THE SPOT: Burger Lounge (1608 India St., 619-237-7878) is a certified green restaurant. Translation: They compost, recycle, and serve grass-fed beef and healthy salads. That's all commendable, but fans swear they keep coming back to this supermodern bright white and orange space for the addictive burgers and sides
THE SPECS: Onion rings ($4.50) are all about texture, and here the magic ingredient is panko -- coarse and flaky Japanese breadcrumbs that absorb less oil, making for an addictively crunchy shell that's never greasy.
BELMAR, NEW JERSEY
THE SPOT: Fried food just tastes better in the salty sea air. Boom (811 Belmar Plaza, 732-749-3280), a burger joint on the Jersey Shore, is a case in point. It uses ingredients that are a cut above the competition -- custom-ground beef for the burgers and handcut onions for the rings.
THE SPECS: Chef Matt Mitchell took inspiration from classic beer-battered onion rings, but pushed the tangy flavor to a new level with his clever "black and tan" rings ($5.50). He starts with a traditional beer batter, then adds a sauce made from reduced Guinness, which he also paints onto the rings in stripes.
THE SPOT: The Old Fashioned (23 N. Pinckney St., 608-310-4545) isn't actually old -- it opened in 2005 -- but it was built to feel like an age-old Midwestern supper club. The menu celebrates Wisconsin favorites like cheese curds and the Best Wurst platter, though there's also a smattering of cosmopolitan flavors, like a portobello mushroom sandwich with goat cheese.
THE SPECS: The onion rings here are haystack-style ($5), and they look the part -- extremely thin and golden-brown, with a light buttermilk batter that coats the rings for a flaky texture and tangy flavor.
THE SPOT: The Dew Drop Inn (1808 Old Shell Road, 251-473-7872) has relocated twice since it first opened in 1924, but the food hasn't changed -- much to the delight of its loyal patrons. The current incarnation, with its orange Formica tabletops, is retro diner at its best.
THE SPECS: Powell Hamlin, owner, cook and manager at the Dew Drop, doesn't do shortcuts. Instead, he cuts the onions by hand, double-dips the rings in a homemade batter and dredges them in cracker meal before dropping them in vegetable oil. The rings ($2.50 for a small) are puffy, golden and full of flavor.
*Prices and other details were accurate when we published this article in October 2009.