Warmth radiated from large, beautifully lit up windows, and more than once I found The Habit Burger Grill calling out to me at night when I pass by with promises of hearty burgers and greasy fries, the staple of modern American food. I jumped on an offer from my friend to have a casual dinner there, not expecting it to actually be a fast food joint, something I have withheld from since discovering the wondrous never-aging properties of McDonald’s fries in high school.
The interior of the shop is vastly different from those of other chain stores. Vibrant paintings of surfers and cyclists cover burnt orange walls, small red lamps cast cozy light over tables by the windows, and a line of tropical artificial plants sitting atop of the counter greet those waiting in line. All around me, families, young couples, and the occasional group of high school kids chat animatedly as upbeat pop music flows easily from the speakers. I almost felt like I was in SoCal.
My friend and I had plenty of time to debate what to order as we waited in the long line. I decide on their acclaimed Charburger and a chocolate shake, and my friend goes with a Mushroom Swiss Char and onion rings. I was a little startled when the cashier asked if I wanted cheese at an addition of 50 cents, for it was something I had expected in most burgers. However I smile and say yes, because a burger is not a burger without its sidekick. I go off to search for seats in the crowded restaurant and luckily found a table where two boys were finishing up their meal. A server walking by offers me a smile and asks if she may clean the table before I settle into the seat, a pleasant but not unwelcome surprise. I lean back against the comfortable chocolate faux leather seats and absorb the restaurant’s lively thrum as I wait for my friend to bring our meal.
The burgers are delicious if a tad salty for my taste. Soft onions pile on top of a thin patty sitting on a thick layer of crunchy shredded lettuce and slices of tomato. My favorite part, however, are the buns, grilled to crispy perfection inside that adds a kick to the entire burger. While most buns only act as a complement, these ones far outshine its contents. After finishing my half of the Charburger, I took half of the mushroom one my friend ordered (they were nice enough to cut up both for us). I had originally expected something akin to a portabello sandwich from the name given that meat was not mentioned, but the burger came topped with a layer of dry, over-grilled mushrooms that must have seen a better day. Though nicely melted, the cheese was scarce, and I was glad I went with the staple of their menu.
The onion rings are a golden brown that bespeak greasy crunchiness, and they pair amazingly well with ranch, one of the myriad of condiments my friend took from the side bar. While the batter is thick and amazing, the onions inside are scrawny and dry. Nevertheless, we polish all of it. My chocolate milkshake is creamy and rich confection, a wholly satisfying love affair although the cruel mistress comes at a heavy price of 820 calories. I only feel cheated when I reach the whipped cream at the end of the drink which tastes artificial, and dare I say, somewhat plastic.
It’s not a perfect experience, but I adore the atmosphere of the place. The soft chairs and easy music invite people to come dine and stay for a while, and I find myself falling into casual conversation with my friend after the meal. It’s fast food, but it’s not In-N-Out or Burger King, where you hurry to order, eat, and leave. I’m not rushing back in, but I may just visit once again in the future.
The Habit Burger Grill
1255 South California Boulevard
Walnut Creek, CA 94596