As the signs outside most McDonald’s franchises say, Americans have eaten billions and billions of hamburgers. A hot sandwich based on a ground beef patty has remained a staple for decades despite nutritional and environmental concerns, but after all those billions, there has to be room for innovation. At Rehab Burger Therapy, the departure from traditions occurs not so much with the patty, but instead in unexpected choices of toppings that fill the space between the bread and the meat, and, in some cases, extend well beyond the boundaries of the bun.
Rehab has multiple locations around the Phoenix Metropolitan Area, but the one closest to light rail is found on the ground floor of the Orchidhouse condominium building in Downtown Tempe. The restaurant is located on the Sixth Street cul-de-sac just east of Mill Avenue and just over three blocks from the Mill Avenue / Third Street station. A large array of bike racks is found by the back door next to the restaurant’s shaded patio, although the nearby presence of several ASU buildings means that when classes are in session, they often come to close to being full.
As at Rehab’s other locations, the decor is beach-themed. Cruiser bicycles, surf boards, and a big shark hang overhead, and a thatched canopy tops the bar. Plenty of natural light makes its way to blonde wood tables. There are big screen televisions around the interior, some showing sports and others displaying nautical scenes. Miscellaneous wall art includes signs from familiar beer brands, a few guitars, sculptures of fish, shiny skateboards, and, most interesting of all, a large model of a vintage military aircraft climbing vertically towards the ceiling.
The menu is a long one, and most of it is composed of burgers verging on the Vulcan ideal of “infinite diversity in infinite combinations” in terms of their toppings. Before that, however, there are some appetizers in more familiar configurations. Chicken wings come with a choice of sauce and the usual side of carrot sticks. Smothered fries, chips and salsa, and nachos all reinforce the theme of bar-and-beach food. They’re all well prepared, but with portions large as they are at Rehab, order sparingly so as to save room for the main event, usually a burger, to come.
The burgers, as well as a few non-burger sandwiches, occupy a large menu section identified as “grillin n chillin.” The first choice listed is a simple build-your-own option with any toppings beyond lettuce, onion, and tomato available a la carte. After that gentle start, things get crazy pretty quickly. Just a few lines down on the menu appears one of Rehab’s signature dishes, the PBJ & Bacon Burger. This indulgent creation includes not only the three named toppings, but also a splash of sriracha that adds a bit of chili heat to contrast with the sweetness of the jelly.
Many of the burgers incorporate wordplay into their names. The Know Poblano burger has a huge slab of mild chili pepper and onions to spice it up a bit. The Hatch Burger has a bit more heat, but the Ghost Burger goes all the way with two patties blanketed in ghost pepper jack cheese. Occasional specials not only play with unconventional toppings, but also replace the usual bun with alternative starches such as waffles or even donuts bookending the patty. In the Spicy Mac-and-Cheese Burger, the creamy macaroni spills out of the bun and onto the plate.
If these over-the-top creations sound like a whole lot of food, they are. Some even incorporate two burger patties into their towering structures. Keep in mind, however, that most of the burgers here come in two sizes: Rehab, which is an enormous ten ounces of meat, and Relapse, which is a more manageable five ounces. The tradeoff, of course, is that the Relapse patties are thinner, making them not quite as juicy as their Rehab counterparts. For that reason, it may sometimes be better for two people to share a Rehab, as long they agree on toppings.
While beef patties are the default option here, any of the burgers can be made with grilled chicken breast, a ground turkey patty, a panko-crusted vegetable burger, or a spicy chorizo patty. Most of these alternative burgers are also featured in their own customized sandwiches with toppings matched to the type of patty used. The grilled chicken sandwich, for example, tops a copious serving of poultry with havarti cheese, avocado, lettuce, tomato, and alfalfa sprouts, replacing the usual bun with slices of generous white bread described as “beach toast.”
There are also some entrees that don’t try to be burgers at all. A few cold sandwiches include Veggie Noogie, with big pieces of grilled eggplant and portabello mushroom combined with havarti and condiments inside a kaiser roll. Among the entree-sized salads, the Rodrigo Da Vinci is a spicy Southwestern choice with grilled chicken, tortilla strips, peppers, and onions over a base of romaine. Echoing both the beach theme and the numerous plays on words in the menu, the Cantina Tacodos feature breaded white fish (the “cod” in “tacados”) in soft tortillas.
There are two choices for dessert, both sized for sharing. Pot Brownies come in a small skillet with plenty of brownie hidden below marshmallow fluff and an optional ice cream topping. The Pineapple Kush is more tropical with fruit and coconut flavors. Drink options lean towards draft beer, including some Four Peaks local brews, and tequila. With just a few locations, Rehab probably hasn’t yet had the opportunity to serve billions and billions. Instead, it has focused on sometimes off-the-wall experimentation while at the same time honoring the classic burger.
21 E. 6th St., Tempe AZ 85281
Mill Avenue / Third Street Station