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I was all set to get some errands done when I noticed that Empire House Urban Palate, on University Avenue in Hillcrest, had $.50 wings all day. I didn't want to do errands anyway.

EHUP is in a location that has been something of a tough sell, to say the least. But they are celebrating their first birthday this weekend, so maybe the curse has been broken.

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Owners Larry Malone and Susie Baggs have infused a lot of warmth into the renovated space, using homey touches that don't veer into cutesy.

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The menu has some unique items as well. I had planned on getting wings, of course, but also wanted a menu item. Tacos, or a burger? Burger won out when Keegan, my server, recommended the Zen Burger ($8, plus $2 for fries).

The Zen Burger is EH's take on a mushroom burger, using zenmai instead of mushrooms.

Zenmai (Osmunda japonica), is the dried, rehydrated fern shoot (fiddlehead) that is common in Japan. Interestingly enough, the fuzzy brown fiber from the fiddlehead can also be spun into a thread used in fly tying. Useful plant.

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I liked the meaty texture and earthy flavor it added to the burger. Additional condiments were a slice of havarti, mayo and lettuce. I liked the burger, but if I had a quibble, it would be that the meat needed a bit of seasoning before it was pattied, and maybe thirty seconds less cooking time. That's based on tasting a chunk the meat plain, but when I ate it with all the accompaniments, it was pretty darn good.

The fries were good, too. They were the longest fries I've ever seen, golden brown crispiness and great fluffy interior. The pickle on the side was also excellent, house-made and with a nice bit of heat to it. Highly recommended for pickle enthusiasts.

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The wings come with either Frank's hot sauce or homemade red miso bbq sauce. I tried both, and they were both very good wings, big, meaty and well cooked, but the red miso bbq was definitely the winner. Delicious.

Empire House will have special pricing on selected drinks, beer and food all weekend to celebrate their birthday.

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Empire House Urban Palate

127 University Avenue

San Diego, CA 92103

(619) 688-9283

Mon - Fri 11AM - 11PM

Sat 7AM - 11PM

Sun 7AM - 11PM

Street parking.

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Comments

Ian Pike Feb. 3, 2012 @ 2:05 p.m.

I totally had almost the same meal as you the other day and I was planning to write about it! Crazy!

My thought on the burger was that they were grinding a very lean cut of meat for the patty. Because of this, they're losing out on some of the savory flavor that really fatty meat has and serving up kind of a cooked tartare. I liked the sandwich overall, but maybe thought it needed to have those fern shoots swimming in a sea of butter or something to counteract the lean burger. Still, I didn't feel gross after eating this enormous burger, which is what usually happens when I eat that.

They got extra-credit for serving mayo for my tots so that I didn't even have to ask!

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Mary Beth Abate Feb. 3, 2012 @ 4:36 p.m.

Ian, that's a good point about the fat content. I always taste the patty plain first, unmasked by any condiments, just to get an idea of how the meat's been prepared. Your comments make perfect sense.

It was a good burger overall, and I'd go back. I want to try the Haute Dogs next time.

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Ian Pike Feb. 3, 2012 @ 4:48 p.m.

Yup. Both dogs beckoned to me, but I had the same burger you did. Too interesting to pass on.

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