10 of Our Favorite Burger Places in San Diego
“Hamburgers. The cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast.” – Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) in Pulp Fiction (Watch the clip here!)
I’m from St. Louis, Missouri. The Heartland. Middle America. The Midwest. Gateway to the West. Enough said. This is my first article for Namaste Luxury, our new online magazine.
I am not an expert in any and all foods. I am not a chef. I don’t cook a lot, but I can follow a recipe. I grew up primarily on what can be called ‘comfort food,’ with a pretty good peppering of Southern flair. Don’t get me wrong, over my many years of living in California, traveling all of the great US of A and all over the world, I’ve developed a pretty eclectic taste for a variety of food types, ethnicities, and preparations. I consider myself more of a gourmet than a gourmand. Or what Californian’s call a ‘foodie.’
In preparing for our first stories for Namaste Luxury, my family and I had very in-depth conversations about the food and restaurant category. There were a lot of strong opinions about this topic, and pretty much every other topic! What should we discuss first? What and where do we eat most often? The conclusion was: Let’s talk about burgers and Mexican food! Now, it might be offensive to some readers to discuss eating a carnivorous diet. Or, maybe to some, just the health risks of eating beef is distasteful. And to other folks, the calories and fat that can be contained in a traditional hamburger meal: the burger, fries, and a shake…or sometimes a soft drink, is just not an acceptable part of a healthy diet. For those from different parts of the country, a soft drink is often called a Coke, soda, pop, or soda pop. At any rate, if the discussion of burgers is offensive to you, please stop reading here. Or, continue to read and feel free to write nasty comments back to me. As a former CEO of a publicly traded company, I am very used to people being critical of me, especially when they could be anonymous as an ‘investor’ in a ‘chat room.’
With that said, I polled my four kids and my fiancée, and leveraged my vast experience of eating burgers for over four decades, to write this article. I did ‘extensive research’ of what makes a good burger. In other words, I called my mom, read a few articles on the web, and looked at a couple of fancy cookbooks.
My first experiences with burgers came in my formative years. We had three types of burgers cooked at home when I was growing up: burgers fried in a pan, burgers flame-broiled on a grill, and “hamburgers in the oven.” Most people are familiar with the first two types, so I’ll just give a brief explanation of the third: hamburgers in the oven are made on a broiler pan and broiled in the oven. They have the same basic ingredients as meat loaf. You don’t eat them on a bun, and they are served with different side dishes than traditional burgers. If I get a lot of interest about hamburgers in the oven from our readership, I’ll call my mom and post the recipe for you.
In terms of restaurant burgers as a kid, we used to go to a small drive-in burger joint called Chuck-a-Burger. It was an awesome place where the waitresses would take your order while you waited in the car and brought the food to you there. I don’t think the waitresses had roller skates, but basically picture a much smaller version of Mel’s Drive-In from the movie American Graffiti (Watch the clip here!). Eventually, Chuck-a-Burger, like many other small mom-and-pop burger joints, was driven out of business by McDonalds. I am not a zealot against McDonalds, even though I saw Fast Food Nation (Watch the clip here!) and Super Size Me (Watch the clip here!). I do not recommend eating at McDonalds every day for every meal, but if I’m in a rush, I might grab a breakfast sandwich there.
Let’s focus on restaurant burgers for now: the traditional All-American burger, in some cases with twists. However, many of the same concepts can apply if you want to make a really delicious burger at home. Needless to say, I have had many burgers over the years and all over the country.
What makes a delicious All-American burger? There are five things:
The first and most important thing in the preparation of a good burger is high-quality meat. These days, there are ‘flavorful’ (rolling my eyes and shaking my head) turkey and veggie burgers, but I will not cover them here. The meat needs to be fresh and never frozen. I define high-quality beef as ‘steak quality.’ It can be USDA prime or choice. Grass-fed beef is best. It needs to be lean, but still have a sufficient amount of fat content for flavor. In the steak world, they call the amount of fat ‘marbling.’ For a burger to be really tasty, it needs to have about the same amount of fat content as a rib-eye steak, versus a super lean filet. However, as long as the quality of the meat is good, lean can be OK, depending on personal taste.
The second key is the seasoning of the meat. It can be as simple as decent salting, but it usually contains some selection of herbs, maybe some ground onions, and possibly an egg. A really good burger doesn’t have much more, and it never has fillers or additives.
Third, it is really important to have a fresh bun (assuming your burger is not bun-less). Ideally, the bread needs to be baked the same day. As a kid, we sometimes went to the day old bread store and got loafs for half price. This gives a pretty good idea of how important fresh buns are. It is also really critical that you have a good ratio of burger to bun. If there is too much bread, it is too filling, and if there is too little, the burger can be a real mess. As Goldilocks says, it has to be “just right.”
The fourth key is the quality of the cooking. A burger can be grilled over a flame or in a pan or on a griddle, and still be a really good burger. However, it is important that any excess grease not make it to the bun.
The fifth and final key thing includes the overall texture, the structural integrity (the burger can’t be falling apart on you as you eat it), and fresh ingredients, like onions or grilled onions, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and condiments. Sometimes bacon, and/or mushrooms can be a nice addition too.
I really like it if a few varieties of cheese are available, like Swiss, American, and cheddar, but this is not essential. I believe that sauce is optional, but it can be nice sometimes, and is frequently a signature part of the restaurant’s burger. I also like it if there are bonus flavors and preparation is available. For example, The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe country club in North County San Diego offers a ‘taco burger’ on their burger night.
Our Favorite Places to get an All-American Burger
Regardless of the five key factors, the bottom line is that a good burger can be defined by what they say on Food Network’s TV show Cutthroat Kitchen: Does it look good? Does it taste good? Does it remind me of a burger?
With that in mind, here are our favorite burger joints in San Diego:
- The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe (members and member-guests only)
- Burger Lounge
- The Counter
- Fairbanks Ranch Country Club (members and member-guests only)
- The Grill and Bar at the Lodge at Torrey Pines
- Five Guys Burger
- In-N-Out Burger
- Zel’s Del Mar
Other key factors to consider when ordering a burger are: Do they have really good fries? Do they have different styles of fries? Can you substitute a side salad for fries? Can you get a beer or a glass of wine? Can you get a shake? Can you get a Coke/soda/pop?
I can assure you that if you like a good burger, any of these places will be super good. I welcome any comments, pro or con, and I hope you enjoyed this article. More importantly, I hope you really enjoy your next burger, even if it is meatless and bun-less.
Please tell us what you think! What are your favorite burger spots?