Classic cheeseburger at Shake Shake Shake in Tacoma. Lui Kit Wong Staff photographer
Classic cheeseburger at Shake Shake Shake in Tacoma. Lui Kit Wong Staff photographer

TNT Diner

Sue Kidd has the latest South Sound restaurant news, with openings & closings, recent reviews and more.

TNT Diner

Burger trail: The 10 best cheeseburgers in the Tacoma area

By Sue Kidd

Staff writer

August 27, 2015 11:00 PM

UPDATED September 02, 2015 10:24 AM

A big, fat gooey cheeseburger.

Make mine with a juicy patty with beefy flavor, melty cheese, a swipe of puckery “secret” sauce and cool veggies that crunch between a sturdy bun.

No other sandwich in the lexicon of American eating says “decadent lunch” better than a fast-food burger.

I traversed both sides of Interstate 5 to eat at 27 locally owned fast-food burger restaurants. After sampling around 50 burgers, I now know the answer to the question readers often ask: Who makes the best cheeseburger in the county?

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Here, I’m focusing on my top 10 fast food burger joints in the populated areas of the county. These are Pierce County drive-ins, little hole-in-the-walls and burger stands with an emphasis on quick eating. I skipped any restaurant with table service, as well as bars and taverns. I also skipped chain restaurants.

At every stop, I ordered the house cheeseburger, fries, rings and a chocolate shake, but what I really was after was finding the best cheeseburger.

I devised a 15-point system allowing up to three points each for bun, patty, veggies, condiments and construction. Don’t worry, I collected data on the rings and fries, too. You’ll find my top scored winners listed.

My top cheeseburgers got an initial B-grade or better, and I returned to ensure each restaurant could duplicate its efforts.

I’ve also written about another dozen burger restaurants that flubbed a few things at the burger grill, but still produced something likeable, whether it be fries, rings or shakes.

With a project this size, I was bound to hit a stinker or two, and I did. I’m doing my due diligence in letting you know which stops failed my cheeseburger quest — and why.

Here’s the result of three months of eating, taking one for Team Readers so you don’t have to do all that pesky research to find a burger worth your dining dollars. You’re welcome.

MY TOP TEN

 

Burger Broiler

3801 E. McKinley Ave., Tacoma; 253-302-3587, burgerbroiler.com.

Cushy booths, a lounge area, digital menus flashing behind the ordering counter — and all in a sparkling clean setting in Tacoma’s McKinley Hill neighborhood. Burger Broiler, which opened in 2012, looks like a shiny chain restaurant, but there’s no mistaking the fresh beef burgers and fresh-cut fries for ubiquitous chain food.

Originally from California, Abel Brambila — of local taquerias El Antojo and El Rinconsito — turned his fascination with California’s In-N-Out Burgers into his own burger concept, one he’s duplicating in Burien this summer.

Flame-broiled burgers that were consistently well-constructed pushed this restaurant to the top of my list.

Applying fire to the patties enunciated that beefy wallop I want a good burger to pack. On two visits, the house cheeseburger ($3.14) was built on a sturdy bun with a grill-marked patty — made from fresh beef, not frozen — sporting melted American and a straightforward secret sauce punctuated with mustard, although it could have used more. Four layers of iceberg lettuce leaves added extra crunch, along with rings of thick yellow onions and a fresh tomato slice. Pickles aren’t standard, but help yourself at the pickle bar. Burgers come double wrapped for easy portability.

BURGER SCORE: 13.5 out of 15.

EXTRAS: Hand-cut fries were thinner and well handled, and obviously cut in house, not from a freezer bag ($1.99); onion rings were made with what tasted like minced onions, so I took a pass on those ($1.99). The heavy-on-the-chocolate malt had the most concentrated chocolate flavor of any sampled for this report ($2.99).

ALSO FIND: Chicken burgers ($3.49-$4.49), shrimp or chicken tender basket ($7.99). Also serving frozen yogurt.

