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1977 San Diego guide to hamburgers

Wendy's, Saska's, Marie Callender's, Cotton Patch

Hamburger lovers are a narrow-minded lot. Saddled with an insatiable appetite for a daily ration of ground beef, they predictably turn to the nearest drive-thru to quiet their rumbling tummies. No matter what the time of night, the service is always fast. Any test of quality and taste, however, is pointless. It is an internecine struggle among the Big Macs, the Whoppers, and the Jumbo Jacks with double cheese and secret sauce.

For these hamburger junkies, haute cuisine is most often those fatty, processed, preformed half-pound patties from the Boll Weevil. “I don’t know what it is,” pondered one fanatic who cut his meat-eating teeth at Minnesota’s Mmmmburger drive-ins. “Boll Weevil just satisfies whatever need it is I have.”

First, one widely held myth must be laid to rest: Boll Weevil hamburgers are not great eating. If you buy a burger for the relish trays and jalapeno peppers that accompany it, your priorities are upside down. The same caveat goes for Hamburguesa, Richard Silberman’s popular Old Town spot. Even at the height of an unseasonable August downpour, the place could boast a 40-minute wait for seating. But despite an array of sauces, cheeses, and toppings, the burgers were preprocessed, heavy on the fat, and spotted, like those at Boll Weevil, with little chunks of gristle.

But before you’re so weary from the war stories of a diligent connoisseur that you pledge an immediate conversion to avocado and mushrooms in pita bread, let me promise that there’s good news ahead.

  • Andy’s On Market
  • 530 Market Street, downtown (232-7017)
  • Open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

A hole-in-the-wall beer and wine cafe alongside the Wing Lee Laundry, Andy’s boasts a beautiful antique mirrored bar, Pabst and Michelob on tap, and “hand-stamped” one-half and quarter-pound burgers. Service is not exactly Andy’s forte; some friends and I had to walk over to the bar from our table to place a luncheon order after a ten-minute wait. As the lunch hour progressed, the waiter-cashier-bartender-cook greeted a group of regulars, many of whom stuck to a self-imposed liquid diet. Once an order is placed, the food arrives at your table quickly, the hamburger served on a wicker plate with disposable paper inserts. It is accompanied by two tomato slices, a bit of onion, a lettuce leaf, and a bag of potato chips. The waiter also brings along a miniature version of the Boll Weevil lazy susan, minus the jalapenos. The burgers were fresh and hand-formed, though their blandness hinted that they were made from low-quality ground beef. The half-pounder with cheese ($1.60) is served on a toasted sesame seed bun; the smaller patty (90 cents) comes on a plain bun. Both were overcooked and would have been much better served medium. A friend gave the cook such instructions and was satisfied with the results. Give the good homemade chili (65 cents) a try.

  • Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers 3760 Midway Drive, San Diego (226-0909) Open 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

The best of the chain restaurants, Wendy’s should still be relegated to late-night cravings and those times when sit-down dining is precluded. Like McDonald’s and Jack-in-the-Box, Wendy’s is a frenetic, computer-efficient operation. The decor, complete with wood veneer panels, Tiffany lamps, and an ornamental hat rack, is designed to evoke a turn-of-the-century flavor; the square-shaped burgers must fit in this scheme, but it’s unclear just how. Wendy’s corporate genius has limited the menu to hamburgers, chili (69 cents), and french fries (39 cents), which allows ,the polite, pin-striped teenage crew to make everything to order, with your choice of mayonnaise, catsup, pickle, onion, and leaf lettuce (tomatoes and cheese are each ten cents extra). The quarter-pound burgers (75 cents) are quite good (considering they’re mass-produced); there’s no gristle and very little fat. The patties even crumble when poked with a fork, a sign of good quality meat (try it with a preformed half-pounder). The burgers lack that genuine meat taste, though, and piling two quarter-pound patties atop one another to make a half-pound burger ($1.30), three for a three-quarter-pound sandwich ($1.80) doesn’t do a thing for taste.

