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A new contender for best burger

Balboa Bar & Grill enters the fray

Burger and garlic fries, playing together nicely
Burger and garlic fries, playing together nicely
Place

Balboa Bar & Grill

1863 Fifth Avenue, San Diego

After I wrote about the simplicity of the burger at Rocky’s Crown Pub recently, I heard all about everybody’s favorite burger spots. Like Rocky’s, most were places that count their longevity in decades rather than years. But one newer place kept coming up: The Balboa Bar & Grill.

Balboa Bar & Grill, now serving burgers where the Tin Can used to be

Well, not entirely new. Though the Bankers Hill restaurant opened less than a year ago, the burgers have been around for a few years. Dood’s Foods had been cooking burgers here when it was still called Tin Can Ale House. When that venue closed, the Doods took over the whole place and rebranded it The Balboa, advising fans via Facebook, “We’re still serving the same burgers you have come to know and love.”

It’s a cool space, with plenty of polished wood and parquet floors, retaining enough dive bar vibe to encourage ordering from either the beer or cocktail menu. A small sandwich-and-salad menu supplements the burgers, and black bean patties may be subbed as a vegetarian option. But ground beef is clearly the focus, with bacon, avocado, and fried egg add-ons and even a pastrami topped burger.

I wanted to keep it simple, which meant either the classic burger (pickle, onion, ketchup, and mustard) or the Balboa burger (lettuce, tomato, onion, and the house aioli). Both feature American cheese.

If anything’s going to undercut a best-burger argument, American cheese would do it. Sure, it melts better than most, but that’s because it’s processed with nondairy ingredients. Considering the Balboa website touts its “1/3 lb. all-natural beef patties” and “freshly baked bolillo rolls,” I figured at least some cheddar would be in play.

Still, I’ve enjoyed American cheese on burgers in the past, so I kept an open mind. These guys default to a medium cook, so the beef was pink in the center, tasty and juicy. The bolillo bun held together nicely.

As for the ketchup vs. aioli choice, I made a return visit so I could try them both. I preferred the Balboa Burger and its “zesty” aioli topping — sort of mayo-like with only a hint of kick. The cheese wasn’t a problem, but the ketchup and mustard combo on the Classic had the vinegary, sugary flavor of fast food toppings — not an association I want to make for a $7.25 burger. Ideally, I might have some combination of the two burgers — something with lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles, with light ketchup to balance the aioli.

As for the love and devotion some customers are already showing the Balboa, I get it. It manages to taste like an elevated version of something you’d cook at home, plus you can order garlic fries and a cocktail to go with it. It’s a solid add to the ongoing argument of what constitutes the local best.

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Burger and garlic fries, playing together nicely
Burger and garlic fries, playing together nicely
Place

Balboa Bar & Grill

1863 Fifth Avenue, San Diego

After I wrote about the simplicity of the burger at Rocky’s Crown Pub recently, I heard all about everybody’s favorite burger spots. Like Rocky’s, most were places that count their longevity in decades rather than years. But one newer place kept coming up: The Balboa Bar & Grill.

Balboa Bar & Grill, now serving burgers where the Tin Can used to be

Well, not entirely new. Though the Bankers Hill restaurant opened less than a year ago, the burgers have been around for a few years. Dood’s Foods had been cooking burgers here when it was still called Tin Can Ale House. When that venue closed, the Doods took over the whole place and rebranded it The Balboa, advising fans via Facebook, “We’re still serving the same burgers you have come to know and love.”

It’s a cool space, with plenty of polished wood and parquet floors, retaining enough dive bar vibe to encourage ordering from either the beer or cocktail menu. A small sandwich-and-salad menu supplements the burgers, and black bean patties may be subbed as a vegetarian option. But ground beef is clearly the focus, with bacon, avocado, and fried egg add-ons and even a pastrami topped burger.

I wanted to keep it simple, which meant either the classic burger (pickle, onion, ketchup, and mustard) or the Balboa burger (lettuce, tomato, onion, and the house aioli). Both feature American cheese.

If anything’s going to undercut a best-burger argument, American cheese would do it. Sure, it melts better than most, but that’s because it’s processed with nondairy ingredients. Considering the Balboa website touts its “1/3 lb. all-natural beef patties” and “freshly baked bolillo rolls,” I figured at least some cheddar would be in play.

Still, I’ve enjoyed American cheese on burgers in the past, so I kept an open mind. These guys default to a medium cook, so the beef was pink in the center, tasty and juicy. The bolillo bun held together nicely.

As for the ketchup vs. aioli choice, I made a return visit so I could try them both. I preferred the Balboa Burger and its “zesty” aioli topping — sort of mayo-like with only a hint of kick. The cheese wasn’t a problem, but the ketchup and mustard combo on the Classic had the vinegary, sugary flavor of fast food toppings — not an association I want to make for a $7.25 burger. Ideally, I might have some combination of the two burgers — something with lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles, with light ketchup to balance the aioli.

As for the love and devotion some customers are already showing the Balboa, I get it. It manages to taste like an elevated version of something you’d cook at home, plus you can order garlic fries and a cocktail to go with it. It’s a solid add to the ongoing argument of what constitutes the local best.

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Comments
1

Good story. The size of the bun is too much bread though.

Jan. 27, 2016

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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