Worth noting: Among the cleanest destination and friendliest counter help of any visited for this tour.

 

Delong’s Deluxe

8901 Bridgeport Way SW, Lakewood; 253-301-0282, delongsdeluxe.com.

DeLong’s Deluxe is a walk-up burger stand and the retirement project of Tim and Marie DeLong, retired from the City of Tacoma and Washington State History Museum, respectively. In 2013, they built the building that sits at the corner of Bridgeport Way Southwest and Steilacoom Boulevard Southwest with shaded outdoor picnic seating, but no indoor dining.

Find a thicker patty here, just under a quarter pound and made from fresh ground chuck, on the cheeseburger deluxe ($4.99). I appreciated a burger patty that was salted and peppered, but the patty from local company Tri City Meats was just a bit overwhelmed by the condiments, so skip the slightly sweetened housemade mayo-mustard sauce with pickle relish if you want more beefiness. A big bonus was melted Tillamook cheddar in lieu of the usual American. The cheddar glued together the patty and top bun, with layers of crisp veggies underneath: a thick tomato slice, shredded iceberg, diced onions and pickle chips, all on a sturdy bun.

BURGER SCORE: 13 out of 15

EXTRAS: Fries were medium cut and stayed hot through the whole meal ($2.39). Onion rings were crispy-crunchy with a breadcrumb coating, not the usual battered rings ($3.29) and shakes were creamy and well-flavored ($3.49-$4.59).

ALSO SERVING: Hot dogs ($3.99-$6.65), Frito chili pie ($4.09), veggie burger ($5.43), chicken burgers ($4.34) and garlic-parmesan fries ($3.99).

WORTH NOTING: A park is nearby. Recently opened coffee stand on property, serving Madrona coffee and local bakery pastries.

 

Frisko Freeze

1201 Division St., Tacoma; 253-272-4800.

Perry Smith founded Frisko Freeze in 1950 on Division Avenue. The classic burger stand building with a cantilevered roof and flashy sign still serves as a neighborhood navigation point more than a half-century later. The building is so distinctive and memories so entrenched, it’s on Tacoma’s Registry of Historic Places.

Perry’s daughter Penny and son-in-law Mark Jensen took over Frisko Freeze after his death in 1991 and continued operating it until Mark Jensen’s death in 2012. It’s now managed by Ian Beritich.

For more than 50 years, it’s remained a staple for Tacomans in search of burgers, fries and shakes, with no seating beyond a few benches, but a roomy lot for parking and grubbing.

The cheeseburger formula here was old-school burger stand, easy on crisp veggies, heavy on sauce, patty and cheese. I found the squishy bun and underseasoned patty ($3.55) pretty straightforward — solid, but not exceptional. Condiments and construction set this burger apart. The burger carried a softly sweetened intersection of mayo and relish, with additional tang from ketchup and mustard. Condiments were layered evenly on top and bottom buns, with barely enough shredded iceberg and onions on the bottom to cut the cheesy goo. This one’s for those who like it cheesy, beefy and loaded with mayo.

BURGER SCORE: 12 out of 15

EXTRAS: Fries ($2.80) tasted from a freezer bag, but arrived plentiful and hot; rings were average ($3.10). I wanted a better stir on the chocolate malt ($3.70), but the creaminess was just right.

ALSO FIND: Family-size prawn baskets ($13.50-$23.50) and fish and chips ($7.25), plus dogs ($2.25).

WORTH NOTING: There’s a drive-thru here, so you don’t have to get out of your car.

 

Frugals

10727 Pacific Ave. S., Tacoma; 253-535-9775.

In 1990, Sheila and Peter Stewart opened Frugals near the busy Pacific Avenue South intersection where state Route 512 empties. The shiny silver building, constructed to resemble an old-fashioned burger diner, is impossible to miss.

They also have identical stands, built with the signature silver flash, in Port Angeles and Auburn.