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  • The Gulch
  • 5192 College Avenue (near State College’s Aztec Center) (287-9262)
  • Open 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. dally.

Don’t be fooled by the good reputation this western-style restaurant has managed to acquire. Though hamburgers dominate the menu, the cook’s energies are also consumed with the preparation of soups, stews, spaghetti, and french fried mushrooms. If they taste anything like the ground beef, they too should be avoided. The Gulch’s offerings run the gamut from an undersized hamburger (59 cents) to a double patty, double cheese “Claimjumper” ($ 1.44). I took the middle ground, sampling a “Gulch-burger” with cheese ($1.04). On the way to the men’s room, I spied the cook slapping the pinkish, processed disc on the broiler. The end result, served on an egg-yellow sesame seed bun, was somewhat tender, and missing any sizable pieces of gristle. But it was also indistinguishable from a Big Mac. The Gulch seems to pride itself on a boastful comparison with the drive-thrus (‘‘33 percent more beef than a Jumbo Jack; 18 percent more than a Whopper”). Let them fight it out; you go somewhere else.

  • Chop Meat Charlie’s West
  • 8002 Girard Avenue (foot of Prospect
  • Street), La Jolla (459-1331)
  • Open 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Ron Schatzman moved his family and his menu out here from Great Neck, New York last June. He serves up breakfast, lunch, and dinner (along with homemade pies imported from Julian) in this coffee shop-restaurant. But his first love is hamburgers—ten different kinds—surrounded with everything from bacon to tomato sauce and cheese. Prices are very reasonable (standard five- to six-ounce “Beefburger," $1.30; with lettuce and tomato, $1.50) and served with an excellent homemade corn relish, cole slaw, and a dill pickle slice. Schaltzman’s burger was the best offered by any of the 12 restaurants I sampled. He cooks up a special combination of chuck and round steaks, ground fresh daily by a North County butcher. Fat content is kept to a maximum of seven percent, and Schatzman scoops out the patty, pressing it only once with a spatula to maintain a meaty consistency. The burgers are broiled to order (just under medium is perfect) and served on a toasted bun. The quality of the meat, its lack of filler and fat give the patty a rich, steak-like taste, and though they’re just half the weight of the ubiquitous half-pounders, their quality more than compensates. It’s not unlike comparing a single scoop of homemade ice cream to a pint of the store-bought variety. A burger connoisseur's delight.

  • Marie Callendar’s
  • 5405 Balboa Avenue (279-6604); 2651 Via de la Valle, Del Mar (755-5522)
  • Open 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays; to midnight on weekends.

You can count on two things from this restaurant: good service and a lengthy wait to be seated. Noted for her excellent pies, Mama Callender also offers “almost impound burgers” ($1.85) and “patties just shy of 1/3 pound” ($2.55). Both come with a tiny serving of spiced apples and the promise that “we grind our own meat fresh daily.” Maybe, but it loses something in the translation. The burger was fresh, though it looked mass-produced and tasted the same; a passable meal, but quite undistinguished. You might ask for a little extra lettuce and tomato, as portions of both were skimpy. I was forewarned by regulars that Marie’s burgers tended to be “gooshy,” and that I should tell the waitress to hold the standard serving of “special sauce” (thousand island dressing) that the fry cook usually slaps atop the patty. It was good advice.

  • Botsford's
  • 1205 Prospect Street, La Jolla (459-8262)
  • Open for luncheons, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

If the only offering on the menu was chipped beef on toast, I’d recommend a visit to this old English eatery. As it is, the hamburger seems somewhat crude among a luncheon selection that includes prime rib sandwiches and shrimp and avocado salads. For $2.25, there are plenty of extras: a greeting by the hostess, overstuffed chairs, linen tablecloths and polished silver, warm french bread accompanied by a miniature serving dish of butter, a fresh lettuce and tomato salad, excellent service. The hamburger itself is nothing exceptional; four ounces worth of good, charcoal-broiled beef, that once again comes up short on flavor. The 20 cents charged for a slice of processed cheese would be better put towards a cup of coffee which would allow you to enjoy the surroundings a moment longer, and the handful of french fries is nothing short of an insult. Also on the menu, at a price somewhat out of the range of a weekday luncheon, is the Wilkinson Burger ($3.75), a hearty patty of ground sirloin stuffed with imported bleu cheese. But the prospect of a hamburger bastardized by the overpowering taste of bleu cheese should in and of itself repel all true burger lovers.

