In Texas, for many people at least, Whataburger has a reputation of almost mythical proportions. The zealous dedication of these fans to the brand and its food offerings is so extraordinary that, in extreme cases, Whataburger fans have constructed impressive Christmas trees from the franchise’s discarded fast-food packaging, with its trademark bright orange color.
Any fast-food emporium that can inspire that kind of slavish devotion from American consumers must have something going for it, right? So yesterday, as I paid my first-ever visit to a Whataburger, I felt a surge of high expectations, anticipating an extraordinary burger experience. What I found was a pretty good burger, but an overall dining experience that fell a bit short of the hype.
I ordered a double Whataburger, fries, and a diet Coke. The normal Whataburger comes with mustard, onions, tomato, lettuce, and grilled onions chopped into little squares. Interestingly, cheese isn’t part of the standard order; you have to ask for it specially. I didn’t know that, but I did know that I didn’t want the lettuce, tomato, and pickles. Through this combination of intent and ignorance, I ended up with a cheeseless double Whataburger with onions and mustard.. It’s probably the first cheeseless burger I’ve had in a half century, so that alone made the experience memorable.
The Whataburger was pretty good. The mustard is a nice touch, as are the onions, and the meat was of good quality. Getting a burger without cheese is like getting a cake without icing, in my view, but if you go that route you definitely taste the meat more distinctly–so obviously you want to make sure the meat is tasty. Whataburger offers a nice spicy jalapeno ketchup, part of a tray of topping offerings that they bring to your table, like the waiter at a nice restaurant bringing an array of different tea options to tea drinkers. I tried the spicy ketchup, and it had a decent kick to it. All of these elements were positives for me.
The bun, though, was nothing to write home about, and the burger wasn’t served piping hot. That’s an issue, because heat is a key element of a good burger. The biggest disappointment, though, was the fries. When I saw they were of the shoestring variety I was encouraged, but alas! They were dried out and lukewarm, and tasted like they had spent an an excessive amount of time under one of those blazing food heat lamps. In short, it seemed that the fries part of the meal equation had been sadly neglected.
One of our party said that we had caught Whataburger on an off day, and we should try it for lunch another time at another location. I would do that, and be sure to order cheese on the burger this time. But on this occasion, at least, the experience failed to live up to the advance publicity.