The focus here is on inexpensive eats served quickly in a drive-up only location with no seating. Frugals excels at quick eats at inexpensive prices.

I found the cheeseburger well valued at $2.84, the cheapest of any that made it into my top 10. Built on a pillowy sesame seed bun, the meat was the weakest link; the quarter-pound patty needed more grilling and seasoning. Melted American cheese glued the patty to the top toasted bun. Mustard and dill pickle chips on the bottom bun added pucker while ketchup hit that right note of tang; mayo was an even swipe. Shredded iceberg nicely cut all that fat, but there wasn’t enough lettuce or chopped onions to add contrasting crunch, and no tomato was offered. Otherwise, this was a darn good burger, especially for that price.

BURGER SCORE: 11.75 out of 15

EXTRAS: Exceptional value on the fries ($1.39/$1.99), which were a thinner cut and served hot. Shakes, in eight flavors, were average ($2.29-$3.29). No onion rings offered here.

ALSO FIND: Veggie burger ($3.39), grilled cheese ($1.89), chicken sandwiches ($3.19-$3.84) and a blt ($2.99).

WORTH NOTING: I don’t want to be blamed for matrimonial disharmony, so just know that a gentleman’s club is across the parking lot.

 

Gourmet Burger Shop

4120 Harborview Drive, Gig Harbor; 253-858-5205, facebook.com/GourmetBurgerShop.

Burgers at Gig Harbor’s Gourmet Burger Shop taste like an experienced chef is behind the grill — because there is. Travis Hightower made his living as a chef at private South Sound golf courses before opening Gourmet Burger Shop in 2010 in a tiny shack on the Key Peninsula. In 2013, he moved to Gig Harbor to a small space off Harborview Drive.

Make no mistake, the atmosphere reads purely fast food, but the burgers are better than that, commanding higher prices to match the quality.

Burgers here came standard with more meat than any tried on this tour. The patty on the All American Cheeseburger ($7.50) was almost a third of a pound and the beefiest flavored.

Built on a brioche bun, handmade and baked at Gig Harbor’s 3 Clouds Bakery, the burger came with an upgrade of melted Tillamook cheddar. The top bun held a liberal serving of house-made special sauce flavored with diced grilled onions and pickles. Mixed greens, a thick tomato slice and grilled onions turned this into a classy burger with cool appeal, but I wanted more bun to keep it contained. Construction was the only problem.

BURGER SCORE: 14 out of 15

EXTRAS: Skinny cut fries ($4) were loaded with garlic and herbs. Crunchy beet chips ($4) could turn around any beet hater. Onion rings ($5) were beer battered and built with jumbo slices that carried crunch ($5). Shakes ($4.50) were served in fun flavors — peanut butter banana, Nutella and bananas Foster among the 11 options.

ALSO FIND: Fried oyster basket ($15), crab salad ($14) and soup ($3.50-$5).

WORTH NOTING: Burgers are only listed as baskets served with a side ($10.50-$11.50), but they can also be purchased a la carte ($7.50-$8.50 each).

 

Lefty’s Burger Shack

8317 27th St. W., University Place; 253-565-0887.

Pam Hubert opened Lefty’s Burger Shack in a 2011 in an old building built long ago to hold a walk-up burger stand. It spent its life as Dairy Queen and a Dairy Dell, but was vacant when Hubert decided to open the restaurant with her mother, Patty Osborn, who has been absent this summer while recovering from hip surgery. She’ll return soon.

Hubert originally was going to call it the UP Burger Shack, but decided to name the restaurant in memoriam of a friend, Mark Leppell, whose nickname was Lefty.

Find the can’t-miss-it octagon-shaped building decorated in a surf theme, surrounded by a few picnic tables and usually a line.

