San Diego Reader 2019 Burgers issue

From Oceanside to Escondido to Sherman Heights to Mount Laguna

Upgrade to the western burger at H Brothers in Escondido, if only to experience their scratch BBQ sauce.
  • Upgrade to the western burger at H Brothers in Escondido, if only to experience their scratch BBQ sauce.
  • Photograph by Matthew Suárez
  • Ian Anderson
  • Look out for the burger of the day

H Brothers

212 E Grand Ave, Escondido

A hub for carnivores in Escondido’s historic downtown, it might be tough to notice the burgers past all the smoked meats and poutine. You’ll do well enough to get the standard cheeseburger ($10.99, with side), featuring eight ounces of angus beef and a blend of provolone and cheddar, atop a brioche bun from Poway baker O’Briens Boulangerie. The pub’s namesake brothers opt for a 73/27 grind, knowing the extra fat will drip away on their charbroiler, leaving behind more char and less grease than a flat top. I’d recommend a slight upgrade to the western burger ($11.49), topped with onion rings and sharp cheddar, if only to experience H Brothers’ scratch BBQ sauce. The modified Kansas City style sauce blends mustard, ketchup, balsamic vinegar, and molasses with brown sugar, paprika, and a blend of secret spices, then gains a little smoke flavor during a two hour reduction. This winning sauce is more than burger-worthy.

Himmelbergs: sounds so wrong but tastes so right

Himmelbergs: sounds so wrong but tastes so right

Photograph by Matthew Suárez

Cowboy Star Restaurant and Butcher Shop

640 Tenth Avenue, East Village

What’s the advantage of ordering the burger at an all natural steakhouse and butcher shop? The scraps. The Ultimate Burger ($14) starts with ground daily prime chuck from renowned purveyor Niman Ranch, which would be great on its own. But the adventure really begins when they fold in trimmings from the high end, usually prime grade steaks Cowboy Star’s reputation was built on. We’re talking New York strip, filet mignon, dry aged ribeye, and hunks of wagyu skirt steak. The exact blend changes by the day as specialty cuts (and hungry conventiongoers) come and go — take a peek in the butcher shop’s glass counter for clues on what give this burger such enthralling richness. It’s so good, Chef Victor Jimenez and team keep it simple, with melted cheddar and standard vegetable toppings on the side. It’s served with no sauce of any kind. It doesn’t need it.

The OG Burger at Original 40 Brewing Company goes great with the house brown ale, lagers, and IPAs, though if you’re like me you’ll get too wrapped up in the burger to remember to drink.

The OG Burger at Original 40 Brewing Company goes great with the house brown ale, lagers, and IPAs, though if you’re like me you’ll get too wrapped up in the burger to remember to drink.

Photograph by Ian Anderson

Small Bar

4628 Park Boulevard, University Heights

When Trust Restaurant Group joined owner and chef Karen Barnett as partners back in February, this craft beer mainstay got a makeover. The new union brightened Small Bar’s once dark interior, elevated its craft cocktail program, and updated its menu. That included swapping out the house burger, for the so-called McBurger: a fast food styled burger served with ketchup, yellow mustard, onions, and pickles. However, longtime regulars rejoice! Due to customer demand, several of Barnett’s original dishes are returning to the menu, including that house burger. It employs the same rich angus beef, same challah bun and American cheese, and $11 a la carte price tag. But it puts the pickles on the side, nixes the mustard and ketchup in favor of garlic aioli, and freshens things up with tomato and shredded iceberg lettuce. The new (old) burger will be the default going forward, but those who favor the old (new) burger can request it with substitutions.

The Masters Burger sees a half pound of angus beef topped with melted, aged white cheddar and served on a lightly toasted potato bun with bacon aioli spread, and veggies on the side.

The Masters Burger sees a half pound of angus beef topped with melted, aged white cheddar and served on a lightly toasted potato bun with bacon aioli spread, and veggies on the side.

Photograph by Matthew Suárez

The Original 40 Brewing Company

3117 University Ave,, North Park

What do you get when a veteran of fine dining goes to work in a North Park brewpub? One of the best beer-pairing burgers in this beer loving city. Chef Luke Johnson has spent more than two decades cooking in kitchens including Los Angeles’s two-Michelin star Melisse and Chicago’s three-star Alinea, in addition to several highly regarded San Diego restaurants. His $13 (with fries) OG Burger at recently opened Original 40 melts Vermont white cheddar on charbroiled patty that blends New York strip, filet mignon, and ribeye with 75-percent ground chuck. This goes on a lightly toasted bun baked exclusively for the restaurant by Miramar’s Gourmet Artisan Bakery. Dressed with roasted garlic aioli, lettuce, red onion, and tomato, it goes great with the house brown ale, lagers, and IPAs, though if you’re like me you’ll get too wrapped up in the burger to remember to drink.

