On every visit to the usually bustling Summer Street location downtown (a Huntington Avenue shop just opened), orders for one, two, or three were fulfilled in a zippy 10 or so minutes. Each time, I went with a bacon-cheeseburger ordered “all the way” ($7.29) — that is, fully condimented: ketchup, mayo, mustard, lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, grilled onions, and grilled mushrooms. Five Guys has 15 toppings, all free.
And while the cheese was of a gummy, not-from-nature’s-kitchen-yellow American sort, it sure did know how to melt. And while the burger’s contents dropped impressionistically all over the table as the burger was elevated (not the most portable of our contestants), the part that made it into my mouth was divine. A “little” order of fries ($2.29) overflowed a seemingly symbolic cup to occupy the lower third of a large paper bag — not a “little” problem for anybody present. What was a problem was the lack of milkshakes, not even nearly allayed by the presence of a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, which allows you to concoct your own blend of cloyingly flavored high-fructose corn syrups. Bloomberg would faint. Also: Raspberry Coke? So, so foul.
Part of the thrill of the Five Guys burger was its sheer amplitude, another part was its utter simplicity — but there was also an overwhelming nostalgic rush in the panoply of toppings. At some point in our lives, we have all Dagwooded together a burger very similar to this one (though perhaps with less chewy planks of bacon). It’s a direct hit to one’s burger memory center; psychologically speaking, most burger fans will be at Five Guys’ mercy. They will also need a bib. 263 Huntington Ave., Boston, 617-572-2074; 58 Summer St., Boston, 617-482-2244; 65 Station Landing, Medford, 781-874-1254; 37 Forbes Ave., Braintree, 781-848-4897; 170 Providence Highway, Dedham, 781-326-1158; or go to www.fiveguys.com
The most casual offering from the Franklin Group (which includes Franklin Cafe locations and Citizen Public House & Oyster Bar), the throwback-feeling Tasty Burger has sprouted in three locations: a long, lean former boathouse on L. Street in Southie, a former gas station in Fenway, and a former 7-Eleven in Harvard Square — where the last hot dog I had probably spent as much time on rollers as I spent as an undergrad.
Around 2 a.m. on a Saturday night recently, we beat the post-bar throngs to the takeout window at the Fenway location, and ordered up a Big Tasty ($4.95) and a Hubba Burger ($5.50). The former, a cheeseburger of grass-and-grain-fed beef with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and onions, plus “Tasty Sauce” (which is at least partially composed of mayo and pickles); the latter, slathered in chili and cheese sauce, with chopped onions.
Neatly done up in an innovative burger wrapper with a tear-away flap, Tasty Burgers are built for speed (about 7 minutes on each visit) as well as travel (a good thing, as the L Street location, currently sans patio permit, has nary a seat — so back in the car you go). And while neat, we never experienced any skimping on the good stuff; my Texan companion griped not about his tame Yankee chili, as the spicy jalapeno burger ($5.50) did more than enough to bring some heat.
The unique delight of Tasty’s onion rings (a sizable heap for $4) translated to an equal measure of disappointment when we learned they didn’t have them at L Street; but the Ore-Ida-esque realness of the perfectly crispy, perfectly cloudy shoestring fries ($3, $5 with toppings like cheese sauce or chili) was just as satisfying. And shake-wise, Tasty wins: perfectly sized, with straw-straining heft, and a deep, sweet chocolate flavor that gives a little wink of vanilla in the finish.
With strong scores across the board (and added points for making itself so available around town), Tasty Burger hit all the sweet spots: We were in and out (oh, In-N-Out . . . why won’t you come here?), and left full, happy, and unsullied by our meal.
So, for now, I take small comfort in having an official favorite go-to for my quick burger fixes; but as with its weather, Boston’s burger scene can flip at any moment. 40 JFK St., Harvard Square, Cambridge; 69 L St., South Boston; 1301 Boylston St., Fenway, Boston; 617-425-4444 for all locations or go to www.tastyburger.com