  • The Cotton Patch
  • 2720 Midway Drive (near Rosecrans) (223-7379)
  • Open for luncheons, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday

The decor is country kitchen, though the service unfortunately lacked any touch of southern hospitality (the waitresses, who all seem to resemble Tammy Wynette, had trouble keeping the tables clean). The lunches looked good and plentiful. A chalkboard posted above the refrigerated display case lists the day’s entrees; you give your order to the cashier, who in turn yells it out to the Oriental chef. The meals are brought to your table after a moderate wait. Cotton Patch burgers ($1.95), which weigh in at over a quarter-pound, are disappoint^ ing to look at: they sit on a naked bun, accompanied by no more than a serving of french fries and a dollop of cole slaw. But a single bite tells you they’re made of fresh ground shoulder and/or chuck, and worth every penny. Their excellent flavor is somewhat compromised by the inexcusable faux pas of a cold bun, and my patty, which was ordered medium rare, was a little on the raw side. A friend’s, served medium, was cooked to perfection. The cole slaw was good and Grey Poupon mustard was brought to our table. A simple request should bring a heated bun, and perhaps the waitress can be prodded into snitching a bit of lettuce and tomato from a nearby salad. If so, you’ve got a real winner.

  • Man Bites Dog
  • 701 Pearl (near Girard), La Jolla (454-0469)
  • Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; to midnight on Friday and Saturday

Rich Briskman came west to La Jolla this year, grabbed a choice corner location, and opened a snappy and spotless diner that specializes in hot dogs. He also offers what he calls “equal time for burgers,” a half-pound of fresh beef ($1.90) served on a poppy seed bun, or, for those with smaller appetites, a third-pound patty ($1.50). Two types of cheese run 20 cents extra. Favoring a charbroiled taste, I wasn’t impressed by the fact that the patties were fried (with the help of a healthy slug of cooking oil) on Briskman’s mammoth, mirrored grill, or that they come drenched with grilled onions for the asking. That, indeed, was the main drawback. The meat was fresh, but whatever taste it had was lost to the overpowering onion. And a day-old roll didn’t help matters. The hot dogs looked impressive, as did row upon row of condiments, but when it comes to priorities, hamburgers are definitely relegated to the back burner.

  • Saska’s
  • 3768 Mission Boulevard, Mission Beach (488-7311), no reservations
  • Open 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., Monday through Thursday, Friday and Saturday to 3 a.m.

One of the city’s few late-night eateries, this dinner house offers a full selection of entrees costing from five to ten dollars. The menu boastfully highlights “the best wimpy in town”: fresh ground round served with a choice of homemade french fries, soup, salad, tomatoes and chilis, or rice. A slice of cheese will add 15 cents to the bill. They are excellent burgers, tastefully broiled to order, and served with tomato and lettuce. But for the price ($2.95), there should be no overlooking details as important as a toasted bun. This one tasted as if it had been pulled out of the cellophane and popped right onto the plate. Once again, be forewarned of this minor detail; it will make an enjoyable burger a real feast.

  • Boom Trenchard’s Flare Path
  • 2888 Pacific Highway (at Palm) (291-5555)
  • Open for luncheons 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

This Sea World-owned “theme” restaurant is full of gimmicks; aviation memorabilia hangs from every wall,.tables have pilot-to-control headsets, entrees are named after airplanes. It’s a great place to take an aunt visiting from Pittsburgh, but “Boom’s special burgers,” which start at the plain quarter-pound level ($1.45) and work up to the half-pound “DC-10” ($2.95), are no better than tourist fare. Though the meat is selected “as per our specifications,” I ran across a piece of gristle and the burger never • really got off the ground. The slice of watermelon was refreshing, the french fries cold. Taxi right past this one.

