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It was hard to get really psyched about a quasi-Irish chain, even one that's closely managed and restricted to a less than imperial number of locations. But, every now and again, a place will deliver a pleasant surprise.

Stopping in for dinner at Hennessey's in La Jolla, I found the architecture and warm fire pits to be inviting as the sun started to sink below the horizon.

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The interior ultimately had a somewhat cheaper feel than the entryway and fire pits promised, but it was still very comfortable. Thankfully, every surface hasn't been plastered with shamrocks and new age Celtic designs; a practice which generates mostly eyesores six thousand miles from Ireland.

Beer was a little on the pricey side, a 22 oz Fat Tire ran to almost nine dollars and a can of Boddington's Pub Ale (a better-than-average session beer) cost $6, which is almost three times the cost of that beer at a market. Still, the beer list was respectable (though not great) and the availability of a few nicer bottles of whiskey behind the bar broadened the options for casual drinkers.

Bottles of fruit schnapps and a little cooler of Red Bull hinted that the bar draws in a potentially irritating crowd, i.e. the kind of people who order endless rounds of specialty shots and vodka Red Bulls until the room starts to spin, but that would be a late-night crowd if anything.

The menu offerings were pretty standard bar food: burgers, sandwiches, fish and chips, and appetizers friendly for sharing. Prices were within the mean.

A sandwich special of grilled cheese ($11.95) contained a generous amount of sliced apples. It was a good sandwich that was served with a little bowl of tomato soup (which would have looked better without the shoddily applied parsley flakes) and a side of ridiculously delicious potato chips.

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The menu claims that the "gourmet" burgers ($13) are made from dry-aged beef. They are served with fries, whereas the normal burgers ($9.95) that don't get made from the aged meat get potato chips.

A "Dublin burger" with cheddar cheese and grilled bacon was, frankly, a home run despite the $13 price tag. It's very seldom that I burger I request be cooked rare is actually done correctly. Hennessey's came as close as anyone ever comes. Strictly speaking, the burger was scraping the bottom of medium rare, as it wasn't cool to the touch, but serving a burger actually rare is almost impossible since the fatty meat transmits heat so effectively throughout the patty. The burger at Hennessey's was cooked about as close to ideally as I've gotten, and that's really saying a lot.

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In all fairness, there were many improvements that could have been made. The fries were a bit soggy and the bacon bordered on burnt. Considering the height of my expectations on entering the restaurant, however, those things seemed to matter much less when confronted with that exceptional patty.

Maybe it was the dry-aged beef!

Hennessey's Tavern
7811 Herschel Avenue

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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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