After weighing in on the seven contenders, Camera Dining Critic Liz Moskow has pitted the top two contenders in each food class against one another to find an ultimate victor:
FRENCH FRY FISTICUFFS
Five Guys Burger and Fries vs. Rueben's Burger Bistro
It was a tough battle, a fight lasting until the final round. Ultimately, Five Guys Burger and Fries was victorious. Though not suitable for those with a peanut allergy, the fries were perfectly seasoned, hot, crisp and browned on the outside without drying out on the inside. Rueben's fries put up a helluva fight to the finish but just couldn't edge out the Five Guys flavor. These two will meet again, to battle another day.
SHAKEDOWN: THE THRILLA IN VANILLA
Smashburger vs. Good Times
These rivals couldn't be more different, yet they are both tough competitors. In one corner, the pure vanilla flavor of Haagen-Dazs ice cream, the extra shake remnants served in an icy-cold steel tumbler and a frosted glass. In the other corner, the decadent eggy goodness of custard. Both competitors offer thick, handspun vanilla shakes, but only one will achieve vanilla victory. And the victor is ... Smashburger. With its cleaner vanilla flavor and the full shake experience, you'll find it hard to knock Smashburger out of any competition.
RING GIRL, ROUND COUNT: WHO HAS THE BEST BUNS?
Rueben's Burger Bistro pretzel bun vs. Burger Works brioche bun
Though Rueben's pretzel bun is fun, flavorful and unique, Burger Works has the best egg-washed brioche buns around.
WHERE'S THE BEEF: BURGER BATTLE ROYALE (NO CHEESE)
H Burger vs. Rueben's Burger Bistro
Both H Burger and Rueben's cook up quality. You'll pay a bit more for both compared to the larger chains, but you'll taste the difference. Both restaurants went the distance, yet there was no knockout punch. While both brought their A game to the fight, in the end this war was decided by the judges (OK, by Judge Liz), who declared Rueben's the winner in Boulder's Burger Battle Royale. Rueben's patty was slightly beefier and larger, the meat was seared thoroughly -- creating an even crust on both sides of the burger -- and the essence of the meat shone through. Don't be dissuaded from the final price for the entire meal. For $10.50, Rueben's burger comes with fries, skip the shake, sub a Belgian beer and enjoy your burger like a champ!
Seven burgers, seven sides of fries, six vanilla shakes, one distended belly.
Join one woman's journey (in fat pants), as she chronicles the good, the bad and the mediocre of seven different Boulder burger joints. Find out who griddles up the finest beef burger for your buck, which French fries will make your knees weak and which shake can really can make the earth move.
Seven Boulder joints -- we chose places that specialize in burgers (we also judged their fries and vanilla shakes) -- enter a heptagonal-shaped ring for the throwdown of the year in Boulder's Burger Battle Royale.
The contenders weigh in:
1650 28th St., Boulder
This Denver-based chain has almost 200 stores and is growing rapidly. Created by Tom Ryan to provide diners with "a place with a burger soul," Smashburger boasts affordable and fresh meals made with fresh, never frozen, 100 percent certified angus beef. Will they Smash the competition?
Prices: Smash, $4.29; Big Smash, $5.29. Total bill: burger, fries, shake, $12.58.
Type of beef: 100 percent certified angus beef, fresh never frozen, smashed on a flat-top, about a half-inch thick.
Temperature: Not taken. All burgers are prepared medium well/well. Dry, rather than juicy. Relied too much on ketchup and smash sauce for succulence.
Flavor profile: Very salty, coated with coarsely ground black pepper.
Bun: Soft, tender, seedless egg bun.
Sauce: Smash Sauce is a blend of mayo, relish and mustard.
Toppings: Romaine lettuce, red onion, ripe tomato, thick-cut ridged dill pickle chips.
Most interesting burger: Truffle mushroom swiss burger, with truffled mayo, sauteed baby portabella mushrooms and aged swiss.
French fries: Smashfries are matchstick-cut and doused with olive oil, garlic and rosemary. They're crispy, skin-off, but greasy from the extra dose of olive oil.
Instead of French fries: Sweet potato fries, fried pickles, haystack onions, fried mild green chilies, flash-fried carrot sticks and green beans.
