1290 University Ave, Hillcrest
1290 University Avenue has been a half a dozen restaurants in as many years, but the current business has a thing or two going for it. Cali O Burgers takes the basic In n Out formula and runs with it, stuffing beef, salmon, bison, tuna, and ostrich patties between tender brioche rolls and topping them with various spreads and veggies.
The regular burger ($6.95) can be a winner, just remember to ask for it rare, because the cooks are under instructions to defer to medium-well, which is much too vicious for a good burger. Topped with naught but lettuce, tomato, onions, cheese, and the mustardy house spread, it’s a solid basic burger. Best of all, it passes the In n Out price comparison test. Cali O’s burger costs roughly twice a double-double, and it’s good enough that we’re not left wishing we had just gone to In n Out twice!
But the real star of the show is the “Napa Valley” ($6.95) burger, an elegant variation on In n Out’s “protein style” secret menu variation. Instead of lettuce, Cali O uses a crunchy Napa cabbage leaf to enshroud the burger, feta cheese, grilled onions, and remoulade sauce. It’s a perfect example of taking something, making it your own, but not totally losing the original idea.
The fancy animal meats (ostrich, elk, etc.) are cool in their way, but not delicious enough to justify the extra price (about three or four dollars more than a beef burger). Best to stick with the beefy patties, and add the $2 meal deal. Cali O’s ”sidewinders,” battered steak fries have the qualities one expects from good frites: crispy exteriors, and delicate potato fluff on the inside. Plus, the soda fountain is one of those epic Coke machines that can blend different flavored sodas together.