Hey, all this talk about how the rich are shutting out the rest of us? How come in the past ten years happy hour has increased by, oh, 3 zillion percent? No self-respecting luxury eatery doesn’t let ordinary folks in for a couple of hours every day to eat for a fraction of what regular customers pay. And hamburgers are customers’ go-to choice. On the happy-hour menu they have become de rigueur. Result? We, the People, can now afford to swan into classy joints and chow down on classy sliders. Proof? Check out some of these upper-crusty joints.
723 Felspar Street, Pacific Beach
Yes, Jrdn’s happy-hour burgers are only sliders, but priority here is this cool patio with its fabulous busy boardwalk and ocean-sunset views. It’s a bonus that these burgerettes are totally stuffed with beef, caramelized onions, truffle, and cheddar in brioche buns and fill you plenty. If size really matters and money doesn’t, they have the signature Tower23 burger at $16, and $14 burgers with flavors such as mushroom and black bean and chicken fennel sausage. But why? Go $3 sliders and save! Okay, 3 for $9. Just get here between 4 and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
969 Market Street, East Village
(Has gone out of business since this article was published.)
The Market Hall
Market Hall's happy hour is nice and long: 4–9 p.m. daily. You can pretty much get their bargain cheeseburger anytime you want. Ten bucks. Not the cheapest, but they use beef from Allen Brothers (a famous Chicago upmarket meat outfit), each patty weighs nearly half a pound, and you get a pile of spicy fries. The usual fixings include cheddar, shredded iceberg, and a challah bun. And on special days like the Fourth of July, they’ll throw in a draft (San Diego!) beer. All this is in a giant new Seattle-based delicatessen-plus-eatery with the basic concept of “shopping from our own shelves.”
420 3rd Avenue, Downtown San Diego
The Whiskey House
From 4 to 7 p.m. every day, this little hideout for whiskey aficionados offers up two irresistible deals. One is a $1 shot of Benchmark whiskey, if you also buy a sizable mug of Czech beer, itself a bargain at $4. The other is the Whiskey House Burger. For $6, they promise house-ground Angus chuck, sharp cheddar, thousand-island dressing, “drunken onions,” lettuce, and tomato. And a pile of fries. The meat — ½ pound’s worth, I swear — has great flavor, cheddar’s sharp, drunken onions super sweet. Added pleasure: chowing down inside what was maybe this town’s most famous bordello.
1300 Orange Avenue, Coronado
(Has gone out of business since this article was published.)
Why Vigilucci’s? Blackberry compote in the burger. They smear it in their happy-hour sliders. Brilliant! Three sliders cost $10. They have $10 ahi sliders (with prosciutto di Parma, spicy pineapple, and jalapeño slaw on brioche buns). But for my money, you can’t beat the regular sliders’ garlicky steak meat slathered with gorgonzola, red onions, and that blackberry compote. Other good news: happy hour goes from 3–7 p.m. Monday to Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Biggest problem? HH addicts get squished into a small interior bar. Biggest bonus: a permanent free HH appetizer plate at the bar.
505 Sixth Avenue, Downtown San Diego
Café 505 at the Tivoli Bar & Grill
At the Tivoli, we’re talking basic burgers. But what a burger deal. This pub has trumpeted its status as downtown’s oldest bar (open since 1885) without ever getting gentrified. Café 505, in the bar’s belly, does the usual sandwiches, hot dogs, and chili bowls, but the burger deal stands out. You get a burger plus fries and a domestic draft beer for $8. A dollar more for cheese. Word to the wise: happy hour is 3–7 p.m. daily, 10 p.m. till close, Sunday–Thursday. But Café 505’s hours are erratic.
224 Fifth Avenue, Downtown San Diego
Lou & Mickey’s
Lou and Mickey King opened their first burger joint in 1945. Now they’re a chain. So you expect great things from their burgers, even in happy hour (4–6 p.m., Monday–Friday). And, yes, “Lou & Mickey’s bar burger” is an $8 wonder that looks so danged beautiful wrapped in its paper shawl, you can’t bear to ruin it. The meat patty is big and squelchy, and with the cheese, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and gherkins, you need a python’s drop-jaw to get around it. Add a Stone Pale Ale ($4) and presto! A $12 luxury meal in the Gaslamp.
518 E. Main Street, El Cajon
Main Tap Tavern
I’m cheating here, because even though these guys have a happy hour, their Superburger wasn’t on it when I ate there. If Main Tap’s serious about its beers, it’s iconoclastic when it comes to burgers. I mean, peanut butter in beer’s one thing, but in burgers? Turns out, yes: their “handmade 100 percent Angus beef patty” half-pound burger, with smoked bacon, grilled onion, and cheddar also comes with layers of Jiffy peanut butter. And it delivers, sweet, savory, squelchy, and crackly (from the outside of the Sadie Rose bun) all in one mouthful. Cost is $10.50. Nice touch: that includes tax.
1985 Oceanside Boulevard, Oceanside
Red Rooster Bar
Also not happy hour, but this dive bar’s special: same grill has been cooking burger patties so long (52 years), it’s probably the best-seasoned in the county. Choose Rooster Burger. Comes with cheese, grilled onions, Ortega chili. Pay cash up front and the show begins. Your burger goes on over the coals with a belch of smoke. A squirt of oil and flames bust out and float in the smoke. The patty comes off crispy-blackened outside, juicy inside. Deeply flavored. The secret? As the barkeep gals say, it’s like life: you’ve just got to know when to flip it.
2550 Fifth Avenue, 12th floor, Bankers Hill
Bertrand at Mr A’s
The ultimate privileged perch, above the city, watching planes coast into Lindbergh below you, and the sun setting over the Coronado Islands. This place is super pricey. But then there’s “cocktail hour.” And cocktail hour’s sliders ($11) are totally delicious. Okay, they’re just three fairly small burgers with beef, tomato, and lettuce with truffle fries. But it’s medium-rare Kobe beef, and the lettuce is square-cut, and the brioche buns are golden and melt in your mouth. And anyway your mouth is gonna be open most of the time, staring out at the town’s awesomest view. Cocktail hour: 2:30–6 p.m., Sunday–Thursday.