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Hayes Burger built a burger hub beside Chicano Park

If you’re only going to do one thing, do it well

A simple burger drawing crowds in Barrio Logan
A simple burger drawing crowds in Barrio Logan

Hayes Burger is the first shop on Logan Avenue, coming out of Chicano Park, and as I approach on foot, I can see a few other people have the same lunch plan I do.

A steady stream of customers approach from every direction, mostly people who live or work in the Barrio Logan area, judging by the chance encounters. I see a couple of groups greet one another in front of the restaurant, and one man stops to chat with a party of diners already seated among a hodgepodge of tables lining the sidewalk. Another finishes his meal with one group of friends, then switches to a different table to drink beer with a different set.

Place

Hayes Burger

2060 Logan Ave Ste. A,, San Diego

I get a distinct weekend vibe, so I check my phone again to make sure. Yep, it’s Wednesday.

There are a dozen people are ahead of me in line, but it moves quickly, because we’re all ordering the same thing. Because Hayes’s menu is simple enough to be painted on the wall. It reads: burger ($7), cheeseburger ($7.25), double cheeseburger ($10). Not necessarily in that order.

There’s no small amount of audacity to opening a restaurant that just does one thing. It means you have to do that one thing well. And drawing weekday crowds like this, two years in business, it’s become clear Hayes Burger does its one thing well indeed. True to the declaration on its website, this is “One hell of a burger!”

On a street dominated by Mexican food, the low-key burger counter does fit the local aesthetic, presenting an almost willfully ungentrified storefront. Street artists and muralists contributed to the décor, including the spray-painted, bubble letter sign. There are a couple small tables inside, but not room for much else. The walls are filled with scattered artwork, some painted directly on the walls, including a skateboarding hamburger, and a cheeky depiction of a certain, clownish fast-food mascot.

A street mural-decorated burger spot next to Chicano Park

There’s nothing slick or fancy to the place, it’s just a stainless steel counter on a concrete floor and unfinished warehouse ceiling, plus a cramped-looking loft space packed with more artwork and eclectic objects. Contrary to the tastefully manicured look of so many San Diego fast casual eateries, this feels more like the sort of low-budget businesses more common to keep-it-weird cities, such as Portland, Oregon or Austin, Texas. The tacit suggestion: that spending money on nice furnishings is only necessary if you don’t serve a killer burger.

Like most killer burgers, they keep it simple. It’s a smash burger style, dressed with classic burger toppings of lettuce, tomato, and some semblance of thousand island dressing. An almost suspicious number of Yelpers describe it as a cross between The Friendly’s dirty flat top burger, and In-N-Out, and on this rare occasion, I think the Yelpers have it right. This is what an In-N-Out burger might taste like if its ingredients and process weren’t so streamlined for mass consumption. Makes me wonder if there’s a secret menu….

A short menu doesn't confuse the issue with extravagant burger toppings

This is not a secret, but I now know the thing to do at Hayes is order a double cheeseburger, with chopped guero pepper added for 60 cents. One of In-N-Out’s lesser-known secret menu options — probably because it doesn’t have a name as catchy as Animal Style — is to add chopped chili peppers to a double double. And what Hayes Burger does here is similar.

While In-N-Out uses pickled Cascabella peppers, Hayes employs pan-seared guero peppers, which objectively taste better. Also known as Santa Fe Grande peppers, these conical yellow chilis are mild enough for all but the most sensitive to eat straight (order on the side to do exactly that).

Add a chopped or whole guero pepper for 60 cents.

Maybe, it’s one reason locals keep coming back. Or maybe, it’s just an easy, affordable place to get a burger that doesn’t suffer in comparison to the neighborhood’s famed tacos. Despite the comparison, Hayes Burger is far from an In-N-Out clone; these burgers actually boast better ingredients and flavor. But neither does Hayes try to reinvent the wheel. And by keeping to a tried and true formula, the place makes great burgers look easy.

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A simple burger drawing crowds in Barrio Logan
A simple burger drawing crowds in Barrio Logan

Hayes Burger is the first shop on Logan Avenue, coming out of Chicano Park, and as I approach on foot, I can see a few other people have the same lunch plan I do.

A steady stream of customers approach from every direction, mostly people who live or work in the Barrio Logan area, judging by the chance encounters. I see a couple of groups greet one another in front of the restaurant, and one man stops to chat with a party of diners already seated among a hodgepodge of tables lining the sidewalk. Another finishes his meal with one group of friends, then switches to a different table to drink beer with a different set.

Place

Hayes Burger

2060 Logan Ave Ste. A,, San Diego

I get a distinct weekend vibe, so I check my phone again to make sure. Yep, it’s Wednesday.

There are a dozen people are ahead of me in line, but it moves quickly, because we’re all ordering the same thing. Because Hayes’s menu is simple enough to be painted on the wall. It reads: burger ($7), cheeseburger ($7.25), double cheeseburger ($10). Not necessarily in that order.

There’s no small amount of audacity to opening a restaurant that just does one thing. It means you have to do that one thing well. And drawing weekday crowds like this, two years in business, it’s become clear Hayes Burger does its one thing well indeed. True to the declaration on its website, this is “One hell of a burger!”

On a street dominated by Mexican food, the low-key burger counter does fit the local aesthetic, presenting an almost willfully ungentrified storefront. Street artists and muralists contributed to the décor, including the spray-painted, bubble letter sign. There are a couple small tables inside, but not room for much else. The walls are filled with scattered artwork, some painted directly on the walls, including a skateboarding hamburger, and a cheeky depiction of a certain, clownish fast-food mascot.

A street mural-decorated burger spot next to Chicano Park

There’s nothing slick or fancy to the place, it’s just a stainless steel counter on a concrete floor and unfinished warehouse ceiling, plus a cramped-looking loft space packed with more artwork and eclectic objects. Contrary to the tastefully manicured look of so many San Diego fast casual eateries, this feels more like the sort of low-budget businesses more common to keep-it-weird cities, such as Portland, Oregon or Austin, Texas. The tacit suggestion: that spending money on nice furnishings is only necessary if you don’t serve a killer burger.

Like most killer burgers, they keep it simple. It’s a smash burger style, dressed with classic burger toppings of lettuce, tomato, and some semblance of thousand island dressing. An almost suspicious number of Yelpers describe it as a cross between The Friendly’s dirty flat top burger, and In-N-Out, and on this rare occasion, I think the Yelpers have it right. This is what an In-N-Out burger might taste like if its ingredients and process weren’t so streamlined for mass consumption. Makes me wonder if there’s a secret menu….

A short menu doesn't confuse the issue with extravagant burger toppings

This is not a secret, but I now know the thing to do at Hayes is order a double cheeseburger, with chopped guero pepper added for 60 cents. One of In-N-Out’s lesser-known secret menu options — probably because it doesn’t have a name as catchy as Animal Style — is to add chopped chili peppers to a double double. And what Hayes Burger does here is similar.

While In-N-Out uses pickled Cascabella peppers, Hayes employs pan-seared guero peppers, which objectively taste better. Also known as Santa Fe Grande peppers, these conical yellow chilis are mild enough for all but the most sensitive to eat straight (order on the side to do exactly that).

Add a chopped or whole guero pepper for 60 cents.

Maybe, it’s one reason locals keep coming back. Or maybe, it’s just an easy, affordable place to get a burger that doesn’t suffer in comparison to the neighborhood’s famed tacos. Despite the comparison, Hayes Burger is far from an In-N-Out clone; these burgers actually boast better ingredients and flavor. But neither does Hayes try to reinvent the wheel. And by keeping to a tried and true formula, the place makes great burgers look easy.

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