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Burger chain strives to be In-N-Out but doesn’t quite make it

Not habit-forming

The Habit's double charburger has lettuce, tomato, mayo, caramelized onions and two beef patties. All on a sesame seed bun.
The Habit's double charburger has lettuce, tomato, mayo, caramelized onions and two beef patties. All on a sesame seed bun.

I love a good burger but, these days, I’m holding out for a great one. It’s not enough for a burger to be okay — I need it to be transcendent.

I’d rather have an average taco than an average burger. Hell, I’d rather have a Jack In The Box taco than an average burger.

There’s lots of competition for my burger buck, both from upscale restaurants who make sure to please the gourmand in every group by including a burger on their menus to the many regional chains that are now opening in San Diego.

Take the Habit, a Santa Barbara-based chain that has spread here in recent years. Their basic Charburger is similar in style to In-N-Out Burger: small patties, sesame seed bun, building upward rather than outward in shape. However, the Habit emphasizes caramelized onions over the raw kind.

Habit’s menu is bigger than In-N-Out’s: You can get a teriyaki version, or additions like bacon or mushrooms. A veggie patty is also available, as are salads, and steak and tuna sandwiches.

Place

Habit

845 Camino de La Reina, San Diego

The Habit's Mission Valley location. The chain has stores opening all over the County.

I’ve heard good things about the Habit, and I was excited to try it after one opened in La Mesa. When I took my son to a play recently, I decided to give the Habit a look see, but I chose the Mission Valley location because it was more convenient travelwise.

Although I’m a bacon-burger type of guy, and love teriyaki burgers, I forwent both of these to go with the basic Charburger, actually a double. I figured that it’s their flagship burger and I should see how it tastes before moving on to others.

The double Charburger comes with mayo, pickle, tomato, lettuce, and caramelized onions on a toasted sesame seed bun. My son got the kids' meal and we both chose fries as our side.

We also ordered the tempura green beans, an eye-catching side dish.

The Habit's chocolate malt with thick, chocolatey with a pleasing malt flavor reminiscent of a Three Musketeers bar.

“Can I get a shake, Dad?,” my son asked. “You promised.”

That I did.

“Wait!” he said. “What’s a malt?”

“Uh, it’s a chocolate shake with malt.”

“What’s that?”

“Hmm, it’s a powder that sort of tastes like the nougat in a Three Musketeers bar.”

“Can I get that?”

“Sure,” I said, ever the indulgent Dad.

He liked the malt. It was thick and chocolatey, as a malt should be, but I got my fill in just one sip. Well, maybe another one. Shoot, one more.

Make sure to ask for the fries to be hot and crispy when you order. They're better that way.

When the food came, there was something amiss. My fries were slightly cold. If I’m going to eat fries these days, I want them hot and crispy. It was my bad for not specifying this when I ordered, but they made a new batch for me that was pretty damn perfect.

The tempura green beans are a perfect alternative for people who think fries are too ordinary.

The tempura green beans, which come with ranch dressing, tasted as “green” as something deep-fried at a fast food — excuse me, fast casual — place is likely to get. They were crispy and crunchy, but not a good match with the ranch dressing. I think a more subtle garlic aioli would be better, but, hey, this is a fast food — excuse me, fast casual — place.

The kids Charburger comes with fries and also a gummy burger.

As for the burgers: My son liked his, which he ordered with only onions, tomato, and lettuce.

I thought my burger looked great, but there was something flat about the meat. Like it lacked salt or some seasoning. I tried adding ketchup, but the perfect melding of beef, bun, lettuce, juicy tomato, and sweet grilled onions never happened.

“I’m missing something on this burger,” I told my son.

“I like mine a lot,” he said.

I get a text.

“I’m not feeling it. Oh, and Leonard Cohen died.”

“Who’s he? A friend?”

“Sort of. He’s one of the greatest songwriters of the last 50 years. Remember that song ‘Hallelujah’ from Shrek? He wrote that.”

“Oh. I don’t know that one.”

I start to sing quietly.

“Dad. Don’t. I sort of remember.” He might have been lying to get me to stop.

I liked the fries. I liked the green beans, but the burger was just okay. I may give the Habit another try, especially because the La Mesa location is near my house. I just can’t see it becoming habit forming.

Well, maybe the malt.

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The Habit's double charburger has lettuce, tomato, mayo, caramelized onions and two beef patties. All on a sesame seed bun.
The Habit's double charburger has lettuce, tomato, mayo, caramelized onions and two beef patties. All on a sesame seed bun.

