By Johanna Yueh
The Western Burger comes with fries and cole slaw.
All Star, which bills itself as a sports bar and grill, is a bit confusing. Upon entering the restaurant, there is an air hockey table, a foosball table and one of those basketball-shooting things. In the main dining area, the first things you notice are the flat-screen TVs (there are 65 of them in the restaurant) hanging from every available inch of wall space above head level. The tables are imprinted with outlines of soccer fields or basketball courts. OK, so this is a sports bar. It's supposed to be fun and laid-back.
But then there is the glowing pristine white bar that takes up almost half (30 percent) the restaurant, sleek black stools and booths and servers clad in all black, complete with crisp button-down shirts. It's a modern, minimalist approach that strives for classiness and clashes with the casual feel of most sports bar. But All Star is apparently going for something different.
"The concept we had for this restaurant was to create a trendy, fashion, high-end sports bar," said manager Joe Zheng.
To be fair, the concept does work for some people. All Star was voted Best Sports Bar in City Weekend's 2009 Readers' Choice Awards. And with daily promotions, such as Wednesday night beer pong and a 99-kuai all-you-can-eat barbecue buffet every Thursday, All Star does try to breathe in a spirit of fun into this otherwise sterile environment. (Where are the sports equipment and jerseys?)
All Star took the prize for Best American Restaurant, Best Pub Grub and – oh, boy – Best Burger this year, as well. So many accolades: All Star certainly sounded like a star and a perfect candidate on our quest for Beijing's best American hamburger.
One of the main factors of All Star's success, Zheng said, was its burger, which was developed "from a different angle." Indeed, All Star is exceptional in that it is the only place we tried that roasts its burgers over an open fire instead of a grill. It's a recipe that Zheng is really proud of. "It's difficult for me to describe such delicious food," he said.
And, well, with all that hype, it was a letdown.
I tried the Western burger. Zheng said All Star burgers were unique creations, but they can be found at other places, too. I had a Western burger at Blue Frog, only they called it a Montana BBQ burger: beef patty with melted cheese, bacon and fried onion rings. I wish I could say it was a really tall burger, but it was kind of flat. It was certainly wide, though, and the patty was even a little bigger than the toasted buns. The bacon was savory and crispy at first but became hard and chewy by the time I finished. The onion rings were…somewhere. I couldn't tell where, though, because all flavor was drowned out by the barbecue sauce. At least the sauce was a nice combination of tangy and sweet.
I also couldn't tell what was making my burger so soggy, the barbecue sauce or the roasted patty. Maybe it's because they are roasted, but All Star patties are a little lacking in thickness and cohesion. My patty was so thin that it had broken into pieces before I was halfway done with my burger. I wish I could say that at least it tasted good, but there was too much barbecue sauce to be sure. It was definitely juicy, though.
All Star burgers do come with fries and cole slaw, making the whole meal relatively inexpensive compared to other restaurants that serve hamburgers. It's a mid-range price for a mediocre – but still edible – hamburger. It's something to consider ordering if you're at the restaurant for a game (the décor may be a little strange, but you really can't go wrong with 65 TVs). And All Star must be pleasing some people if it won Best Burger. Indeed, for some regulars, it's just the way they like their burgers.
"I think All Star definitely has the best burgers because they have the most authentic taste," said Simon Huang, who is from Los Angeles. "The sauce, the meat, the style of the burger – they put a lot of sauce on it, so when you bite into, it tastes very nice."
Visit: All Star Sports Bar and Grill. Building 5-1, Solana Shopping Mall. 6 Chaoyang Gongyuan Lu, Chaoyang District, Beijing. +861059056999.
Also by Johanna Yueh:
A piece of America in Beijing
Blue Frog makes me taste red, white and blue
(China.org.cn August 14, 2009)