Repeatable: Yes. Visits: 2
Anyone who likes playing with their food will love Ballard’s Lunchbox Laboratory, where you can tailor a burger’s patty and condiments from the ground up. The menu of options is dizzying. For the patty: beef, “dork” (duck and pork), lamb, churken (chicken and turkey). For the rest of it: condiments from the usual (lettuce, tomato, bacon, onions) to the exotic (truffles, half a dozen cheeses, and doctored ketchups and mustards). There seems to be only one type of bun, a fluffy, glossy brioche-like pillow that happily cushions whatever artery-clogging pile of ingredients is placed upon it. The bun gamely holds together until the first bite, when it collapses and pretty much everything starts dripping out, all gooey and luscious. Yes, the burgers are damn good. They’re also damn greasy. (They’re not cheap, either. A special–burger, fries, drink–will set you back at least $14).
Folks who love this place really love this place–like my husband, who has shortened his life span by a couple years in a two-week span by visiting half a dozen times. Not exactly a compulsive type, I could understand the Lab’s appeal after one visit. The tiny storefront is long on atmosphere: The hand-scrawled chalkboard menu, kitschy lunchbox collection, drinks in laboratory beakers, and ubiquitous patina of grease all conspire to conjure up a mod American diner. The only things missing are the swiveling stools and Formica countertops–which may happen once Lunchbox relocates, as the chalkboard outside helpfully announces.
The details here are worth calling out: Sweet potato fries and tater tots can be showered with a choice of gourmet salts and seasonings; shakes can be vanilla or “special,” like the Pina Colada, with its snowglobe storm of coconut bits. I love a good shake, which is why I’ll be coming again. As long as I’m in the neighborhood, I may have a burger as well.