Early on a Sunday evening, Larkburger was packed—just, I suppose, like every other burger-flipping fast-food joint in the whole wide world. It’s a cultural phenomenon that never ceases to confound me, & thus to underscore the fundamental sense of outsiderliness I developed as a child in family-friendly, meat-&-potatoes Oklahoma & have yet to quite shake. My own family wasn’t particularly family-friendly or meat-&-potatoes; my mom & dad loved me lots, of course, but for them that meant teaching me early on to appreciate a wide variety of adult foods in adult environments rather than indulging immature tastes. So while I like a good burger just fine, its status as an icon among culinary icons, a thing to be craved & consumed near-daily amid plastic shapes, cartoon colors & screeching voices—that I still can’t fathom. And though Larkburger’s reclaimed wood paneling is nice & all, the otherwise typical setting—all easy-to-clean surfaces, dispensible (albeit eco-friendly) products, raucous kiddies & harried parents with understandably faraway looks in their eyes—just depresses me to no end.

Which is a roundabout way of saying I got my food to go, zipping quickly home so the Director & I could wash it down with wine & Scotch, the way any god worth believing in intended.

Here’s the other thing about burgers: they’re insufficient fodder for detailed reviews, being pretty well summed up by 2 words: “good” or “bad.” And the word on Larkburger’s signature has been out long enough to make my chime-in almost pointless. Is the patty juicy, flavorful & cooked to order? You bet, semantics notwithstanding—”medium-rare” is not technically an option, though it’s what plenty pink “medium” turns out to be a euphemism for. Whatever. Does the buttered bun taste fresh, slightly sweet & fluffy as all good white bread should? Of course. Are the veggies crisp? Naturally. How’s the house sauce? Nice—an extra-tangy aioli.

Truffle-parmesan fries are pretty much the new regular fries, having long since passed from novelty to standard. (Okay, not literally; Larkburger serves plain fries too, all of the thin, crisp-tender variety.) Unlike many of my colleagues, I’m not anti-truffle oil, however ubiquitous it may be, so long as it’s judiciously applied to be aromatic but not overwhelming—and such is the case here. The parmesan, parsley & sea salt, however, are sprinkled on so heavily as to actually clump here & there—& that, in my book, is a really good thing.

The turkey burger, unfortunately, isn’t likely to change skeptics’ minds about turkey burgers. Though made in good faith with lots of herbs & spices, it remains on the dry side—unlike the lettuce I got mine wrapped in. I was curious to see how the low-carb alternative would hold up, & the answer is: it doesn’t. The aioli quickly liquefies, soaking the leaves & making a mess you can’t eat without a fork. (Well, you can, but you’ll have to do it like this.)

A far more pleasant surprise is what I’d call Larkburger’s dark horse: the chili.

As served, it’s a well-integrated, spicy-sweet stew of ground beef, black & kidney beans, & fat hominy kernels swimming in juicy tomatoes & lots of diced red onion as well as fresh cilantro. As reserved for leftovers, eaten cold the next day, it’s thicker but no less balanced.

She says, wiping stray beads of orange oil from her lips after a fine breakfast.

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