On a dense commercial stretch of Mass Ave in Arlington sits Retro Burger, a burger and ice cream import from Cape Cod. The seating is at shiny white diner style tables with
shinier red and white chairs. The decor is nostalgia all the way but
somewhat schizophrenic, with representations from comic books, sports,
rock and roll, movies and tin signage for service stations and soft
drinks. For your entertainment pleasure, there's a TV and a juke box. Ordering is over the counter, with separate blackboard menus for ice
cream and burgers. The food is cooked in a back room behind closed doors.
With a name like Retro, simple is expected and the vessel is as simple as it gets, trotting out a sesame seed bun not too different from what you'd get at a fast food joint. Within that context, everything's just okay: not too thick, not too crusty, not super fresh, not stale (but closer to stale than super fresh), not buttered, not griddled, not toasted, not heated. Basically, zero effort.
Burgers are available in two sizes: full size (at least a half pound) and "not man enough" (just over a quarter pound). They're all Angus beef in hand formed patties. The beef itself isn't anything special, as if to reinforce the notion that Retro means "back in the golden era before burger fanatics started obsessing about exotic beef blends and aging and funkiness and different types of grinds." If that definition is music to your ears, then rejoice, because Retro Burger avoids all that; it's simple stuff indeed. That's all more than fine, but I found the flavor more than elusive.
Doneness was a little over—both times—but the seasoning was impeccable and the juiciness was undeniable even at beyond-medium. The crust was crisp and bumpy on the first visit, nonexistent and monotone on the second. The patty seemed tightly constructed. Overall, a wash or maybe a slight plus, but certainly nothing to get excited about.
A slight minus. The toppings-happy Godzilla burger (bologna, salami, provolone, lettuce, onion, tomato, mayo) was decent enough. The second visit's bacon cheeseburger had bacon that was pale, limp, a bit rubbery and subtle of flavor.
The Fries (and Such)
Fries: Frozen but well executed: crisp enough, hot enough.
Onion Rings: Now here they really have something. At first glance they look industrially produced, but these are homemade, lightly battered, crisp and flaky. Complex seasoning needed more salt to hit the impeccable level again, but a shaker at the table did the tweak more than admirably. The juiciness and natural sweetness of the onion really came through via the thick slicing, achieving inside-outside excellence that make these rings worth a trip on their own.
The ice cream is the familiar Richardson's: no slouch, no great accomplishment.
A grilled hot dog had good flavor, but the slightly stiff unenhanced bun brought it down a notch.
The Bottom Line
To my palate the burgers were a little too ordinary for a place specializing in burgers, but I enjoyed the onion rings tremendously.
Yelp reviews of Retro Burger
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