The flame whipped up from the grill, licking the sizzling burger patty and sending a delicious waft of free radicals straight across the counter.
Call Build-A-Burger’s grill, located just behind the front counter, one of its best marketing tools, as is its meat. Brothers Timothy and Danny Pak, who opened the restaurant July 10, grind the burgers from fresh chuck and brisket every day.
“Brisket is the flavor you’re after, and the chuck balances it out so it’s not too fatty. Trust me, you’ll have juices dripping down your arm,” said Danny Pak with a laugh. He calculated the fat at a 70/30 mix, with 70 percent lean beef and 30 percent fat.
The burgers are 7 ounces each, just shy of a half pound.
He was right about the burgers dripping. I enjoyed mine like a happy kindergartener.
The brothers are second-generation restaurateurs. Their parents, James and Yoon Hee Pak, owned the wildly popular Cham Garden Korean BBQ in Lakewood. They sold Cham to friends in March (the restaurant continues to operate).
The plan was for the parents to retire, but that didn’t last long. Pak said they’re showing up every day to help out at Build-A-Burger, along with their granddaughter, Yuri Pak.
“Their health is better,” Pak said of his parents. “I put them on keto, and they have so much more energy.”
Pak also put himself on the low carbohydrate diet. That’s also the reason the restaurant’s burger can be made with a lettuce wrap in lieu of a bun, the way the family eats their burgers now.
Whether as a lettuce wrap or a burger with a bun, Build-A-Burger’s concept is to customize a burger any way a customer wants. That includes cooking preference. I got mine a little pink, although Pak said most customers so far have preferred well done. Customers also can choose how their burgers are cooked, whether on a flat-top grill or flame grill. Customers can add cheese, vegetables and a host of sauces.
The one-price deal on either a beef or chicken burger includes fries. Burgers are built to order, so be sure to allow for extra time on your visit.
Here’s a first-bite look. It’s this paper’s policy to avoid criticism of a restaurant’s food and service in its first month.
Dining room: If it looks like a Subway, that’s because it used to be one. Casual booth seating with room for 22 diners.
The menu: Beef burger with fries or a salad ($8.99). Chicken burger with fries or salad ($7.99). Chicken wings ($7.99), jalapeno poppers ($4.99), mozzarella sticks ($4.99), fries ($2.99), onion rings ($3.99), salad ($1.99).
Dietary restrictions: No vegetarian option yet, but Pak said he’s considering it. Gluten-free and low-carb eaters can get a doubled-up romaine lettuce wrapper instead of the bun, no charge.
Stack the burger high: Free accompaniments include romaine lettuce, yellow onions, red onions, sliced tomatoes, grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, grilled pineapple, dill pickle chips, jalapenos.
Bring on the cheese: Choices are cheddar, American, Swiss, pepperjack, blue or a shredded cheddar-mozzarella-swiss mix. One slice comes standard, extras have an upcharge.
Add some gluttony: Add bacon, guacamole or an egg for 99 cents per topping.
Sauces: Select up to three sauces for dipping fries or for your burger. House-made burger sauce tasted puckery from a generous addition of pickle relish. Get it. House-made honey mustard uses real honey, and there’s also a spicy version. There also are ranch, barbecue and sweet chili sauces.
Buns: Pub buns brushed with butter and toasted. Or, get a lettuce wrap.
On a first visit: A built-to-order cheddar and bacon cheeseburger was swoon-worthy with that nearly half-pound burger expertly grilled over flame and evenly seasoned.
It came on a buttered, toasted bun that was a sturdy match for the big patty. The house sauce added a pronounced tang and another layer of decadence with the juicy patty and gooey cheddar. Crisp romaine, red onions and a thick tomato slice cut all that richness.
Another burger built with American cheese had the same intersection of goo-and-crunch with spicy honey mustard providing a nice zing of heat.
The most surprising find of the visit was that the chicken burger was made with two grilled thighs stacked atop one another, not a chicken breast.
“I’ve never liked white meat,” said Pak. “Dark meat has more flavor.”
Indeed, it did. The grilled-to-order chicken thighs were swell with honey mustard sauce.
Fries were medium width, fried until crunchy and evenly jacketed in salt (thanks for that). Onion rings are also medium width and coated in a crispy beer batter. Both are frozen products, not made in house, said Pak.
Coming next: A list of specialty burgers as created by customers.
Where: 5015 Tacoma Mall Blvd, Suite E-101, Tacoma
Info: 253 507-7239 or facebook.com/buildaburgertacoma
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday (could change soon)