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Eureka!: like the Samoa Cookhouse fed the lumberjacks

California’s oldest restaurant and a North County bargain

Eureka’s bar tender Tristan spends serious time inventing cocktails with his own fruits and spices.
Eureka’s bar tender Tristan spends serious time inventing cocktails with his own fruits and spices.

“This is North County, so let’s not expect cheap,” says my friend Diana. No sticker shock for her. She’s into swanky malls like this one, UTC. Problem: sign says the mall closes at eight, but restaurants can stay open later. At 8:30 on this cold shivery night, there are still some places with their lights on and doors open. But not a lot. So when we see a joint called Eureka! that’s open and serving customers, we’re in like Flynn.

Place

Eureka! Gourmet Burgers and Craft Beer

4353 La Jolla Village Drive, San Diego

It’s a newish, slightly clubby, slightly stark, timbery place. Big emphasis on, like, preserved fruit in jars, for cocktails, for sure. Except me, I’m not sure. Another eatery for the rich and famous, dressed up to look democratic, but mainly for the expense-account johnnies?

Whatever, die is cast. Diana is looking with satisfaction. “Aah,” she says. “They’re mainly burgers. Good. Cold weather’s made for burgers. See their list here?” She hones right in on it. The plastic-jacketed menu lists snacks, burgers, “not a burger” items like a spicy fried chicken sandwich ($14.50, which gives you an idea of prices), and greens (such as the “seared furikake ahi salad,” $18.50). But burgers are a big chunk of the menu.

Now that’s a burger! Goat cheese, bacon, fig marmalade.

“All burgers served with Santa Carota carrot-fed Angus beef atop buttery brioche bread,” the menu reads. Their standard one, the “Eureka! American,” goes for $14. And then, hey! They feature in red ink their “28-Day, Dry-Aged Bone Marrow” burger with shiitake butter, horseradish mustard aioli, and roasted Roma tomato. I love marrow. Also horseradish. Trouble is, it costs $20. That must be some burger. For $18.50 they also have a bison burger, and a “double-stacked” Angus burger for $18.50. The jalapeño burger with fried egg costs $15, and — this looks interesting — the “decadent” truffle mushroom burger with a white truffle cheese sauce runs $17.50. There’s also an all-veggie beet burger with a beet/kidney bean patty for $14. But the one that catches my eye is the Fresno Fig. This is a figgin’ first for me. The burger has fig marmalade, tarted up by goat cheese, bacon, tomato, red onions, arugula, and what they promise is a spicy porter mustard. Costs $15.

“I’ll have the Cowboy,” Diana tells Kim the waitress. “Only 957 calories.” They exchange knowing looks. Heck, Diana is as slim as they come. And I’m actually relieved when she asks if I want to split one of the snacks, the mac’n cheese balls, as a starter, ’cause I am out-and-out hungry. They cost $9 for five. Her “Cowboy Burger” is a fairly simple affair: patty with bacon, cheddar, BBQ sauce, and shoestring onions ($15).

Diana’s dog Faucina sits beside her Cowboy Burger. No pressure…

Hmm. I think of asking for the “Eureka! Burger,” mainly because I feel a bond with Eureka, the place. One of the best times I ever had was up in Eureka, searching for the oldest eatery in California. My buddy Frankie and I practically lived at the Samoa Cookhouse, “the last remaining cookhouse in the West.” It’s still there. It used to feed lumbermen by the thousands, and ever since they stopped chopping down the redwood forests, it has fed tourists coming to see the last remaining stands. Somehow, the Cookhouse has survived the huge hole in tourism that covid has opened. “We’ve always fed people well, just like the Samoa Cookhouse fed the lumberjacks in Eureka,” says the gal who’s managing there. She’s right about the Samoa. It was and always is All-U-Can-Eat. And okay, Diana and I don’t get that here in Eureka!, but when our two burgers come, they are plentiful.

The main thing about Diana’s Cowboy Burger is the nice big marinated patty. She lets me take a bite. Mmm. Umami. “Best thing?” she says. “It’s these shoestring onions. Like tiny taste pearls on a string.” My burger comes down to three words: fig, goat cheese, bacon. (OK, four.) The sweet of the fig spread knocks the meat up to something almost like a savory dessert, if there is such a thing.

Mac’n Cheese Balls. Great appetizer for burgers to come.

