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?
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.
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.