The Supertaster Verdict on Wendy’s Hot ‘N Juicy Cheeseburger

Dave's Hot 'N Juicy Cheeseburger from Wendy's

Dave's Hot 'N Juicy Cheeseburger from Wendy's

I Paid: $3.49 for a quarter-pound burger (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 4 stars

Marketing: 4 stars

The story (as told by USA Today, among many others) is a good one: Wendy's, a fast-food chain under siege, needs to create a new winning product in order to stay alive. McDonald's is after their market share from below; from above, "better burger" chains like the rapidly expanding Five Guys are pressing in.

So, after two and a half years of secret research (the ridiculously named Project Gold Hamburger), we have the possible savior of Wendy's: Dave's Hot 'N Juicy Cheeseburger, named for chain founder Dave Thomas. The new burger comes in Single (quarter-pound), Double (half-pound), and Triple (three-quarter-pound) sizes.

The major changes from the run-of-the-mill Wendy's burger: The patty is thicker, the bun is buttered and toasted with newly installed $5,000 to $6,000 toasters, there's no mustard, the mayo is whole fat, and the cheese is meltier.

The result: a really tasty fast-food burger. I've had a number of other "fast food goes upscale" hamburgers before (the shameful McDonald's Angus burgers particularly come to mind), and they've always disappointed, tasting essentially like more of a bad thing. But the Dave's Hot 'N Juicy is, well, not the finest burger I've ever eaten, but really not bad, on a par with a well-made bar burger. The buttery, toasted taste of the bun; a hint of smokiness; generous amounts of lovably low-grade cheese; crisp, sharply flavored onion; a large, decent-tasting patty of beef—these all add up to a well-balanced fast-food-hamburger experience that could be described as nearly enjoyable.

Five Guys and Smashburger are still turning out a more craveable product, but Wendy's has a galaxy of existing locations, and the Dave's Hot 'N Juicy option gives people a new, credible reason to actually go there. Only time will tell if this gives the franchise a new lease on life, but my taste buds tell me that it has at least injected a welcome shot of relevance into the chain.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow CHOW on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.