I love a good burger but, these days, I’m holding out for a great one. It’s not enough for a burger to be okay — I need it to be transcendent.

I’d rather have an average taco than an average burger. Hell, I’d rather have a Jack In The Box taco than an average burger.

There’s lots of competition for my burger buck, both from upscale restaurants who make sure to please the gourmand in every group by including a burger on their menus to the many regional chains that are now opening in San Diego.

Take the Habit, a Santa Barbara-based chain that has spread here in recent years. Their basic Charburger is similar in style to In-N-Out Burger: small patties, sesame seed bun, building upward rather than outward in shape. However, the Habit emphasizes caramelized onions over the raw kind.

Habit’s menu is bigger than In-N-Out’s: You can get a teriyaki version, or additions like bacon or mushrooms. A veggie patty is also available, as are salads, and steak and tuna sandwiches.

Place

Habit

845 Camino de La Reina, San Diego

The Habit's Mission Valley location. The chain has stores opening all over the County.

I’ve heard good things about the Habit, and I was excited to try it after one opened in La Mesa. When I took my son to a play recently, I decided to give the Habit a look see, but I chose the Mission Valley location because it was more convenient travelwise.

Although I’m a bacon-burger type of guy, and love teriyaki burgers, I forwent both of these to go with the basic Charburger, actually a double. I figured that it’s their flagship burger and I should see how it tastes before moving on to others.

The double Charburger comes with mayo, pickle, tomato, lettuce, and caramelized onions on a toasted sesame seed bun. My son got the kids' meal and we both chose fries as our side.

We also ordered the tempura green beans, an eye-catching side dish.

The Habit's chocolate malt with thick, chocolatey with a pleasing malt flavor reminiscent of a Three Musketeers bar.

“Can I get a shake, Dad?,” my son asked. “You promised.”

That I did.

“Wait!” he said. “What’s a malt?”

“Uh, it’s a chocolate shake with malt.”

“What’s that?”

“Hmm, it’s a powder that sort of tastes like the nougat in a Three Musketeers bar.”

“Can I get that?”

“Sure,” I said, ever the indulgent Dad.

He liked the malt. It was thick and chocolatey, as a malt should be, but I got my fill in just one sip. Well, maybe another one. Shoot, one more.

Make sure to ask for the fries to be hot and crispy when you order. They're better that way.

When the food came, there was something amiss. My fries were slightly cold. If I’m going to eat fries these days, I want them hot and crispy. It was my bad for not specifying this when I ordered, but they made a new batch for me that was pretty damn perfect.

The tempura green beans are a perfect alternative for people who think fries are too ordinary.

The tempura green beans, which come with ranch dressing, tasted as “green” as something deep-fried at a fast food — excuse me, fast casual — place is likely to get. They were crispy and crunchy, but not a good match with the ranch dressing. I think a more subtle garlic aioli would be better, but, hey, this is a fast food — excuse me, fast casual — place.

The kids Charburger comes with fries and also a gummy burger.

As for the burgers: My son liked his, which he ordered with only onions, tomato, and lettuce.

I thought my burger looked great, but there was something flat about the meat. Like it lacked salt or some seasoning. I tried adding ketchup, but the perfect melding of beef, bun, lettuce, juicy tomato, and sweet grilled onions never happened.

“I’m missing something on this burger,” I told my son.

“I like mine a lot,” he said.

I get a text.

“I’m not feeling it. Oh, and Leonard Cohen died.”

“Who’s he? A friend?”

“Sort of. He’s one of the greatest songwriters of the last 50 years. Remember that song ‘Hallelujah’ from Shrek? He wrote that.”

“Oh. I don’t know that one.”

I start to sing quietly.

“Dad. Don’t. I sort of remember.” He might have been lying to get me to stop.

I liked the fries. I liked the green beans, but the burger was just okay. I may give the Habit another try, especially because the La Mesa location is near my house. I just can’t see it becoming habit forming.

Well, maybe the malt.

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Comments
3

RE: "Dad. Don’t." That's the funniest line in the review! LOL

Nov. 15, 2016

I agree. And the last line "habit forming." With my sons in the car, I'm not allowed to "dance" while driving when an 80s new wave song comes on.

Nov. 15, 2016

Hmmm, not as good as In-n-Out? I've got the opposite opinion as I much prefer the burgers at The Habit. I'd give them another try and order it Santa Barbara style. Lots of great taste going on in that burger.

Nov. 19, 2016

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