Seems like upscale hamburger joints are popping up all over the place. Between checking out the different restaurants and grilling them at home — the options are endless. I try to limit my intake to a burger a week, but even that seems a bit too much beef for me to consume. Rest assured, these burger places have been visited over the span of a few months. And I’m sure my heart thanks me for that.
Smashburger is a chain originating from Denver, offering fresh, never-frozen burgers. They also have a variety of sides including flash-fried veggies (carrots, asparagus), sweet potato fries and deep-fried dill pickles.
When a Smashburger opens in a new city, it offers a signature burger unique to that city. The same goes for San Diego.
Their San Diego burger — which is available either as a third ($5.99) or half pound ($6.99) — is topped avocado slices, chopped cilantro, onions, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, sour cream and chipotle mayo on a torta roll. It is easily my favorite burger on the menu. And like the name goes, they certainly smash the burger on the grill sealing all the flavors in and creating a thin patty. But for those control freaks that need to know exactly what is on their burger, their is also a build-your-own burger option with choices for everything from buns to cheese(s).
Their menu also includes chicken sandwiches and hot dogs. Both options are also “smashed” on the grill.
Speaking of build-your-own burgers, The Counter builds their menu around this idea. Once seated, you are handed a clipboard with a dizzying array of choices.
Patties choices include beef, chicken, turkey or veggie. Regardless of the type of patty, the price of the sandwich is based on the weight. A third pound is $8.50, two-thirds of a pound is $10.50 and one-pound is $13.50. It’s already a pretty expensive burger and anything else beyond the regular condiments can quickly add up. Premium toppings like bacon, avocado, ham, chili, fried egg and sauteed mushrooms can be included at a dollar each. Yup, you read that right.
The base burger includes a choice of one cheese, four toppings, one sauce and type of bun. For the indecisive, they also have several signature burgers with the toppings already chosen for you.
A warning about the cooking — they consider “medium” when nearly two-thirds of the patty is still red. Even for a hardcore carnivore like me, it’s offsetting to see some bloody beef about the width of my pinky on a third-pound burger. That’s saying a lot considering I have larger-than-normal fingers. The patties are thick and burger slippage is a possibility.
The sides include parmesan-dusted french fries, chili (beef or turkey), onion strings and fried dill pickles. I appreciate the option to go 50/50 for the sides. In my case, the sweet potato fries with regular fries hit the perfect balance of salty and sweet.
The Counter Carlsbad
1923 Calle Barcelona
Carlsbad CA 92009
Tivoli’s Crazee Burger has gotten a lot of press for their unique burgers. Personalities like Guy Fieri and local newscaster Larry Himmel has done segments on this burger place. And it’s well-deserved. You can get kangaroo, alligator, venison and antelope burgers, among many wild choices.
My wild boar burger ($9.95) did not disappoint. The roughly chopped boar meat was topped with pears simmered in red wine, mushrooms, bacon, whipped cream and plum jelly. As unique as all the flavors are, it’s not that much different from eating a little bit of everything in Thanksgiving on one forkful (but with tender boar instead of turkey). It’s delicious albeit not for people who just want a straight-up burger.
Once Paul saw crab cake sandwiches ($8.99) on the menu, nothing could sway him from ordering it. Two lump meat crab cakes were served with lettuce, tomato and a side of sweet chili-cilantro sauce. One nice thing about the crab cakes was the lack of noticeable crab cake filler. The crab was flaky and flavorful. It was almost impossible to each both crab cakes in the sandwich without unhinging your lower jaw.
The less-adventurous eaters can choose from hot dogs, bratwursts, “regular” Angus burgers and other menu items. All the burgers are hefty and the addition of sides would seem to be overdoing it. But they do make amazing onion rings.
4201 30th St.
San Diego, CA 92104
Despite what it looks like, we also like to grill burgers at home. Beef with 20% fat seems to keep our burgers moist to survive even the hottest grill. And if we’re craving Phil’s BBQ, we add our version of their slightly spicy BBQ sauce before taking the burger off the grill.
BBQ SauceTopping for 4-5 burgers
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons steak sauce
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon vinegar
5-9 dashes Tapatio hot sauce
In a small saucepan, combine garlic, ketchup, steak sauce, water, sugar, vinegar and hot sauce. Bring to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 3 minutes.
Remove from heat. Top on burgers 2 minutes before removing burgers from grill. Add cheese if desired.
Other burger places visited: