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San Diego burgers that play faster and looser

Slater's 50/50, Funky Fries and Burgers, STP Bar-N-Grill, Queenstown, Craft House Sky Deck

PB and Jellousy, with ice cream, courtesy of Slaters 50/50.
PB and Jellousy, with ice cream, courtesy of Slaters 50/50.

Prevailing wisdom tells us the classic burger cannot be made better. That, once you move past lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, and any of your thousand island condiments, the only topping that improves a hamburger is cheese. Many in San Diego — in all Southern California, really — stand strongly behind this purist tradition. This story is for those who don’t.

PB and Jellousy, plus ice cream at Slater's 50/50

There will be no argument here over which are the best burgers in San Diego. This one’s about burgers joints that play a little faster and looser with the beef and bun concept, those who experiment and indulge. It’s going to involve a fair amount of bacon, sure. But only in ways that make conventional bacon cheeseburgers look boring.

The Slater's 50/50

PB and Jellousy, plus ice cream

It starts with Slater’s 50/50, the Point Loma burger bar that takes its name from a 50/50 burger meat blend of ground beef and bacon. But it’s an all-Angus beef patty that provides the most surprising entry on the menu. Dubbed PB and Jellousy ($15), this audacious burger comes topped with strips of bacon, creamy peanut butter, and strawberry jam.

Place

Slater's 50/50

2750 Dewey Road, Building 193, San Diego

A burger topped by peanut butter isn’t unheard of — there’s even a name for it: guberburger. And there are a few examples around town. But it’s the strawberry jelly that offers the first clue as to how far the Slater’s crew is willing to take a concept. Half of those reading this aren’t going to believe me, but it actually kind of works: beef, bacon, and peanut butter are a truly complementary bunch, but taken all together, they risk being too salty. The jelly fixes that. 

However, Slater’s apparently is not content to leave well enough alone. An optional $1.50 add-on answers a question I would have guessed nobody asked: can a burger be made better with a scoop of vanilla ice cream? The answer probably has more to do with how much you love ice cream than how you feel about burgers. I’ll leave it as a mystery and a dare, but will tell you this much: eat it quickly, before it melts.

Comfort carbs: the Funky Fries and Burgers Mac and Cheese Burger

Funky Fries and Burgers

Bacon Mac ‘n Cheese Burger

Fries come first in the name of El Cajon eatery Funky Fries and Burgers, and and it’s easy to imagine that it’s playful burger selection was inspired by its menu of dirty fries. Many of the patties get the same treatment as the potatoes: topped with the likes of pastrami or pulled pork. This exploration/extrapolation can quickly lead into gutbusting territory, as evidenced by a pizza burger topped with red sauce, pepperoni, sausage, and fried mozzarella sticks.

Place

Funky Fries and Burgers

1480 Jamacha Road #203, El Cajon

But it’s tough to see past Funky’s most famous creation, the bacon mac ‘n cheese burger. A serving of macaroni gets dropped on a hot griddle, where it’s formed into a caramelized pasta patty before buddying up to the beef. I’d call it a burger that soothes the inner child, except for this: ever since the actual children in my house got a taste of it, they haven’t stopped bugging me for more.

STP's Top Fuel: a baked potato on a burger, plus all the fixins.

STP Bar-N-Grill

Top Fuel

We’ll get away from bacon soon, but first we have to stop in Clairemont, to pay a visit to STP Bar-N-Grill. With its wall decor of hubcaps and vintage car cutouts, STP delivers a turbocharged menu of half-pound burgers with creative toppings galore, including a maple-infused peanut butter, and the restaurant’s own, house-smoked brisket. I really think STP’s best bet is the Hatchback ($16), a New Mexico-styled burger loaded with roasted hatch chilies. But I found it impossible not to try the burger called Top Fuel ($17), because it’s topped by a loaded baked potato.

Place

STP Bar-N-Grill

5487 Clairemont Mesa Blvd, San Diego

Don’t get too excited — it’s not literally an entire baked potato dropped on top of a burger patty. But it is half a baked potato, wedged and covered with melted cheddar, bacon crumbles, sour cream, and chives. These big, savory burgers don’t need any of it, to be honest, but I can get behind the tang that chives and sour cream bring to a grilled patty. This is getting us somewhere.

