3786 Ingraham Street, Pacific Beach
When I first moved to San Diego I fell in with an avid burger crowd, basically a bunch of guys with strong opinions on who makes the best in town. Most were in agreement the crown belonged to Rocky’s, and I dutifully entered Pacific Beach to devour half-pound cheeseburgers with awe and wonder. That was more than a decade ago, and the regularity of my visits tapered off over the years to the point that I’m not even sure Obama was President last time I ate a Rocky’s burger.
The Crown Point dive bar sits on the other side of a lot of stoplights from everywhere else, yet during mealtime there can be a wait. Food Network exposure will do that. Rocky’s longstanding image as burger destination number one gives people a craving, despite the bar’s willful disregard of dining trends.
It’s cash-only at the bar, and they don’t have bacon. There’s no pepper jack, no fried egg, no avocado or other luxury toppings to be found. It’s mayo, red onions, tomato, lettuce, and Cheddar if you want it. Plus some tasty pickle slices served atop the bun that I tend to eat à la carte the moment the burger arrives.
A one-third-pound cheeseburger runs $6.25 these days, a half-pound $7.50. Fries cost an extra $3.25, and tots aren’t an option. As with most bars in town, the beer list has improved, and the thin HDTV screens slung around the bar are certainly an upgrade from the pub’s opening in ’77.
This was a Sunday, and the NFL dominated the narrow room. The Red Zone channel was on, cutting between four close games as they reached their fourth quarter climaxes simultaneously, causing cheers, groans, and a steady stream of fantasy football rants.
I ordered a Green Flash Soul Style IPA and a couple of half-pound cheeseburgers with fries while my friend scored us a table. There was Tobasco and ketchup at the table, plus sriracha — which I doubt would have been there ten years ago.
I have to admit, I am a fan of fancy burgers. When Carnita’s Snack Shack puts bacon jam on its burger, I’m stoked. When I tried Juniper & Ivy’s secret-menu Double Double tribute, I gloated to friends in other states. And the prime beef Wisconsin Cheddar peppered bacon cheeseburger at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse....
I could name a half dozen others. The Rocky’s burger remains classic and goes down just as easy and satisfying as ever — savory and juicy despite a seeming lack of effort. But if a little sriracha added some excitement, imagine what a few other tweaks could do.
Other restaurants have added some imagination, with excellent results, and I think at this point even Rocky’s die-hards have to admit that, in 2016, there are some better burgers to be had in San Diego. And yet, I’d wager that in another 40 years there will still be plenty of Rocky’s fans insisting otherwise.