I ate at Habit Burger — the fast-growing chain that KFC and Taco Bell's parent company is buying — and found its burger didn't live up the hype

Irene Jiang / Business InsiderHabit Burger serves a variety of burgers, salads, and fried sides.
  • Yum Brands, the parent company of KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell, just signed a deal to acquire California-based restaurant chain Habit Burger Grill.
  • Habit Burger Grill was voted America’s best regional fast-food chain by USA Today readers in a 2019 survey. It has a loyal following and is growing at breakneck speed, nearly doubling its locations in the last three years.
  • I visited a Habit Burger Grill in Teterboro, New Jersey, to try Yum Brands’ newest acquisition and the so-called best-tasting burger in America.
  • While the famous Charburger didn’t live up to its reputation, I found that the creative menu and fresh, tasty ingredients made Habit a standout fast-casual experience.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Fast-food powerhouse Yum Brands announced on Monday that it had signed a deal to acquire Habit Burger Grill.

The relatively unknown California-based chain has earned numerous accolades and a diehard following of loyal fans. It was voted the best regional fast-food chain in a 2019 USA Today reader’s survey, its signature Charburger was voted the best-tasting burger in America in 2014, and the chain continues to rank as one of America’s favourite restaurants, according to Consumer Reports.

And it’s also growing at breakneck speed.

Founded in 1969, Habit Burger Grill has increased its number of locations by over 60% in the last two years. From 172 restaurants in 2017 to 286 locations across 13 states and in China.

I decided to visit the Habit Burger Grill in Teterboro, New Jersey, to see what Yum Brands’ newest acquisition was like, as well as to try the so-called best-tasting burger in America:


The exterior looked like an updated set from Nickelodeon teen comedy-drama “Zoey 101.”

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So did the interior.

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Fake tropical plants sprung from every nook and cranny.

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The decor was trying very, very hard to be “California.” It wasn’t failing.

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Brightly coloured paintings of beaches, SoCal locales, and surfers riding waves adorned the walls. On the nose? Maybe a little, but it works.

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The open kitchen was right behind the ordering counter, so I could see my food being prepared.

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I was given a buzzer to notify me when my food would be ready.

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Meanwhile, there was a plethora of pickled and spicy accoutrements available at the condiment stand.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

I ordered an Oreo malt shake, onion rings, tempura green beans, a garden salad with ahi, and a guacamole crunch Charburger. I was going to order a normal Charburger but saw an advertisement at the counter for the guac crunch Charburger, and, like a true millennial, I couldn’t say no to the avocado.

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The salad didn’t look like anything too special. But I was excited for the promised medium-rare sushi-quality tuna.

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I chose a balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The tuna was soft and flaky. The salad was fresh enough. The dressing was light and tart, and it added just enough flavour to the otherwise plain vegetables.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The tuna was a little well-done for my liking, even though the cashier had warned me that it would be medium-rare. It wasn’t particularly flavorful, but it had a great tender texture.

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I couldn’t wait to try these giant golden loops of piping hot happiness.

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The ring held its shape. The crust was perfect.

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The onion rings came with ranch dipping sauce.

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An immaculately crispy shell of golden flour encased soft and fresh onion slices. They weren’t too salty — ideal for dipping with the ranch.

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Being able to buy tempura vegetables at a burger grill is so California. It also brings joy to the Asian-American in me.

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I’d heard good things about the tempura green beans, so I was excited to try them.

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They, too, went in the ranch sauce.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Delicious. Less breaded and crunchy, and more vegetal than the onion rings, these were fairly light and a great vehicle for ranch. I’d love to see some more house dipping sauces to pair with these, such as a sweet-and-savoury tentsuyu tempura sauce.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Any burger that comes with an extra bun or bun proxy in the middle is unnecessarily complicating things. Still, there was both guac and avocado slices on this baby. And a beautiful baby it was.

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The original Charburger, which won the “best burger in America” award, doesn’t have a tortilla in the middle. Unfortunately, the guac crunch burger does. The tortilla added a disconcerting crunch to an otherwise adequate burger. True to its name, the meat itself tasted of char, but not much else. It wasn’t particularly juicy or flavorful, although the burger’s other elements were just fine.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Time for dessert. Oreos plus ice cream almost always equals magic. It’s hard to mess up an Oreo shake.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

And this one did not disappoint. Chunky and thick with a puff of whipped cream on top, this Oreo shake was positively addicting.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

There were several standout items in this meal, but sadly the burger wasn’t one of them.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

I would cross oceans (or at least the Hudson River) for the onion rings and the tempura green beans. The salad was just fine. The Oreo shake was delicious, but I wager I could get a similar dessert at just about any other burger chain.

Still, the chain’s vibrant interior design and creative menu offerings make it a welcome addition to Yum’s portfolio.

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