Queenstown Public House

Bare Burger

Taking things through the burger looking glass is Little Italy’s New Zealand-inspired gastropub Queenstown Public House. The architecturally-blessed neighborhood fixture (and its siter restaurants) have been getting away with something borderline sarcastic for going on ten years: putting beets on burgers.

Place

Queenstown Public House

1557 Columbia Street, San Diego

Defying everything I thought I knew about hamburgers is the restaurant’s signature Bare Burger ($20.50). It adds beets to a patty of ground lamb and eclectic toppings that include blue cheese, mint jelly, beets, and a fried egg. This is one of those dishes you can order even if you just want to fight with it. Just don’t judge it too harshly against the wagyu burger ($21.50) farther down the menu.

Craft House Sky Deck

Shrooms and Truffle burger, add truffle

Least shocking among this bunch of stacked burgers may be the Shrooms and Truffles burger from the North Park taproom burger counter Craft House. However, last year the brand — which sprung forth from a food truck — opened an impeccably stylish space within Skydeck, the restaurant court at Del Mar Highlands Town Center. As if to celebrate, Craft House Sky Deck found a way to upgrade a loaded mushroom burger, built on a half pound of all-natural beef.

Place

Craft House Sky Deck

12841 El Camino Real Suite 202, San Diego

The original is already something: smothered with a sautéed “mushroom medley” that includes shiitake and hon shimeji — aka the Japanese honey mushroom — with a boost from black truffle oil ($21). Now, at the Del Mar location, there’s an option to add actual truffle for $7, which makes it irresistible.

Craft House expanded its menu all around in Del Mar, adding entrees along the lines of poutine, lobster mac and cheese, bone marrow, and charred octopus. Which is just starting to sound like a lot of great, new burger add-on ideas. After all, this is a place that already offers a half-pound burger patty wedged into a shrimp roll.  Which does sound a bit over the top, but for some burger fans, that’s kind of the point: in order to know for certain where the top actually is, you have to go over it.

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PB and Jellousy, with ice cream, courtesy of Slaters 50/50.
PB and Jellousy, with ice cream, courtesy of Slaters 50/50.

Prevailing wisdom tells us the classic burger cannot be made better. That, once you move past lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, and any of your thousand island condiments, the only topping that improves a hamburger is cheese. Many in San Diego — in all Southern California, really — stand strongly behind this purist tradition. This story is for those who don’t.

PB and Jellousy, plus ice cream at Slater's 50/50

There will be no argument here over which are the best burgers in San Diego. This one’s about burgers joints that play a little faster and looser with the beef and bun concept, those who experiment and indulge. It’s going to involve a fair amount of bacon, sure. But only in ways that make conventional bacon cheeseburgers look boring.

The Slater's 50/50

PB and Jellousy, plus ice cream

It starts with Slater’s 50/50, the Point Loma burger bar that takes its name from a 50/50 burger meat blend of ground beef and bacon. But it’s an all-Angus beef patty that provides the most surprising entry on the menu. Dubbed PB and Jellousy ($15), this audacious burger comes topped with strips of bacon, creamy peanut butter, and strawberry jam.

Place

Slater's 50/50

2750 Dewey Road, Building 193, San Diego

A burger topped by peanut butter isn’t unheard of — there’s even a name for it: guberburger. And there are a few examples around town. But it’s the strawberry jelly that offers the first clue as to how far the Slater’s crew is willing to take a concept. Half of those reading this aren’t going to believe me, but it actually kind of works: beef, bacon, and peanut butter are a truly complementary bunch, but taken all together, they risk being too salty. The jelly fixes that. 

However, Slater’s apparently is not content to leave well enough alone. An optional $1.50 add-on answers a question I would have guessed nobody asked: can a burger be made better with a scoop of vanilla ice cream? The answer probably has more to do with how much you love ice cream than how you feel about burgers. I’ll leave it as a mystery and a dare, but will tell you this much: eat it quickly, before it melts.