The fresh beef chuck burger (also from Tri City Meats) on the quarter-pound deluxe cheeseburger ($3.55) was evenly seasoned, and built on a squishy bun that I wanted to be a bit more sturdy, or better toasted. A straightforward ketchup-mustard-mayo special sauce added a too-light dose of sweet and pucker, but the American cheese was fully melted. Lefty’s gets its construction perfect, with lettuce and tomato anchoring the top bun, with lots of pickles chips and chopped onions holding down the bottom. This one was built for those who prefer veggie-heavy burgers.

BURGER SCORE: 11.5 out of 15

EXTRAS: Crinkle-cut French fries were crispy, and hot ($2.55). Beer battered onion rings were tasty, too ($2.95). Fries and rings can be ordered together as “frings” ($2.75). Shakes were creamy and came in 10 flavors ($3.55).

ALSO FIND: Prawn-and-chip basket ($6.95), hot dogs ($1.95-$3.45), chicken sandwiches ($3.75), veggie burger ($3.75) and fried pickle chips ($2.95).

WORTH NOTING: Hubert added a counter for coffee service, and she’s purchased a mini-doughnut machine.

 

Mikie Burger

4915 Center St., Tacoma; 253-564-8661.

It’s a different Mikie behind the scenes here, but the burgers are still good. Michael Chang purchased Little Holland — home of the Mikie Burger — in 2014 from Chi Baek and Tony Hong, who had bought the Little Holland in 2009 from former owners Dave and Dorothy Viskup.

That drive-in operated near Fircrest from 1965-2009, but was razed to make way for a new building. Today, Mikie Burger operates out of a strip mall across from the original location.

Chang has worked extensively at burger restaurants and has a culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu. The interior has been considerably cleaned up and the menu made over.

The cheeseburger ($3.49) was built on a kaiser bun dusted with cornmeal. The grilled patty tasted well seasoned, but too light on beefy flavor, with melted American cheese. Shredded lettuce, tomato and thick-sliced onions yielded plenty of crunch, with pucker from a pickle relish dressing that tasted like a sweet relative of tartar sauce. This burger was built to be sturdy and the bun was the best part.

BURGER SCORE: 13.25 out of 15

EXTRAS: Thicker, fresh-cut fries were a bargain at $1.49 (be sure to specify “fresh”). Onion rings were average ($2.49), but I liked the creamy chocolate shake ($2.99-$3.59). Shakes come in 16 flavors. Note: The restaurant no longer has custard.

ALSO FIND: Fish and chips ($6.99), hot dogs ($1.99-$2.99), chicken sandwiches ($3.99), grilled cheese ($2.49) and a BLT ($3.99).

WORTH NOTING: A faint odor of marijuana wafts from the business next door, but Chang said the building owner is working on fixing that.

FLASHBACK: The original Mikie burger remains on the menu, made with Swiss cheese and Canadian bacon ($3.99).

 

Out & About Burgers

14214 Meridian Ave. E., Puyallup; 253-677-1974.

Don’t think of this as a food truck, because unlike those trucks that roam around and keep sporadic schedules, Out & About Burgers has operated in the same South Hill U-Haul parking lot since it opened in 2009.

The burger trailer has a basic menu because there’s just no room to store ingredients for anything else, said owner Bob LeSage, who operates the restaurant with wife Jackie. This is a second career for Bob, who previously worked in the flooring industry before the housing downturn and wanted a recession-proof business. Inexpensive burgers have turned out to be a good retirement plan, he said.

You’ll find a few picnic tables, but no other seating in the gravel lot.

I liked that the bun was fully toasted here, and the burgers were carefully wrapped to avoid a car spill. The cheeseburger ($3.29) came with a well-grilled patty, which carried the meaty flavor of fresh chuck beef (also from Tri City Meats), but was slightly overdone on both visits. The mustard-heavy special sauce with pickle relish added zip to the burger, but didn’t overwhelm. I appreciated the crisp layers of iceberg lettuce leaves, a thick slice of tomato and grilled onions embedded directly into melted American cheese.