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Hamburger lovers are a narrow-minded lot. Saddled with an insatiable appetite for a daily ration of ground beef, they predictably turn to the nearest drive-thru to quiet their rumbling tummies. No matter what the time of night, the service is always fast. Any test of quality and taste, however, is pointless. It is an internecine struggle among the Big Macs, the Whoppers, and the Jumbo Jacks with double cheese and secret sauce.

For these hamburger junkies, haute cuisine is most often those fatty, processed, preformed half-pound patties from the Boll Weevil. “I don’t know what it is,” pondered one fanatic who cut his meat-eating teeth at Minnesota’s Mmmmburger drive-ins. “Boll Weevil just satisfies whatever need it is I have.”

First, one widely held myth must be laid to rest: Boll Weevil hamburgers are not great eating. If you buy a burger for the relish trays and jalapeno peppers that accompany it, your priorities are upside down. The same caveat goes for Hamburguesa, Richard Silberman’s popular Old Town spot. Even at the height of an unseasonable August downpour, the place could boast a 40-minute wait for seating. But despite an array of sauces, cheeses, and toppings, the burgers were preprocessed, heavy on the fat, and spotted, like those at Boll Weevil, with little chunks of gristle.

But before you’re so weary from the war stories of a diligent connoisseur that you pledge an immediate conversion to avocado and mushrooms in pita bread, let me promise that there’s good news ahead.

  • Andy’s On Market
  • 530 Market Street, downtown (232-7017)
  • Open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

A hole-in-the-wall beer and wine cafe alongside the Wing Lee Laundry, Andy’s boasts a beautiful antique mirrored bar, Pabst and Michelob on tap, and “hand-stamped” one-half and quarter-pound burgers. Service is not exactly Andy’s forte; some friends and I had to walk over to the bar from our table to place a luncheon order after a ten-minute wait. As the lunch hour progressed, the waiter-cashier-bartender-cook greeted a group of regulars, many of whom stuck to a self-imposed liquid diet. Once an order is placed, the food arrives at your table quickly, the hamburger served on a wicker plate with disposable paper inserts. It is accompanied by two tomato slices, a bit of onion, a lettuce leaf, and a bag of potato chips. The waiter also brings along a miniature version of the Boll Weevil lazy susan, minus the jalapenos. The burgers were fresh and hand-formed, though their blandness hinted that they were made from low-quality ground beef. The half-pounder with cheese ($1.60) is served on a toasted sesame seed bun; the smaller patty (90 cents) comes on a plain bun. Both were overcooked and would have been much better served medium. A friend gave the cook such instructions and was satisfied with the results. Give the good homemade chili (65 cents) a try.

  • Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers 3760 Midway Drive, San Diego (226-0909) Open 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

The best of the chain restaurants, Wendy’s should still be relegated to late-night cravings and those times when sit-down dining is precluded. Like McDonald’s and Jack-in-the-Box, Wendy’s is a frenetic, computer-efficient operation. The decor, complete with wood veneer panels, Tiffany lamps, and an ornamental hat rack, is designed to evoke a turn-of-the-century flavor; the square-shaped burgers must fit in this scheme, but it’s unclear just how. Wendy’s corporate genius has limited the menu to hamburgers, chili (69 cents), and french fries (39 cents), which allows ,the polite, pin-striped teenage crew to make everything to order, with your choice of mayonnaise, catsup, pickle, onion, and leaf lettuce (tomatoes and cheese are each ten cents extra). The quarter-pound burgers (75 cents) are quite good (considering they’re mass-produced); there’s no gristle and very little fat. The patties even crumble when poked with a fork, a sign of good quality meat (try it with a preformed half-pounder). The burgers lack that genuine meat taste, though, and piling two quarter-pound patties atop one another to make a half-pound burger ($1.30), three for a three-quarter-pound sandwich ($1.80) doesn’t do a thing for taste.

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  • The Gulch
  • 5192 College Avenue (near State College’s Aztec Center) (287-9262)
  • Open 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. dally.

