1300 Rockville Pike



Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Prices: Most sandwiches $4 to $6.

Credit Cards: None.

Fuddrucker's comes about as close as we've found to an ideal burger joint. The hamburgers are top-notch (so is the rest of the food, by and large), yet they're priced a lot lower than at the more upscale places nearby. Sure, the atmosphere is less posh than at those trendy watering holes, but bright lights and noise notwithstanding, the place has a nice, happy feel to it. And to take you back to your youth, there are real, old-fashioned shakes and malts, so thick with ice cream you can barely suck them through a straw.

Fuddrucker's is a good place for kids too. On Monday through Thursday, those under 12 who are accompanied by an adult can get a child's meal free.

The burgers (available in sizes of one-third or one-half pound, at $3.50 and $3.95 respectively) are excellent -- cooked as ordered (medium rare is actually pinkish), very juicy, not over-compressed, and served on good, yeasty rolls baked fresh on the premises.

Steak sandwiches are available in three varieties: fillet, rib eye and sirloin. They're excellent, and a fair value at $6.25 ($6.95 with mushrooms). We found the rib eye tender, reasonably juicy, medium rare as ordered, properly grainy in texture, pleasantly chewy but not tough. If you're looking for melt-in-your-mouth meat, the fillet or sirloin would probably be more up your alley.

The chicken sandwich is a winner too, with moist meat, a good grilled flavor and enough garlic to give it a little kick. There's also a very good chicken taco salad, a fluted wheat taco filled with tender chicken morsels, tomato, onion, cheddar cheese, olives and sour cream.

One of the few disappointments at Fuddrucker's is the wurst sandwich. The sausage is bland and greasy, and it's overwhelmed by a roll that's too large.

One of the nicest things about Fuddrucker's is the condiment bar with a gorgeous array of hamburger toppings -- ripe tomato, onion, salsa, the works.

Most of the side dishes are just as impressive. The fries in particular are exemplary, with just the right texture to the potato and the taste of fresh oil. In fact, they pass the acid test for french fries: They still taste good when they're cold. (Try that test with the shoestring fries at your local fast-food outlet.)

The chili is a solid bet too, as are the grilled onions (best as a burger topping rather than a side dish). We're not usually partial to creamy cole slaw, but Fuddrucker's version is too good to reject out of hand. It's crunchy, not too sweet, and has a clean, fresh taste. The potato salad, on the other hand, is characterless and swamped in mayonnaise, and the baked beans are soupy and ordinary.

For dessert, there are good chocolate cookies, a little too sweet but nicely chewy and generous with the chips. Or you can have ice cream, or one of those shakes, if you can squeeze it in. But sidestep the mediocre brownies, too sweet and lacking intensity.