BURGER SCORE: 11.75 out of 15

EXTRAS: Fries were average ($2.29), but the hand-battered onion rings ($2.99) were in the top three tried for this tour. They’re made with something unexpected, a doctored pancake batter. Who knew? Shakes were basic, but good ($3.49).

ALSO FIND: Grilled cheese ($1.99), sweet potato fries ($2.99) and soft-serve ice cream cones.

WORTH NOTING: Large to-go orders are delivered in a box for safe transport.

 

Pick-Quick Drive In

4306 Pacific Highway E., Fife; 253-922-5599, pick-quick.com.

Since 1949, this little burger stand has been a burger beacon, impossible to miss with its distinctive roadside sign.

The stand’s fresh beef burgers, hand-cut fries and spotless park-like outdoor seating hasn’t changed since the Burgi and Imhof families bought it in 1980. Today, it’s run by Joe and Betty Ann Burgi, with son Greg, daughter Cindi and her husband Dan. Grandkids help, too.

“There’s no special recipe,” Joe Burgi was quick to note when asked what makes his burger so darn good. Indeed, it’s more of a formula. The cheeseburger was consistent every visit.

Built on a pillowy yet sturdy bun, the cheeseburger ($3.50) came with a too-thin patty (order a double to fix that), but the patty (from Sumner’s Smithco Meats) carried an extra beefy flavor and made great contact with the grill. I’m a fan of the dressing, a mayo-like sweetened concoction on the top bun — Joe Burgi calls it “salad dressing” — and an even layer of sweet pickle relish on the bottom. The burger carried additional pucker from pickle chips. There’s no lettuce on this burger, rather a solid, center-cut ring of onions and a thick tomato slice provided plenty of snappy texture.

BURGER SCORE: 13.5 out of 15

EXTRAS: The best fries on this tour, hand cut and blanched before being fried to an ideal intersection of crispy-creamy ($2.35). No rings offered here, but do order a shake, which comes in 18 flavors ($2.80-$3.40).

ALSO FIND: Plain or Coney dogs ($3.75-$5.35), grilled cheese ($2.10) and a veggie burger ($3.80).

WORTH NOTING: Exceptionally clean park-like setting. The drive-in closes every winter from Nov. 30-Jan. 31. Cash only. Another location opened in Auburn in 2011.

 

Shake Shake Shake

124 N. Tacoma Ave, Tacoma; 253-507-4060, shakeshakeshake.me.

Tacoma artists-turned-restaurant-owners Steve Naccarato and Robert Stocker have created a retro-themed restaurant with a striking aqua and electric orange palette in their Stadium neighborhood restaurant, Shake Shake Shake, which opened in 2013. Naccarato’s brother, Tacoma restaurateur Gordon Naccarato, also is a partner.

A curved shake counter anchors the 40-seat restaurant with an order counter at the rear of the dining room, which is outfitted with vintage chairs from the old Elks Club bowling alley.

Find a burger based on the old roadside burger stand theme. The classic deluxe with cheese ($5.48) was built with a well-seasoned patty, juicier than any sampled for this tour and grilled until the edges were deliciously browned, with melted American cheese gluing bun to patty. The toasted hamburger bun stayed sturdy to the end and was smeared with a puckery special sauce fueled by fresh herbs, thyme, Italian parsley and cilantro. Shredded iceberg and thick-chopped onions cooly offset the goo, with dill pickle chips for reinforcement. This burger was tomato-free, which meant that the ratio of goo to crunch was lower. Next time, I’d order extra lettuce and onions to get more crunch out of the texture.

BURGER SCORE: 13.5 out of 15

EXTRAS: Thin-cut fries were golden crisp and fresh from the fryer ($2.79); onion rings carried a beer batter with a waft of yeast ($3.19). Shakes ($4.59-$4.89) tasted chef-inspired, with unexpected flavors such as miso butterscotch, red licorice and mocha banana malted. Be sure to sample the house-made sauces, umami bomb and rooster ketchup (69 cents each).