Fry cooking oil: Cooked in a blend of canola oil and beef tallow, these fries are not suitable for vegetarians. This is the only chain in the tournament using animal-based, rather than plant-based, oils.
Shake: The $3.99 shake is served in a frosted malt glass with the stainless steel mixer cup on the side. Perfectly vanilla. Haagen-Dazs ice cream adds the extra wow! Topped with whipped cream, blended until cold and crystally. By far, the largest shake in the division.
Noteworthy: While I wouldn't make a return trip for the burger (too salty) or the Smashfries (too greasy), I would make Smash Burger a go-to shake destination.
2525 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder
The Vail-based Larkburger, created by chef and co-owner Thomas Salamunovich, runs 12 locations. Larkburger says they "offer something unique and unlike any other burger." The classic Larkburger is billed as a "celebration of flavor, a testament to taste and the result of their chef's dedication to quality." Can Larkburger hold its own against six other fierce competitors?
Price: Larkburger, $5.95. Total bill: burger, fries, shake, $13.98.
Type of beef: A half-pound of black angus beef. Thicker patty than most; not smashed or spatula smooshed but more of a rounded patty.
Temperature: Taken. It was ordered medium but arrived medium rare, very pink but easily remedied by staff.
Flavor profile: Juicy, meaty, fresh
Bun: Because Larkburger serves its burgers in cardboard boxes, soft brioche buns get smooshed when the burgers are slid into the sleeve-like boxes. While a tasty bun, I'd rather self-smush the soft and tender roll than have it mashed for me.
Sauce: Larksauce is a lemon Dijon mayo-based mixture.
Toppings: Green leaf lettuce, red onion, Lark sauce, underripe tomato. (The tomato had a hole where the stem was cut out. I like the fact the tomato top didn't go to waste, just wish I hadn't gotten that slice.)
Most interesting burger: Add truffle aioli to the Larkburger, and voila, a Truffle Burger.
French fries: Hand-cut, skin-on, russet potato matchsticks sprinkled with sea salt.
Instead of French fries: Larkburger's signature truffle parmesan fries or edamame.
Fry cooking oil: Canola oil.
Shake: The $5 shake features Boulder Ice Cream. Though a premium organic and all-natural vanilla, the shake was one-dimensional and lacking in pure vanilla flavor.
Noteworthy: Larkburger does a good job catering to those with food allergies and even offers a gluten-free bun for an extra $1. Fries are thin and satisfying if you eat them quickly. But wait longer than five minutes and the fries are reduced to wilty bits that won't stand up to a dip in ketchup.
2700 Arapahoe Ave.
Burger Works is a scaled-down, quick-service, build-your-own-burger concept by Red Robin. Gone is the full-service menu -- they've sucked weight down to the basics in an effort to simplify -- as are the all-you-can-eat steak fries, but they've kept a few menu heavyweights and their same fresh, fire-grilled burgers. Though Red Robin originated in Seattle, its current corporate HQ is located in Greenwood Village, a Denver suburb.
Price: Build your own burger, with free basic veggie toppings, $4.49. Total bill: burger, fries, shake, $11.39.
Type of beef: Fresh, never frozen, 100 percent grain-fed USDA ground beef.
Temperature: Not taken. Flame-grilled burger comes medium well with perfect cross-hatched grill marks.
Flavor profile: Whopper-esque-flavored but a bit on the thin and greasy side.
Bun: Griddled, sesame-seed-free, soft and tender, egg-washed brioche.
Sauce: Choose any or all from among chipotle mayo, Thousand Island, bourbon BBQ or Thai Chili ketchup.
Toppings: Iceberg lettuce, sweet white onion, thin-sliced tomato, crisp red onion, dill pickle slices.
Most interesting burger: Banzai Burger, with teriyaki sauce, grilled pineapple, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, mayo.
French fries: Don't expect to see Red Robin's steak fries here; I was a bit disappointed. Instead, you'll find the polar opposite -- flimsy matchstick-style frites. Eat them quickly to avoid a knockout in the early eating rounds.
Instead of French fries: Sweet Potato Fries, onion straws or a medley of all-fryer delights.
Fry cooking oil: Soybean oil.
Shake: The $3.99 shake tasted of artificially flavored vanilla and not much else.
