It seems like the fast casual restaurant market (a place where you order at the counter, but the food is better than your average fast food joint; think Chipotle, Panera, etc.) is all pizza all the time here in Tucson lately (more on that in a future issue) but it wasn't that long ago that higher priced burgers were the thing.
Sure, there are always places to get a cheap(ish) burger and basically every bar has a few on their menu, but up until recently, the race was on as a number of brands—some of which made it here, like Smashburger and Five Guys, others that haven't yet, like The Habit and Shake Shack—dashed after your dining dollar. However, that market has slowed lately, with FastCasual.com reporting that the total number of these burger-focused establishments only grew 1 percent last year.
That doesn't mean that a place like Graze Premium Burgers can't or won't be successful, just that opening an establishment focusing on Niman Ranch antibiotic and hormone-free beef isn't quite the sensation it might have been a year ago.
After eating at the Speedway Boulevard spot that was most recently a frozen yogurt place twice, I think I understand why the excitement over this sort of place wore off. First, let's just be clear about something. I enjoyed everything I ate at Graze. The service was polite, the food came out quickly and I'm a sucker for fancy soda, so the Maine Root (an Austin, Texas soda company) take on Mexican Coke made me very happy. All things considered, I can't imagine anyone based on the food and experience would have anything negative to say about Graze.
Here's the catch: Do you want to pay $11 for a thin burger, fries and soda ($5.99 for a burger; $6.75 with cheese; add $4 for the fries and fountain drink combo)? Plus two bucks for a gluten-free bun, if that's your thing? Plus $1.25 for 100 percent grass-fed beef? Keep in mind, it's good beef, the brioche bun is great and you can put basically whatever you want on your burger, including super delicious Klein's Pickles from Phoenix and grilled onions, jalapeños and mushrooms. However, you can't pick how the burger is cooked. They all come medium-well and they're about the same thickness of a burger at Freddy's or In-N-Out.
So, that's the question you have to ask yourself. Would you rather cough up another couple bucks and go to Diablo Burger (or Zinburger, if that's more your thing, no judgment) to get yourself a far thicker burger cooked to your liking and better fries? Save a few dollars and go to In-N-Out (a burger place generally acknowledged as serving responsible beef)? The burger at Bob Dobbs isn't for everyone, but it's right down the street and you can also have a beer (which is a selling point for me, at least). Same with Trident, right down Speedway on the other side of Tucson Boulevard, which serves a solid burger as well.
Here's some more info to help you make your decision. The grilled chicken sandwich ($6.99) was juicy and delicious, although I had it on the gluten-free bun, which was fine, but fell apart somewhat quickly. The hot dog, while about as ideal as a hot dog can be, nitrate-free and all natural, wasn't worth the $5.29, as far as I was concerned. It was split and cooked on the grill, but not appreciably better than a decent hot dog anywhere served anywhere else. Maybe you're just super interested in having a hot dog you can feel good about ordering. I'm fine with grabbing two at QuikTrip when the mood strikes (it rarely does), so I'm not the ideal consumer for a $5 hot dog.
Another plus for Graze: the kid's combo is a solid deal at $4.99, with your child's choice of a burger, hot dog or grilled cheese, soda and fries included. The ice cream, while organic, is probably a minus. The Dutch Chocolate ($3.69) was a solid portion, served in a paper bowl,but the flavor was unremarkable, similar to the soft serve available nearly anywhere. Back to the pros: The sauces offered in various pumps by the soda dispenser, especially the curry ketchup and sriracha mayo, are flavorful and ready to dip fries into or slather on your burger.
Would I recommend Graze? Sure, although I'd likely add a disclaimer about the burger. Is it an asset to the near-University area? I think so. However, both times I held out my credit card to pay for my order, I felt like something must have been added incorrectly. $50 for three adults and two kids? For lunch, $25 for two? I cringed a little, especially paying an extra dollar or two than I would at other fast-casual spots like Chipotle or Pei Wei (let's take out the local vs. chain bit for the sake of the affordability argument, but that's something worth considering). It's definitely not a bad deal for what you get (Niman Ranch beef isn't cheap, understandable), but if Graze could drop a dollar off the price of the combo, I'd personally end up there more often.