Is Carl’s Jr. the same as a Hardee’s? The answer is complicated. What is Carl’s Jr. known for, other than its racy ads and releasing a CBD burger on April 20? What is its food known for?
Every hamburger chain has something. McDonald’s is, well, McDonald’s. Burger King has “flame-grilled” patties, and Wendy’s has “never-frozen” beef. But Carl’s Jr. doesn’t really have a “thing” that makes it stand apart from other chains, including its sister chain Hardee’s.
Models might bring people to the door, but no one goes into Carl’s Jr. to find that. What people really care about is the food.
In order to find out what sets the food at Carl’s Jr. apart, I ate at the chain for the first time. Here’s what it was like.
I went to the Carl’s Jr. restaurant in Los Angeles International Airport before a flight to New York.
The grey spaceshiplike design was more dystopian than appetizing.
The guy behind the counter joked with me that each photo would cost $US5.
The last guy he said that to didn’t understand that he was joking, he said. The guy freaked out, deleted all the pictures he’d taken, and left. “We gotta have a sense of humour around here,” he told me.
I have a sense of humour but also a sense of hunger.
Carl’s Jr. was one of the first chains to jump on the Beyond bandwagon, but since this was my first visit, I decided to go with a beef Famous Star combo with cheese.
Ta-da! Nothing says “please like me” like oddly intense all-caps poetic text on the wall.
It was time to find out if, as the wall text said, flavour dreams really did come true here.
I mean calm down, wall. It’s just a burger and fries.
I started with the Famous Star with cheese, which is the flagship burger at Carl’s Jr.
My first thought was that it tasted like a milder Whopper.
It was a pretty wet burger with crisp veggies and fairly juicy meat.
The burger wasn’t bad by any means. There just weren’t any distinguishing features at all.
The fries were crispy and delicious.
They’re what I wished In-N-Out’s fries were: plain and satisfying.
Just perfect with a bit of ketchup.
But as much as I like a good fry, burgers need to work harder to impress me.
And munching on this one wasn’t at all the sweaty sensual experience promised in the chain’s ads with scantily clad models.
And it tasted so average.
I found myself reaching for the fries more than for the burger.
Their skin-on fried-from-frozen taste reminded me of Wendy’s fries. But these were better: crispier and no strange metallic taste. Just potato.
I kept on trying to discern some distinguishing feature, taste, or texture.
But really, this was the most middle-of-the-road burger I’d tasted.
Nothing was rotten, bland, or bad tasting. It was all just … OK.
At the end of my meal, I still had no answer to my dramatic question: What is Carl’s Jr.’s thing?
It used to be sexy ladies eating burgers, but those aren’t even on their menu, or at least they weren’t when I went.
I was fairly sure that, barring the call of duty, I probably wouldn’t return. Ever since it dumped its burger-munching mistresses, Carl’s Jr. hasn’t really found a new personality. And it desperately needs one.