A surprisingly good burger with pepperjack. We won't talk about the fries. South Cali Steak Burger Bar.
  • A surprisingly good burger with pepperjack. We won't talk about the fries. South Cali Steak Burger Bar.
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South Cali Steak Burger Bar

301 Montgomery Street, Chula Vista

Walking into Cali Steak Burger Bar forced me into a little semantic introspection. What makes a burger a "steak burger"? For that matter, what distinguishes steak from other cuts of beef? And if you make a burger from ground beef, who's to say the beef wasn't ground from steak, whatever the quality or cut?

Inviting storefronts are for better located restaurants.

Inviting storefronts are for better located restaurants.

Of course I asked none of this of my server, a teenage girl who seems to have a fair amount of downtime between customers. She brought me chips and a bowl of tasty salsa, took my drink order and gave me a minute to check the menu, which actually featured a long list of burgers, sandwiches, barbecue, and breakfast options.

I kept it simple, ignoring the Ortega chilis, mushrooms, and other toppings to go with a standard cheeseburger litmus test. I did enjoy the chance to choose between 6 and 8-ounce patties, and went with the smaller one, assuming I'd fill up on chips and a side of seasoned fries.

Being in Chula Vista down towards Otay Mesa, I had deciphered the South, Cali, and Burger parts of this restaurant's name. But other than 5 or 6 beer bottles in the offing, the closest this place came to resembling a bar was a little Padres and Chargers paraphernalia on the walls. Otherwise the peeling fake wood paneling and cracked vinyl seats indicated the place had been a shabby something else before the burger folks rolled in. It was going to be up to the "charred steakburger" to win me over.

Not a bad start. Some of the chips were stale, but the salsa was good.

Not a bad start. Some of the chips were stale, but the salsa was good.

I gotta say, it kinda did. A flavorful patty, fresh, lightly grilled bun, and reasonably good vegetables made it a pleasure to eat. I still have doubts about the steak aspect of the whole thing, but the charring was evident, and while nobody's likely to line up down the block in this sparse section of Chula, I'd pit this burger against a number of the so-called "best burger" candidates located closer to downtown. Maybe a few kitschy personalized license plates on the walls are all these guys need to really drum up some business.

The fries… well that's another issue. I'm not sure the last time they changed the oil, but I think I could taste why the old restaurant at this location went out of business. Still, not bad for a local burger joint, especially when burger, fries, drink, tax and tip amounted to about eight bucks.

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Comments

Gee whiz. You shell out $8 for a so-so burger, a drink and some fries you can't stand. This is a positive review? What does it take to make you slam an eatery? Many, many years ago I went into a Jimmy's restaurant, which was part of a string of them around the county run by recent immigrants from Greece. I had a sandwich with fries, and when the proprietor asked me how things were I told him that the fries tasted as though they had been fried in "3-in-1" oil. His reaction was to tell me "you shoulda sent'em back.." Would "sendin' um back" have freshened the oil? I think not. I just told him that my solution was that I would never return. He shrugged.

Ponzi April 29, 2014 @ 10:08 p.m.

Visdah, give Ian some slack. He's putting his life on the line eating at these new hole in the wall places. I don't trust Yelp reviews one bit because I have it on good authority they are rigged, mostly by a corp of so-called 'elite' reviewers who have way more time than money. Ian keep up the good work, but maybe take the velvet glove off and let some of these places feel the iron hand.

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Visduh April 30, 2014 @ 7:11 a.m.

Ponzi, you summed up my sentiments exactly.

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