Dishin’: The Highs and Lows of Lunchbox Laboratory

Following up on our recent Queen Anne report, we ventured across the Ballard Bridge to binge on burgers at the much-lauded Lunchbox Laboratory. Like the contents that formed the base of our “dork” burger, our feelings were mixed.

We went with a couple of the daily experiments. One was the Burger of the Gods. The “super beef” was tantalizingly tasty and juicy, with candied balsamic onions and super gorgonzola sauce adding complementary sweetness and substance. The Fat Mario’s Last Meal burger, though, was ambitious overkill. The duck and pork combination was fatty and fun, but the soft salami atop was too salty, and combined with havarti cheese, sautéed onions, roasted shallots, and tomato sauce, simply overpowered the “dork.”

Why didn’t we anticipate this?

For a burger joint, it’s overwhelming for the first-timer. There’s a huge, handwritten menu above the ordering counter requiring navigation, and two more by the front door. And while we applaud Scott Simpson for his passion for meat patties, his partner wasn’t particularly helpful at the counter. We’d heard this gripe from others, but were surprised by her impatience when we asked for suggestions – and her insistence that we get our order placed quickly, despite no line behind us. Is it too much to ask for some hospitality to go with those great hamburgers?

To avoid counter conundrums, step back and study the menu without getting sucked into the ordering zone. Start simple. The daily experiments are fun, with witty names, but many of those combinations might be over-the-top. Know that you can have your burger cooked only one way. And know that the burgers are big ones.

The whole experience, once settled, is fun, but it’s still fast-ish food. Cooked to order, sure, but you’re eating burgers and fries, and you’re likely to eat fast. Ultimately, it seems like a lot of money ($40 for two burgers, two sides, a shake to share, tax, and a tip for the “service”) for the amount of sit-down time. We’re reminded that a good bowl of ramen, for example, can cost $10-15, and should be downed in just seven minutes, but ramen doesn’t leave us stuffed with an unsettled stomach – even into the next day. Lunchbox Laboratory may have the best burgers in town, but we’re still digesting the experience.

Cross-posted at Seattlest, where “we” = me.

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