Of course, I try to catch the carrot-y taste in the carrot-fed Angus beef. Can just imagine all the poor, doomed Angus cattle running to munch on their veggies every morning. But if the carrot flavor is there, it’s subtle. Whatever, the whole chomp is still scrumbulicious. And I guess the guys who run this place are doing something right, because Eureka! has expanded to over two dozen eateries around the West in just over a decade. One good thing they have is a four-hour happy hour, Monday to Friday. Deals like the Eureka! burger for $9. With fries. Or firecracker riblets ($7), or chargrilled cauliflower ($6), or those mac’n cheese balls for $6. Or to keep it really simple and cheap, but still interesting, honey-cinnamon sweet potato fries for $3. So let me take back that “only for the rich” stuff, because even though this place is not cheap, it does have good, interesting, original, and yes, cheapish ways of belly-stuffing, inside happy hour and out.

Oh, and that search for the oldest restaurant? Turned out not to be in Gold Country, or Timber Country, but right on the docks in San Francisco. Still prospering mightily. Tadich Grill, continuously open since 1849. Maybe because they have never gone too pretentious or toffee-nosed, even though they’re right smack dab in the middle of Frisco’s financial district. You can still get a Caesar salad for $11. Not bad for the most expensive city in the state. These guys are holding a pretty good line, too.

  • The Place: Eureka!, 4353 La Jolla Village Drive, 858-210-3444 (Also at SDSU South Campus)
  • Hours: 11am-11pm, daily
  • Happy Hour: 2-6pm, 9pm-close
  • Prices: spicy fried chicken sandwich, $14.50; seared furikake ahi salad,” $18.50; Eureka! American burger, $14; dry-aged bone marrow burger, with horseradish mustard aioli, $20; bison burger, $18.50; “double-stacked” Angus burger $18.50; jalapeño burger (with cheddar, bacon, pickled jalapeños), $15; “decadent” truffle mushroom burger, white truffle cheese sauce, $17.50; beet burger, with kidney bean patty $14; Fresno Fig Burger, with fig marmalade, goat cheese, bacon, tomato, arugula, spicy porter mustard $15; mac’n cheese balls, $9; cowboy burger, (bacon, cheddar, BBQ sauce), $15
  • Buses: 31, 41, 60, 105, 150, 201
  • Nearest Bus Stops: UTC Transit Center, 4545 La Jolla Village Drive
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Eureka’s bar tender Tristan spends serious time inventing cocktails with his own fruits and spices.
Eureka’s bar tender Tristan spends serious time inventing cocktails with his own fruits and spices.

“This is North County, so let’s not expect cheap,” says my friend Diana. No sticker shock for her. She’s into swanky malls like this one, UTC. Problem: sign says the mall closes at eight, but restaurants can stay open later. At 8:30 on this cold shivery night, there are still some places with their lights on and doors open. But not a lot. So when we see a joint called Eureka! that’s open and serving customers, we’re in like Flynn.

Place

Eureka! Gourmet Burgers and Craft Beer

4353 La Jolla Village Drive, San Diego

It’s a newish, slightly clubby, slightly stark, timbery place. Big emphasis on, like, preserved fruit in jars, for cocktails, for sure. Except me, I’m not sure. Another eatery for the rich and famous, dressed up to look democratic, but mainly for the expense-account johnnies?

Whatever, die is cast. Diana is looking with satisfaction. “Aah,” she says. “They’re mainly burgers. Good. Cold weather’s made for burgers. See their list here?” She hones right in on it. The plastic-jacketed menu lists snacks, burgers, “not a burger” items like a spicy fried chicken sandwich ($14.50, which gives you an idea of prices), and greens (such as the “seared furikake ahi salad,” $18.50). But burgers are a big chunk of the menu.

Now that’s a burger! Goat cheese, bacon, fig marmalade.

“All burgers served with Santa Carota carrot-fed Angus beef atop buttery brioche bread,” the menu reads. Their standard one, the “Eureka! American,” goes for $14. And then, hey! They feature in red ink their “28-Day, Dry-Aged Bone Marrow” burger with shiitake butter, horseradish mustard aioli, and roasted Roma tomato. I love marrow. Also horseradish. Trouble is, it costs $20. That must be some burger. For $18.50 they also have a bison burger, and a “double-stacked” Angus burger for $18.50. The jalapeño burger with fried egg costs $15, and — this looks interesting — the “decadent” truffle mushroom burger with a white truffle cheese sauce runs $17.50. There’s also an all-veggie beet burger with a beet/kidney bean patty for $14. But the one that catches my eye is the Fresno Fig. This is a figgin’ first for me. The burger has fig marmalade, tarted up by goat cheese, bacon, tomato, red onions, arugula, and what they promise is a spicy porter mustard. Costs $15.

