Kraze Burger

$$$$ ($14 and under)
Kraze Burger photo

Editorial Review

All-American, from Korea
By Justin Rude
Jan. 13, 2011

Hamburgers from celebrity chefs and over-hyped New York institutions are practically yawn-inducing in this era of burger overload, but the strange pedigree of Kraze Burger, a new Bethesda operation, is enough to warrant a visit.

The Elm Street restaurant is the first U.S. outpost of the Kraze (pronounced "crazy") chain, which was founded in South Korea. It's owned by Fairfax-based Kraze Burgers Inc., which holds the nationwide franchising rights, and officially opened Dec. 19. The restaurant is decorated in natural wood and soothing green, a visual echo of the business's self-professed environmental efforts, which include eco-friendly fixtures, energy-efficient appliances and a discount for customers who bring their own to-go containers.

You might think a Korean company would find it daunting to launch a burger joint in Washington, like an American trying to open a bibimbap counter in downtown Seoul. But Grace Lee, vice president of development for the local company, said the thriving burger market here is what sparked the company's interest.

The burger itself stands up to its closest U.S.-born competition (think Elevation Burger). The well-seasoned patty is made from grain-fed natural beef. The buns, baked daily in Fairfax, are surprisingly light and airy and look almost startlingly idealized, as if they were ripped from the pages of a glossy magazine ad. The burgers are cooked to order, so you have to wait five or 10 minutes for your food.

I tried the KG Burger: "a signature Kraze experience," according to the menu. You aren't asked how you'd like your meat cooked, and by default the patty is cooked through, with only slight hints of pink. Nonetheless, it was juicy and flavorful, with a nice tangy kick from the house barbecue sauce, one of many house sauces that accompany the chain's signature burgers. Bacon, pickles and grilled oyster mushrooms filled it out.

The menu offers several burger styles, such as the pineapple-packing Hawaiian Burger and the K. Onion, which slips an onion ring inside the bun. The beef quality is high enough, though, that purists will be happy with a relatively undressed burger.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is the Vege & Bean burger. Far from the standard veggie patty (which is also offered), this vegetarian option includes tomato, grilled mushrooms, lettuce and generous hunks of grilled tofu. It's topped with cream cheese and barbecue sauces and served on a whole-wheat bun. Your take on this meat-free monster probably will depend on your feelings about pressed bean curd, but for me it was a welcome respite from veggie-patty monotony. Grab a knife and fork, though: It's stacked high and isn't as structurally sound as one might hope.

Kraze lets customers build their own burgers, something that Lee says more than 60 percent of patrons do. The menu also features crispy house-cut french fries, salads, sandwiches and pasta.

The most surprising thing about the chain's U.S. debut is how effortlessly Americanized it feels. (Kraze Burger has ambitious expansion plans, with restaurants opening in Leesburg by spring and in Penn Quarter and elsewhere in Virginia and Maryland later this year.) Aside from the tofu burger, nothing on the Kraze menu would seem out of place at a home-grown establishment: It's burgers at Five Guys prices with freshness and quality that are at a higher tier. If you already have a BGR or Black & Orange in your 'hood, you don't really need to seek out a Kraze Burger, but if not, this is definitely an import to embrace.