New joint is contender in Chico’s burger wars
Chico’s north side had long been burgerless, leaving patty-craving residents of the quickly expanding neighborhood, along with everyone at Pleasant Valley High School, stuck with soggy, fast-food chain burgers or a cross-town drive.
Enter Big Chico Burger.
Husband-wife team Francisco Saez and Vicky Junco, with no experience in restaurants other than a love of good food, bought a piece of property at the corner of East and Marigold avenues and began an arduous, two-and-a-half year process of getting city approval and building the restaurant, which finally opened in July 2005.
Their dedication paid off: The place looks great, from the ultra-clean everything to the colorful, fun wall paintings and sign commissioned from local artist Gregg Payne.
But would it taste good?
My family had been planning on paying Big Chico Burger a visit for some time, but since we live in southeast Chico, our burger needs were already being met by 28-year Chico mainstay Burger Hut and least-evil-of-all-burger-chains In-N-Out Burger. Finally, we made it out there one rainy Saturday afternoon.
There were plenty of appealing options, and I got that deer-in-the-headlights feeling that comes with the first time looking at a new menu. I stuck with the quarter-pounder ($3.99) while my husband opted for the turkey burger ($4.99). They have a one-pound burger ($7.99), which just sounded scary to me. I thought about trying a milkshake, but $3.99 was too rich for my blood.
As my husband, toddler and I sat waiting for our food, we noticed something a little, well, familiar. I tried to shake off the feeling of déjà vu before realizing it was the tables—exactly the same as those at Burger Hut. The condiment area also bore a striking resemblance to that at the Hut.
When our fries came, they, too, looked a lot like Burger Hut fries—thin, long and fairly crispy.
Later, I asked Junco about the similarities—wondering if it was a touchy subject. “We have taken the best ideas from different places that do burgers,” she said. Their shoestring fries, chosen after extensive taste-testing, come from a pricey supplier, but, fried in canola oil, customer feedback indicates they’re well worth the price ($1.25 for small up to $2.99 for large, or get a platter with six dipping sauces for $4.99).
My burger was juicy and cooked just right. I’d ponied up an extra 49 cents to add pepper jack cheese, and 99 cents for mushrooms. That brought it to $5.57—not at all unreasonable for a burger of this caliber.
The mushrooms proved to be an excellent choice: They came sautéed with tasty chunks of garlic, and they weren’t stingy with the portion. Next time, I think I’ll try adding guacamole, bacon, grilled onions or blue cheese crumbles.
Big Chico Burger touts its beef as the reason behind their burger’s taste—fresh, premium ground chuck patties from Fulton Provision Co., an 85-year-old company that was bought out by Sysco in 2001. A table tent elaborated that the meat is “whole muscle chuck, not the waste or trim from boning or cutting operations.” That imagery kind of grossed me out.
I was pleasantly surprised to catch a glimpse of the cook checking the meat’s temperature with a thermometer. This may be routine, but it eased my mind. I still fed my kid a hot dog, though. Big Chico Burger’s dogs are all-beef (no pig snouts), and his ($1.99) came on a sandwich roll that dwarfed the dog. The bun was grilled, which I thought was a nice touch. It turns out all the bread products are baked fresh by North State Bakery in Chico, including buns to fit various patty sizes as well as wheat buns.
All in all, it was a good experience with quality food and ample portions. I’d steer clear of the place around PV High’s lunch time, when about 60 students stream in to snag a small burger, fries, soda and cookie for $5 after tax.
We’ll definitely be back.