Booyah for Mooyah 

Raising the 'fast-casual' burger bar in a crowded market.

Somebody had a heck of an idea back in the Good Ol' Days when they first hit upon the idea of marrying a circle of griddled ground round to a slice of cheese and a soft bun to create the first cheeseburger. We'd go so far as to nominate that pioneering burger broacher for a posthumous Nobel Prize if we could, just for all the joy he or she has contributed to the world.

There have always been good burgers in Central Arkansas, of course. The beloved Cotham's comes to mind, as does the delicious example to be had at Buffalo Grill. Big Orange seems to have the gourmet market locked down. And in recent years, a few chain upstarts have contested for the burger crown, and they've brought their polished, "fast-casual" A-game: Five Guys, David's Burgers and Cheeburger Cheeburger. Now the trio is a quartet, with West Little Rock's new Mooyah Burgers. With a great, family-friendly decor, an excellent burger, lots of fresh toppings and non-beef patty options to accommodate those who don't dig on cow, it's a real contender for the top of the have-it-your-way burger heap.

A Dallas-based chain that also has an outlet in Hot Springs, Mooyah has big expansion plans in Arkansas. Scott Stzelecki, franchisee and owner of the West Little Rock location, says the company plans to open 50 stores all over the state, including several in Central Little Rock. "We are looking [for a space] in downtown Little Rock right now, also midtown," he said. "I'd love to go around the Shackleford Crossing area if something comes available there."

Setting it apart from the more minimalist vibe at main competitor Five Guys, the decor of Mooyah's goes for the fun factor, heavy on quirky pictures of cows and with a "Moodle Doodle" blackboard wall where kids can draw. The menu is open to a little more creative expression than some of its competitors as well. For those not into beef, Mooyah has both turkey burgers and veggie burgers available for the same price as beef, as well as an optional whole wheat bun and sweet potato french fries ($2.45 for small, $3.95 for large).

Ordering at Mooyah is done with a paper check card, something like the way you might order at a sushi joint. The base burger is $4.95 for veggie/beef/turkey. Then it's just a matter of picking your goodies. The list features five different kinds of cheeses (you have to pay 75 cents extra for pepperjack), and 20 different sauces and toppings. You have to pay extra for bacon (85 cents), sliced avocado (95 cents) and fried onion strings (75 cents).

Your reviewer chose the beef patty and white poppy seed bun. We considered the Mooyah Sauce (which a server told us was something like the special sauce on a Big Mac) but decided to stay tried and true and go with the classic burger toppings of American cheese, bacon, mayo, lettuce, pickle, tomato and white onion. We also snagged a side of French fries.

Can a burger be beautiful? If so, the one that came to the table within 10 minutes of our order sure fit the bill: a big, two-fisted chunk of paradise wrapped in foil, with two patties dripping cheese, stacked with crispy bacon and underpinned by crispy-fresh veggies on a cloudlike sesame seed bun.

The best thing was, it tasted dang near as good as it looked: well-seasoned, juicy and delicious, ranking with some of the better burgers we've had in recent memory. Yes, the patties were a bit thinner than those found at some other burger places, but you get two without being asked to pay extra, and the seasonings seemed to have penetrated the thinner patties more thoroughly, adding to the flavor. Paired with hot, not-too-thick-not-too-thin French fries served in a cup, it was definitely a memorable burger experience.

While getting a burger right isn't as hard as folks make it out to be, the difference between Mooyah and some other entries in the local market is the family-friendly atmosphere, and the expanded choices. It also makes a fine burger, and the turkey/veggie options definitely help if you've got a companion in tow who isn't into beef. Definitely worth checking out.

Mooyah Burgers

14810 Cantrell Road, Suite 190

868-1091

mooyah.com

Hours

11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

QUICK BITE

Like any burger joint worth its salt and pepper, Mooyah has a big slate of milkshakes. Sippers can choose from 14 flavors, including tried-and-trues like chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, but also oddities like mocha, Butterfinger, mint chocolate chip, banana and cookie dough ($3.75 adult, $2.75 for kid-sized).

Other info

All CC accepted, family friendly, no alcohol.

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