Comfort carbs: the Funky Fries and Burgers Mac and Cheese Burger

Funky Fries and Burgers

Bacon Mac ‘n Cheese Burger

Fries come first in the name of El Cajon eatery Funky Fries and Burgers, and and it’s easy to imagine that it’s playful burger selection was inspired by its menu of dirty fries. Many of the patties get the same treatment as the potatoes: topped with the likes of pastrami or pulled pork. This exploration/extrapolation can quickly lead into gutbusting territory, as evidenced by a pizza burger topped with red sauce, pepperoni, sausage, and fried mozzarella sticks.

Place

Funky Fries and Burgers

1480 Jamacha Road #203, El Cajon

But it’s tough to see past Funky’s most famous creation, the bacon mac ‘n cheese burger. A serving of macaroni gets dropped on a hot griddle, where it’s formed into a caramelized pasta patty before buddying up to the beef. I’d call it a burger that soothes the inner child, except for this: ever since the actual children in my house got a taste of it, they haven’t stopped bugging me for more.

STP's Top Fuel: a baked potato on a burger, plus all the fixins.

STP Bar-N-Grill

Top Fuel

We’ll get away from bacon soon, but first we have to stop in Clairemont, to pay a visit to STP Bar-N-Grill. With its wall decor of hubcaps and vintage car cutouts, STP delivers a turbocharged menu of half-pound burgers with creative toppings galore, including a maple-infused peanut butter, and the restaurant’s own, house-smoked brisket. I really think STP’s best bet is the Hatchback ($16), a New Mexico-styled burger loaded with roasted hatch chilies. But I found it impossible not to try the burger called Top Fuel ($17), because it’s topped by a loaded baked potato.

Place

STP Bar-N-Grill

5487 Clairemont Mesa Blvd, San Diego

Don’t get too excited — it’s not literally an entire baked potato dropped on top of a burger patty. But it is half a baked potato, wedged and covered with melted cheddar, bacon crumbles, sour cream, and chives. These big, savory burgers don’t need any of it, to be honest, but I can get behind the tang that chives and sour cream bring to a grilled patty. This is getting us somewhere.

Queenstown Public House

Bare Burger

Taking things through the burger looking glass is Little Italy’s New Zealand-inspired gastropub Queenstown Public House. The architecturally-blessed neighborhood fixture (and its siter restaurants) have been getting away with something borderline sarcastic for going on ten years: putting beets on burgers.

Place

Queenstown Public House

1557 Columbia Street, San Diego

Defying everything I thought I knew about hamburgers is the restaurant’s signature Bare Burger ($20.50). It adds beets to a patty of ground lamb and eclectic toppings that include blue cheese, mint jelly, beets, and a fried egg. This is one of those dishes you can order even if you just want to fight with it. Just don’t judge it too harshly against the wagyu burger ($21.50) farther down the menu.

Craft House Sky Deck

Shrooms and Truffle burger, add truffle

Least shocking among this bunch of stacked burgers may be the Shrooms and Truffles burger from the North Park taproom burger counter Craft House. However, last year the brand — which sprung forth from a food truck — opened an impeccably stylish space within Skydeck, the restaurant court at Del Mar Highlands Town Center. As if to celebrate, Craft House Sky Deck found a way to upgrade a loaded mushroom burger, built on a half pound of all-natural beef.

Place

Craft House Sky Deck

12841 El Camino Real Suite 202, San Diego

The original is already something: smothered with a sautéed “mushroom medley” that includes shiitake and hon shimeji — aka the Japanese honey mushroom — with a boost from black truffle oil ($21). Now, at the Del Mar location, there’s an option to add actual truffle for $7, which makes it irresistible.

Craft House expanded its menu all around in Del Mar, adding entrees along the lines of poutine, lobster mac and cheese, bone marrow, and charred octopus. Which is just starting to sound like a lot of great, new burger add-on ideas. After all, this is a place that already offers a half-pound burger patty wedged into a shrimp roll.  Which does sound a bit over the top, but for some burger fans, that’s kind of the point: in order to know for certain where the top actually is, you have to go over it.

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