If you're looking for a high-priced, fancy burger, Eat-a-Burger is not the place for you. However, if you're looking for a simple, inexpensive and tasty downtown lunch, it fits the bill perfectly.
A former food-truck operation that now has a permanent home, the small downtown restaurant is housed in a Pioneer Building spot that has been home to several restaurants over the last few years. The interior is clean and modern, and crowded with tables and chairs, which remained mostly empty on my two visits.
The menu reflects the décor—sparse but familiar—with just a few combinations and a few à la carte options. The food follows in the same vein: The burgers are simple and delicious, served in diner-style plastic baskets with a handful of fries.
Ted and I first stopped in for a weekday lunch. There were a few other patrons, but it definitely wasn't busy. One of the owners was working the lunch counter, and was extremely friendly. I opted to try the portobello mushroom veggie burger ($3.95 à la carte) with some chili-cheese fries ($3.75) and a vanilla shake ($3.25). Ted went for the No. 3 combo ($6.95): a single bacon cheeseburger (choice of Swiss, pepper jack or American) with fries and a small fountain drink.
The entrées came out in a relatively timely fashion—it's always a kiss of death downtown if lunch takes too long—but not quite as quickly as I expected, considering how few customers were there; it took about 20 minutes to get our food. You get a number when you place your order, but if you're sitting in the enclosed patio-like area, or if more than a handful of people are in the restaurant, it's nearly impossible to hear your number called when your food is ready. A simple public-address system would go a long way toward eliminating a lot of confusion at the counter.
The burgers are a nice lunch-size portion—not too big, and not too small—and are cooked to medium-well, unless otherwise specified. Still, Ted's burger was moist and juicy. It wasn't remarkable in any other fashion, but it was an inexpensive, quick and tasty lunch.
My portobello veggie burger wasn't quite what I expected—instead of a large mushroom cap prepared in the style of a patty, it consisted of small slices of sautéed mushrooms and onions, piled on the bun with lettuce, tomatoes and pickles. The mushrooms were well-seasoned and weren't overcooked, and the onions were sautéed until sweet and tender, though they could have been cut a bit smaller. The chili-cheese fries (and the regular fries that came with Ted's combination) were hot and crispy, if a bit under-seasoned. The chili cheese topping was tasty, but, again, fairly standard.
A few days later, I brought two friends along to try out Eat-a-Burger's breakfast menu, which is more extensive than its website would lead you to believe. Breakfast is served until 10:30 a.m., but the restaurant doesn't open until 8:30, which makes it a little difficult to grab a pre-work breakfast, especially for the government- and corporate-based downtown crowds. Perhaps an earlier opening time—say, 6:30 or 7 a.m.— would garner more of a crowd. We were the only patrons in the place.
Eat-a-Burger has five breakfast offerings: a standard breakfast burger ($2.49), a bacon breakfast burger ($2.49), a Canadian-bacon breakfast burger ($2.99), a double breakfast burger ($3.19) and a big breakfast burger ($3.89). They don't include actual hamburger patties, with the exception of the bacon and Canadian-bacon options; instead, they use sausage patties. Each comes on a toasted English muffin with a fried egg and cheese.
I went for the Canadian, along with a bottled orange juice ($1.95), since they don't serve any decaffeinated coffees or teas. Rebecca opted for the bacon breakfast burger with a house coffee ($1.29), and Nicole went for the double with a medium fountain drink ($1.45).
Our breakfast sandwiches were prepared and brought out quickly, and they were piping-hot when they arrived. Nicole mentioned that they were quite homemade-looking, a refreshing change from the usual assembly-line "McBreakfast" sandwich. The fried egg on each sandwich was nicely salted and peppered, though Rebecca's was a little over-peppered for her taste. Otherwise, everyone was satisfied; crisp bacon (but not too crispy) and not-too-greasy sausage patties were a few highlights mentioned on the post-meal stroll back to the car.
All in all, Eat-a-Burger has successfully made the transition from food truck to restaurant. With a few tweaks—like publishing a full menu online; perhaps some earlier morning hours to draw in that downtown breakfast crowd; and a plan to sort out the lunchtime order confusion at the counter—it could be a great, inexpensive staple for a quick and tasty downtown meal.