Keeping it simple with the straight cheddar cheeseburger
2204 Fern Street, San Diego
When family comes to town, everybody looks to Uncle Ian to ask a deceptively simple question: “Where should we meet for lunch?” Visiting friends often ask for recommendations such as “Where can I get good Thai food?” or “What place do you like for fish tacos?”
That’s not what’s happening with the family. They’re not looking for the food writer’s pick. What they’re really asking is, “Where is a place that can accommodate all of our wants and needs?”
Five adults, two kids, and a very active toddler. When you roll like this, somebody always wants a vegetarian option, somebody else is off wheat, and the teenager only wants a cheeseburger. At least one of us insists on good beer, and everybody wants to eat outside. That last part is good, because we’ve also brought a dog.
The answer I came up with was Station Tavern & Burgers. It’s got a spacious dog-friendly patio with long picnic benches, a sandy play area for small children, a handful of local beers on draught, and plenty of tater tots. And for my family, it offered burgers done three ways.
This is where you can play after you’ve sampled your grilled cheese
My sister went for the very good spicy black bean veggie burger (she could also have chosen a chickpea-based patty). My mom opted for the Farmers’ Market Salad, which featured mixed greens and seasonal vegetables. She topped it with a beef burger patty. My nephew got a hot dog, and the three–year-old nibbled her way through a grilled cheese before running off to the play area. The rest of us kept it simple: cheeseburgers.
I picked the place for its amenities, but I’ve been down on the Station’s burgers in the past. I ate there often when it opened several years back and found myself going veggie at Station in search of more flavor. I’ve smothered the uninspiring eight-dollar burgers with add-ons to give it some oomph, whether it be avocado, fried egg, bacon, jalapeños, and/or caramelized onions for a buck or two apiece. I’ve also cycled through several of the Station’s 50-cent sauce add-ons, including smoky paprika or chipotle mayo.
On this day, I went with everybody else’s straight cheddar cheeseburger so there’d be no large-party confusion. I’m glad I did, because it went way better than what I experienced years ago — more flavor, nicely melted cheese, a toasted bun.
Now that I trust this burger again, we can start this relationship over fresh. I’ll start slow, with a little bacon, maybe some pepper jack. Only to complement the beef, not because it needs frills. And those extra sauces really work better with a large order of tots anyway. Make that two large orders when hungry kids are involved.