26541 Aliso Creek Rd. Ste. C
Aliso Viejo, CA 92656
As we near the end of 2012, it has become clear to me that the burger craze of this year will keep rolling right along well into next year, and who knows how long after that. The OC area has been inundated with new burger places this year and last. I for one, welcome all of these burger places, many of which are from outside this area. The Habit, Five Guys, Boardwalk Burgers and Fries, and Umami Burger are all encroaching on what used to be, or for some people still is, In N Out territory. I will leave the debate for which burger place is best for another post, but for now I was one of the lucky ones to be able to attend a media tasting of another newcomer to the area, Smashburger.
I had heard of Smashburger before, because I read a few San Diego food blogs. There are 11 San Diego location of this new burger concept, and now they are spreading northward. The food bloggers to our south really enjoy the burgers here, so I knew I would be in for a treat. It just so happens that this latest location is mere blocks away from my, "real" job, so I was able to make the lunchtime media preview of Smashburger. I was also lucky enough to bring my friend Steve along, so he could get the food blogger and Smashburger experience as well.
Back to Smashburger though. To say that they have shot out of nowhere would be an understatement. They recently topped Fast Casual's 2012 Movers and Shaker list, and was also named one of America's Most Promising Companies by Forbes magazine in 2011. With these great accolades it is no wonder that they are now operating 191 restaurants across the US, Canada, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Costa Rica. All this from a company started less than five years ago.
Here's a quick look around the place. Ordering is done at the counter, where you are given a number, then the food is brought out for you. The interior design of Smashburger has a clean and sleek design. Much like other burger places their logos and walls are dominated by red and white colors. I really enjoyed the video menu boards above the counter. They gave this burger spot a more modern feel. For those of you that would like an adult beverage to go along with your meal, they offer wine by the glass and at least five different bottled beers. Some of the beer selections that I saw were Corona, Stone IPA, Stella's and two more that I did not catch the names of. I was here on my lunch hour, so there would be no drinking for me, but I did my fair share of eating. This is what came to out table after we had ordered.
I guess we will start with my good friend Steve's meal first. Steve had the Avocado Club Smashburger ($5.99). This burger came with avocado, tomato, lettuce, ranch dressing, applewood-smoked bacon, and mayo, all on a multi-grain bun. Steve was a very happy boy eating this burger. The burger was cooked exactly medium, which is the way he likes them. The produce at Smashburger was all very fresh, and really added some nice flavors and textures to the burger. The avocado was especially creamy. The mayo and ranch combination worked well, and the bacon here is not to be missed. I was a little unsure about the multi-grain bun, but it did not taste as healthy as I would have imagined. It held all of the burger parts well. The Chili Cheese Fries ($2.99) were a good sized portion. The fries were layered with a meat based chili, cheddar cheese, onions, and some of the hottest jalapenos we have had. What I liked most about these chili fries was that they were layered well. I hate when places put all of the toppings on top of the fries, so when you get down to the bottom, all you have left are plain fries. The chili was not a spicy chili, but the fresh jalapenos had enough heat to remedy that situation. I could tell that Steve was very happy with his meal, because this was the only time I can remember him being so quiet. Thanks Smashburger.
The base model that I judge any burger place on is their version of a bacon cheeseburger. At Smashburger it is their Classic Smash with Bacon added ($7.49). This burger was seasoned well, and the applewood smoked bacon was one of the best I have had on a fast food burger. The juiciness of this burger needs to be mentioned as well. For a little extra kick, I got the spicy chipotle mayo to add to the burger. The sauce did not overpower the burger, but complimented it rather nicely. The egg bun used at Smashburger was very fresh, and pillowy soft. I ordered the Smashfries (1.99) to go along with this burger, but I did not get a chance to snap a picture of them before they were gone. I know, real rookie food blogger mistake. Anyways, the smashfries are their regular french fries tossed with rosemary, olive oil, and garlic. Since these are the same price as the regular fries, it is a no-brainer that I would get these again. The french fries were a skinny, fast food fry, but with the addition of the garlic, rosemary and olive oil, it really kicked them up a notch in the flavor department. The garlic was the most prominent, which was fine by me because I am a garlic fiend.
