Cabano’s Comfort Food

Cabano's Comfort FoodLocation: 75 St. Nicholas Street, Toronto
Website: http://cabanos.ca/

I just counted, and my list of hamburgers to try for this blog currently sits at 154.  Suffice it to say, it’ll be a while before I get to all of them.  If you’ve left a comment or sent me an email suggesting a burger I should try and I haven’t gotten there yet, that’s why.

I’ve been hearing good things about the burger at Cabano’s since they were located in Vaughan.  I’ve been meaning to check the place out for years.

Cabano's Comfort Food

Well, I finally got there, and yeah — it was worth the wait.  The burger didn’t rock my world, but it’s very, very good.

You can either get the no-frills cheeseburger, or the Cabano burger, which is a double cheeseburger that comes topped with Cabano sauce, lettuce, onions, and fried pickled jalapenos.

I got the Cabano, and it’s a quality burger; it does pretty much everything right, and very little wrong.

The patties are smashed and griddled, because of course they are.  This is Toronto.  If you attempt to cook a burger in any other style and serve it in a restaurant, the police are going to show up at your house, roll you up in a carpet and throw you into a river.

Cabano's Comfort Food

They’re cooked all the way to well done, which can sometimes be an issue, but absolutely isn’t here — they’re basically perfect.  They have a nice crust from the griddle (though only on one side), and the texture is absolutely outstanding.  They’re tender and abundantly juicy.  Perfect.

They have a pleasant but mild beefy flavour; that’s the one area where the burger is lacking.  Because the patties were otherwise so superlative, I was looking for that nice strong beefy hit that you get from truly top-shelf hamburgers, and it wasn’t quite there.

It didn’t help that the patties were overwhelmed by the gooey American cheese.  I’m not sure how many slices they used — Two?  Three? — but it was too much.  The cheese was clearly the dominant flavour.  It easily overpowers the mild beef.

Cabano's Comfort Food

Otherwise, the toppings were great.  The Cabano sauce was the typical tangy mayo you’ll find in so many burgers, and the chopped onions and lettuce work quite nicely (I’m normally not a fan of raw onion, but these were mild enough to not offend).

The fried jalapenos, however, are the highlight.   They’re crispy and a little bit spicy, with a nice vinegary bite that helps cut through the burger’s richness.

The bun — a Martin’s Potato Roll, I think, which are becoming delightfully common in the GTA — was quite good as well.

Cabano's Comfort Food

As for the fries, they weren’t great.  They tasted lightly battered, which I’m not crazy about.  They were also undercooked.  Considering how good the burger was, they were shockingly shoddy.

3.5 out of 4

Uncle Betty’s

Uncle Betty'sLocation: 2590 Yonge Street, Toronto
Website: https://www.unclebettysdiner.com/

The burger at Uncle Betty’s is odd — it’s really tasty in a lot of ways, but it’s also fails as a hamburger on a pretty fundamental level.

It’s the patty.  It’s the meatloafiest meatloaf burger I’ve had in a long, long time.  The flavouring of the beef is aggressive, and any natural flavour from the meat is completely wiped out.  The spicing punches you in the face.  It’s too much.

Uncle Betty's

Worse, it has that off-puttingly squishy texture that plagues some meatloaf burgers, and it’s got it bad.  Despite the fact that its cooked all the way to well done, the texture of the beef is essentially akin to eating a burger rare, only mushier.

The texture only emphasizes how un-burger-like it is.  It’s not necessarily the most unpleasant thing in the world, but if I had eaten this blindfolded, it would have taken me a whole bunch of guesses to get to hamburger.  The spicing of the beef and the soft consistency makes it taste more like a Sloppy Joe.

Uncle Betty's

Otherwise it’s actually quite good.  The burger has an impressive amount of crust from the griddle (or grill?  The menu says it’s grilled, though it tasted griddled to me) — this gives it some nice texture, and helps to mitigate the patty’s mush factor.

It’s topped with a lot of stuff — garlic aioli, mustard, pickles, sport peppers (which is a Chicago thing, apparently, and kinda like a less spicy banana pepper), an onion ring, and cheddar cheese.

Uncle Betty's

Normally this would be way too much stuff, but the aggressively-spiced patty stands out even under the deluge of toppings.  It helps that everything is quite tasty, and it all goes together very, very well.  The cheese isn’t melted all the way through, but there’s so much other stuff going on that you can barely notice.

The bun is quite good, too — I think it’s a Martin’s Potato Roll or something similar.  It has a great balance between fluffiness and heft.