Noteworthy: Die-hard fans of the former Red Robin full-service concept might be disappointed here. A lot of what made Red Robin fun is missing. On the positive side, the buns here are some of the best around.
2050 26th St., Boulder
Good Times opened its first restaurant in 1987 right here in Boulder. Now headquartered in Golden, Good Times has expanded outside of Colorado into Wyoming and North Dakota. Anchored by its offering of fresh frozen custard, Good Times believes its burgers to be "the secret to happiness."
Price: Good Time Deluxe, $3.29. Total bill: burger, fries, shake, $7.79.
Type of beef: Meyer Natural Angus beef.
Temperature: None taken. Served well done.
Flavor profile: Similar to a cafeteria-style burger that's been sitting in a holding pan waiting to be served. It came out so fast there is no way it was made to order.
Bun: Non-seeded, soft, smushy. It's similar in style to one from McDonald's, which evokes magical childhood memories about gently handling this kind of soft bun and makes me smile thinking of simpler times.
Sauce: Yellow mustard, ketchup, mayo.
Toppings: Unruly leaves of iceberg lettuce, two slices of unripe tomato, red onion, dill pickle slices.
Most interesting burger: Guacamole Bacon Burger, with honey-cured bacon, onion, lettuce, tomato and guacamole.
French fries: Hand-cut, skin-on with sea salt. They're greasy, but the good kind, not overly so.
Instead of French fries: Wild Fries (battered and seasoned), beer-battered onion rings.
Fry cooking oil: Plant-based oil blend.
Shake: The burger might have been a bust, but the vanilla custard shake delivered a right hook of flavor to my kisser. Creamy, rich, eggy vanilla, whipped cream and a pirouette cookie, too.
Noteworthy: The burger is hands-down the biggest bum of the bunch. The creamy custard-filled shake might be a champion, however.
H Burger Co.
1710 Pearl St., Boulder
Another Colorado contender, H Burger is a mini-chain with three locations in Boulder and Denver. Premium burgers and contemporary cocktails are their bag. Though no one will tell you for sure what the H stands for, H Burger claims the burgers are Hand-formed, the fries Hand-cut and the desserts Homemade. But will they reign supreme in this Heavyweight matchup?
Price: $7.95/$8.95 for grass-fed beef upgrade, fries included. Total bill: burger, fries, shake special, $7.59; regularly, $13.82 with small shake, $15.95 with large shake.
Type of beef: Ground fresh daily from 100 percent all-natural angus beef, or upgrade to 7-ounce Teton Waters Ranch grassfed beef for $1.
Temperature: Taken. Served true to order medium rare.
Flavor profile: Well-seasoned, juicy, succulent, tender meat with just the right amount of fat left to coat your lips.
Bun: Delivered fresh daily by City Bakery, the seedless crusty buns are chewy on the outside, tender on the inside -- and griddled until toasty.
Sauce: H Sauce is mayo, garlic and thyme.
Toppings: Ridged dill pickle slices speared into the top bun for garnish, bibb lettuce, sliced ripe tomato, red onion slices.
Most interesting burger: Our namesake, the Boulder Burger. A grassfed patty with mixed greens, balsamic fresno chili, onion and mango reduction with avocado, tomato and fontina cheese.
French fries: Hand-cut, skin-on batons of browned fries. Crispy on the outside, all tender potato on the inside. Ever so slightly oversalted.
Instead of French fries: Truffle-parmesan fries, zucchini fries, sweet potato fries, beer-battered onion rings, everything fries with cheese, bacon, scallions, jalapenos and sriracha-ranch.
Fry cooking oil: Soybean oil.
Shake: More fresh milk flavor than vanilla; thinner than the others.
Noteworthy: Lunch specials often include a beer, or a beverage, fries and grassfed patty. I walked away fat and happy after eating this quality burger at a bargain price of $7.59 , including a small shake.
Rueben's Burger Bistro
1800 Broadway St., Boulder
Reuben's stands alone in this division as the only single-location burger joint. Though not a quick-service concept, they do bill themselves as a burger bistro and they offer more than 40 beers on tap, many of them Belgian. Choose from more than 17 burger combinations, or design your own. Named after owner Rueben Verplank, Rueben's does have a Reuben sandwich on the menu, but the specialty of the house is gourmet Colorado beef burgers. We know you'll be knocked out by their beer selection; can you say the same about their beef?
