"Where are you from?"
I've told this lie countless times. As much as I like to pretend like I came out of the womb wearing flannel, it’s time to come clean. The truth is, I am a suburban princess.
I grew up in Lake Oswego – a suburb only 15 minutes away from Portland but a world of a difference. Instead of strip clubs, we have strip malls. It’s a place where acrylic nails and caramel macchiatos thrive. A place where people pay millions to live on a man-made lake infested with algae. But within this alternate universe of Ugg boots and vanity license plates, there lies one gem that remains unscathed: Giant Burger.
Eating at Giant Burger is like a rite of passage for any Lake Oswego native. When kids reach middle school, it’s an age old tradition to cross the train tracks and trek to the Giant Burger on early release days. I vividly remember my own pilgrimage.
The year was 2003 and it was the first early release of the year, meaning LO school districts ended at 11:15am. I went to Waluga Junior High, but when we arrived at the Giant Burger, our rival school Lake Oswego Junior High was also in attendance. We kept our distance, each staying on our side of the outdoor picnic tables. The air was thick with tension. All it took was a sly comment about which football team was better, and all hell broke loose. They called the cops, and we were all told to go home. I never got to finish my burger – a true tragedy.
As I reminisced on my younger years, I decided it was time to return to Giant Burger and see if it was good as I remember. Can a burger from the suburbs (aka a suburb-ger) compete with Portland’s finest patties?
Walking into Giant Burger is like walking into a time machine. The establishment is over 30 years old but remains completely unchanged with retro A-frame architecture, vinyl leather booths, and mustard yellow and brown color schemes. It’s like the Pharrell of restaurants – ageless and beautiful even after all these years.
I approach the counter. There’s a stack of pamphlets reading “GLUTEN IS A MYTH.” Seems legit.
A sign taped to the register says CASH ONLY. Yes, in 2016, they only accept cash and do not have an ATM within the restaurant. It’s all part of the charm.
While the Giant Burger is famous for its (you guessed it) Giant Burger, they offer over 30 different burger combinations. But rookies be warned – only a fool would think they were strong enough to battle the goliath that is The Filler (aka the Giant Burger), which includes two pieces of bacon, cheddar cheese, one all beef patty, a slice of ham, another patty, one large egg over medium, pickles, onions, tomatoes, and lettuce on a toasted sesame bun.
I decide to go with the classic cheeseburger, along with cajun fries and a banana milkshake for good measure. We take a spot in a booth, instantly comforted by the majestic unicorn wall art. If you look at a different angle, you can spot a dragon. It sells for the reasonable price of $125.
Our food arrives in plastic yellow baskets because this is a BURGER JOINT and they don’t fux with plates here. I peer into my basket and meet my old friend, the classic cheeseburger. A toasted sesame seed bun, all beef patty, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, shredded lettuce, thick onion slice, mayonnaise and ketchup. It’s so no-frills that I don’t really have anything to write about, aside from the fact that it tastes as good as I remember. It boggles my mind how they can take something so simple and make it into something so magical. It truly is something you need to taste for yourself.
The cajun fries are perfectly crispy with the right consistency – not too thin, not too thick. The fry seasoning has a zesty kick that makes you unable to stop eating until you find yourself picking at the crumbs to savor the flavor for just a second more. The banana milkshake is creamy and thick, and you can taste the potassium seeping into your veins. Everything about this experience is pure bliss. Is it the onion enzymes in the air, or am I about to cry of happiness?
Alas, all good things must come to an end. I feel grateful that this time it wasn’t a result of someone calling the cops on a middle school brawl. Overcome with emotion and burger-induced euphoria, I leave my Giant Burger time machine behind, knowing that 30 years from now, I can probably expect the exact same experience.
Never change, Giant Burger. Never change.