Burger Joints

Simple in concept, infinite in variety, the burger may be a perfect food.


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Recently Reviewed

Here are some things John Heckathorn had to say in past months. Visit our Dining page to read more reviews!


• St. Louis Drive In

3145 Waialae Ave.
(808) 734-3673
3145 Waialae Ave., 734-3673
“The remaining drive ins [in Hawaii] are simply parking lots with walk-up windows,” writes Heckathorn. “But they are repositories of Hawaii’s culinary history.” St. Louis Drive In is exactly how he remembers the place he frequented decades ago, albeit older and grimier. The St. Louis plates are all about fish. Heckathorn’s favorite was the fried ahi belly plate lunch, “remarkably fresh,” with a side of white rice and green salad. “This was history on a $6.75 plate,” he says. Reviewed in our December 2008 issue.

 
 


Photo: monte Costa
 

• Umeke Market and Deli

1001 Bishop St., Suite 110
(808) 522-7377
In an area dense with lunchtime takeout eateries, the downtown Umeke Market and Deli is ambitious, offering everything from hot dishes and made-to-order sandwiches to organic snacks and dietary supplements, says Heckathorn. He recommends the free-range turkey meatloaf, “stuffed with vegetables … [and] nowhere near as dry as it sounds.” Wash it down with Blue Sky organic sodas or freshly blended smoothies. Reviewed in our November 2008 issue.

Teddy's Bigger Burgers
Koko Marina Shopping Center, 7192 Kalanianaole Highway  // 394-9100  // Open daily 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.  // Free parking, cash only // www.teddysbiggerburgers.com

You have to admire Teddy’s for taking the whole 1950s burgers thing seriously. It serves burgers in plastic baskets with red-checked waxed paper, and the décor is a riot of red ceilings, and red, yellow and blue booths.

The burgers are reasonably priced, starting at $4.65 for 5-ounce patty, although everything, including the cheese, is an add-on. The ground-chuck patty comes off the gas grill with a nice charred taste (Teddy’s automatically cooks them well-done).

The pleasant potato bun is slathered with an orange sauce that’s disturbingly sweet. The onions aren’t grilled.

Teddy’s puts out a solid, but not thrilling, burger at a decent price. The one big plus here: the milk shakes are chock-full of real ice cream. Teddy’s pricing is so complicated I’ve never quite figured it out, but a milkshake is only $2.75 if you “upgrade” from a $7.25 combo meal.

Oh, and fries. I made the mistake of ordering the spicy version, which was not so much spicy as oversalted, with just enough burn from red pepper to make things seem even saltier.

 

Island Fine Burgers and Drinks
Ala Moana Shopping Center, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd.  // 943-6670  // Open daily 11 a.m., Monday through Thursday until 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m., Sunday until 9 p.m.  // Free parking, major credit cards  // www.islandrestaurants.com

Unlike The Counter, Island Burgers is not a franchise. It’s a privately held chain of 50 restaurants that started in Los Angeles, but was apparently inspired by founder Tony DeGrazier’s memories of 1960s Oahu.

The Ala Moana version is large, reasonably comfortable, with almost chirpy waitstaff and aggressively cute menu names. I ordered the Big Wave with cheese, which is a standard lettuce-tomato-onion-pickles cheeseburger.  The onion was raw, the burger was just OK. Not bad, just extremely dull, the beef alone almost devoid of flavor. Not much for $10.95.

Ironically, my friend’s was better. She’d proclaimed her willingness to eat a burger for lunch, but as she read the menu, she kept complaining that red meat would undermine her fitness regimen and long-term health. “Oh,” chirped the waitress. “All our burgers now come with turkey patties. At! no! extra! cost!

OK, have turkey, I said, realizing this was compromising the whole project. Her Hula burger was gloppy with sautéed mushrooms and melted Swiss, but I cut off a bite. What was that great spicy, herby flavor? I cut off another big bite, tasted the mushrooms alone, fairly dull. Tasted the cheese alone, just Swiss. Licked off the mayo, just mayo.

“Here, just take the rest,” said my friend. Finally, I isolated the flavor. The turkey patty had flecks of green herbs and black pepper. It was good, maybe not for $11.95, but better than the straight burger.

The price, it should be noted, includes “endless” fries. The burger comes with a relatively small portion of fries, but, OK, you could have more if you wanted. However, someone had done a brilliant piece of calculation about how many fries anyone normally ate, because once I’d finished my own and, admittedly, most of my health-conscious friend’s, we refused the offer of more.

Islands has a full bar, but since it was a weekday lunch, we were forced to forego its pleasures.

 

Kiawe Grill BBQ and Burgers
2334 S. King St.  // 955-5500  // Daily 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday until 8 p.m.  // Free parking, major credit cards 

I love the hole-in-the-wall feel of the Kiawe Grill, the wonderful scent of a kiawe fire, the willingness to offer ostrich and venison as well as beef burgers.

This time, I brought along a pro-red-meat friend. The two of us ordered three burgers—Kobe beef ($8.65), the Prime Chuckburger ($9.35) and a venison ($8.65).

Kiawe Grill does burgers unadorned—some iceberg lettuce, an onion slice that would have been much better for a visit to the kiawe grill, a slice of tomato and a commercial grade, not particularly inspiring bun.

The meat has to carry it. The Kobe beef turned out drier and less flavorful than we expected, just a burger patty. The venison had, inevitably, its sharp, minerally edge, but it tasted mainly of the black pepper mixed into the patty.

The Prime Chuckburger was 10 ounces, and the big boy was the star here—juicy, with a fantastic charbroiled edge to the rich swirl of beef on the tongue. It was one of the better burgers I’d tasted all month.

Kiawe Grill serves thick-cut steak fries, not my favorite because they often stay damp and baked-potatoey inside. These, however, were crispy, not greasy, a fine complement to the burger.

 

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