Half-pound cheeseburger, $6.25, at Rocky’s Crown Pub in Pacific Beach
  • Half-pound cheeseburger, $6.25, at Rocky’s Crown Pub in Pacific Beach

Rocky's Crown Pub

3786 Ingraham Street, Pacific Beach

Half-pound cheeseburger, $6.25

The champion bar burger, certainly for the money. It starts with the beef: fine grind, loose pack, superjuicy, good grill seasoning that keeps you taking bite after bite. A medium rare that flirts more with medium than rare but still keeps things pink. Top that with a riper tomato than most, gooey cheese, and — surprise! — mayo, and it doesn’t much matter that the bun is standard supermarket grade, the lettuce is rationed as though it’s wartime, and the red onion is thick as a certain diva’s thigh. Plus, the low ceiling and close environs make the place surprisingly cozy for a sports-minded beer bar in deepest P.B.

— Ambrose Martin

Nicky Rottens Bar & Burger Joint

560 Fifth Avenue, Downtown San Diego

Nicky Rotten’s is a pleasant, nay, luscious surprise in the midst of touristville. Very much a Gaslamp bar (hey, look, gangster photos on the walls!) with food. But such a burger. Bun a bit sweet but still wheaty, topped with genuinely crunchy sesame seeds — toasted? Who knew that sesame seeds could matter? A generous pile of shredded lettuce provides another fine textural counterpoint, cool and crunchy throughout. Tomato is nothing special, onion sliced thin enough to blend in, bacon smoky and plentiful. Beef is properly pink, but still slightly mushy in the center: that raw, steak tartare sort of mush. Meat flavor floods the sinus cavity, tickling the olfactory bulb — not salt, not fat, but meat. Maybe skip the sauce on the side. This one doesn’t need lube.

— Ambrose Martin

Jayne's Gastropub

4677 30th Street, North Park

The onion: pickled and complicatedly sweet. The setting: white octagonal tiles on the floor, dainty-quaint tables and chairs, interesting olde-timey cocktails. The bun: a hugely buttery, toasted roll. The cheese: sharp enough to cut through everything and make itself known. The greens: wilted, in that British-style wilting way. And so to the patty: microground, not as rich as Nicky Rotten’s, not as wet as Tractor Room, but maybe more beefy (and more seasoned) than either. The elements achieve a happy harmony without sacrificing individual character.

— Ambrose Martin


The slogan at ’50s-style diner Daddy-O’s — “Where cool people and big, juicy burgers meet” — is only partly true. While the cool-people parameter is totally up to you, the burgers ($5.99–$11.99), which are big, tend toward the dry side. Eclectic toppings (jalapeño cream cheese and jelly, gorgonzola, brie, Thai peanut sauce, raspberry chipotle) make up for the unremarkable beef and languorous service. The real saving grace here is happy hour, 3:00–6:00 p.m. Monday–Thursday, when pints are $2.50 and 32-ounce mason jars of local, craft, and import beers go for $5. Add a $5 sampler of seasoned fries, onion rings, jalapeño poppers, and mozzarella sticks, plus $2 chili dogs (steamed frank, bland beans, nothing special), and you’ve got a painless night on the town.

— Chad Deal

The High Dive

1801 Morena Boulevard, Bay Park

Capsaicin-laced lava oozes from the heart of the mountainous Goliath known as the Spicy Reed. A half-pounder is stuffed with jalapeño cream cheese before being cooked up and adorned with grilled onions, bacon, mushrooms, and Swiss. Too pedestrian? Carnivores who come to this cozy, kitschy neighborhood hideaway in search of unbridled outlandishness will find it in the off-menu Three Sheets to the Burger, a patty topped with barleywine-soaked onions, bacon, gorgonzola, and Sriracha. But wait, there’s more. The weird-geared topper on this oddity is that all of the above are squished between two toasted PB&J sandwiches. Enjoy either at a bar stocked with regulars, out on the chill patio, or eating off a vintage pinball machine in the bar’s secluded lunchbox-museum wing. Beer-nut bonus: with the High Dive’s status as the top Ballast Point Brewing account in San Diego, there’s no shortage of quality craft beers to tame the flame on either of these unique burgers.

— Brandon Hernández

Chief's Burgers and Brew

124 Lomas Santa Fe Drive #108, Solana Beach

Cheeseburger with french fries, $9.99

No doubt the place gets rowdy when the Broncos are playing and every blessed one of the TVs is showing the game, but at other times, the place has a proper low-key North County beach-town vibe, tweaked by the kid-friendly picnic tables to the right of the bar. The burger is broad, like a kiddie pool, and almost as wet in the center. Actually, the center is where everything works best — the cool shred of the lettuce against the warm chew of the burger against the bold strength of the white onion, all shrouded in the white thickness of a toasted bun. At the edges, things are drier and more disparate.

— Ambrose Martin

Anny’s Fine Burger

9862 Mission Gorge Road, Santee

Bacon cheeseburger, $5.99

Cheerful, colorful, and clean, Anny’s looks like the flagship store of a future chain. They will put almost anything and everything on a burger (pastrami!), but we kept things simple. A crusty, kaiser-style roll surrounds a patty that drips grease but still comes across a bit like lean sirloin — maybe it’s the chew, or maybe it’s the steak-y taste. There’s a solidity to the beef, as opposed to a grind. It’s not bad, just different. The bacon hits a sweet high note, but the cheese doesn’t even play second fiddle. Lettuce and tomato reminded me of In-N-Out, but Anny’s has more of ’em.

— Ambrose Martin

Danny's Palm Bar

965 Orange Avenue, Coronado

Half-pound burger with American cheese, $7.50

Look, grill genius “Nacho” Madera is gone — gone to North Park and El Sol and Mexican food. But Danny’s remains, a Coronado institution under a narrow barrel roof, displaying its photos of fallen soldiers on the wall above the bar, serving up burgers and booze with an air of gruff geniality (or maybe genial gruffness). Yes, something’s been lost along the way: we detected too much steel and not enough seasoning in the tang of the grill. But the grind is good and pebbly, the lettuce is thick enough, and the American cheese gums things up the way it oughta. From top to (soggy) bottom, this is a burger that resists gentrification as stubbornly as the rest of the joint.

— Ambrose Martin

The Tractor Room

3687 Fifth Avenue, Hillcrest

Apropos of the gay district, a camp version of an Old West meatery. Cowhide barstools, a jackalope on the wall above the red-leather banquette, etc. Smart wine list, if you’re into that sort of thing. Bun is actually more of a roll, eggy and toasted. Lettuce, tomato, and cheese are not the point here, and bacon gets noticed only for its salty parry to the overwhelming thrust of wet, melty meat. The grind here yields long, thick strands — not stringy, but soft, almost like busted-up breakfast sausage. Forget seasoning, forget the grill: this is meat that does not play well with others, but instead turns in a powerful, complicated star turn.

— Ambrose Martin

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