Don’t be fooled by the good reputation this western-style restaurant has managed to acquire. Though hamburgers dominate the menu, the cook’s energies are also consumed with the preparation of soups, stews, spaghetti, and french fried mushrooms. If they taste anything like the ground beef, they too should be avoided. The Gulch’s offerings run the gamut from an undersized hamburger (59 cents) to a double patty, double cheese “Claimjumper” ($ 1.44). I took the middle ground, sampling a “Gulch-burger” with cheese ($1.04). On the way to the men’s room, I spied the cook slapping the pinkish, processed disc on the broiler. The end result, served on an egg-yellow sesame seed bun, was somewhat tender, and missing any sizable pieces of gristle. But it was also indistinguishable from a Big Mac. The Gulch seems to pride itself on a boastful comparison with the drive-thrus (‘‘33 percent more beef than a Jumbo Jack; 18 percent more than a Whopper”). Let them fight it out; you go somewhere else.

  • Chop Meat Charlie’s West
  • 8002 Girard Avenue (foot of Prospect
  • Street), La Jolla (459-1331)
  • Open 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Ron Schatzman moved his family and his menu out here from Great Neck, New York last June. He serves up breakfast, lunch, and dinner (along with homemade pies imported from Julian) in this coffee shop-restaurant. But his first love is hamburgers—ten different kinds—surrounded with everything from bacon to tomato sauce and cheese. Prices are very reasonable (standard five- to six-ounce “Beefburger," $1.30; with lettuce and tomato, $1.50) and served with an excellent homemade corn relish, cole slaw, and a dill pickle slice. Schaltzman’s burger was the best offered by any of the 12 restaurants I sampled. He cooks up a special combination of chuck and round steaks, ground fresh daily by a North County butcher. Fat content is kept to a maximum of seven percent, and Schatzman scoops out the patty, pressing it only once with a spatula to maintain a meaty consistency. The burgers are broiled to order (just under medium is perfect) and served on a toasted bun. The quality of the meat, its lack of filler and fat give the patty a rich, steak-like taste, and though they’re just half the weight of the ubiquitous half-pounders, their quality more than compensates. It’s not unlike comparing a single scoop of homemade ice cream to a pint of the store-bought variety. A burger connoisseur's delight.

  • Marie Callendar’s
  • 5405 Balboa Avenue (279-6604); 2651 Via de la Valle, Del Mar (755-5522)
  • Open 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays; to midnight on weekends.

You can count on two things from this restaurant: good service and a lengthy wait to be seated. Noted for her excellent pies, Mama Callender also offers “almost impound burgers” ($1.85) and “patties just shy of 1/3 pound” ($2.55). Both come with a tiny serving of spiced apples and the promise that “we grind our own meat fresh daily.” Maybe, but it loses something in the translation. The burger was fresh, though it looked mass-produced and tasted the same; a passable meal, but quite undistinguished. You might ask for a little extra lettuce and tomato, as portions of both were skimpy. I was forewarned by regulars that Marie’s burgers tended to be “gooshy,” and that I should tell the waitress to hold the standard serving of “special sauce” (thousand island dressing) that the fry cook usually slaps atop the patty. It was good advice.

  • Botsford's
  • 1205 Prospect Street, La Jolla (459-8262)
  • Open for luncheons, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

If the only offering on the menu was chipped beef on toast, I’d recommend a visit to this old English eatery. As it is, the hamburger seems somewhat crude among a luncheon selection that includes prime rib sandwiches and shrimp and avocado salads. For $2.25, there are plenty of extras: a greeting by the hostess, overstuffed chairs, linen tablecloths and polished silver, warm french bread accompanied by a miniature serving dish of butter, a fresh lettuce and tomato salad, excellent service. The hamburger itself is nothing exceptional; four ounces worth of good, charcoal-broiled beef, that once again comes up short on flavor. The 20 cents charged for a slice of processed cheese would be better put towards a cup of coffee which would allow you to enjoy the surroundings a moment longer, and the handful of french fries is nothing short of an insult. Also on the menu, at a price somewhat out of the range of a weekday luncheon, is the Wilkinson Burger ($3.75), a hearty patty of ground sirloin stuffed with imported bleu cheese. But the prospect of a hamburger bastardized by the overpowering taste of bleu cheese should in and of itself repel all true burger lovers.

