$7 or Less: Smashburger Tempts with New Dishes

Just in time for the throes of August, Smashburger is rolling out some new items that just might help finish out the summer with a bang. Best of all, the base price of everything on the menu is $6.99 or less. (Of course, there are plenty of add-ons, so feel free to create that $10 burger if you want.)

Chains often get a bad rap, and often that's simply because what they serve is mediocre and cheap. I've always liked Smashburger, though. No, they can't do any bragging about using locally sourced meats, and I don't think it would win any burger competitions. Still, Smashburger is among my top three fast-food joints, right alongside Chipotle and Whataburger. There's an emphasis on fresh vegetables, and it is entirely possible to make healthy choices here. You can also choose to forget healthy and treat yourself to a ton of tasty calories. Your choice. May I recommend the Oreo Malt?

Smashburger's patties are 100 percent Black Angus beef. The ground beef is a loose, airy grind, and that translates to a tender burger that is almost falling apart. They use an odd metal burger press during grilling. It's shaped like a curvy pentagon, and it gives the burger an uneven shape. The shape lets part of the patty be visible beyond the uniformly round bun and gives it a bit of a "homeburger" look.

The cook presses the burger down for a minute and gives it a good sear on the outside. I've heard that you're not really supposed to press down on your burger during cooking to avoid losing juices, but there must be enough fat content in the meat that Smashburger uses to prevent dryness.

Smashburger does something that is unique among chains. There is actually some care given to presentation. Burgers and sides are served in a long, wire basket. The burger is served open-faced, with brightly colored vegetables on half the bun on one side, and the burger on the other. It makes for an attractive dish when it's brought to your table. Now that I think about it, table service, rather than someone hollering your number from the counter, is a step up from the norm, too.

My go-to Smashburger has been on the menu for a long, long time, but I think it still deserves a mention, as it's great in the summertime. It's called the Spicy Baja, and I order it because I like a little heat. (Actually, I like a lot of heat, but this will suffice.) This one has pepper jack cheese and chipotle mayonnaise, and it comes standard with a slathering of guacamole that will please avocado lovers. I am not one of them, but I did try it and have to say that it's not bad.

As far as the new stuff goes, I found the Spinach & Goat Cheese chicken sandwich to be memorable and wholesome. It's a chicken breast served on a multigrain bun. Crumbly goat cheese tops off mild cucumbers, fresh spinach, tomato and onion that have been dressed with balsamic vinaigrette. The grilled chicken version of the sandwich is 410 calories. That's the one I had, and I found it to be quite satisfying, but if you can spare the extra calories, there's a crispy fried version available, too. Add 190 calories to the count, if you care.

There is also now a Buffalo Chicken sandwich. I don't think there's much that can be considered innovative about this, but it's tasty anyway, and my kids would love it. Smashburger uses my favorite wing sauce for it (Frank's Red Hot) and serves it on a brioche bun. It is, of course, topped with blue cheese (because you gotta have your blue cheese on your buffalo chicken), and lettuce and tomato make for some colorful additions.

The new offering that really blew me away, though, was the Mushroom Swiss burger. It's a case of how sometimes simple is best. With so little to compete with, the seasoning blend that is sprinkled on the burgers before cooking really showed through, as did the crispy edges of the burger. The cheese was nice, but I was really all about the garlic-sautéed mushrooms.

There's another new item on the way, a salted caramel shake. It's wasn't available to try yet, but I was able to console myself with their rich, very chocolaty Oreo shake offering. They also have a delightful vanilla one with Nutter Butter cookies blended in.

I remember taking my youngest son with me to try Smashburger for the first time a few years back. We were both pretty happy with what they were doing there. These days, I tend to focus on burgers from local joints, like the Juicy Lucy at Underbelly or the multitude of offerings at Hubcap Grill or The Burger Guys.

The truth of the matter, though, is that I can't always make a trip to a different part of town for a burger, and there's a Smashburger five minutes from my house. Now they just need to hurry up with that salted caramel shake!

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Phaedra Cook
Contact: Phaedra Cook