Tasty Burger is true to its name


Having grown up with summer nights dominated by trips to the In ‘N Out drive-thru, I’m a cheap burger expert, if perhaps a biased one. Cookout, land of $5 shake/fries/burger/dog combo, certainly captured my heart during college. However, since moving to DC I’ve remained skeptical towards modish East Coast entrants like Shake Shack and local favorite Five Guys. But something about summer calls for a cheeseburger in America.

Today I’m here for Tasty Burger entrant to the national scene, which will try to win my beefy heart. Tasty Burger’s brandmarks are red with yellow trim—Bikeshare-colored. This is the first Tasty Burger outside of the Boston area, where the chain was incubated, a fact my friends from Massachusetts eagerly corroborated. So it comes with a modicum of rep. It’s nestled at the base of flagship “North End Shaw” apartment building Atlantic Plumbing. A shaded, open bar flatters the alleyway location, which is situated between Howard University to the east and 9:30 Club to the west.

College restaurants occupy a beloved niche in my heart, from Everything But Anchovies Pizza by Dartmouth or the Freebird’s burrito joint at UC Santa Barbara. So I’m heartened to see the “Student’s Sack” offered at Tasty Burger—$10 for a burger, fries, and beer—and disheartened to realize I can’t find my old college ID. For showgoers looking for a bite and drink before or after a time out at 9:30 Club (or elsewhere in U St), there are many jumbo slice joints and Ethiopian sit-down restaurants nearby, but fewer places that are inexpensive and hospitable to a couple folks who just want to nosh and pass the time. Boozy milkshakes and snacky dishes like red onion rings ($5.50) to share provide ample attraction to late-night crowds.

Elusive condiment wheel displaying opulent American choices.

I start with the latter. They arrive quickly to my place at the bar arrayed in a box inside a basket (it seems like only one should be necessary). Sauce is at every table, but it’s actually kind of hard to get at my spot at the bar, and rather than bother the cursing man next to me who’s just dropped his fries, I decide to give them a try without any sauce (I’d been thinking dijon), and they were great. Onion rings are too frequently either soggy or overly fried and salty. These thinly-sliced red (not yellow) onion rings came off almost like pretzels in their snackiness. How many calories are these? I have no idea.

If you’re going to name a burger after the whole chain, it better be good. Like Big Kahuna good. (Tasty Burger has a mural of this iconic Samuel L Jackson scene, except with a Tasty Burger in hand. Clever.)

Samuel L Jackson was there.

I glance at the menu again. I go ahead and do what I have to. I order the Tasty Burger ($5.95, just like every other option; add “guac” $1.50, though I have no idea if that’s just avocado or actually guacamole). I’d been hesitant because I wasn’t sure it was what I’d normally do; I’d just had egg and avocado that morning, so I didn’t want the burgers that included those foods, and I similarly wanted to avoid the barbeque burger because it had more onion rings on it. But I also felt equivocally about putting ol’ TB, which I was just getting to know, against my primal loyalty to In ‘n Out. Things had gotten worse, because the Tasty Burger’s distinguishing menu ingredient is “Tasty Sauce.”

Sounds a lot like Special Sauce, a cornerstone combination of mayo, ketchup, and relish that holds up the church of In ‘N Out. And, as it turns out, it is; the burger is very good in a lot of the same ways an In ‘n Out burger is very good. It is better in terms of vegetables; the lettuce and tomato were excellent for a fast-casual burger. The cheese, though it was bad in all the ways every American cheese is bad, is really just complementary here. The burger itself was well done, with some especially crispy bits I loved this time but might not always prefer. More of the tomato would have been good; there was only enough for a couple good sized, if very freshly scrumptious, bites.

Hum bao burger. (I wish.)

One weird thing about the burger: It comes wrapped up like a mummy in a contraption that is clearly meant to make it easier to hold the burger together. I bypassed the casing, which made the burger look like a wax-paper hum bao, to eat it ungirded by attachments. Largely successfully.

I also got my hands on some “Tasty Seasoning,” which confusingly didn’t really taste like Tasty Sauce to me. But it was a delicious, huggy blend of spices that will, at some point in your future, be exactly what you want on fries, onion rings, and probably anything else you can get at Tasty Burger.

I ended with a boozy milkshake, the “Monk,” ($13) with chartreuse and chocolate liquer. It comes on more like a cocktail, which hits in stages or layers, than a milkshake, which is almost defined by its internal homogenity. That part I liked. But the overall effect was not delicate. No calorie count included, but as I lurched away I felt sure I’d consumed three thousand.

So was Sam Delany (and I think I heard Sun Ra on the radio at one point, unexpectedly).

The beer list is good, perhaps overinvolved but bigger than usually found in a restaurant of its size. But I would rate the boozy shakes a step down from Satellite Room’s thicker options, and $10 for a pickleback—a drink for camping trips and dark kitchens at house parties—seems like mortal sin.

Huge pro tip: There’s a takeout window, which makes this a great place to stop by before a show at 9:30 if you’re worried about time. My orders at the bar came very quickly as well, though it was lunch and so not peak time.

Tasty Burger is a homey place you can get a great, fresh-tasting burger and a full meal for a fast-casual price with lots of options for customization towards a feast, on-the-go needs, or late-night snacking and socializing.

That’s worth bookmarking.

Menu: Here.

Comparable nearby options: Fast Gourmet (sandwiches, 14th & W NW), Florida Ave Grill (diner, ) Satellite Room (bar/burgers, 9th & V)