Price: Training Wheels burger, $9.50, including fries; $10.50 for the grassfed upgrade. Total bill: burger, fries, shake: $16.80.
Type of beef: Locally processed Colorado beef. No antibiotics, no hormones.
Temperature: Taken. Arrived true to order and perfectly pink.
Flavor profile: Griddle-crusted meat allows the burger skin to hold in the luscious juices.
Bun: Rueben's signature pretzel style bun, all of the best qualities of a soft pretzel combined with the convenience of a juice catching roll. Substitute a cracked wheat roll or a gluten-free bun for a nominal fee.
Sauce: With ample fat content and succulent meat, the burger doesn't need to rely on sauces for juiciness. Add ketchup, mustard or mayo as you desire.
Toppings: The Training Wheels burger from the bike-themed options comes with butter lettuce, pickle, onion and sliced red tomato. Reuben's offers more than 17 different options in addition to this simple choice.
Most interesting burger: If you order The Phinney, named after cycling great Davis Phinney, Rueben's will donate $1 to the Phinney Foundation, a charity benefiting Parkinson's research. This unique burger is topped with bourbon poached green apples, melted brie and honey aioli.
French fries: Rueben's explains that the fries undergo a 24-hour, three-step process in pursuit of perfection. The price of the burger includes an oversized portion of hand-cut, thick batonette, skin-on fries.
Instead of French fries: Sweet potato fries, garlic parmesan fries, smothered chile verde fries or onion rings.
Fry cooking oil: Canola Oil.
Shake: Because Rueben's has a full bar, adults can add a little Kahlua kick to an otherwise unimpressive bland vanilla shake.
Noteworthy: Rueben's turns out a great burger, but this kind of quality costs a bit more. Though the burger included fries, the addition of a $5 shake plus tax (before tip) set me back $16.80. After tip, I was down $20.
Five Guys Burger and Fries
1143 13th St., Boulder
The only non-Colorado contender is based in Arlington, Va. Five Guys has more than 1,000 locations and is still growing. Claiming a cult following, Five Guys offers customers a multitude of free toppings. Five Guys offers a one-two punch of fresh, never frozen, burgers and customization -- the place boasts that there are more than 250,000 possible ways to order one of its burgers.
Price: One-patty Little Hamburger, $3.89; two-patty Hamburger, $5.59, each includes all toppings. Total bill: burger, fries, $8.42; with imaginary $4 shake, $12.50.
Type of beef: Fresh, 100 percent (unspecified) beef; no fillers or preservatives.
Temperature: None taken. Served grilled medium/medium well, with no trace of pink.
Flavor profile: This is one juicy, loaded, fresh backyard-style burger.
Bun: Large sesame-seed bun that's fluffy and substantial. This thing isn't going to fall apart no matter what you throw on it.
Sauce: Choose from among mayo, ketchup, mustard, relish, A1 Steak Sauce, hot sauce and barbeque sauce.
Toppings: All toppings except cheese are free at Five Guys. Order your burger all the way and get sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions, ketchup, mustard, mayo, tomato, lettuce and pickles. The result is a towering conglomeration that you need two large fists to eat. Standing 6 inches off the table, this burger is a real heavyweight, ready to take out your hunger.
Most interesting burger: As interesting as you can make it with the bevy of free toppings offered.
French fries: Five Guys does things a little differently, frying its single-sourced potatoes in peanut oil. A sign on the wall posts the origins of the day's spuds. Brown's Farm of Rexburg, Idaho, was responsible for the browned and crispy, skin-on batons, which were leaving their oily fingerprints on the brown paper bag.
Instead of French fries: They keep it simple at Five Guys: You can have fries or Cajun-style fries.
Fry cooking oil: Peanut oil.
Shake: None offered. As mentioned, Five Guys keeps it simple.
Noteworthy: It's pretty clear that Five Guys isn't a Colorado company, and that's OK. It seems that, way out in Virginia, they don't care about things like gluten intolerance or peanut allergies. This is a guy's burger joint; sensitive types should go elsewhere.