5345 Transit Rd., Williamsville, NY 14221
Web: Burger King
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"We want to hear from you: what's your favorite burger chain? Tell us where, and why, including your top food, drink, and dessert picks there. Leave your picks below!"
One of us is originally from Buffalo. The other grew up in Southern California. We may have different opinions on which drive-through chain is best - she says In-N-Out Burger, he says Carl's Jr. or Chick-fil-A - but let there be no doubt, fast food is in our genes. It's one reason we love Fast Food Maven, a blog that reports from Orange County, CA on the latest happenings in cutthroat worlds of burgers, tacos, hot dogs, pizza... and even wings. And it's the reason we're taking a brief pause this week from the relentless pursuit of Western New York's mom and pop restaurants to talk about another, very major piece of our collective local diet: fast food chains. For some, they're occasional guilty pleasures; for others, they're ways to keep eating on a tight budget. They're not all bad. Occasionally, they're great.
"What is it about In-N-Out," he asks, "that you love so much?" "It's the freshness of it all," she says, "the taste of their burgers. A Double Double, animal style, with their wonderful grilled onions, extra dressing, that relish that's just so good, and the mustard they grill into the meat patties. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it." She says that less than an hour after we've finished polishing off a meal at Burger King, our mutual local favorite fast food burger joint, underscoring just how powerful the memories are of the large but entirely family owned In-N-Out chain, found only in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. He, meanwhile, is thinking about the massive $4 Black Angus "Six Dollar Burgers" at Carl's Jr., and the pressure-cooked chicken sandwiches at Chick-fil-A. Sure, some Western New York restaurants serve equivalent items, but you typically have to go 15 minutes away and sit down at a table somewhere to actually get them. Then you pay more - at least as much as the Six Dollar Burger's name.
Burger King isn't the country's biggest fast food chain, nor is it the best, but it is our favorite around here: a reliably good meal at genuinely great prices. Take, for instance, an order for a large TenderCrisp Chicken Sandwich, a full-sized Angry Whopper, a Whopper Jr., a plain Hamburger, a Vanilla Milkshake, a medium-sized carton of French Fries, two orders of Chicken Tenders, and a Dutch Apple Pie. Total price for enough food to fill two adults and two big dogs, tax included, was just under $20. A single Andrew Jackson would buy a couple of large burgers, fries, and drinks at a typical restaurant.
There are, of course, trade-offs. By fast food standards, particularly local ones, Burger King's burgers are good, not great. They're flame-broiled - a major selling point to one of us, less so to the other - complete with the slight taste of char rather than grease, and the patties aren't small, but even at their best they're not going to impress anyone who's had a burger at Rock Bottom. Straight out of the wrapper, they come across as dejected little sandwiches, their buns so overlapping their meat that you wonder for a brief moment whether there's anything inside save the lettuce that invariably spills out onto your hands and legs in a car.
But there's always meat inside, and unlike the fried McDonalds burgers, there's just enough essence of that grill here to make the bites fun; the buns are similarly acceptable, sometimes better, depending on the specific burger you order. For comparative purposes, our photos show the standard Hamburger, the more generously-topped Whopper Jr., and considerably larger Whopper - actually the Angry Whopper, with jalapenos and fried onion bits - side-by-side. Then there's the monster Steakhouse Burger, introduced in April 2008 as a roughly $4 competitor to the Carls Six Dollar Burger. The meat's a lot like the Whopper, but topped with A-1 steak sauce. We wouldn't put A-1 on a great steak, but on a burger like this? Excellent.
Burger King's French Fries have been a topic of debate for years: are McDonalds' saltier, crispier fries - the ones famously once cooked in beef tallow - better? Or has BK effectively leveled the field with its most recent formulation, which is no longer as soggy and greasy as the version many people thought second-rate for decades? These days, the two chains' fries strike us as being very similar; both are pretty good, neither is amazing, but then, can a staple like one of these chains' french fries really amaze anyone any one? We tend to be bigger fans of seasoned curly fries (Arby's), or Criss Cut fries (Carl's Jr.), which steal the classic version's thunder with more interesting shapes and stronger flavors.
Similarly, it's no longer a surprise that Burger King can also do chicken items well, but years ago, it was a turning point in our appreciation of this chain's relative standards of quality. Up until only recently, Burger King's Chicken Tender was markedly superior to anything offered by McDonalds, which sold fatty "is that really chicken?" McNuggets, only later adding "Chicken Selects Premium Breast Strips" as an alternative. Even today, Tenders go for as little as 25 cents a piece and taste good - even better with the barbecue sauce - while oddball items such as Chicken Fries sit on the lower end and gargantuan chicken sandwiches like the TenderCrisp occupy the higher end. We wouldn't give up a typical restaurant's fried chicken sandwich for the TenderCrisp, but it's a pretty good option, particularly if you're looking for a large 5-ounce portion of meat. And fish? We never touch it at McDonalds, and we don't dive into Burger King's seas, either.
Desserts are a Burger King weakness. The anemic sweets menu currently includes the Dutch Apple Pie - a triangular cardboard box with a soggy, largely gelatinous and far too little appley piece of pie inside - as well as the plain jane Hershey's Sundae Pie. We'd sooner order one of McDonalds' McFlurry blended candy or cookie and ice cream cups, the only item we'd pick over one of Burger King's milkshakes, like the okay Vanilla one shown here (hint: chocolate's better). But what about Wendy's, which outdoes both chains with its Frosty treats? Or Arby's, which at the right locations sometimes beats them all with its thick Jamocha shakes, but elsewhere - sadly, almost everywhere we've visited locally - produces the same drink with something very close to chocolate flavor?
We want to hear from you: what's your favorite burger chain? (Not tacos. Not subs. Burgers.) Tell us where, and why, including your top food, drink, and dessert picks there. Leave your picks in the comments thread below!