The Friendly’s Dirty Flat Top should not work. Yet somehow, the relatively non-descript ingredients meld together and are so delicious that it has developed a sort of cult following among industry folks and regular old burger lovers alike.

The Friendly’s Dirty Flat Top should not work. Yet somehow, the relatively non-descript ingredients meld together and are so delicious that it has developed a sort of cult following among industry folks and regular old burger lovers alike.

Photograph by Matthew Suárez

Masters Kitchen and Cocktail

208 S. Coast Highway, Oceanside

It’s been five years since Masters opened an 80-year-old converted auto shop in a suddenly food-friendly downtown Oceanside, and the place has thrived with a mix of meat entrees, cocktails, local produce, made-from scratch-sauces, and live music. Its main burger squeeze, the Masters Burger ($15, with truffle fries), sees a half pound of Angus beef topped with melted, aged white cheddar and served on a lightly toasted potato bun with bacon aioli spread, and veggies on the side. But look out for the burger of the day, where the chefs working this kitchen get to have a little fun to the tune of specials that have included a mac & cheese burger, a blue cheese burger with onion rings and root beer BBQ sauce, and the Mr. Pickles Burger: deep fried dills, garlic aioli, and goat cheese.

The Juicy Lucy at Del’s Hideout is stuffed with American cheese so it explodes like a cheese grenade when you bite it, which is weirdly better than cheese melted on top.

The Juicy Lucy at Del’s Hideout is stuffed with American cheese so it explodes like a cheese grenade when you bite it, which is weirdly better than cheese melted on top.

Photograph by Matthew Suárez

Canada Steak Burger 2

409 Telegraph Canyon Road, Chula Vista

The best-bang-for-your-buck burgers outside of In-N-Out may be called “Canada,” but it’s really more of a Greek restaurant, furnishing gyros, falafel, spanakopita, and kabob. However, once you bite into one of its eponymous steakburgers, it’s obvious why they chose to highlight this part of the menu. Available in four-, six-, and eight-ounce sizes, these charbroiled burger patties outdo most fancy restaurant burgers at under four, five, and six dollars apiece, respectively. The largely semantic difference between beef and steak are self-evident, as the steak ground into these burgers shows up with big flavor and an ideal charbroil. Canada Steak Burger’s affordable burgers have been favorite of City Heights for more than three decades, and with the addition of this Chula Vista location in 2014, it now celebrates five years as one of the South Bay’s best burgers.

  • Mary Beth Abate
  • Call it a guilty pleasure

The Guaca Burger at Maggie’s Cafe piled high with, of course, a ton of guacamole, as well as pepper jack cheese, bacon, and breaded jalapeños to give a nice jolt of heat.

The Guaca Burger at Maggie’s Cafe piled high with, of course, a ton of guacamole, as well as pepper jack cheese, bacon, and breaded jalapeños to give a nice jolt of heat.

Photograph by Ed Bedford

The Friendly

4592 30th Street, North Park

The Dirty Flat Top should not work. It’s got a plain white bun, the squishy kind, a couple of slices of regular old American cheese, and they squeeze the double patties pretty aggressively on the grill, which is practically culinary blasphemy. The white bread bun gets a swipe of butter and a turn on the grill, too, before they add some softly caramelized onions and a smear of garlic aioli, and that’s it — no ketchup, no pickles, no substitutions. Yet somehow, those relatively non-descript ingredients meld together and are so delicious that the DFT has developed a sort of cult following among industry folks and regular old burger lovers alike. Grab a piece of their New York-style pizza to munch on while you’re waiting — it’s a steal for $3.50.

Mission Burger’s Western Burger: Sure, it’s got fixin’s, through bacon, cheese, pickles, crispy giant onion rings, but it’s those Greek spices. They kick you gently in the butt.

Mission Burger’s Western Burger: Sure, it’s got fixin’s, through bacon, cheese, pickles, crispy giant onion rings, but it’s those Greek spices. They kick you gently in the butt.

Photograph by Ed Bedford

Balboa Bar & Grill

1863 Fifth Avenue, Bankers Hill

The Balboa Bar and Grill holds a special place in my heart. It’s the perfect little dive bar that not only makes my favorite cocktail exactly right, but serves up succulent burgers at great prices. Its namesake classic Balboa Burger is a custom-ground, one-third-pound beauty, char-grilled on a flat top, layered with American cheese, fresh lettuce, tomato and onion, nestled into a toasted bolillo bun. Regularly $8.75, it’s a penny-pincher’s dream at happy hour, when the cost drops to $5. For double the meat and cheese, plus a double rasher of bacon, the Centennial Burger satisfies even the biggest appetite, with that sturdy bolillo bun soaking up all the juices and keeping everything intact bite after bite. Whichever you choose, do order the freshly cut Kennebec fries, with or without garlic. Chula Vista will soon be home to a second location, The Balboa South.

The Guido Burger is Hodad’s take on a favorite of Guy Fieri (Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives). They have pictures of him here, eating one.

The Guido Burger is Hodad’s take on a favorite of Guy Fieri (Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives). They have pictures of him here, eating one.

Photograph by Ed Bedford

Public House La Jolla

830 Kline Street, La Jolla

I don’t always order pepper jack cheese on my burgers, but when I do, it’s at the Public House. Call it a guilty pleasure or an abomination, but sometimes I’ve just gotta scratch that itch. The Santana burger features a half pound of single-sourced Angus beef, fire-roasted peppers, melted pepper jack cheese and ancho mayo for layers of heat tempered with cooling creamy avocado and sweet caramelized onions. The La Jolla Cove burger tames its milder heat with the same great patty and pepper jack cheese, bacon, crispy onion straws, and barbecue sauce for a sweet, salty, spicy, smoky sensation. All burgers come on a brioche bun with a big helping of excellent shoestring fries.

Royale

4204 Voltaire Street, Point Loma

Cozy and comfortable, Royale has a chill vibe and a short, tight cocktail selection featuring citrus and assorted fruits from their other business, Nopalito Farm. I love the Diner Burger for its simplicity. It’s a quarter pound patty, American cheese, lettuce and special sauce — and this is one place I’ll sub a thick slice of raw onion in place of caramelized ones - the sharpness balances all the rich flavors. Pair it with their Mezcal Cocktail, smoky agave spirits play against tangy, floral passionfruit, lemon and orgeat. And while this is all about the burgers, the seasonal fruit cobbler a la mode is always a treat.

Easy to get distracted at The Henry, but concentrate on one thing: the Sam Fox.

Easy to get distracted at The Henry, but concentrate on one thing: the Sam Fox.

Photograph by Ed Bedford

Madison

4622 Park Boulevard, University Heights

Madison’s chic, stylish decor and buzzy atmosphere make it the perfect spot for happy hour, date night, or casual get-togethers with friends. Called simply The Burger, a third pound of Angus beef is grilled medium rare, blanketed in sharp white cheddar, house pickles, and shallots, and tucked into a warm brioche bun. It’s served with a tiny bowl of dijonnaise, and a little brown bag of golden waffle fries on the side. It’s great with a strong, invigorating cocktail such as Impeachmint, a cheeky mix of Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon, creme de peche, lemon, mint and soda. Or opt for one of their barrel-aged libations - the Woodsman features Rittenhouse Rye Bourbon, fernet, local honey, and allspice dram.

A one pound burger with fixin’s, for $8.99? This is “Big Dadd’z,” the champ of bargain burgers at the South Cali Steak Burger Bar.

A one pound burger with fixin’s, for $8.99? This is “Big Dadd’z,” the champ of bargain burgers at the South Cali Steak Burger Bar.

Photograph by Ed Bedford

Fernside

1946 Fern St,, South Park

One of San Diego’s favorite cocktail masters, Christian Siglin, along with industry veterans Adam Cook and and Shane Gerde, opened Fernside last September, transforming the former South Park Brewery into a light-filled, casual all-day eatery. The namesake Fernside burger layers two smashed burgers, charred deeply brown on the outside and delectably juicy and pink inside, American cheese, crunchy shredded iceberg lettuce, house-made pickles and a smear of Fern sauce in a buttered, grilled bun. It’s the sophisticated cousin of The Friendly’s Dirty Flat Top with a generous side of crispy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside salt and pepper waffle fries. Try it paired with a Cobra Clutch cocktail for smoky mezcal/tequila sipping; or a bracing, heady Spanish-style gin and tonic — Beefeater, elderflower, Becherovka and tonic, on draft.

  • Ian Pike
  • A lunchtime wonder of no small repute

The Kairoa Kiwi burger is topped with housemade tomato chutney and marinated beets — rather than ketchup and a pickle — and a fried egg.

The Kairoa Kiwi burger is topped with housemade tomato chutney and marinated beets — rather than ketchup and a pickle — and a fried egg.

Photograph by Matthew Suárez

Ponce's Mexican Restaurant

4050 Adams Avenue, Kensington

The California burrito remains the undisputed, untouchable, example of San Diego border food, and I would not argue otherwise. But for me, Ponce’s chile relleno burger rings in a pretty close second. I prefer it “güero style,” i.e the restaurant’s ordinary cheeseburger with a big, fat chile relleno sitting on top. The larger and more gluttonous “Mexi style” rests on an oblong bolillo roll, and incorporates guacamole. When you add one of Ponce’s excellent margaritas to the mix, it’s almost like a trip to Chili’s except,you know, fantastic instead of abjectly awful.

The burgers at Himmelberg’s are a cheese lover’s dream, especially because the cheese is melted between two beef patties, not on top of one.

The burgers at Himmelberg’s are a cheese lover’s dream, especially because the cheese is melted between two beef patties, not on top of one.

Photograph by Matthew Suárez

Wa Dining Okan

3860 Convoy Street #110, Kearny Mesa

Although I freely espouse a borderline pathological devotion to Okan’s fried chicken with “tartar” sauce, the restaurant’s hamburger is a lunchtime wonder of no small repute. Okan’s burger is Japanese style, smothered in a tangy, salty brown sauce, and piled high with shredded daikon. Each burger comes with an assortment of small side dishes, as well as rice. This is a true gentleman’s burger; devoid of bun or ketchup, and consumed via fork or chopstick so one’s hands remain clean. If anything, the Okan burger evokes a Salisbury steak, if that 20th-century cafeteria special were elevated to its finest form.

At Sister Ray’s melted American cheese mingles with a sloppy heap of lightly caramelized onions, all squished between fluffy buns that soak up juices from a charred yet tender beef patty.

At Sister Ray’s melted American cheese mingles with a sloppy heap of lightly caramelized onions, all squished between fluffy buns that soak up juices from a charred yet tender beef patty.

Photograph by Samantha St. Pierre

Starlite

3175 India Street, Mission Hills

I cannot remember a time before Starlite’s menu included the namesake burger. Too many burgers affect quality by piling on exotic ingredients, utilizing obscure meats, or adopting ludicrous names and absurd proportions. The Starlite burger serves as a kind of antidote to these insecure burgers by remaining unabashedly normal, and repeatedly excellent. Nueske’s bacon is wicked good, and worth the extra $2.50. Finally, although I do not usually care overmuch for fries, I find the delicate, crisp shoestring affairs at Starlite never suffer the fate of potatoes fried in oil that’s too cold, too old, or (usually) both.

Swami’s ABC burger: Somehow, the freshness of the ingredients makes me feel as though I’m eating a light, healthy hamburger — if that exists.

Swami’s ABC burger: Somehow, the freshness of the ingredients makes me feel as though I’m eating a light, healthy hamburger — if that exists.

Photograph by Samantha St. Pierre

Del’s Hideout

5351 Adobe Falls Road, College Area

They do a delicious, affordable Impossible burger here. It’s heaped with caramelized onions in a manner surprisingly (but far from unpleasantly) reminiscent of McDonald’s finest achievement, the 1988 Cheddar Melt. I’m also hugely into the Juicy Lucy, stuffed with American cheese so it explodes like a cheese grenade when you bite it, which is weirdly better than cheese melted on top. Del’s also scores crucial points in two other areas: (1) instead of fries you can have mac n’ cheese, potato salad larded with bacon, “street corn,” or other sides; and (2) everybody gets free soft-serve after burgers.

Most people see Redwing as a divey bar you’d visit to watch tone deaf karaoke performances. But I would be remiss if I didn’t praise them for cooking one stellar burger.

Most people see Redwing as a divey bar you’d visit to watch tone deaf karaoke performances. But I would be remiss if I didn’t praise them for cooking one stellar burger.

Photograph by Samantha St. Pierre

West Coast Barbecue and Brew

6126 Lake Murray Boulevard, La Mesa

Beer cheese — a zesty spread made from cheddar cheese and beer — is damn good stuff, the kind of thing you wish were widely available, even though wide availability would strip away the niche-market charm of this obscure, Kentuckian foodstuff. Having recently learned of beer cheese, I hope the saga of my life someday leads to the Winchester, Kentucky Beer Cheese Festival. In the meantime, I can always get a Beer Cheese Burger from this La Mesa restaurant. I would eat anything smothered in beer cheese, but burgers make for a particularly appropriate canvas on which to paint a cheesy masterwork.

Unwind with a beer at Bruski in Mira Mesa and treat yourself to the Fancy Pants Burger — you’ve earned it.

Unwind with a beer at Bruski in Mira Mesa and treat yourself to the Fancy Pants Burger — you’ve earned it.

Photograph by Samantha St. Pierre

  • Ed Bedford
  • Not afraid to stretch the burger idea

Maggie's Cafe

3232 Greyling Drive, Serra Mesa

Burgers in the Barrio? Barrio Logan’s burger scene is definitely looking up. The new cluster of cafes and bars on Cesar E. Chavez Parkway is turning the area into a little burger Mecca. Maggie’s Cafe has already made a name for its burgers, for their size and originality. The two cultures meet nicely in the middle with the Guaca Burger. It’s piled high with, of course, a ton of guacamole, as well as pepper jack cheese, bacon, and breaded jalapeños to give a nice jolt of heat. Two bonuses: they have craft beers to go with the burgers, and a generous patio with a view across to the little plaza, the heart of the new Barrio. Also try: Delta catfish burger.

Jaynes Gastropub serves up a quality hamburger so fresh it’s still cooking in its juices when the plate arrives.

Jaynes Gastropub serves up a quality hamburger so fresh it’s still cooking in its juices when the plate arrives.

Photograph by David Phillipich

Mission Burger

711 Oliver Avenue, Mission Beach

Think Burger, think Greek. Think Ann, the owner of this really old-school burger shack down by the ocean. She was born in Greece, so she adds spices from home, and they give her sandwiches and gyros mysterious, haunting echoes. Fennel? Mint? Garlic? Oregano? Dill? Probably. It’s refreshing. And it applies to her burgers too. Especially the one that the menu doesn’t mention, the Western Burger. Sure, it’s got fixins, through bacon, cheese, pickles, crispy giant onion rings, but it’s those Greek spices. They kick you gently in the butt. Make you think of Zorba the Greek. “You said dance?! Come on, man!” Only open Friday, Saturday, Sunday, during the off-season.

Funky Fries menu is huge and it all looks good. So I stuck with the basics and ordered the Funky OG Burger, with the shoestring fries and a pineapple cream soda.

Funky Fries menu is huge and it all looks good. So I stuck with the basics and ordered the Funky OG Burger, with the shoestring fries and a pineapple cream soda.

Photograph by Monty Burns

Hodad's

945 Broadway, Downtown San Diego

Hodad's

5010 Newport Avenue, Ocean Beach

Speaking as a genuine Hodad (“a nonsurfer who spends time at beaches masquerading as a surfer,”) I gotta love a place that headlines its boss’s quote, “It’s not life or death, it’s lunch or dinner.” But lunch or dinner, Hodad’s is one of the original cool burger places, with a cut-off VW bus to sit and eat in. And they’re not afraid to stretch the burger idea. The Guido Burger is their take on a favorite of Guy Fieri (Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives). They have pictures of him here, eating one. And luscious it is, a mess of pastrami (instead of a beef patty), pickles, Swiss cheese, grilled onions, and a big ooze of spicy brown mustard.

The Habit’s Santa Barbara; a double charburger with avocado and cheese on sourdough bread.

The Habit’s Santa Barbara; a double charburger with avocado and cheese on sourdough bread.

Photograph by Monty Burns

The Henry

1031 Orange Avenue, Coronado

Easy to get distracted here, but concentrate on one thing: the Sam Fox. It’s a burger. Half pounder, with the usual fixings, except no bacon, no guac, no chili beans. But you don’t care, because you’re going for one thing. Keyword: wagyu. And no, we’re not talking the Japanese comedy duo, Wag You. Wagyu beef. As in super buttery, marbled, tender as scrambled eggs, from calves fed on milk. And yes, super tasty. Sam Fox is the owner of this swanky new establishment and brings his Arizona-style burgers to town. Meaning, mostly basic, but a lot to them. Hint: get this in happy hour. ’Cause it ain’t cheap even then.

The “Good ‘Ol Burger” at The Butcher N Cheese: a grilled, grass-fed beef patty, romaine lettuce, red onion, tomato.

The “Good ‘Ol Burger” at The Butcher N Cheese: a grilled, grass-fed beef patty, romaine lettuce, red onion, tomato.

Photograph by Monty Burns

Pine House Cafe

9849 Sunrise Highway, Mount Laguna

This is cougar country. Bobcats with sharp teeth, eagles with sharp talons, and Pacific Crest Trail walkers with sharper appetites. Which is where we come in. Pine House Cafe has two excellent appetite suppressants called the Blackened Burger and the Garlic Parmesan Burger. Specially the Blackened, “covered in blackening seasonings, seared on cast iron.” Also, it’s worth paying $2.50 extra for sautéed mushrooms. And why not three strips of bacon? Also, they have really original country cooks who use things like cocoa to enhance their dark flavors. And cozy? This used to be a ranger station, which means they have a huge old big-log fireplace they light when it’s cold. Mulled wine and blackened burgers, anybody?

1/2-pound Boll Weevil Steerburger with cheese, toasted bun, lettuce, and tomato. A giant condiment tray on the table allows costumers to customize with red onion, pickles, yellow chili peppers, and all the sauces including their “secret sauce,” which I’ve loved since my childhood.

1/2-pound Boll Weevil Steerburger with cheese, toasted bun, lettuce, and tomato. A giant condiment tray on the table allows costumers to customize with red onion, pickles, yellow chili peppers, and all the sauces including their “secret sauce,” which I’ve loved since my childhood.

Photograph by Monty Burns

South Cali Steak Burger Bar

301 Montgomery Street, Chula Vista

A one pound burger with fixin’s, for $8.99? This is “Big Dadd’z,” the champ of bargain burgers at the South Cali Steak Burger Bar, on Third Avenue’s southern end. Eladio and his son Eladio Jr., cook for a large mobile home population down here. “Regular” charbroiled burgers with half-pound patties cost $4.99. Or get the same eight-ounce-patty plus bacon, avocado, cheese for $6.49. With a six-ounce patty, you pay $3.49, and a four-ounce patty burger costs, uh, $2.49. And guess what? With lettuce, tomato, decent bun, and $2 worth of fries, it is filling. How does he do it? More to the point, why does he do it? “I love my customers,” he says. “Some have little money, but they all have big hearts.”

  • Patrick Henderson
  • Sounds so wrong but tastes so right

The Blues Burger at Jimmy’s Famous is Mishima Wagyu Beef, blue cheese, pecanwood smoked bacon, and crispy onions on a brioche bun.

The Blues Burger at Jimmy’s Famous is Mishima Wagyu Beef, blue cheese, pecanwood smoked bacon, and crispy onions on a brioche bun.

Photograph by Monty Burns

Fifty-Two East Neighborhood Eatery

9621 Mission Gorge Rd. #101, Santee

Variety is the watchword for the burgers at this East County gem. The 5/2 is a high class version of the classic bacon burger with beer-braised onion, roasted tomato, and arugula. All the meat is hand ground at the restaurant, which allows them to cook it rarer than other places. The A.M. All Day swaps out the veggies for a hash brown patty and an egg on top while the Stick A Pork In Me is topped with both bacon and pulled pork. Not feeling regular hamburger? How about one made with elk meat and bacon? The Sweet potato fries are less soggy than other places and a good option if you don’t want the regular kind.

619 Spirits North Park

3015 Lincoln Ave, North Park

San Diego’s first urban distillery offers cleverly curated cocktails using vodka brewed on the premises. And it has a classic cross cultural entree with its Vietnamese-inspired Banh Mi burger. It’s a half-pound patty spiced up with soy sauce, scallions, pickled cucumber and cheddar cheese on a Brioche bun. The pickled cucumber adds a different flavor than the traditional dill pickle, and it’s sublime. The fries are hot and crispy, providing a good complement to the burger. This is best enjoyed with the Thai Me Up cocktail, a spicy pina colada-like drink that mixes the distillery’s Scorpion Pepper Vodka, curry powder, lime juice, orange juice, coconut cream, and pineapple.

Theatre Box

701 Fifth Avenue, Downtown San Diego

This luxury theatre offers high-end food and drinks and comfortable adjustable seats. It also has two great burgers on its menu. The Sugar Factory Burger is a half-pounder made from Angus beef, with lettuce, tomato, and crispy onions on a Brioche bun. For something more colorful and less jaw-dislocating, there are the Rainbow Sliders: five mini cheeseburgers served with multi-colored buns — blue, green, yellow, and red. You may not be able to see the color contrast in a dark theater, but they taste good.

Kairoa Brewing Company

4601 Park Boulevard, University Heights

University Heights’ newest brewpub has a menu inspired by New Zealand cuisine, and the emphasis is on fresh ingredients. For instance, the Kiwi burger is topped with housemade tomato chutney and marinated beets — rather than ketchup and a pickle — and a fried egg. The Yanks burger is more conventional but no less delicious. The Vegan Flat Top burger manages to make a non-meat burger appealing. Even the non-dairy cheese works. The Impossible Patty used for the burger uses beets, so you may be fooled into thinking you’re eating a really rare burger.

Himmelberg's

369 Tenth Avenue, Downtown San Diego

The burgers at this East Village eatery are a cheese lover’s dream, especially because the cheese is melted between two beef patties, not on top of one. The ketchup is housemade and slightly spicy. Instead of fries, Himmelberg’s has tater tots two ways: parmesan garlic, or loaded with cheddar, green onions, beef, pico de gallo, and sour cream. For a non-burger option that sounds so wrong but tastes so right, there are cheesesteak egg rolls, featuring steak, american cheese, onions, and peppers, all deep-fried in an eggroll and served with white jalapeño sauce.

Gus’s

5620 Baltimore Drive, La Mesa

This La Mesa diner does burgers in the classic style: sesame seed bun, lettuce, tomato and cheese, but adds a couple of cool variations. For instance, the pastrami here is first-rate and it goes great on the appropriately named Pastrami Burger. It’s piled high on a ⅓ pound burger. Gus’s also takes advantage of its Greek menu with a Gyros burger, although I would ask for feta along with the mozzarella cheese. As burger toppings go, tzatziki sauce is underrated. The fries are crispy, with just enough salt for flavor. Mmmmm.

  • Samantha St. Pierre
  • An oozing mess of burgers

Sister Ray's

549 25th Street, Sherman Heights

Still new to the neighborhood, Sister Ray’s is a cool spot to get that flat top style burger you’ve probably heard about. By leaning on the quality of its ingredients, The Sisters Flat Top Burger succeeds in delivering this simple yet scrumptious burger. Melted American cheese mingles with a sloppy heap of lightly caramelized onions, all squished between fluffy buns that soak up juices from a charred yet tender beef patty. Not to worry, my vegan friends, you can also enjoy the flat top by opting for an Impossible Burger patty and Daiya cheese. Don’t miss out on the crisp and sea salt-coated Hand-Cut House Fries.

Swami’s Café Vista

20 Main Street, Vista

I’m a sucker for anything bacon-avocado, so Swami’s ABC burger satisfies my cravings well. Somehow, the freshness of the ingredients makes me feel as though I’m eating a light, healthy hamburger — if that exists. Fileted avocado slices paired with perfectly crisped bacon sit atop a thick beef patty festooned with melted cheddar cheese. There’s a nice crispy char on the outside, but oh-so tender meat at the middle. And the side of french fries seal the deal for me. They’re beautifully golden outside and burst creamy potato interior with every bite. They’re so good, it’s impossible not to finish every last one. Eleven locations from La Mesa to Oceanside.

Redwing Bar & Grill

4012 30th Street, North Park

Most people see Redwing as a divey bar you’d visit to watch tone-deaf karaoke performances. But I would be remiss if I didn’t praise them for cooking one stellar burger. The mouthwatering Angus beef patty is the star of any burger they serve. If you like a little spice, try the namesake Redwing burger. Its soft artisan buns are slathered in habanero-bacon cream cheese, topping off a pile of grilled pasilla peppers tossed with onions. Spicy food enthusiasts can also “make it a mouth melter” by adding ghost pepper jack cheese for $1.25. Take a break between bites to cool the taste buds with crispy tater tots dipped in ketchup.

Bruski Burgers and Brew Scripps Ranch

9844 Hibert Street Ste G-10, Scripps Ranch

Tucked away near a business park in Mira Mesa, Bruski is a solid after-work watering hole and burger joint. Unwind with a beer and treat yourself to the Fancy Pants Burger — you’ve earned it. Big artisan buns help contain an oozing mess of burger, layered with a luscious gruyère and thick strips of bacon. Baby arugula adds a peppery bitterness to balance the richness of meat and cheese, while garlic aioli spread packs an extra punch of flavor. While you’re at it, upgrade to a side of battered potato wedges and dunk them in ranch dressing and buffalo sauce.

Jaynes Gastropub

4677 30th Street, North Park

When you want gourmet, Jaynes Gastropub hits the mark. This charming eatery serves up a quality hamburger so fresh it’s still cooking in its juices when the plate arrives. Every element of the Jayne Burger seems specially curated, starting with a set of black and white sesame seed buns that provide a light, nutty flavor. Their house-pickled onions combined with aged Vermont cheddar create a tangy contrast to the savory and succulent Niman Ranch beef patty. And with this modern British pub burger comes a generous portion of skin-on, salt and pepper-dusted french fries. Make plans to dine in on a Tuesday, when there’s a special that includes a draft beer for $19.

  • Monty Burns
  • Man. Burger. Love.