Uncle Betty's

If the patty were better, this would be an outstanding burger.  It’s nicely cooked, and all of the toppings are great.  That patty, though.  Oh well.

As for the fries, they’re thinly-cut and nicely seasoned (I think they’re using some kind of seasoning salt, but it’s mild enough to not call attention to itself); they would have been great if they had been served hot or even warm, but alas, they were room temperature (at best).

2.5 out of 4

Johnny’s Hamburgers

Johnny's HamburgersLocation: 2595 Victoria Park Avenue, Scarborough
Website: http://johnnyshamburgers.com/

Look, I don’t want to be the buzzkill telling people that the place they love actually sucks.  Especially with a restaurant like Johnny’s, which has been slinging burgers since before most of its clientele were born.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing.  A lot of people have been going to Johnny’s since they were kids, and I get it: if you have warm, fuzzy memories of a place from your childhood, of course you’re going to overlook its flaws.

Because here’s the thing: that place you love, Johnny’s?  It sucks.  And I think deep down, you know that’s true.

Johnny's Hamburgers

Though it’s still popular, the city has (mostly) gotten over its collective delusion that Johnny’s is good.  Most of the time now, when people post about Johnny’s on social media, they’ll preface it with something like “I know it’s junk, but…”

That wasn’t always true.  Before the burger boom hit the city over the last decade or so, Johnny’s frequently appeared on — and topped, no less — lists of the best burgers in the GTA.  That doesn’t happen anymore.

I still remember going there for the first time something like 15 years ago, having heard so much about how “good” it was.  The crushing disappointment I experienced on taking my first bite was palpable.

It’s a bottom-of-the-barrel industrially-produced frozen patty.  It’s bad.

Johnny's Hamburgers

It’s so bad that I managed to avoid reviewing it for the last eight years of running this blog, despite the fact that it’s a Toronto burger institution.  It should have been one of the first places I reviewed.  But their burgers are a bummer to eat.  I didn’t want to.

I knew I couldn’t avoid it forever, however.  Eventually, I’d have to bite the bullet.  And I finally did.

On this particular visit, I got the plain burger (cheese and bacon are also options) and had it topped with pickles, tomato, mayo, and griddled onions.

There’s not much to like about the el cheapo frozen patties they serve here.  They have a chewy, borderline mushy texture that’s closer to a lousy hot dog than a hamburger, and any beefy flavour is basically nonexistent.  The only flavour here, aside from the generically salty hot dogginess, is that mildly gamy flavour you get from the absolute cheapest meat imaginable.

Johnny's Hamburgers

Johnny’s defenders will typically expound on the burger’s unique flame-broiled flavour, but on this particular visit there were almost no grill marks on the patty, and zero smoky flavour.  So they managed to mess up the one good thing the place has going for it.

The other thing people bring up to defend Johnny’s is the price; the burger is currently $4.01 before tax.  That’s cheap, but it’s not that cheap.  A no-frills burger from a nicer fast food joint like A&W or Wendy’s is about the same price and is much better.  Or for a couple of bucks more, you can go somewhere like the Burger’s Priest and get a burger that’s about a million times better.

The bun’s not bad, I’ll give it that.  It’s way too big for the patty, and it’s certainly not a typical hamburger bun.  But it’s soft and fresh, and has a nice lightly crispy exterior.  It’s not a cheapo supermarket bun.  They obviously get it from an actual bakery.

Johnny's Hamburgers

As for the sides, I tried both the onion rings and the fries, and they’re both exactly what you think they’re going to be.  They’re not great, but they’re a hell of a lot better than the burger.

1 out of 4

Queen Street Burger & Taters

Queen Street Burger and TatersLocation: 45 Queen Street North, Mississauga
Website: https://www.queenstreetburger.com/

I have a Google phone, and every now and then it’ll pop up with an unsolicited recommendation for a restaurant it thinks I’ll like — I guess based on my search history and places I’ve visited?  It is equal parts unnerving and impressive.

Recently, it popped up and said there’s an 87 percent chance I’ll like Queen Street Burger & Taters.  Its reasoning: “you seem interested in hamburgers.”  I seem interested in hamburgers?  It’s like you don’t know me at all, Google.

Queen Street Burger and Taters

Anyway, it’s fine.  I basically enjoyed it, so I guess Google was correct, but it’s not exactly a place I’d strongly recommend.

I ordered the Premium Burger, which is the bare-bones hamburger topped as you like.  I went with tomatoes, pickles, and Queen Sauce.

