When I was but a wee journalism student in college—slaving away long nights at the campus’ daily paper and suffering shitty unpaid internships—I dreamed of the important, impactful reporting I would one day accomplish as a real reporter. Here, friends, is payoff for all that sweat and those tears: I ate all the burgers at the International House Of
Pancakes Burgers, and I have prepared for you a full dispatch.
The seed of this idea was planted earlier this month when IHOP briefly rebranded as IHOB to promote its new burger lineup. To make such a monumental shift from beloved breakfast (and late-night) staple to all-day burger spot is, I figured, not done lightly. Surely, there must be something compelling about these burgers.
So I assembled as many friends as I could on a weekday night (three) with a singular mission: We are going to eat all the burgers (seven) on the IHOB menu and make an assessment.
The audacity and excess of my plan were necessary evils in the quest to determine whether IHOP’s (I shall not acquiesce to its ‘IHOB’ branding conventions) new burger-centric menu lived up to its substantial marketing campaign. Only by consuming the burgers side-by-side, all at once, could I truly determine their merit. Just as one cannot judge The Who by a single track off Tommy, I could not pass judgment upon IHOP without understanding its burger menu’s true scope and vision.
I just really hoped our server would be on board with this. And, thankfully, Kate (quelle coincidence!) totally was.
Apparently, our local IHOP was running a competition between servers to award $100 to the employee who could sell the most burgers. Server Kate was already in the lead, but our order was the jackpot that would catapult her to victory. Beaming wide enough to expose her tongue ring, Kate treated us like IHOP VIPs the rest of the night. (That just translated to free lemonade refills.)
We switched tables from a standard booth to a long, banquet-style set-up, then awaited the seven burgers and sides—plus an order of mozzarella sticks, because my friend Cecily wanted those. During the 20-minute-or-so wait for our burgers, I mulled over the fact that we hadn’t been asked how we’d like the burgers cooked. My friends told me this was silly; of course a place like IHOP wouldn’t ask you what temperature you want your burgers prepared. What is this, The Four Seasons? I felt sheepish. Perhaps my hopes were too high?
Server Kate brought out our burgers in multiple waves of beef and bun, Tetris-ing our plates around the table to accommodate our suspiciously large order. My friends and I quartered the burgers and dug in.
I started with The Classic burger, the baseline version upon which the rest are built. It looked good: springy bun, green lettuce, visible crispiness at the edge of the patty. And it tasted... good. The bun was well toasted and remained structurally intact bite after bite; the veggie toppings weren’t wilted; the pickles had crunch. The signature sauce—vaguely Thousand Island-ish—imparted a slight tang. But crucially, the beef was just okay. It had a decent char, but not much juice, probably because it was cooked completely through. The patty was about a half-inch thick, somewhere between a flat fast-food patty and a pub burger. Alas, it wasn’t seasoned in any spectacular way, and I found it hard to distinguish from a sports bar burger patty.
The addition of bacon helped; I’d recommend upgrading to The Classic With Bacon. Predictably, IHOP knows bacon and cooks it to a perfect shatter-crisp texture that also adds some necessary smoke flavor to the burger. Should you be tempted to go full Mega Monster—two patties, American and white cheddar cheeses, sauce, pickles, etc.—refrain. One patty is already somewhat bland, so doubling down on that creates a dry, overly chewy mouthful. No one can taste the difference between the two cheeses anyway.
Opt instead for my favorite of the bunch, the Mushroom & Swiss. The creamy mayo-mushroom combo hit some part of my inner cortex that transported me back to cream-of-mushroom-loaded casseroles. The saucy combo is nostalgic, savory, creamy, and a dead ringer for the gloop that binds together a Thanksgiving green bean dish.
My friends preferred the Cowboy BBQ burger, topped with the delicious aforementioned bacon, two onion rings, American cheese, and hickory barbecue sauce. The onions were super sweet, acting as a lovely foil to the bacon. I didn’t notice much tang from the barbecue sauce, which was spread fairly thin on our sandwich. Still, the crispy-fried-but-still-sweet onions alone were enough to elevate this to the top of the pile.
There are two burgers you can definitely skip: Jalapeno Kick and Big Brunch. Jalapeno Kick tastes entirely of jalapeno peppers, whose nondescript spice blanketed any other flavors and rendered the beef undetectable, flavor-wise. While I had high hopes for Big Brunch—surely this is where IHOP’s burger-breakfast fusion would excel—it was our least favorite. Topped with a fried egg, bacon, and a brick of hashbrowns, it was just a starchy mess. In promotional photos, the hashbrowns appear as a lattice of delicately crisped hashbrown spider webs. In reality, it’s a slab of mushy potato. I felt like I’d been chewing for years.
(Extremely important aside: While we’re on the subject of breakfast-burger hybrids, though, I simply must insist you take IHOP up on their offer to choose two pancakes as your burger side. What a time to be alive!)
And what IHOP does best, ladies and gentlemen, is breakfast. It’s been breakfast all along—their pancakes are adamantly fluffy, the bacon brittle-crispy, the coffee hot and plentiful. Whether you actually enter the IHOP during breakfast hours is inconsequential: You want breakfast food. The burger stunt is just that, a stunt, and only a semi-successful one at that. Burgers that have been focus-grouped to death and cooked to such national uniformity are rarely going to surpass what you could find at your region’s favorite fast-food spot.
Are the IHOP burgers better than Applebees or Friday’s or Chili’s? I can’t say. Because when I’m jonesin’ for a burger, neither Applebee’s, Friday’s, nor Chili’s are at the top of my list (Note to my editor: Please don’t make me do this). What IHOP really needed was a kickass, take-no-prisoners, nothing-less-than-A+ execution of a burger. The ones here are just fine, if a bit pedestrian, but when there are Shake Shacks popping up all over the place and Fuddruckers in existence, just fine may not be enough. Bottom line: Don’t go chasing waterfalls, IHOP, please stick to the rivers of syrup and lakes of melted butter that you’re used to.