Review #69: Burger 21 (Cary, NC)


In 2015, the Oxford English Dictionary, the definitive record of the English language, added the word Meh, an interjection expressing indifference or lack of enthusiasm. It is interesting to note that all three Straight Beef reviewers used the word in their notes on Burger 21.

In many ways, Burger 21 is perfectly suited to the town of Cary. It is bland, innocuous, and fiercely determined not to stand out in any way. It is the Little Burger that Could–ish. Mostly. You root for it. You want to see it succeed, but it never quite makes it all the way up the hill.

Let’s put it this way, like the little league team that doesn’t play particularly well but still shows up and puts out a modicum of effort, Burger 21 gets a Participation Trophy.

Within the somewhat Spartan strip mall decor, the walls are decorated with various slogans that emphasize the B in Burger 21, like “B different,” “B shaken,” and “B saucy.” What you don’t see is “B interesting,” or “B flavorful.”

B better!

B better!

As Carolyn noted, “Tellingly, I cannot at this point recall with specificity which burger I had (my magic eight ball thinks perhaps it was the Cinco) but what I do recall is that it wasn’t bad.  I remember I liked the bun but have no present recollection of the actual burger beyond generalizations. I remember the milkshake being super tasty and the fries being good with some moderately interesting dipping sauces, but I just don’t remember the burger! For a Tuesday night “crap, what am I going to do for dinner!?” emergency, swinging by Burger 21 (if it is on your way home) would be totally reasonable.  Driving out of your way for it?  Meh.  Like the DMV, if gets the job done but not prettily or quickly.

Carolyn’s rating: 2.5 out of 5

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Michael was more generous with his appraisal, “Upscale burger joints really need to stand out in order to attract customers. Failing that, they need to be in a great location and not be terrible. Burger 21 in Cary stands somewhere in between those. It is in a bustling shopping center in grease splatter distance of a huge apartment complex. My Bacon Cheesy was capably prepared. Don’t take that as damning with faint praise. It was solid and tried to be a great burger. It will keep the locals coming back, but I don’t know if I’d go out of my way to go again. My Burger 21 experience in Tampa was much better. I give Burger 21 in Cary a solid meh.

Michael’s rating: 3.5 out of 5

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As Chad noted, “With spectacular local options like Chuck’s, Only Burger or Al’s Burger Shack in the area, boutique chain burger places have to work pretty hard stand out. Five Guys, Smashburger, Burger Bach, Burgerfi, and Zinburger have all found success in the Triangle for good reason, they make a damn fine burger. However, Burger 21 reminds me a lot of Elevation Burger, a place with great potential but disappointing execution. My Bacon Cheesy burger was competently prepared, but nothing worth getting excited about or coming back for. It wasn’t bad, per se, just unremarkable. I’d rather go to Char-Grill. Another Meh from me.”

Chad’s rating: 3 out of 5

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Overall Rating: 3 out of 5, making Burger 21 54 out of 69.