Queen Street Burger and Taters

They serve a griddled patty that’s significantly more substantial than the smashed burgers that are de rigueur throughout the GTA.  And for the most part, it’s not bad — specifically, the texture is on point and it’s actually decently juicy, which is particularly impressive considering how well done it is.

Queen Street Burger and Taters

But the flavour is lacking.  The patty is nicely salted on its exterior, but the flavour of the beef is middling and bland.  It’s neither pleasant nor unpleasant.  It’s just kinda there.  The patty also has almost no colour or crust from the griddle, which is unfortunate.

The Queen Sauce is slightly zesty, but otherwise doesn’t particularly stand out, and the bun is exactly what it looks like.

Queen Street Burger and Taters

I ordered taters on the side, mostly because it’s right there in the name of the restaurant.  I’d call what they serve here wedges rather than taters (I was expecting something more like this), but they’re tasty regardless, with a crispy seasoned exterior, and a creamy interior.  They reminded me of the wedges I used to order from a pizza place near my house when I was a kid, so at the very least, they gave me a nice comforting dose of nostalgia.

2.5 out of 4

Hambrgr

HambrgrLocation: 207 Ottawa Street North, Hamilton
Website: https://www.hambrgr.ca/

I don’t want to bury the lede: yes, Hambrgr is in Hamilton.  It’s far.  I’ve never reviewed a hamburger outside of the GTA for this blog, but after seeing Hambrgr on John Catucci’s new Food Network show, Big Food Bucket List, I kinda had to try it.

While I was mulling over whether I wanted to expand this blog’s range into Hamilton, I discovered that something called the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (or GTHA) exists.  I’m not making this up; it has a Wikipedia page.  That was really all the excuse I needed.

And seriously: watch that segment on Big Food Bucket List and tell me you don’t immediately want to check that place out.  I dare you.

Hambrgr

I’m happy to say that it is absolutely, positively worth the drive to Hamilton.  It’s so damn good.

The burger from the show is the #HamOnt: “double 1/4lb patties,  grilled onions, ‘merican cheese, mustard glazed bacon, brgr sauce, iceberg.”

Sadly, my pictures turned out terribly — the lighting in the restaurant is a bit wonky, so in the photos, the griddled patties look like they’ve been completely blackened.  They were not completely blackened.

You’ll just have to take my word for it: they were perfect.  They had an absolutely amazing dark brown crust.

Hambrgr

They also tasted fantastic; they were profoundly juicy despite being cooked to medium well, with a thunderclap of satisfying beefy flavour.  According to the show, they’re made from a blend of chuck, inside round, and navel.  Unlike so many burgers in the GTA, you can tell that a great deal of thought was put into the blend they used.  It’s juicy and flavourful in a way that puts most burger joints to shame.

The patties were maybe a bit too finely ground and tightly packed — they’re ever-so-slightly tougher than they should be, but that’s a very minor complaint.  Considering how superlative they are in every other way, that’s easy to overlook.

Hambrgr

The toppings are just as good.  The gooey American cheese is perfect, griddled onions are always welcome on a burger, and the shredded lettuce adds some nice crunch and freshness.  Then there’s the mustard-glazed bacon, which is honestly kind of ingenious.  The zippy flavour from the mustard enhances the bacon and helps to cut through the burger’s richness, but doesn’t overwhelm the burger the way mustard as a condiment does.

The bun is great, too.  I mean, it’s all great.  If you have a car, it’s totally worth the drive to Hamilton.  And if you don’t…  I dunno, take the bus, I guess?  Just get over there.  It’s worth it.

Hambrgr

As for the fries, I ordered the half & half, which comes with regular and sweet potato fries.  It also comes with two dipping sauces: ketchup and sambal mayo.  The fries are very good, and that sambal mayo makes them even better.  It’s a great dip; it’s spicy, zesty, and addictive.

2.5 out of 4

Grill Gate

Grill GateLocation: 832 Sheppard Avenue West, North York
Website: https://grillgate.ca/

Grill Gate serves the type of burger I should love.  If nothing else, it’s actually different than the smashed-and-griddled cheeseburgers that have become the city’s de facto burger style over the last decade or so.  That alone is kind of delightful.

And for the most part, what they’re serving here is tasty.  I ordered the simplest option, the Gourmet Cheezeburger, which comes with a mix of American cheese and mozzarella, special sauce, and onion chips.

Grill Gate

As you’d guess from the name of the restaurant, it’s grilled rather than griddled, which is a refreshing change of pace from pretty much every other burger in the city.  The eight ounce patty has a nice heft to it, and holds up to the grilling quite nicely — there’s a good amount of char and a pleasant smoky flavour from the grill, which is quite enjoyable.  The patty is cooked all they way to well done, but still reasonably juicy.

