BURGERS!!! - Part Six

>> 2/1/10

(Chains - Part 1)

Johnny Rockets
Cheeburger Cheeburger

When I started with Part One of the hamburgers series, I was not planning to review chains. I figured that Consumer Reports could do that for me (albeit not as well). Then Five Guys opened their first and, at the time, only NYC location in the boondocks neighborhood of College Point/Whitestone and I gave it a peek, not knowing that they'd expand like their customers' waistlines. Cherry broken, I started having people ask me to specifically look at more chains. Still, not wanting to cross the bridge into comparing the Big Three just yet (next time, maybe), I chose three other national chains here in the Empire City, all with a 1950s retroness about them. And to encourage intra-city tourism, I made sure that they were all in different boroughs.

930 Third Avenue, at 56th Street
New York, NY 10002
(212) 813-0003

Of the three chains included in this post, Johnny Rockets is the one you're most likely to find in a mall food court. In fact, I can think of three malls off the top of my head that have one. Johnny Rockets is also the only burger joint of the three that humiliates its staff on a regular basis by requiring them to dance in the middle of the store while singing oldies. The Loco-Motion wasn't a good song in 1962 and it hasn't aged well with time. I can only hope these poor unfortunates get well paid...

Unsurprisingly, Johnny Rockets is decked out like a 1950s soda shoppe. Neon, chrome, classic Coca-Cola posters, those white greasy-spoon hats. It's a nostalgic fantasyland. A throwback to the 50s, when life was simple, perfect, and care-free. Of course, such an era, the likes of which various radio and TV personalities tear up about having lost, never really existed except in the movies. Naturally, I find Johnny Rockets to be an exceedingly annoying place to spend my time.

Luckily for me, I needn't return. There are dozens of other and better burger places around in NYC, and dare I say it, Burger King made a better hamburger. The burger I ordered, The Original, was mediocre. They tout how their burgers are made with 1/3 of a pound of beef, but it must be mostly fat which melts off while cooking because the burger patty that wound up on the bun was no thicker than a fast food patty and twice as greasy. The fries were decent.

Wait for food: 13 minutes from ordering.
Cost: $13 including tip.
Burger: A fast food burger with a slow food wait.
Fries: Not bad
Atmosphere: Duck and cover.
Verdict: Don't waste your time.


108-50 Queens Blvd
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 997-8600

Cheeburger Cheeburger operates on the guiding principal that burgers and cheese go together like peanut butter and jelly, bacon and eggs, the internet and free porn. One without the other is crazy. And thus, all burgers at Cheeburger come with cheese unless you specifically ask otherwise. This may be annoying to Kosher diets or people who are lactose-intolerant, but I don't keep Kosher and my liberal parents taught me to abhor intolerance. So this makes perfect sense to me.

Cheeburger has clearly positioned itself as a Johnny Rockets competitor. The 1950s diner theme, with it's pink neon and chrome, is everywhere. What makes the dining experience here so much more pleasant is that the wait staff doesn't randomly break into a-capella versions of oldies rock songs.

Their motto is "Big Is Better" and their burgers aren't small. You can get 1/4 pound "starter" burgers, and work your way up to burgers with a solid pound of meat in them. Cheeburger claims that the most popular one is a 1/3 pound. There are many many toppings and almost all of them are free. The burgers are a bit greasy, but nowhere near as bad as what you'd get if you went to Jackson Hole. The fries, which are served in a huge basket with a peppery garlic seasoning, were awesome.

Wait for food: about 15 minutes.
Cost: about $12.
Burger: good, not great.
Fries: great.
Atmosphere: the 50s diner theme is tacky and really needs to die.
Verdict: Johnny Rockets with better burgers and no dancing.


344 Baychester Avenue
Bronx, NY 10475
(718) 320-4764

Checkers is known for being drive-through or walk-up only, with no seating inside. That said, Checkers broke from the mold with their location on Court Street in Brooklyn. There, they're just like every other chain, except much smaller, and with booths so shitty that they shift sideways on the floor when you sit on them. This one here in the Baychester part of the Bronx, near Co-Op City is a little more, uh, traditional. The few seats outside this art-deco 1950s-styled hut that exist sit between I-95 and a strip mall parking lot. No effort of any kind is made to make you comfortable enough to want to stay. Drive up, get food, go away. The drive through window gets priority over the walk up customers, so it was plenty slow for what was basically a fast food burger. Still, there's something about sitting outside on a day as gorgeous as I went, even if the view was less than stellar.

But at least it's a good fast food burger. Worth 10-plus minutes? Uh... do the drive through. Also, Checkers is dirt cheap. And not cheap because you get dollar menu stuff. Normal sized burgers. On days when I get all pissed off at the nearby driving range, I will occasionally shoot over and pick up two big burgers for $5... then I feel better. That said, Checkers is bad for you. I love hamburgers. I also happen to like not being obese. I take no pleasure in saying that I was the thinnest person by a considerable margin eating here. The combo you see pictured here had but one burger and was over 1000 calories. I justified it by biking 18 miles that day.

The cheeseburger itself was the best part of the meal and I recommend skipping that which is not bunned beefy goodness. The french fries, which are seasoned, started out as "wow, these are great!" but after a few of them an aftertaste emerged that was less than pleasant. Meanwhile, the chicken nuggets were flat out bad. It was like eating a processed chicken food product sponge. Good burgers though.

Wait for food: 10 or so minutes
Cost: $9.00
Burger: scrumptious for "fast" food
Fries: Good at first, but they weakened quickly.
Atmosphere: Parking lot.
Verdict: Stick to the burgers. But you'll be happy you did.


Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5


JO February 5, 2010 at 3:14 PM  

Checkers is great. They have good specials. and on sundays, at some locations, they have 1 dollar hot dogs and shakes.

Jon Parker February 13, 2010 at 6:49 PM  

Checkers is pretty good, especially given the cost, which is just this side of free.

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