Photo courtesy of Burger 21
We all know that routinely chomping down on a Double Whopper or other fast food fatty monster is not a way to live. However there is no denying that on some nights (you know the kind) when you’ve taken a shot of tequila too many, a garden-picked salad is not appealing and nothing will satisfy like a fully-loaded burger with a side bag-staining fries. You’ll be relieved that you can have your beefcake and sloppily eat it too with a string of fast food establishments that have taken the guilt out of drunk binge eating without sacrificing flavor. Here are five places that are doing fast food right.
The philosophy at Bareburger is that nothing is hidden, a point driven home by clever slogans such as “there is no pride in pesticide,” and “hell no GMO.” The menu is fully customizable, with wacky patty options (such as wild boar, bison, duck, black bean,) your typical add-ons but with flair (stout onions, wild mushrooms, and vegan cheddar), finished off with creative sauces, and served atop a variety of buns. This east coast chain started with one lonely Astoria, Queens shop in 2009 and spread its better burger ways to 31 locations within five years (two of which are in Japan!)
A growing chain in the South, Burger 21 is dedicated to waste accountability and management. So much so that employees are trained in food rotation, exact recipe preparation, and extensive inventory documentation. Whereas it was easy to avoid food spoilage under the old freeze-and-fry model of fast food joints past, the better burger movement—with fresh ingredients ordered regularly—must commit to keeping their profits high by slashing waste. As for the “21,” it refers to the number of creative burgers the restaurant offers including burger such as the Ahi Tuna, Tex-Mex Haystack, and a suck-it McDonald’s creation called The Breakfast All Day.
Chef Chloe Coscarelli opened her first eponymously named restaurant last year to a crowd that wrapped around the corner of her West Village shop and gained mass media attention from the likes of the New York Times, Fortune, and Washington Post. Coscarelli—an ethical vegan—eschews the products of environmentally destructive animal agriculture packing her menus with plant-based options instead. While there is a fair amount of kale to be found (in the form of smoothies and salads alike), by CHLOE is far from a hippie hotspot and serves hefty burgers, mac n’ cheese, and Caesar salad in a beautifully designed space. Backed by a lucrative restaurant group, Coscarelli’s vegan fast casual concept is spreading across the country with shops in Boston, Los Angeles, another New York location, with others in the works.
Burger Lounge is committed to whole food that comes from a kitchen, farm, and ranch…not from a factory. From inception, the company set out to provide customers with a better alternative to convenience foods. Every patty at Burger Lounge is sourced from grass-fed cows, often from a single farm (i.e. none of that mashed-up mystery meat.) Their bacon is applewood smoked and free of nitrates, the cheese is organic, and fries are cooked in GMO-free peanut oil. Pair all this with a fair trade soda and house made dressings, and we’re talking top notch, no-junk-about-it food that’s worthy of your hard earned coin.
The Organic Coup
Perhaps the model representative of the new crop of fast food joints, this Bay Area-based company upholds strict standards when it comes to sustainability from ingredients, to packaging, to paying their workers liveable wages. Organic Coup recently became the first fully USDA-certified organic fast food restaurant and refuses to pay their workers less than $16 per hour. Antibiotics, pesticides, and GMO’s are explicitly banned from the eatery and they use coconut oil to fry their organic chicken. While the company is brand new and only has three locations, their commitment to slower, better food sets the standard for fast food to come.