I was pretty full from the burger and fries, but I was convinced to try the Chili Cheese Dog ($4.99). This all beef Angus hot dog came with chili, cheese, onions, and more of those hot jalapenos. The hot dog had a great beefy flavor, but I had to take a few of the jalapenos off to avoid some of the heat they emitted. The chili by itself was pretty mild, but t congealed well with the hot dog, cheese and onions. My only complaint about this chili cheese dog was that it needed a little more cheese. Other than that, this was a very solid chili cheese hot dog.
No, I did not eat all of this as well. I snapped a few pictures of other people's food before they got the chance to eat it. Special thanks to my good friend, Shelby, from Glitterful Felt Stories for letting me take pictures before they dug in. She seemed very pleased with her food. Smashburgers is not just all about burgers and hot dogs, they also offer four salads as well. I did not get a chance to sample the Baja Cobb Salad ($5.99) above, but it was a very generous serving size. The Veggie Frites ($2.99) are not going to replace my love of french fries anytime soon, but they were a crowd favorite on this afternoon. The OC Burger ($5.99) will be the next burger that I will try on my next trip here. At Smashburger they have a signature burger for each region, and in Orange County it is the aptly named OC Burger. This burger comes with portabella mushrooms, arugula, grilled onions. Swiss cheese, and truffle mayo. That sounds like a winning combo for me, and I can not wait to try it.
As a special treat at the end of our meal, we were taken to the back of the restaurant and made our own Smashburger, with company founder Tom Ryan. To say that we were in awe of Tom Ryan would be an understatement. My buddy Steve, pictured above on the right with Tom Ryan, called him, "a food genius". Why the high praise for Mr. Ryan? He only created the Stuffed Crust pizza and the Lovers line of pizzas for Pizza Hut, the McGriddle, Big and Tasty, and the Dollar Menu at McDonald's, and as if that was not enough, he also came up with the Steakhouse Beef Dip and the Sammie's at Quizno's. Quite an impressive resume to say the least. Both Steve and I attempted to make our own Smashburger. I can admit that Steve's turned out better than mine, but I would expect that since Steve is a butcher by trade. The grill at Smashburger can handle only four burgers at a time, so each patty gets the attention it deserves. The 100 percent Angus beef is packed loosely into a ball, and then flattened with a tool that Tom came up with. The secret to creating a good Smashburger is not to over handle the meat. The burger is flipped just one time, and then it is ready to be placed on the bun. It was a real honor to be able to cook with this legend of fast food. Both Steve and I still talk about this experience we shared together.
After this introduction to Smashburger, we are looking forward to our next visit. The thing that sets Smashburger apart from its competition is the quality of ingredients that they use. All of the produce, meats, and condiments had a freshness that you do not see from a fast food concept. The menu is varied enough that anyone can definitely find something on it that they will like. We hope to see this burger trend of other regions favorite burger places invading Orange County continue into the new year and beyond. As their expansion into OC continues, Smashburger may just become one of our counties favorite burger spots in the very near future.
Special thanks to everyone at Smashburger for the opportunity to experience Smashburger first hand. Starting at the top, we would like to thank Tom Ryan for talking with us and allowing us to flip burgers with him. We also need to mention franchise owner of this location, and the Mission Viejo Mall location, Ernie Sandoval. Ernie, you may have a hit on your hands here. Our gratitude also goes out to the staff of Smashburger, all of whom took very good care of us on this particular afternoon. Lastly, we need to thank Ali Metzger at Bolt PR for the invitation to this great event. Thanks so much Ali, we had a great time.
Experience Smashburger for yourself. Visit their website for locations and other information here: http://smashburger.com/