Two Jeffs

Jeff's Burgers

2152 Avenida de la Playa, La Jolla

“I used to work here,” says Jeff. Funny, because we’re talking and chowing in Jeff’s Burgers. But, turns out, it was named after a different Jeff. We each take a chomp into our crunchy charbroiled jumbo burger.

The Jeff encounter started on the #30. He came and sat next to me. Just chance. Crowded bus, of course. Since the service cuts — don’t get me going, please. He was this lanky, clean-cut guy in jeans and blue ski jacket. Surfer’s face. Ruddy, healthy. He gets out on the way down Torrey Pines Road.

Me, I jump off a couple of stops later on La Jolla Shores Drive, near Paseo Dorado, among shadowy trees and bushes, like a li’l ol’ country stop. I walk on out to Avenida de la Playa and lope down the few hundred yards to this little colony where it seems all the recession-proof sleek people hide out. It’s small-scale, discreet. Cute, if you want to know the truth. Dusk is gathering quickly, and for one scary moment, I see what looks like — Lord, a green wall of water. For an instant I panic. Tidal wave? Then I see it’s just the beach-to-horizon ocean perspective. But, wow. I pass by a cozy, chi-chi–looking Italian eatery. Piatti. “Plates,” I think it means. Full of designer-dressed folk thoughtfully caressing the stems of their red wine glasses as they talk about very important stuff.

Lord. Getting late, and the only places open are all like Piatti. Way beyond the 13 buckeroos I have in my pocket. Plus, I’ve promised Carla a hotdog, come hell or...uh, high water. She’s still hot on her Perfect Dog jag.

So it’s a big sigh of relief when I see Jeff’s lights still burning. “Awesome burgers here,” says this gent. He’s sitting at a concrete table under the green sidewalk awning, stuffing his face. “They still charbroil them. Been coming here forever.”

I step inside to this beachy-looking place: white walls, blue tables, blond wood furniture, and resort-style art, like waves, porpoises, sunsets. I see a La Jolla Light newspaper award on the wall. “Best burger, 2009.” Julio, the guy behind the counter, points me to the wall menu. “Jumbo’s the most popular,” he says.

“Since 1972,” says the menu. Hmm…What’s that? Thirty-eight years? Must be doing something right.

“Jeff’s dad Alex started the place,” says Francisco, the manager. “But Kevin, my boss, bought it from Alex 26 years ago. Apart from that, nothing’s changed.”

They have hot and cold sandwiches (from grilled cheese, $3.79, to the Long Torpedo — turkey, ham, and Swiss on a foot-long baguette — $8.75), “plates,” like chicken nuggets ($5.99) or fish and chips ($7.45), and salads (most are seven bucks). But burgers are the thing.

Jeff’s Burger is the cheapest at $3.75. The quarter-pound “superburger” goes for $3.99 (20 cents more with cheese), double burger’s $4.45, and the 1/2 lb. jumbo burger’s $4.95. French fries are $2.45 extra. Onion rings, $2.75; but then, I’ve got to think of the charbroiled hotdog for Carla. That’s $3.79.

“Julio,” I say. “Will $13 cover a jumbo cheeseburger with bacon [65 cents extra], fries, and the hotdog?”

He pushes a few buttons. “With tax, just,” he says.

’Course, with one of the combos I could have had, say, the double cheeseburger, fries, and a large drink for $8.55. But, like the monkey with his fist in the cookie jar, I’m set on the jumbo.

So I commit, pay, get a free polystyrene cup of water, and sit down. That’s when Jeff, the gent off the bus, appears. He must have walked all the way down from Torrey Pines Road. And guess what? He orders exactly what I did, right down to the glass of water. He couldn’t have known.

He sits down opposite. They bring our food, and we munch in at the same time. We both sit back with a satisfaction. “Always been good,” he says. “It’s the charbroiling.”

He’s so right. The crunchy outside to the patty, the smoky flavor, helped along by the “special sauce” that the menu talks about... And the bun isn’t flabby. Actually a little crisp on top.

“We have the bun warming, then we toast it on the flat grill,” says Kevin, the owner. He and his wife came down from L.A. back in the ’80s, when that town became too, well, unfriendly. “I knew nothing about restaurants, but when you’re young and foolish, if you set your heart on something, you get some crazy courage.”

It has worked out for him, big time. “The line’s out the door, most days,” Julio says.

“That summer I worked here,” says Jeff, “it was busy, all right.”

He’s getting up. Has to go. “I’m sleeping out. Have been on and off, for 15 years. Got to get to my spot.”

Wow. I’d thought he was some rich heir from...uh, heirabouts.

And the other Jeff, the one this place is named after?

“Still surfing, I think,” says Kevin.

BTW: Carla’s take on the hotdog: “Superb. Smoky, beefy, firm, and that charbroiled thing, It gives it a real tang. Best yet.” ■

The Place: Jeff’s Burgers, 2152 Avenida de la Playa, La Jolla Shores, 858-454-8038
Type of Food: American
Prices: Grilled cheese sandwich, $3.79; Long Torpedo (with turkey, ham, Swiss on foot-long baguette), $8.75; chicken nugget plate with fries, sauce, $5.99; fish and chips, $7.45; charbroiled chicken on green salad, $6.99; Jeff’s Burger, $3.75; 1/4 lb. “superburger,” $3.99 (cheese, 20 cents extra); double burger, $4.45; 1/2 lb. jumbo burger, $4.95; veggie burger, $5.25; french fries, $2.45; onion rings, $2.75; charbroiled hotdog, $3.79; double cheeseburger combo, with fries, large drink, $8.55
Hours: 10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.
Bus: 30
Nearest Bus Stop: La Jolla Shores Drive at Paseo Dorado (walk up La Jolla Shores Drive one block to Paseo de la Playa)

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