By Andy Cheng
Ahh . . . burgers, the quintessential American staple; if you try it elsewhere, they’re just not the same. Travel the world and all you want to do when you return is to get a juicy, fat ass burger with that all-American frozen and refrozen beef with grease seeping through the bags. (Incidentally, you also notice while traveling the world that people aren’t as hefty as they are here.) Fast food contributes to obesity and high-blood pressure, but who gives a s*#t? This is America, the land of acting now and thinking later when it comes around and bites us in the ass (or heart).
That being said, it’s no surprise that burger joints like Zorba’s Restaurant is full of thrill-seeking burger enthusiasts with a proclivity for greased-up, melt-in-your-mouth and cling-to-your-arteries fast food. It’s justified: this place gives In-n-Out a run for their money with their impressively juicy hamburgers and loaded pastrami sandwiches. What’s more: this burger diner may look shady and disadvantageously located in a less than favorable area of Riverside, but within its crude exterior is a diner that’s decently retro with a big-flat screen TV tuned to sports and a touch-screen soda machine. The restaurant doesn’t serve you at the table, but no one’s really expecting girls on roller skates and Elvis on a jukebox.
When it comes to their food, these guys don’t mess around, unless you order the Pastrami Burger, which according to my accomplice is “messy as hell.” That’s because the burger is literally overloaded with pastrami, so much and so greasy they use tin foil to wrap the thing. But if you’re considering a trip to Zorba’s, you might as well try their eponymous item: Zorba’s Burger. A big, fat burger with the most tender patty you won’t find elsewhere loaded with juicy pastrami meat, onions, shredded lettuce and everything else in a conventional burger. Yeah, it might sound a bit plain, but take a bite and immerse yourself in fast food that’s not grade C crap and not exactly fast (although it is faster than In-n-Out). However, I will admit that the pastrami was much saltier than necessary. It’s redeeming quality is the abundance of lettuce.
Every combo comes with the traditional French fries and a soda. The French fries are astoundingly crunchy and without those outstanding pieces you’d find in a McDonald’s bag: a fry so soaked in grease it becomes a flaccid and nasty. No; these fries are salted perfectly as to not come on too strong, but convince you that each chunky piece is worthy of complementing the burger. The restaurant also offers fried mushrooms or fried zucchinis as alternatives to French fries, and for the upgrade in quality the zucchini offers, it is well worth the small price increase.
On to the main course, the most notable fixtures of this otherwise typical burger joint are their Coca-Cola Freestyle soda machines. The machines come equipped with over 50 different flavors, giving customers, empty paper cups in hand, the freedom to choose from a huge selection of unimaginable sodas like Strawberry Sprite and Orange Coke. Raspberry Fanta is amazing, and so is Grape Sprite. Having a cup is like going wine tasting, but instead it’s soda tasting and unlimited.
I don’t know about you, but having been a student at UCR for the past three years and having only Carl’s Jr. and McDonalds as the practical burger options, I am relieved to have discovered this amazing little diner. Yes, the soda machines dazzled me upon my first entry, but the food had to achieve a certain threshold of tastiness to attain my praise. Let’s just say, I would willingly eat a greasy-ass all-American burger once a week if it was made by Zorba’s Restaurant.
Zorba’s Restaurant, 450 Iowa Ave., Riverside, (951) 686-5830. Mon-Sat, 7am-10pm. Sun, 8am-9pm. M, V.