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

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

Extra Burger

Extra BurgerLocation: 1357 Dundas Street West, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.extraburger.ca/

Another day, another smashed-and-griddled burger in Toronto.  At some point, this city’s obsession with the thin, griddled patty (to the exclusion of every other type of burger) will cool down.

We’re not there yet.

Not that I’m complaining — well, not entirely, at least.  Though a little more variety would be nice, there’s a reason this style of patty is so popular.  It’s damn good.

Extra Burger

But there’s something to be said for the satisfying meatiness of a thicker patty, and for the smokiness that you get from the grill.  I love chocolate cake, but other flavours of cake are good too, you know?

But I digress.  Extra burger is an especially bare-bones burger joint; the menu consists entirely of a cheeseburger, a double cheeseburger, and fries.  They have a few stools where you can sit, but mostly, it’s take-out only.

I ordered the double, which comes topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles, special sauce (well, they call it special sauce, but it looked and tasted like plain mayo to me), and two slices of American cheese.

Extra Burger

The burger certainly looks impressive; their griddling technique is exactly as it should be, with an impressive amount of dark brown crust on the exterior of each patty.  And the burger is well proportioned and photogenic.

Alas, though it’s a solid burger, it’s not quite as good as it looks.  The well done patties are nicely juicy, but the beef is finely ground and overhandled, resulting in a burger that isn’t nearly as tender as it should be.

It’s also bland; the meat has a very neutral flavour that, while certainly not unpleasant, lacks the beefy punch that you’re looking for in a top shelf hamburger.

Extra Burger

It’s otherwise very good — the gooey American cheese is perfect, the bun is soft and fresh, and the toppings are all on point (particularly the zippy, thickly cut pickle slices that I’m assuming they make in-house).

As for the fries, they’re okay.  They’re crinkle-cut, and they’re seasoned with a spice blend that brings them a nice flavour without overwhelming.  But they were slightly underdone, with an unpleasantly chalky interior.

3 out of 4

Scaddabush

ScaddabushLocation: 155 York Boulevard, Richmond Hill
Websitehttps://www.scaddabush.com

I’ve mentioned on another blog that Scaddabush is one of the better chains in Canada.  That continues to be true.  I even enjoyed the burger!  Considering that my reaction to the hamburger at chains like this tends to range from “that was extremely mediocre” to “that was so bad it makes me angry,” I was shocked at how much I enjoyed what they served here.

Scaddabush

It’s not, however, a traditional hamburger.  The Italian Burger, per their menu: “Hand-pressed Certified Angus Beef ground chuck, fresh mozzarella, arugula, bruschetta, balsamic reduction, basil pesto aioli, focaccia bun.”

There’s so much going on here that the patty itself almost feels like an afterthought.

Between the very garlicky pesto aioli, the sweet balsamic glaze, the peppery arugula, the chunky bruschetta topping, and the thick slice of fresh mozzarella, the beef is basically just another condiment.  You could slide it right out and it would barely make a difference.

Scaddabush

I’m normally not a huge fan of over-condimented hamburgers, but it’s hard to deny that what they’re serving here is tasty.  All of the toppings are quite good and compliment each other very well, and the substantial, slightly chewy bun does a great job of holding it all together.

But what about the patty itself?  It’s there, and it’s fine.  The texture is slightly sausagey, and it doesn’t have a particularly beefy flavour (not that it makes a difference with all of the other stuff going on here), but it’s otherwise a solid burger patty.

Scaddabush

It basically just adds some meatiness — this thing is all about the toppings.

As for the fries, they basically tasted like a lightly battered version of what they serve at McDonald’s.  They’re not particularly great, but I’ve had worse.

3 out of 4