“I’ll have the Cowboy,” Diana tells Kim the waitress. “Only 957 calories.” They exchange knowing looks. Heck, Diana is as slim as they come. And I’m actually relieved when she asks if I want to split one of the snacks, the mac’n cheese balls, as a starter, ’cause I am out-and-out hungry. They cost $9 for five. Her “Cowboy Burger” is a fairly simple affair: patty with bacon, cheddar, BBQ sauce, and shoestring onions ($15).

Diana’s dog Faucina sits beside her Cowboy Burger. No pressure…

Hmm. I think of asking for the “Eureka! Burger,” mainly because I feel a bond with Eureka, the place. One of the best times I ever had was up in Eureka, searching for the oldest eatery in California. My buddy Frankie and I practically lived at the Samoa Cookhouse, “the last remaining cookhouse in the West.” It’s still there. It used to feed lumbermen by the thousands, and ever since they stopped chopping down the redwood forests, it has fed tourists coming to see the last remaining stands. Somehow, the Cookhouse has survived the huge hole in tourism that covid has opened. “We’ve always fed people well, just like the Samoa Cookhouse fed the lumberjacks in Eureka,” says the gal who’s managing there. She’s right about the Samoa. It was and always is All-U-Can-Eat. And okay, Diana and I don’t get that here in Eureka!, but when our two burgers come, they are plentiful.

The main thing about Diana’s Cowboy Burger is the nice big marinated patty. She lets me take a bite. Mmm. Umami. “Best thing?” she says. “It’s these shoestring onions. Like tiny taste pearls on a string.” My burger comes down to three words: fig, goat cheese, bacon. (OK, four.) The sweet of the fig spread knocks the meat up to something almost like a savory dessert, if there is such a thing.

Mac’n Cheese Balls. Great appetizer for burgers to come.

Of course, I try to catch the carrot-y taste in the carrot-fed Angus beef. Can just imagine all the poor, doomed Angus cattle running to munch on their veggies every morning. But if the carrot flavor is there, it’s subtle. Whatever, the whole chomp is still scrumbulicious. And I guess the guys who run this place are doing something right, because Eureka! has expanded to over two dozen eateries around the West in just over a decade. One good thing they have is a four-hour happy hour, Monday to Friday. Deals like the Eureka! burger for $9. With fries. Or firecracker riblets ($7), or chargrilled cauliflower ($6), or those mac’n cheese balls for $6. Or to keep it really simple and cheap, but still interesting, honey-cinnamon sweet potato fries for $3. So let me take back that “only for the rich” stuff, because even though this place is not cheap, it does have good, interesting, original, and yes, cheapish ways of belly-stuffing, inside happy hour and out.

Oh, and that search for the oldest restaurant? Turned out not to be in Gold Country, or Timber Country, but right on the docks in San Francisco. Still prospering mightily. Tadich Grill, continuously open since 1849. Maybe because they have never gone too pretentious or toffee-nosed, even though they’re right smack dab in the middle of Frisco’s financial district. You can still get a Caesar salad for $11. Not bad for the most expensive city in the state. These guys are holding a pretty good line, too.

  • The Place: Eureka!, 4353 La Jolla Village Drive, 858-210-3444 (Also at SDSU South Campus)
  • Hours: 11am-11pm, daily
  • Happy Hour: 2-6pm, 9pm-close
  • Prices: spicy fried chicken sandwich, $14.50; seared furikake ahi salad,” $18.50; Eureka! American burger, $14; dry-aged bone marrow burger, with horseradish mustard aioli, $20; bison burger, $18.50; “double-stacked” Angus burger $18.50; jalapeño burger (with cheddar, bacon, pickled jalapeños), $15; “decadent” truffle mushroom burger, white truffle cheese sauce, $17.50; beet burger, with kidney bean patty $14; Fresno Fig Burger, with fig marmalade, goat cheese, bacon, tomato, arugula, spicy porter mustard $15; mac’n cheese balls, $9; cowboy burger, (bacon, cheddar, BBQ sauce), $15
  • Buses: 31, 41, 60, 105, 150, 201
  • Nearest Bus Stops: UTC Transit Center, 4545 La Jolla Village Drive
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