Norma's voted best burgers in the state

Sometimes nothing but a big, messy, juice-running-down-my-arm burger will satisfy me (with cheese, please).

I had passed by Norma's Burgers on Martin Way many times. Intrigued by the giant hamburger on the roof, I always made a note to stop in one day. Then I received an e-mail about a group of young men who tour Washington in search of the best burger. The winner for 2007? None other than Norma's Burgers.

I decided to check out Norma's and invited two young friends to join me on a Friday evening. Norma started out with a hamburger place in Yelm called The Top of the Box. She moved to Lacey in 1992 and opened Norma's Burgers. Craig Forester bought Norma's about nine years ago and kept the name. His smiling face adorns the menu, with the invitation to "just call me Norma."

The menu includes sandwiches and seafood baskets, but the emphasis is on hamburgers, ranging from the classic single burger to "The Duke" John Wayne Burger.

Being a purist, I ordered the deluxe cheeseburger. My friends ordered the mushroom burger and "The Duke." Then we ordered French fries and strawberry, marshmallow and butterscotch shakes.

We sat down at the one small table inside and waited for our order. The entire time we waited there was a steady stream of customers placing orders or picking up their orders to go. It was a very busy night.

Our orders came up and we dug in.

"The Duke" was huge, one of those burgers you can't get your mouth around, no matter how hard you try. Double meat and cheese, jalapeños, ham, pineapple, bacon, lettuce, tomato, pickles and Norma's special sauce are piled on an onion bun. Up to the challenge, my young friend whittled away at it, taking bites from every angle. He thoroughly enjoyed it.

My cheeseburger came with the requisite tomato, onion, pickle and lettuce. I bit into it with great anticipation. It was a perfectly fine burger, even better with extra special sauce added. But I came expecting to be blown away by the hamburger voted best of Washington in 2007 and it just didn't happen.

My friend enjoyed her mushroom burger, which was topped with a lot of sautéed fresh mushrooms. We all agreed that our burgers were good, but that we had eaten better.

The fries were crisp, golden and piping hot. The shakes are made with a soft serve pre-mix; I had hoped for real ice cream. My strawberry shake did have nice chunks of fresh strawberries in it. I tasted the butterscotch and marshmallow shakes and found them to be cloyingly sweet.

Based on the steady stream of smiling customers, I can assume there are those who would agree that Norma's deserves the 2007 prize for the best burger in Washington. To all of you, I apologize. I call 'em as I eat 'em, and my search for the best burger continues.

Jean Ciallella is a freelance writer. The reviewer makes every effort to remain anonymous. Meals are paid for by The Olympian.

Norma's burgers

Locations: 7210 Martin Way E. (360-456-6547) and 10322 Martin Way E., off I-5 Exit 114 (360-412-0333).

Hours: 7210 Martin Way E. opens at 10 a.m. Monday, 9 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. Sunday. It closes at 9 p.m. each day. 10322 Martin Way E. is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Call in and take out is available at both locations.

Food: Although Norma's specializes in burgers, it also serves sandwiches and seafood baskets. You can order a grilled chicken with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise or a funky chicken with ranch dressing, bacon and provolone. You can order a BLT sandwich and add avocado for $2 more. There are grilled Reubens, patty melts or Polish sausage with sauerkraut. Seafood selections include shrimp or prawns, halibut or cod or a combination basket, all served with fries and sauces. Veggie burgers are available. Breakfast sandwiches with ham, bacon or sausage, egg and cheese also are available.

Beverages: Norma's offers 32 flavors of shakes, canned and fountain sodas, and energy drinks. Juice and Snapple drinks are available as well.

Value: The value is very good. You can fill up for less than $10. The single burger is $4.50 and the most expensive burger is "The Duke" at $7.99. For an additional $3 you can include fries and a large drink. The combination seafood basket, with halibut, prawns, shrimp and clam strips, is $14.99.

Service: This is strictly self-service. You get in line, place your order at the window, and pick it up when it's ready. The kitchen staff is friendly and greeted regular customers by name.

Atmosphere: The restaurant is very small, with one table for four and seating for about seven along the walls. On nice days, outside seating increases the capacity by 28.

Reservations: No reservations here.

Methods of Payment: Cash and major credit cards.