The bun-ed fun coming from Drifter’s Hamburgers (4455 Mark Dabling Blvd., 1485 Jamboree Drive) is widely considered some of the best in the city. Years ago, I kicked myself for missing the restaurant in a burger showdown ultimately won by The Famous’ huge version, and have been a dedicated fan ever since.
Drifter’s burgers don’t have the deep flavor of Green Line Grill, or the variety of toppings like Bingo Burger, but what they do have is the crack-like effect of California-style, à la West Coast legend In-N-Out Burgers.
The latter is famous for its “animal style” option, which brings Thousand Island dressing, patties grilled in mustard and extra pickles. Drifter’s counters with “wild style,” described on its menu as “extra dressing, tomato, lettuce, pickles, grilled onions and a dash of catsup.” The company is clearly trying to expand as well, with its website advertising franchise opportunities: “Maybe the time is right for you, and yes, maybe, Drifter’s Hamburgers is just the business for you.”
Whether you call it a straight rip-off or divine inspiration, the end result is a juicy burger made with Ranch Foods Direct beef tweaking your tastebuds into guilty ecstasy. And as luck would have it, a recent trip to Los Angeles gave me the first chance to try the real thing and compare.
Competitor: In-N-Out Burger
History: Started by World War II veteran Harry Snyder in Baldwin Park, Calif. in 1948, In-N-Out is famous for its refusal to expand outside of a chain that strictly mandates that no restaurant be located further than a one-day drive from its supply center to ensure the freshest ingredients.
The order: Two cheeseburgers animal-style with fries.
The result: These are good burgers. Chunky layers of lettuce, thick pickles and a nice smattering of grilled onions complemented flavorful buns and fries that actually taste like potatoes. Where it lost us was the beef: eaten on its own and missing the jazzy toppings, our’s was nondescript and bland. As a whole, though, it satisfied all burger needs in a workman-like manner.
Competitor: Drifter’s Hamburgers
History: Started in 2008, Drifter’s solely lived on Garden of the Gods Road until a recent opening outside the Chapel Hills Mall. Restaurant decoration — think beaches, sunsets and surfboards — and menu design clearly ape its better-known forbearer.
The order: Two cheeseburgers wild-style with fries.
The result: Drifter’s always falls down on the fries, as the shoestring pile has great texture but almost no flavor. But that burger is core of moist, tasty beef laced with mustard and surrounded by a crust of crunchy vegetables, all wrapped in super-soft buns soaking up every drop of juice. (That last bite is an addiction unto itself.)
Winner: Drifter’s Hamburgers. Call it hometown bias — and the quality from In-N-Out may absolutely vary between locations — but the Drifter’s burger is a more comprehensive experience than what I tried in California, with each ingredient holding its own to create a lunchtime powerhouse. In-N-Out just tasted … less, whereas Drifter’s is swinging for the flavor fences from the first bite to the last.
So, rest easy Colorado Springs. Our West Coast brethren may disagree, but rip-off or no, we’re getting the good stuff already.
[Images: Bryce Crawford]