The hype that accompanied the opening of CaliBurger’s first branch here in Manila was pretty considerable. They ran contests on their social media pages and invited a bevy of local celebrities to a number of exclusive food-tasting events, which the stars of course later tweeted about. Even the fact that they had to postpone their target grand opening date somehow worked to their advantage. It created anticipation and longing for what is, essentially, nothing more than just another fast-food burger joint.
The interiors seem like a cross between a Regatta outlet store and a Barbie’s Malibu Mansion play set.
Located on the fifth floor of Century City Mall in Makati, one thing CaliBurger has going for it is its gorgeous location. The interiors seem like a cross between a Regatta outlet store and a Barbie’s Malibu Mansion play set. This is not a bad thing. Everything’s bright and cheery, a place you can safely take the kids and the family, with the cars stuck in traffic down in Kalayaan providing a twinkling tapestry for you to look at through the large glass walls, provided you visit the restaurant at night.
The servers were all nice and friendly. They were helpful with all my requests and were knowledgeable about their products. The place itself somehow manages to feel bigger than its already spacious area. The open design and layout means that even at full capacity, which they often had during their first week of operation, you never feel stifled or claustrophobic. The smoking area on the balcony is another highlight, letting you enjoy a smoke out in the open.
One thing that I didn’t like about the place itself, though, was that it was as if almost every table inside had an AC vent directly above it. It was a pain. Not only did it make my food go cold faster, by the end of my meal, I was starting to think that the evil prince who wanted to murder-stab Elsa with his sword on Frozen had a point.
CaliBurger deserves to be judged on its own merits, not its similarity to In-n-Out.
The anticipation for CaliBurger largely stems from the fact that, so far at least, it’s the closest we’ll get to an In-n-Out branch here in the Philippines. While I’ve seen other reviewers focus on how close CaliBurger got to aping the original’s Double-Doubles, be they the ones they’ve tried in the States or in that pop-up store with way too many people lined up last year at the Fort, I think that particular methodology is neither fair nor smart. CaliBurger deserves to be judged on its own merits, so that means there’ll be zero Animal Style-references for the rest of this piece.
There are really only two types of burger on the menu, chicken and beef.
They have six burger-type things on the menu, but in actuality, there are really only two options. You can either get a regular burger (plain, with cheese, or doubled up) or a chicken burger (plain, with cheese, or, you guessed it, doubled up). I tried both in their various iterations, from their flagship Cali Double to their Chicken Cheeseburger, the two times I dropped by.
The Cali Double isn’t as large as the other “Big Burger”-type offerings we’re used to from other establishments in Manila. In fact, going against the mine-is-bigger marketing strategy that other fast-food places here follow, CaliBurger doesn’t even bother bragging about how close their thing is to a pound. At no point was I ever worried about dislocating my jaw while trying to get my first bite, which would be a good thing except, for PHP 295 à la carte, I kind of wanted to at least be scared even a little bit.
You have the option to get your onions however you want them.
Flavor-wise, their standard burger patty (used both in the Cali Double and its equally beefy brothers) is nothing to write home about, but it isn’t bad. They cook it messy style, not perfectly round, with odd bits that occasionally fall apart sticking out. The cheese is suitably gooey, an important factor in any burger. They also asked me if I wanted my onions grilled, which is a great option to have. Only godless heathens choose raw rings over the sweet caramelized heaven that develops when you cook onion. They also slather everything with their pink special sauce. The latter’s probably just mayo, ketchup, and salad dressing, but I can’t say for sure.
One point in favor of their Chicken Burger (PHP 195) is that it uses an actual chicken patty, made from ground meat, instead of the breaded fillet that some other places try to foist on their customers. Unfortunately, that’s the only good thing I can say about this sandwich.
You taste every condiment because the chicken patty is so bland.
Their Chicken Burger is incredibly bland. The special sauce, which disappears into the somewhat complete flavor profile that the beef burgers have, calls attention to itself here, as it rises above the sea of white dullness that is the patty. You taste every condiment in turn, each taking center stage because there’s no star to forge them all together into a cohesive whole. When a much ghetto-er joint has better chicken burgers than you, and at a fraction of your price, you’ve got a big problem.
They also offer a carbless “burger” that’s basically just a patty wrapped in lettuce, which totally doesn’t count at all, and I won’t even insult you guys by pretending any of us will go to CaliBurger set on ordering that. The fries were mediocre as well. I had high hopes for the milk shakes, but for whatever reason, I was told they weren’t serving them the times I ordered.
There’s nothing wrong with being disappointed when a place fails to live up to its promises.
However, the biggest sin that CaliBurger commits is the fact that it’s so unremarkably, mind-numbingly, normal. Their offerings were far from inedible, I’d eat one now if you hand one to me, but they weren’t the best burgers I’ve ever tasted, not by a long shot. While it’s unfair to expect any establishment to serve perfection, there’s nothing wrong with being disappointed when a place promises you, by virtue of its massive hype and marketing push, the dining equivalent of a 2014 Corvette Stingray and instead receive a 15 year old Toyota Corolla XE, albeit one that still runs and will take you where you want to go.
The best burgers, from your first bite to the last, give you a truly visceral sense of satisfaction. The combination of flavors and textures dance together in your mouth, eliciting involuntary bedroom sounds straight from your soul. You can’t help but “ummnng” and “oooohhmm” and “auuwww” with each mouthful. Sadly, the most CaliBurger was able to wring from me was a dull “okay.”