Two promising burger chains have set up shop in the Seattle area, with attractions such as charburgers, top-of-the-heap truffle fries and half-and-half sides.

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Seattle has its fair share of burger joints. We love our Great State, Uneeda Burger and Dick’s (with a new outlet in Kent). And, of course, there’s been plenty of buzz about Seattle’s first Shake Shack in South Lake Union and its legendary lines. But no need to wait: Let us introduce you to two other worthy out-of-towners fighting for market share: The Habit Burger Grill and Little Big Burger.

The Habit Burger Grill got its start with a walk-up window in 1969 in Santa Barbara, California, drawing people in with the promise of burgers cooked over a flame on a cast-iron grill. Now Habit Burger serves up “charburgers” at nearly 250 franchises across 10 states as well as in China and the United Arab Emirates. The first Washington shop opened in 2015, and the chain has since expanded with seven of a planned 25 locations now open across the region; most recently a Ballard outlet opened in August.

Little Big Burger was started in Portland’s Pearl District in 2010 by Micah Camden and Katie Poppe with a specialty spicy ketchup (Camden’s) and burgers that were a bit bigger than a slider. The duo sold the business to Chanticleer Holdings (the same company that owns Hooters) in 2015, and the first Little Big Burger opened in Wallingford in November 2018 with a plan for two more shops to be open soon.

How do they stack up?

The Habit Burger Grill

It’s tough to talk much about the interior of a chain restaurant without thinking of Marilyn Hagerty, the 92-year-old food critic from Grand Forks, North Dakota, whose write-up of the local Olive Garden in 2012 went viral for the earnestness of its review (fun fact: the review was subsequently defended by Anthony Bourdain).

Taking a page out of Hagerty’s book, I looked around the Shoreline outlet (conveniently located in the same shopping center as Costco and Home Depot) with an open mind and was pleasantly surprised. A friend and I showed up with two babies in tow at 10:30 a.m. to a clean, bright restaurant with a friendly and helpful staff who guided us through the menu as politely as any fine-dining server would. Plus, after you order at the counter you get one of those buzzer things that alerts you when your order is ready, which feels more fun than straining to hear a name or number shouted.

Habit Burger Grill’s menu is substantive: burgers topped with everything from portobello mushrooms to pineapple slices, chicken sandwiches, ahi tuna sandwiches and even a tri tip steak sandwich. The original charburger ($4.59) comes topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles, mayo and caramelized onions. It’s a perfectly nice burger, but the star is the Santa Barbara Char ($6.89): two patties smothered in melty American cheese, topped with generous chunks of avocado and sandwiched between two thick slices of buttery, toasted sourdough.

There are also fries, sweet potato fries, tempura green beans, onion rings and salads on offer. Stop by the little pepper bar to further embellish your order. If you can’t decide on a side, you can order a half-and-half of any two you want ($3.09). Drinks run the standard soda route alongside juice, shakes, malts and iced tea.

Little Big Burger

Located on busy North 45th Street just a block from Stone Way, Little Big Burger’s Wallingford location feels more sparse and modern than Habit, filled with concrete, glass and thumping music. The service is also friendly, though it feels less cozy (if anyone cares if a fast-food joint feels cozy, that is). And Little Big Burger’s menu is as brief as Habit’s is extensive: Burger options include a burger ($4.50), a cheeseburger ($5) or a veggie burger ($5).

The cheeseburger is a lot like the chain’s name — little, but big in flavor. The patty is made from fresh, Oregon-sourced beef and shaped like a squat hockey puck, served on a wonderfully squishy brioche bun with Camden’s Catsup, pickles, copious amounts of shredded iceberg lettuce and onion. My only beef here is that the cheese (slices of Tillamook cheddar, pepper jack or Swiss; crumbled blue or chevre) wasn’t melted. There’s nothing worse than a stick of cheese sitting atop a hot burger.

Side options include fries, a Tillamook ice cream sandwich ($4) and a root-beer float ($4). Eventually there will be beer available. The fries ($3) at Little Big Burger — my god, the fries — are spectacular. Skinny, crispy, salty and with a hint of truffle oil, although if you’re no truffle fan you can opt out. Portion size is hefty, but if you’re there with friends, order extra. They won’t go to waste, especially when dipped in Camden’s or the signature fry sauce.

In a perfect world, you could get the Santa Barbara charburger with a side of Little Big Burger’s fries. Considering there is just two miles between the Wallingford Little Big Burger and Habit Burger’s new Ballard outlet, achieving that goal seems infinitely more attractive than braving that Shake Shack line.
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Little Big Burger
1329 N. 45th St., #109 (Wallingford), Seattle; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily; littlebigburger.com; locations in Capitol Hill and Green Lake will open soon

The Habit Burger Grill
1253 N. 205th St., Shoreline; 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. daily; 206-542-7551, habitburger.com; additional locations in Ballard, Tukwila, Issaquah, Kent, Tacoma and Silverdale