphazardly applied aioli, a too-thin slice of mozzarella, and an absolutely obliterated patty with zero moisture or juice on an oil-drenched bun.

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The menu states that burgers are cooked to 155 degrees for health and safety reasons, and I wasn't asked how I'd like mine cooked. Unless you're part of the six percent of AHT'ers who said their preferred burger temperature is well-done, don't leave it to chance. Had the patty been cooked to medium, or (ideally) medium-rare, it would have been immeasurably better.

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Despite being haphazardly applied, the toppings were tasty and complimented each other well, from the tomatoes aggressively marinated in garlic and basil, to crisp strips of prosciutto, and creamy, garlic-spiked aioli. But since the patty arrived cremated beyond recognition, there was no hope in (or saving) this burger.

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Lunch entrées are supposed to come with Parmesan garlic fries, but I got these lifeless, pale, and naked spuds instead. My husband got the correct fries with his meatball sandwich, and while the dusting of powdered Parmesan cheese and garlic was a slight improvement in terms of flavor, it wasn't worth flagging down a server to correct the mistake. I lost interest in my meal a few bites in, and ended up refocusing all my attention to the basket of bread sticks, which were the undisputed highlight (second to the Italian dressing-soaked banana peppers in the salad).

While Olive Garden's new Italiano Burger sounds great in theory—under the right conditions, a mozzarella, marinated tomatoes, crisp prosciutto, and aioli-topped burger could be awesome—the reality is a major disappointment. Skip it.

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 San Diego food blog EJeats.com. On Twitter, she's @ErinJax

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