Sophia tries to tempt me with one of their dee-lish-looking desserts. Those raspberry tarts.
  • Sophia tries to tempt me with one of their dee-lish-looking desserts. Those raspberry tarts.
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Aroma Cafe

909 Prospect Street #100, La Jolla

Whew. Sniffing the rarified air of La Jolla. Wandering along Prospect at about 2:00 in the afternoon. Muggy hot.

Looking for burgers. Promised the lovely Carla I’d take her back a nice big fat one.

Seeing plenty of cafés, except, mostly, they’re expensive as hell. But when I get to where Prospect meets Fay, I come up on one I may be able to handle. Aroma Bakery & Cafe. Didn’t this place used to be the Hard Rock? Whatever, I like how the corner’s got a sunny patio, rusty-red and sandy-colored umbrellas, solid wicker chairs. Real street café feel.

They have a reception pulpit outside, where this host asks if I want to sit in or out. Inside, I guess, because it’s so hot.

For decoration there’s one big black-and-white Beatles photograph and another of James Dean. Hard Rock hangover? The walls are buttery brown; the tables are sturdy black wood.

Hearing a lot of what could be Arabic. Or is it Farsi? Or Armenian? A bit of everything? Makes the place feel international, very La Jolla. I sit near the window, looking out across Prospect at Bubba’s Smokehouse BBQ. A gal comes up, Sophia, and asks if I’d like something to drink. Actually, no. I’m coffee’d out. Water, I tell her, would be the best thing. It comes tall, frosty, with a bit of lemon squeezed into it. So refreshing, almost sweet.

Got to check the menu choices…

First off, there’s a lot of expensive nightclub drinks. Then, expensive eats, like filet mignon with mashed potatoes and veggies for $27.95, beef stroganoff for $17.95. I flip the pages.

Ah, now we’re getting to the land of the possible. Middle Eastern appetizers, like baba ghanoush (eggplant) or hummus, go for $6.50. Smallish pizzas are about $10.50; they come on a kind of wooden skillet. There’s BBQ chicken pizza, with mozzarella and cilantro, and something called the “New York,” with pepperoni and Italian sausage.

There are pastas, like the fettucine Alfredo for $9.95; or panini, things like turkey breast on toasted ciabatta with fries or a small salad for $8.95. A turkey sandwich dips below $8 ($7.90). They have quiche Lorraine for $8.90, and two chicken mushroom crêpes for $8. With a salad. You can get a crêpe, soup, and salad combo for $9.95. Tempted by that.

Then I remember my mission. Burger. I keep flipping through. Here we go. Three sliders with fries are $8. An Angus burger (with fries and salad) goes for $8.50, a vegetarian burger for $7.50. You can add cheese for 50 cents.

They’re all served on beautiful-looking square-form plates, prettied up with scatterings of parsley. I ask for the Angus. If it’s good, I’ll order a second for Ms. Carla. Got a Jackson in the pocket.

Susan, another waitress, brings the burger. Gotta admit, this is a whopper. (Sorry, BK, but you can’t own the word.) Poppy-seed bun, a generous, half-inch-thick glistening patty with the cross-hatch burns of the grill — always makes it look more delicious — plus sloppy sautéed onions, tomatoes, and big lettuce leaves. There’s a base layer of some kind of ranch sauce.

The salad’s cool, too. Spinach, arugula and other lettuces, lush red-pepper strips, thin carrot sticks, bits of yellow corn, and golden pencil fries. Squirt a gloop of ketchup on the corner, and you’ve got an eye-candy festival. What with the rent they must be paying for this fancy location, $8.50 isn’t bad value at all.

Guess I’ll have to start eating and mess up my face. Huge burger. I do the python drop-jaw trick and lunge in. It’s got that charred outside, rare-pink inside combo I love. Bit of ketchup, some fries, vinaigrette puddling on the plate. Perfecto.

Ambience is good, too. I suddenly notice: no music. Just the ripple of conversation and my chomping. It’s nice not to be mooded-up, for once.

Speaking of which, by the time I’m two-thirds through, Sophia sees me slowing down. “You can do it,” she says. “I believe in you, sir.”

She knows: this is one heck of a filling dish. I drop the last chunk of meat down my gullet and fall back exhausted. Sophia tries to tempt me with one of their dee-lish-looking desserts. Those raspberry tarts. But with Carla’s to-go burger, I’m already at $18.32, and most of these sweets run about $5. A Jackson’s a Jackson.

But I’d definitely come back. They’ve got the feeling right, of a boulevard café, the kind of place where you’d meet your agent — the one selling your movie script, ’natch — to haggle over, I dunno, character arcs.

Sigh. That’s what La Jolla can do to you. Starts you dreaming those big-time dreams. When in Aroma…

*Late breaking news: The beautiful Ms. Carla was heard to exclaim, “Oh, wow. Fantastic patty. Juicy. Sautéed onions…This has to be the biggest burger I’ve had, seriously…”

Size matters. ■

The Place: Aroma Bakery and Cafe, 909 Prospect Street, La Jolla, 858-454-7272
Type of Food: Mediterranean-Californian
Prices: Two breakfast eggs with sautéed potatoes, fruit salad, baguette, $7.50; eggs benedict, $8.95; baba ghanoush or hummus, $6.50; pizzas (e.g., BBQ chicken or New York), $10.50; fettucine Alfredo, $9.95; turkey breast panini (with fries or salad) $8.95; turkey sandwich $7.90; crêpe, soup, salad combo, $9.95; Angus burger (with fries and salad), $8.50; vegetarian burger, $7.50
Hours: 7:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m., daily (till 11:00 p.m., Friday–Saturday)
Bus: 30
Nearest Bus Stop: Silverado at Girard

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millerowski Sept. 14, 2011 @ 6:07 p.m.

Hey, Tin Man, burgers don't travel well. How come Ms. Carla loved a cold burger with congealed fat?...or do y'all live in La Jolla? (No offense intended--love your column.)


Ed Bedford Sept. 18, 2011 @ 9:18 p.m.

Hey there millerowski: the beautiful Carla has become an expert in reviving dying burgers. I'm not even sure if it's nuke or oven half the time. All I hear is the yell. "It's alive!!!" and a living steaming burger arrives like it was just born. No, don't live in La Jolla. Know any empty garages there? Carla says to say thanks. "At least someone worries about me," she says. Best, Ed


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