Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Believe It Or Not -- Carl's Jr.

Carl's Jr.
Bazillions of locations

Odd -- perhaps even shocking -- that my re-entry to the blogosphere after a long hiatus  should be about a formerly right-wing Christian apartheid-supporting fast-food joint with one of the more obnoxious ad campaigns in television history.  If this seems out of character, you're partially right.  I find all that stuff abhorrent.  But hey, the supremely evil, gay-hatin', John Birch-lovin' founder Carl Karcher was ousted as CEO years ago, and he died in January, and when it comes down to it, it's all about the food.  And for my taste, Carl's simply makes the best fast food burger out there, always has.

I've always had a soft spot for Carl's. It was my first job, during my junior year in high school. I washed trays, I took out garbage, I made fries, finally I got promoted to the burger line, where I learned intimately about the design and construction of the Carl's hamburger.  They are flame-broiled, and that's how I like 'em.  The buns on the Famous Star and Super Star are sesame-seed, and that's how I like 'em.  The lettuce is leafed, not shredded, and that's how I like 'em.  Don't get me wrong, In-N-Out's fine, but their plain bun, griddled patties, and prosletyzing soft-drink cups just aren't my type.  Plus their limp fries truly suck. 

In addition the burgers, Carl's has also had some kick-ass alternative sandwiches.  I still lament the loss of the California Roast Beef Sandwich, with its swiss cheese and ortega chile.   I celebrated my last day of work at Carl's by eating three of 'em on my employee discount.  Fortunately there is still the Santa Fe Chicken Sandwich, which is just plain delicious, with that spicy special sauce and the selfsame ortegas.

But what got me wanting to write up Carl's here is their new Chili Cheeseburger.  Yeah, the one with the totally gross commercial of the guy with chili all over his face.  For some reason I expected that the burger would be built on Carl's oxymoronically smaller "Big Burger" (formerly the Happy Star), so the first time I ordered one I got a double: a freakish amount of food!  The burger's built on a Famous Star base, with a big beefsteak tomato slice, sliced (not chopped, another big burger preference of mine) onion, pickle, and mustard.   And the double is based on a SuperStar with chili.  If you know the SuperStar, you know that's two meals' worth of burger even before adding chili, which brings it up to a whopping 1050 calories and 61 (count 'em!) grams of fat.   But face it, you're not getting a chili cheeseburger for the health benefits. 

What makes a chiliburger is the chili itself, and the Carl's version is unexpectedly excellent.  It's finely-ground beef in a tangy and surprisingly kicky sauce; entirely comparable to the chili at the Original Tommy's.  And given that the burger at Tommy's is griddle-cooked on a plain bun... well, I know it's just a matter of taste, but I am willing to utter the ultimate heresy: I think the Carl's Chili Cheeseburger is BETTER than Tommy's.

Let the flaming (or in this case, the flame-broiling) begin.

One last note: I won't bother explaining the no-posts-for-months thing. Suffice to say I've been busy. I hope you'll take a trip over to for the latest news and some very nice early reviews of my first novel, coming to a bookstore near you July 8, and available now for pre-order online from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Oh, and one more last note: I'm thrilled to report that my favorite political blogger is back raging against the machine from a new site.  Check out


  1. Anonymous11:23 AM

    I love your blog, but you are so so so so so so so so so WRONG on this one. I usually agree with you or at least can see the merit of your opinion. Not this time. The chili itself is CRAP. It might as well be a bucket of salt with poop mixed in for color. That right there ends it. You put that on anything and you ruin it. Doesn't matter if it's Fries or a Burger. Yuck.


  2. Heated discussion, I like that! Thanks for the comment, Craig, but I think you exaggerate; I've tried salt and poop, and Carl's chili is much better. But if these comments haven't put my readers off their lunch, perhaps they'll try it for themselves and weigh in.

  3. The political blog link didn't work.

    I have been avoiding Carl's for years based on political biases, but I may have to reconsider crossing that line.

  4. The link to Bly Space has been corrected.

  5. joe dodge5:04 PM

    Okay Jess, I too love your food blog but I have to ask- Is Carl's really worthy of a review? Surely there are hundreds of better resturants in the greater Los Angeles area that are waiting to be discovered...I know, I know,you are going to say "A guy's entitled to a greasy chili burger every once in awhile" but does it have to be from this soulless, coroporate giant? For heaven sakes, I know we have all been pinching pennies in the wake of Bush's failed economic policies (if he even has one) higher gas prices and food prices soaring weekly, AND I know it's tough on a writer's income to afford a nice place to plop down for a greasebomb, but please- let me send you 20 bucks to try Cassell's Hamburgers on 6th or Lucky Devil's on Hollywood Blvd or even Pie 'n Burger in Pasedena. Anywhere but a place that rants, "If it doesn't get all over the place, it doesn't belong in your face" GROSS!

  6. Tim Mclean8:27 PM

    I too have a soft spot for the Sante Fe Chicken Sandwich, but I do feel a ptang of guilt anytime I give them my money. I mean the comercial with the girl on the mechanical of the most offensive things I have every seen.
    Glad your back.

  7. I was dubious, I was a skeptic, I thought to myself, "Has Jess finally gone one bridge too far..." Well I am pleased to say that the wife and I just split a CJ chilli cheeseburger and it was one of the best hamburgers I've ever had - bar none! She was on the patio and at one point I looked out to gauge her reaction and she gave me a thumbs up like someone who just stuck a night carrier landing in middle of a gale. Totally unamimous - this is now our burger of choice. Thank you Jess for having the courage to blog about this soul-less, evil corporation that happens to make a kick ass burger.

  8. Susan9:25 AM

    I'm relieved to find that I'm not the only picky (i.e. discriminating) eater who LOVES the CC burger at Carl's.

  9. Glad to get a little love for the burger. To respond to Joe: no doubt there are better restaurants than Carl's (though my experience at Cassells suggests it's not:, and I specifically didn't defend either their politics or their ad campaign. But their chili cheeseburger kicks ass, and my mission statement here is to guide readers to experiences they might not otherwise have. To not tell you about a burger this good would be a disservice. And while I'm happy to discuss the politics of food, it's a quite different issue from the food itself. After all, who knows how the owner of Won Jo Kokerang Agurang treats his wife, or whether Bevery Soon Tofu voted for Bush?

  10. Erinn4:11 PM

    I love, love, love that you posted on Carl's. It cracks me up! Cheap can be tasty. I'm open to all foods, as long as they TASTE good. Nuff said, good for you, writing about where you found a good meal!

  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  12. I think someone who complains about the fries at In-n-Out as vehemently as you must never have been exposed to "Fries, Well Done". It's the only way to fly (or fry as the case may be).

  13. Anonymous12:33 AM

    Hi! my husband LOVESSSS the chili cheese burger and fries!! he said it beats tommys and wienershnitzel anyday. I too like someone else posted, feel offended by their commercials and therefore lost my appetite to Carl's Jr. but i know someone (my husband) who simply loves their chili line.
    -jenn =]

  14. Anonymous6:20 AM

    Carl's Jr is for mutants! How could you even consider spending that much time writing about pure crap?!

  15. Anonymous6:11 PM

    I live in America's sink trap/wang - Florida and we do NOT have Carl's Jrs. because our state is a Southern short bus state. What is the Santa Fe Chicken Sauce ingredients? I found a recipe online, but they got the sauce ALL wrong...

    God I miss California...

    Like your article about CJ's...funny.

  16. Thanks, anonymous from Florida. I'm afraid I don't have access to Carl's recipe box, but you can get the ingredients of the sauce on their website, here:

    The SF Chicken Sandwich info is on p.24.