What makes a burger? Obviously, ground meat enters the equation, and there must be some sort of presentation beyond slapping a griddled patty down on a plate, but it’s hard to qualify exactly what a burger is in the grandest sense.
For your consideration, I have un-burgers, breakfast burgers, Ur-burgers, taco burgers, and burgers that represent all that the humble burger has become in the twenty-first century. They are all so different, yet all unquestionably qualified as burgers. Perhaps, considered in their totality, they encapsulate what it means to be burger.
4050 Adams Avenue, Kensington
Ponce’s chille relleno burger—served “guero style” on a Kaiser roll, or “Mexi style” on a bolillo roll with extra guac—is the secret to withstanding Ponce’s notoriously potent margaritas. The perfect protein/fat/salt ratio in the burger exerts a lubricative and palliative effect on the stupefying liquors; thus enabling the casual happy hour drinker to weather the exigencies of excessive daytime tequila intake. In addition, the browning effects of the perfectly seasoned plancha, imbued with the souls of carnes asadas past, imparts a taco-like spirit to the burger itself. The net result is pure bliss.
2121 Adams Avenue, University Heights
In a world of burgers bedecked with unnecessary pork products and frivolous condiments, Circa’s burger stands as a bastion of normality. Tender grilled meat, sharp cheddar cheese, a delightful bun, and some fantastical molasses ketchup compose the kind of burger one would hope to create at the greatest backyard cookout of all time. It exudes a kind of Platonic burger-ness that beggars description precisely because it lacks gimmicks or elegant variations. This is a burger that knows what, perhaps even who, it is, and makes no apology, because none is needed.
3860 Convoy Street #110, Kearny Mesa
Where most burgers rest contentedly on a bun, Wa Dining Okan’s lunchtime hambagū sits insouciantly beneath a pile of shredded daikon, while rivulets of a tangy/sweet/savory sauce pool around its base. The patty itself is almost more like a Japanese meatloaf, studded with extraneous materials and (I suspect) bound with egg. Instead of fries, one receives a bevy of side dishes, including fermented pickles, rice, and corn on the cob. If the hamburger more often than not evokes the gluttony of the tailgate party and the fattening of the liver, then this is a daintier, more refined version of the same.
3377 Adams Avenue, Normal Heights
The Rabbit Hole professes a great love for professional ass-kicker, Chuck Norris; even going so far as to name its hamburger the “Ground Chuck Norris.” I’m seldom swayed by clever puns, or by implicit suggestions that eating a hamburger will catapult me to the heights of machismo occupied by Chuck. But, damnit, I just plain like this burger, I just plain like this bar, and not even Chuck Himself can stop me...not like that’s a dare. Please don’t call my bluff, Chuck Norris. I’m not ready to have my face slapped off of my face and onto someone else’s face.
2296 Bacon Street, Ocean Beach
I first saw loco moco at a dingy breakfast spot somewhere outside Kihei, Maui. Before that, the idea of smothering a burger in brown gravy, and serving it over rice with eggs would never have occurred to me. Since then, I know no better way to eat burgers for breakfast. Californians generally, and San Diegans in particular, claim great fidelity with Hawaii, but it’s all talk unless you can dine on musubi and loco moco. Daybreak gets the vibe (and the loco moco) right, and not only may dogs join humans on the patio, the kitchen serves little dog omelets!