Funky Fries and Burgers

115 W. Washington Avenue, El Cajon

At the last two Reader Burgers & Beer events, Funky Fries was my favorite. I had never been to one of their locations, until recently. Being an indecisive person, having many options can be a negative for me. Funky Fries’ menu is huge and it all looks good. So I stuck with the basics and ordered the Funky OG Burger, with the shoestring fries and a pineapple cream soda. Great burger. Meaty, not salty or greasy. I kept eyeing the menu as I ate — so many other things to try. You can add a fried egg to any sandwich for $1, or a fried mac ’n cheese bun for $4. As I ate the Funky OG, I realized it would be impossible to improve this burger, though fun to try. The people at the table next to me had the buffalo chicken fries, and they looked fantastic. I went into option-overload mode, and pored over the menu to narrow down what to get the next three times I come back, which will be soon.

The Habit Burger Grill

3455 Sports Arena Boulevard, Midway District

There is a Habit Burger in my local shopping center, and I often find myself downwind of their smell stacks, then in the store. I usually order the basic charburger with cheese, but when really hungry I decide on the Santa Barbara: a double charburger with avocado and cheese on sourdough bread. The giant layer of avocado spread makes for a messy, mushy sandwich. This may be the first time I have complained about getting too much avocado, but a lighter spread might benefit the sandwich overall, which also features well seasoned patties, lettuce, tomato, pickle, and American cheese. Shredded lettuce helps the sandwich’s fight to stay crispy. The appropriately named — at least in my case — Habit is my favorite chain burger.

The Butcher N Cheese

4705 Clairemont Drive, Clairemont

I pull into Clairemont Town Square on a Tuesday afternoon and see the sign for Butcher N Cheese. A strip mall location with indoor and outdoor seating; every table but one is taken on a Tuesday afternoon. That’s a good sign. $10.99 for a burger and fries is reasonable nowadays. I order the “Good ‘Ol Burger.” A grilled, grass-fed beef patty, romaine lettuce, red onion, tomato. The brioche bun is from a local bakery and really makes the sandwich. I enjoy the fries — crispy outside, soft inside, nice seasoning — despite a strong shrimp taste. Changing the fryer oil more often would prevent that.

Boll Weevil Kearny Mesa

9330 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, Kearny Mesa

I grew up with three Boll Weevil locations within a one-mile radius of my house. Now there are only three in San Diego County. I don’t know why. Last I checked, burgers haven’t lost popularity and the population hasn’t shrunk. And Boll Weevil still satisfies. The Kearny Mesa location is near Montgomery Field so the dining room is decorated with model airplanes hanging from the ceiling and TVs everywhere. Last time I was in, I tried to avoid watching the tennis on the ubiquitous televisions. It was impossible. I got the 1/2-pound Steerburger with cheese, toasted bun, lettuce, and tomato. A giant condiment tray on the table allows costumers to customize with red onion, pickles, yellow chili peppers, and all the sauces, including their “secret sauce,” which I’ve loved since my childhood. Maybe Boll Weevil’s decline was simply due to increased competition. Burger spots seem to be everywhere these days. Both my inner child and my hungry adult self hope they stick around.

Jimmy's Famous American Tavern

4990 North Harbor Drive, Point Loma

I keep coming back to J-FAT to try different burgers. My current favorite is the Blues Burger. Mishima Wagyu Beef, blue cheese, pecanwood smoked bacon, and crispy onions on a brioche bun. I am in love. The blue cheese melts into a sauce and compliments the crispy onions and perfectly cooked patty. Everything is top quality and done right. The beautiful view of the waterfront heigtens the already elevated burger experience. I’ve yet to find a burger on their menu that I don’t like, and I’ve made a thorough study. Their burgers, which come with fries, and are in the $17-$18 range. It’s more than I like to pay, but well worth it.

Biggie’s Burgers

4631 Mission Boulevard, Pacific Beach

I was excited about this one. More than one person told me that Biggie’s Burgers were better then In-N-Out, and I wanted to find out for myself. It’s right on Mission Boulevard in PB, with windows open to the street to watch the action. Parking can be a hassle a block from the beach in PB on a Saturday in August — who would’ve guessed? I bet they rely mostly on locals and foot traffic. The burger was In-N-Out-esque —fresh and made-to-order. I may have made a mistake by going in with such high expectations, but it was a good burger, and a better setting. I could’ve sat there for hours just watching the show that is PB on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

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Comments

Rocky’s off list....come on; sacrilege.

I don't think this was intended to be a "best of" list. Just a bunch of burger places in town to try.

Boll Weevil’s disintegrated when the children inherited the business and began fighting.

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