What’s not to love about gourmet burgers? When the All-American burger is reimagined with a foodie focus, the diner wins. The result is an epicurean delight with big flavor at a small price. Many gourmet burger spots take charge, crafting chef-inspired topping combinations and letting customers decide which best suits their tastes. But at Ballston’s Big Buns, the gourmet burger is your unique recipe. They take the training wheels off and, if you like a do-it-yourself approach to dining, you’re in for a ride.
Stop by the counter at this eatery to place an order and you’ll see you’ve got some deciding to do. There are seven “proteins” to build your burger with: beef, turkey, veggie and salmon patties, and grilled fish, chicken, and portabella mushrooms. Then you have to decide on a white or wheat, skinny or standard bun – if you want a bun. You could also craft your gourmet concoction in a bowl – over a mix of butter lettuce, radicchio, and spinach, or a salad of chopped romaine hearts. It’s enough choosing to challenge even a decisive orderer, and you haven’t even gotten to the toppings yet. You still have to choose from eight cheeses (79 cents apiece), 15 gratis toppings, six 99-cent premium toppings, and five sauces. Various specials add even more options to the mix.
Pictures on the walls, mounted on wood pallets, list hypothetical burger orders. “Salmon and bun and corn salsa and chipotle and pineapple and red peppers” reads one. “Burger and wheat and cheddar and lettuce and tomato and onion ring” reads another. Perhaps if you’re overwhelmed, you can point at one that sounds good.
It’s hard to go wrong with the Angus Beef Burger ($6.99). The juicy, char-rimmed patty isn’t seasoned in any distracting or potent way, offering a savory backdrop and leaving the rest of the flavor work to the toppings. You can turn that hamburger into a cheeseburger by adding American and cheddar or less common burger-toppers like the smoked gouda. There are plenty of toppings to add some crunch (red onion, cucumber, lettuce) or tangy taste (pickles, banana peppers). Grilled onions and mushrooms, two gourmet burger standards, make the topping list. Two salsas are also offered, one made with corn and another combining black beans and not-oversweet chunks of mango. As for premium toppings, it’s worth the extra dollar for meat lovers to add a few slices of crispy hickory-smoked bacon to their burger.
But vegetarians need not despair, because the Portabella Mushroom ($7.29) sandwich stacks up to its beefy compatriot. The big marinated mushroom pieces pile up nearly as tall as a beef patty, and it makes for one hearty sandwich.
There’s also the salad option for diners who can’t get enough of veggies. Order a Chicken ($6.99) salad and you’ll get a big piece of marinated, grilled chicken breast topping a dense bowl of greens and toppings. The burger-topping sauces here – leaving ketchup in the dust – double as salad dressings. There’s the Chipotle Pesto Aioli, which balances a light touch of the herby pesto and smoky chipotle flavors. The Big Buns Honey Mustard has a genuine honey taste, as opposed to some vague sweetness tempering the mustard’s flavor. Spiced Balsamic Vinaigrette promises some heat, but rather has an earthy taste – it’s also surprisingly thick for a vinaigrette.
Fries and shakes are the burger’s perfect partners, and Big Buns has you covered there. Crispy fries (regular and sweet potato) are served in large and small portions, and thick, icy hand-spun shakes come in flavors such as chocolate, Nutella, and coffee. And, for those who like their burgers as bar fare instead of diner throwbacks, this spot has an impressive craft beer list.
Online ordering and takeaway and curbside pickup options are nice perks, but the customizable burgers here are what earn Big Buns best-of nods. If you have gourmet tastes and a flair for bringing a recipe together, you’re in for a treat.
Big Buns is located at 4401 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. For more information, call 703-276-3032 or visit eatbigbuns.com. Restaurant hours are Monday – Saturday: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. and Sunday: Noon – 8:30 p.m.