  • The Cotton Patch
  • 2720 Midway Drive (near Rosecrans) (223-7379)
  • Open for luncheons, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday

The decor is country kitchen, though the service unfortunately lacked any touch of southern hospitality (the waitresses, who all seem to resemble Tammy Wynette, had trouble keeping the tables clean). The lunches looked good and plentiful. A chalkboard posted above the refrigerated display case lists the day’s entrees; you give your order to the cashier, who in turn yells it out to the Oriental chef. The meals are brought to your table after a moderate wait. Cotton Patch burgers ($1.95), which weigh in at over a quarter-pound, are disappoint^ ing to look at: they sit on a naked bun, accompanied by no more than a serving of french fries and a dollop of cole slaw. But a single bite tells you they’re made of fresh ground shoulder and/or chuck, and worth every penny. Their excellent flavor is somewhat compromised by the inexcusable faux pas of a cold bun, and my patty, which was ordered medium rare, was a little on the raw side. A friend’s, served medium, was cooked to perfection. The cole slaw was good and Grey Poupon mustard was brought to our table. A simple request should bring a heated bun, and perhaps the waitress can be prodded into snitching a bit of lettuce and tomato from a nearby salad. If so, you’ve got a real winner.

  • Man Bites Dog
  • 701 Pearl (near Girard), La Jolla (454-0469)
  • Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; to midnight on Friday and Saturday

Rich Briskman came west to La Jolla this year, grabbed a choice corner location, and opened a snappy and spotless diner that specializes in hot dogs. He also offers what he calls “equal time for burgers,” a half-pound of fresh beef ($1.90) served on a poppy seed bun, or, for those with smaller appetites, a third-pound patty ($1.50). Two types of cheese run 20 cents extra. Favoring a charbroiled taste, I wasn’t impressed by the fact that the patties were fried (with the help of a healthy slug of cooking oil) on Briskman’s mammoth, mirrored grill, or that they come drenched with grilled onions for the asking. That, indeed, was the main drawback. The meat was fresh, but whatever taste it had was lost to the overpowering onion. And a day-old roll didn’t help matters. The hot dogs looked impressive, as did row upon row of condiments, but when it comes to priorities, hamburgers are definitely relegated to the back burner.

  • Saska’s
  • 3768 Mission Boulevard, Mission Beach (488-7311), no reservations
  • Open 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., Monday through Thursday, Friday and Saturday to 3 a.m.

One of the city’s few late-night eateries, this dinner house offers a full selection of entrees costing from five to ten dollars. The menu boastfully highlights “the best wimpy in town”: fresh ground round served with a choice of homemade french fries, soup, salad, tomatoes and chilis, or rice. A slice of cheese will add 15 cents to the bill. They are excellent burgers, tastefully broiled to order, and served with tomato and lettuce. But for the price ($2.95), there should be no overlooking details as important as a toasted bun. This one tasted as if it had been pulled out of the cellophane and popped right onto the plate. Once again, be forewarned of this minor detail; it will make an enjoyable burger a real feast.

  • Boom Trenchard’s Flare Path
  • 2888 Pacific Highway (at Palm) (291-5555)
  • Open for luncheons 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

This Sea World-owned “theme” restaurant is full of gimmicks; aviation memorabilia hangs from every wall,.tables have pilot-to-control headsets, entrees are named after airplanes. It’s a great place to take an aunt visiting from Pittsburgh, but “Boom’s special burgers,” which start at the plain quarter-pound level ($1.45) and work up to the half-pound “DC-10” ($2.95), are no better than tourist fare. Though the meat is selected “as per our specifications,” I ran across a piece of gristle and the burger never • really got off the ground. The slice of watermelon was refreshing, the french fries cold. Taxi right past this one.

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