ALSO FIND: Cocktails, corn dogs and grilled dogs ($3.99-$4.79), tots ($2.99) and sweet potato fries ($3.29).

WORTH NOTING: I experienced 15-minute waits, or longer. Bring your patience or call ahead.

MORE TO TRY (in alphabetical order)

These burger restaurants didn’t make it to my top tier, but they still offered something to like, whether it be fries, rings, shakes or something else — such as a big, fat Philly cheesesteak or fish and chips. Burgers in this category scored 10 points or fewers.

Allstar Burger and Philly

3202 S. Gunnison St., Tacoma; 253-272-4311.

I’d rather come to this tiny joint, off busy Center Street, for the Philly cheesesteak ($6.25), but the cheeseburger was a bargain at $1.99. Go for the crunchy-breaded onion rings ($1.99), which were thick cut, with just a kick of snap left on them. Indoor seating.

BURGER SCORE: 10 out of 15

Best Burgers

7714 Custer Road W. Lakewood; 253-472-0736.

This drive-in only restaurant with a few outdoor seats flubbed on the quarter-pound deluxe with cheese ($4.39) with a greasy, squished bun and dry patty, but thinner-cut fries ($1.89) were deliciously crunchy and thick-cut onion rings carried a tasty batter coating ($3.59).

BURGER SCORE: 8.5 out of 15

Big Daddy’s

9915 224th St. E., Graham; 253-875-8636

This spiffy ’50s-themed restaurant with indoor seating replaced the old Munchies. A bun-heavy cheeseburger ($6.29, meal with fries) built with double-layered pickle chips, shredded iceberg and a thick tomato slice was OK, as were above-average freezer fries, but skip the under seasoned onion rings ($2.79). Indoor seating.

BURGER SCORE: 10 out of 15

Don’s Drive-In

925 S. Meridian, Puyallup; 253-845-1790.

I noticed a decline in quality on a recent trip, but Don’s deserved nods for its homemade soups and pies at this drive-in with indoor seating. A dry patty spoiled the deluxe burger with cheese ($3.68), made with a spongy bun. Try the fantastic chocolate malt ($2.99-$3.49).

BURGER SCORE: 8 out of 15

Flipping Out Burgers

4008 S. 12th St., Tacoma; 253-267-7002.

The mealy-textured burger patty fell apart at the lightest prodding, which turned the cheeseburger ($4.39) into a big mess. The burger lacked pucker and crunch. Excellent French fries ($2.99) came with plenty of surface area, creating a pure potato flavor. Seating inside and out.

BURGER SCORE: 8 out of 15

Friesenburgers

308 E. 26th St., Tacoma; 253-203-6753, friesenburgers.com.

The $5.49 price should’ve commanded a better cheeseburger than the dry patty with an uneven slap of mayo and so much lettuce that the burger toppled. Go for the bison burger ($10.29) or thick-cut steak fries ($1.95), or the thick, rich chocolate malt served with a spillover container of extra shake ($4.10). Indoor seating.

BURGER SCORE: 8 out of 15

Goofy Goose

3702 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-752-5722.

The ratio was off here, with too much (stale) bun and not enough crunch and goo on the deluxe cheeseburger ($4.50). The patty lacked seasoning, but the veggies were better and construction solid. The creamy, thick chocolate malt at a great price ($2.69) will keep me coming back. Indoor seating.

BURGER SCORE: 10 out of 15

Lucky’s Drive-In

13502 Pacific Ave. S., Tacoma; 253-536-6677.

The declining quality between visits from June through August was noticeable at this Parkland drive-in that’s undergoing a management change. The same smoky-puckery special sauce was in use, but the burger patty tasted boiled ($3.39). Go for tots ($1.99-$2.89) and fantastic shakes ($2.79-$3.79). Outdoor picnic tables.