So what’s the problem?  It’s a meatloaf burger, and a very meatloafy one at that.  The spicing here is front and centre.  It doesn’t taste like a hamburger to me; not even a little bit.

Grill Gate

Actually, in this case, I shouldn’t call it a meatloaf burger; the way it’s spiced, it would be more apt to call it a kofta burger.  It tastes a lot like a kofta kebab.  Which isn’t the worst thing in the world — I quite like kofta kebabs!  But you can’t put one on a bun and call it a hamburger.  It’s tasty in a completely different way.

Other than that, it’s decent enough for what it is.  It could be juicier, and the meat is a bit too tightly packed and tough, but it’s not bad.  There is, of course, zero beefy flavour — the spices are absolutely the star of the show.

Grill Gate

The cheese isn’t bad.  A mixture of American and mozzarella is a bit odd, but mostly, it works.  It’s a bit plasticky, even by the standards of American, but it’s also gooey and satisfying.

Then there’s the special sauce and the onion chips, and to be completely honest, I have no idea what they tasted like.  I forgot to take note of them (this is my first burger review in several months, so I guess I’m a bit rusty), and neither stood out to me at all.  It’s possible they weren’t there.  It’s also possible they were overwhelmed by the very assertively spiced patty.  I’m not sure.

I liked the bun.  It was weirdly crispy on the bottom, but other than that it was nice and fluffy.  It looks a bit big, but the bun-to-patty ratio was perfect.

Grill Gate

As for the fries, they’re great.  They’re battered fries, which I’m normally not crazy about, but these are surprisingly tasty.  They were perfectly fried — they might have been the crispiest fries I’ve ever had, but they never tipped the scales and became overly crunchy.  They’re also topped with a zippy, parsley-infused sauce that compliments them perfectly.  They were easily the highlight of the meal.

2.5 out of 4

Burgers n’ Fries Forever

Burgers n' Fries ForeverLocation: 182 Ossington Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttps://burgersnfriesforever.com/

I mentioned in my last review that smashed-and-griddled burgers are a dime a dozen in Toronto.  On one hand, that’s a bummer — there so many other varieties of hamburger, but you’d basically never know it judging by the city’s burger joints.

On the other hand, there are a bunch of really great choices out there for a smashed burger.  Which means we no longer have to settle for anything less than great.

Burgers n' Fries Forever

This definitely wasn’t the case a few years ago.  If you look at my very first review, for Johnny Rockets back in 2011 (which no longer exists in Ontario outside of a location in Windsor), you’ll notice that I cut it a lot of slack — this style of burger was still something of a rarity in the city.

Today, on the other hand?  If you’re serving a smashed-and-griddled burger: be great or GTFO.

Burgers n’ Fries Forever is not great.

Burgers n' Fries Forever

I got the BFF2, which is a double cheeseburger that comes topped with lettuce, tomato, red onion, beef bacon, and BFF sauce.

Though the patty actually looks really impressive, with a nice amount of crust, it has a bunch of issues that hold it back from being much better than okay.

The biggest problem is the texture: the grind is way too fine and it’s too tightly packed.  You can tell just by looking at it.  If the cross-section of a burger patty is a uniform slab of gray, you know you’ve got problems.  A burger should have crags and crannies.  It should have texture.  If it’s basically just one monolithic slab of beef that’s trying its best to re-form into a steak, it’s going to be a bummer to eat.  It’s going to be tough.

And yes, it was tough.  It was vaguely juicy, but it was still a tough chew.

Burgers n' Fries Forever

The flavour was okay, at least, if nothing particularly special.

The toppings were a bit of an issue, too.  The cheese was cheddar rather than American; that’s not my favourite (I find it a bit too overwhelming), but that’s more of a personal preference thing.  Your mileage my vary.  It was nice and gooey, so no complaints there.

The beef bacon was iffy.  I don’t have anything against this variety of bacon (in fact, the best burger I’ve had recently featured beef bacon), but the stuff here was chewy and tough to bite through.

The BFF sauce was lost among the burger’s other flavours.  I couldn’t even tell you what it tasted like.  Everything else was fine, including the sweet, fluffy bun.

As for the fries, they were the clear highlight.  They were perfectly cooked, with an addictive crispy/creamy contrast and a really great flavour.  The combo comes with a dipping sauce; I went with the kimchi mayo, which complimented the fries very well.

2 out of 4