By Alejandro Pérez
A group of us were standing outside of Fat Burger, in view of the Mayan Palace theater right off Military Drive on the city's South Side. While we digested our meals on that gorgeous Saturday evening, we were debating whether or not we had room for something from the paleteros cart when a large, family-carrying Suburban slowed down in front of us. The woman on the passenger side rolled down her window and asked, "Are they as good as the ones from Los Angeles?"
"No, they're better!" my friend and I both responded, in unison and without prompting.
Honestly, however, I have no way of knowing. I've never been to the Fatburger in California. I have nothing against the chain of restaurants per se; I just tend to avoid burger places in general, for the same reason that I don't eat at chicken joints or stop at barbeque plate sales. Even if it's for a good cause, there's nothing for me - a vegetarian since my teenage years - except sides and desserts. So why was I so enthusiastic about a place like Fat Burger, a San Antonio knockoff? Obviously, the name itself doesn't quite beckon the meat-free crowd. Listening to my companions eagerly anticipate Atkins-worthy, coronary-constricting burgers like The Southsider (two half pound patties dripping with cheese, for $5.99 - and well worth it, from what I hear), didn't excite me, either. But La Susana had been telling me about their vegetarian sandwich for a while and, after trying Erika's Veggie Sandwich ($3.99) that evening, I too sing the praises of Fat Burger and their herbivore-friendly meal.
Vegetarian sandwiches at restaurants tend to be little more than a commercially available meat-substitute from brands like Gardenburger or Boca Burger, prepared over the grill or in the microwave and served like a really poor imitation of a burger - which, I imagine, is what they are to meat eaters. When Burger King rolled out their vegetarian burger a few years ago, I gave it the benefit of the doubt at first. I know better now, a couple of burnt, undercooked, flavorless, and soggy sandwiches later. Chili's, known for their singing ribs, makes a decent - if dry - black-bean burger, fine in a pinch, but not the sort of dish I've craved enough to get on my own.
I returned midweek to Fat Burger for a follow-up visit. The Spurs were on the two TVs and a wall-sized projector; but even though we sat near one of the screens, it was not a distraction. My companion ordered the Wimpy, one of three daily specials ($4.99), but was only able to finish three-fourths of its one-third pound of beef. Lucky me, as this meant I ended up with half of her steak fries, which were thick and crisp. The fries and a drink came with her meal, although for $2 more I could have added them to my sandwich. Instead, I opted for the onion rings ($1.99): real onions, thickly sliced, battered, and deep-fried to a melt-in-your-mouth translucency. One basket was enough for the two of us to share, but I could have easily finished a second order by myself.
On the other hand, I would not be able to finish two of the Veggie Sandwiches, no matter how great my desire. I made it messy, this time topping it with layers of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and gobs of ketchup and mustard - plain yellow, not the spicy kind that a sandwich like that really deserves - from the fixin's bar, a Dagwood-worthy creation to tame even the heartiest of appetites. From the countertop where I ordered, I could see three plate-sized all-beef patties being grilled. Carnivores have no idea what they're missing. •