The Big Lobo — Lobos Food Truck, Los Angeles

bigloboI will fully admit that I ordered this burger knowing roughly what I was getting, but I have a point that I needed to make, despite having made it before and knowing that I will feel compelled to make it again in the future. This Hamburger Is Too Big. It is two patties, cheddar and jack cheese, a fried egg, guacamole, and bacon. That’s not a bad lineup, but look at the thing. It’s lopsided upon arrival, stacked so large that it cannot be consumed in any spiritually meaningful way. It’s a bite of this, and a bite of that, and then a moment chasing around everything that fell out during the previous two bites, and then a moment to wipe one’s fingers, and then a moment to sigh, and then back to the burger.

Understand that this is not a categorical stance on hamburgers. One of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had was a hamburger. But something about hamburgers pushes people to go beyond the limits of good sense, and I cannot figure out what it is. I would suggest to you that that list of ingredients need not be a burger at all, but I am aware that a ground beef patty brings a savory depth some folk cannot do without. That’s fine. But why on earth are there two?

I feel a bit unfair singling out the Lobos Truck here. Needless to say, this is a problem one can find in burger joints both chain and local, upscale and down, anywhere and everywhere. I don’t know where this ends, but until that day I remain perplexed and disheartened.

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Slummin’ It: Double Whopper With Cheese – Burger King

As some states have made calorie information on the menu mandatory, many national chains have instituted such policies across the board. Burger King is one of those chains, with each item on the menu board bearing an estimated calorie count. What studies are beginning to show, though, is that no one cares. Instituting mandatory calorie labeling hasn’t lead to people making different choices. To my mind, this makes perfect sense. I walked in to Burger King wanting a double whopper with cheese, and that’s what I was going to leave with. The fact that the menu board informed me I was about to consume about a thousand calories didn’t sway me.

The information may not have moved me, but it did stick in my head. As I ate the sandwich I considered the number over and over again, constantly comparing it to what I was eating. I have no problem eating a thousand calorie sandwich. Some back-of-the-envelope math had the kimchi grilled cheese I made at close to 1000 calories, and had I included bacon it surely would have gone a ways past 1000. So it wasn’t the size of the number that was needling me, but simply the number in comparison to the sandwich. Because above all else, what struck me about the Burger King Double Whopper with Cheese was how insubstantial it was. The patties aren’t particularly thick. The bun isn’t tremendously fluffy, large, dense or really anything at all. There’s no sea of mayo, it’s only a few slices of cheese at most, but somehow you end up with a sandwich where there’s nothing there. The lettuce and tomato are lost in the mayo, what little flavor the beef has is lost in the cheese, but the beef is really very dry so the texture of the beef overwhelms everything else. The bun is quickly compressed to almost nothing, and just like that you’re left picking sesame seeds out of your teeth, having consumed a few slices of cheese and a helping of mayonnaise. And for this you’ve paid 1000 calories. The last time I brought up calorie count on this blog was over two years ago, in discussing a sandwich at Panera Bread. “You only get to eat so much in this life,” I said. “There’s no reason to waste 1000 calories on this sandwich.” In that case, it was that 1000 calories were wasted in the service of a borderline lousy sandwich. In this case, though, I think the sin is greater. It’s one thing to waste 1000 calories on a bad sandwich, but quite another to waste them on nothing at all.

Slummin’ It: Double Hamburger w/ Everything – Original Tommy’s Hamburgers

The double hamburger with everything (including chili) at Original Tommy'sThis is the first hamburger to be featured at On Sandwiches. There isn’t a real strong reason for that, hamburgers are clearly sandwiches. It’s just that I don’t eat them particularly often, and in most cases there’s always a sandwich I’d rather eat, always a sandwich I’d rather talk about. But with the Slummin’ It project developing, my options are much wider if I consider hamburgers. A good friend was urging me to try a double Whopper with cheese, and for his sake I’ll get to that soon enough. I didn’t want it to be the first hamburger featured at On Sandwiches, though. It just didn’t seem right. Original Tommy’s, however, seems to fit that role rather nicely.

I went in to Tommy’s with an associate who was grooving on pure nostalgia, reminiscing about day after day crowned with Tommy’s chili, be it atop hamburgers, cheeseburgers, or french fries. They sell it to go, you take it home and put it on everything, he told me. Seeing the enthusiasm Tommy’s fostered in this man I gladly ordered a double hamburger and some chili cheese fries. I confirmed that I wanted the hamburger with everything on it, which at Tommy’s entails the usual tomato, pickles, and onions but also includes a not insubstantial helping of chili. Extra chili is available at no charge, I’m told, but given that this was my first time I figured the standard amount was the wise choice.

I mentioned the french fries only because they’re key to describing the chili. Where the chili on the hamburger was largely hidden under the bun, the chili on the fries sat front & center, and I was able to marvel at the little pools of shiny red grease collecting in the hills and valleys the chili formed. I mention this not to damn Tommy and his hamburgers. Fat can provide a pleasing taste and texture, and while I’ve had plenty of lousy greasy sandwiches, some folks can pull it off. I’m happy to tell you that Tommy’s is one of those places. The burger itself is pretty standard issue but the chili sings. It’s thick and smooth, with enough texture to not be slurry but not so chunky that you’ve got stew on top of your burger. My associate speculates that they blend it down to a smooth consistency, perhaps adding oatmeal to thicken it up. Whatever they’re doing, it works. This is the kind of sandwich I was looking for when I started Slummin’ It. It’s a sandwich that revels in its grease but does so artfully. The calorie count is high but not obscene, and fares much better than similar burgers that don’t feature a mound of chili. I find that reassuring, a signal that whatever madness is at play here, someone is keeping an eye on it. This was a fine hamburger to be the first at On Sandwiches, and the easily the first success of Slummin’ It. It was a delicious hamburger, and late on a Saturday night that’s often all you need.