BURGER SCORE: 9 out of 15

Legendz

1201 S. Sprague Ave., Tacoma; 253-572-2510.

Once again, a dried-out patty spoiled another cheeseburger ($3.39). The bun also tasted stale, how long had it sat around? I couldn’t tell. Condiments and construction were better, but not enough to bump the rating. The creamy chocolate shake tasted tops ($2.99) and the cheesesteak ($5.68) excellent. Few outdoor seats.

BURGER SCORE: 8 out of 15

Main Street Dairy Freeze

1402 Main St., Sumner; 253-863-8010.

Come here for the outstanding shakes — about 40 flavors — and a dozen choices of hard-scooped ice cream, but not for the deluxe with cheese ($5.19), which was burdened by too much sauce, an underseasoned, dried-out patty and a lack of crunch. Fries and rings were average. Seating inside and out.

BURGER SCORE: 8 out of 15

Tatanka Take-Out

4915 N. Pearl St., Ruston; 253-752-8778, tatankatakeout.com.

It might not be fair to group Tatanka with typical burger joints because it doesn’t serve beef, fries or rings, but the business earns a nod for its healthy focus on lean bison burgers. The sauce dripped and the bun overwhelmed, but the bison cheeseburger will appeal to bison fans ($9.94). Indoor seating.

BURGER SCORE: 8 out of 15

Wally’s White River Drive-In

282 state Route 410, Buckley; 360-829-0871.

Burgers at this drive-in with indoor seating and a playground came marked by a char-broiler that boosted the beefy flavor. A cheese charburger ($5.19) would have made my top tier except for a dry patty and dull special sauce. Don’t miss thick-cut steak fries ($1.99) and outstanding fish and chips ($7.99).

BURGER SCORE: 10 out of 15

NOT RECOMMENDED

Unfortunately, these burgers didn’t make the mark. Each burger scored below 8 points.

Burger Bar: This restaurant is more Chinese take-out than burger joint. Sad, dry burger, no rings, no shakes. 813 Division Ave., Tacoma.

Burger Ranch: Serve-yourself special sauce was a nice touch, but it couldn’t save the dull burger. Go for shakes instead. 820 S. 38th St., Tacoma.

Dexter’s Drive-In: The rubbery burger patty was a problem, but so was the dismal tomato slice. 6701 Tyee Drive NW, Gig Harbor.

Monster Burger: A stale bun and burned patty turned this into a burger disappointment. 6822 South Tacoma Way, Tacoma.

R.J.’s: A funky flavor and rubbery texture in the burger patty, and a stale bun, turned this burger into a stinker. 430 E. 25th St., Tacoma.

BEST OF THE REST

Best value in relation to rating: Burger Broiler wins with a top-rated cheeseburger and fresh-cut fries for $5.13. Frugals earns a nod for a price tag of $4.83, but with a lower rating.

Best at everything: Shake Shake Shake and DeLong’s Deluxe. Consistently good for burgers, fries, rings and shakes. But only downside was a long wait for food at both.

Best rings: Out and About’s hand-dipped rings made with a pancake batter, Gourmet Burger Shop’s crispy beer battered jumbo rings and DeLong’s Deluxe crunchy-battered bread crumb onion rings.

Best fries: Pick-Quick’s hand-cut fries won hands down, with secondary nods for the garlic-herb shoestring fries at Gourmet Burger Shop and thin-cut fries at Burger Broiler.

Best shakes: Shake Shake Shake wins for variety, flavor and composition. Gourmet Burger Shop comes in at a close second.

Best atmosphere: Pick-Quick’s park-like setting wins for the mom stamp of approval (never litter anywhere). Shake Shake Shake wins for its retro decor. Burger Broiler wins for its modernized — and sleek — retro burger joint look.

Cleanest: Pick-Quick maintains the cleanest grounds, Burger Broiler’s dining room was spotless and Shake Shake Shake paid more attention to cleanliness, as well.