Mission Beach Cafe

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Mission Beach Cafe can be a real pain to get into on the weekends.  It’s relatively small seating area, hipster trendy location, and deservedly high reputation make for hour to two hour waits.  For at least a half dozen weekends, we just saw the line and kept walking to Tartine or Pizzeria Delfina.  The brunch crowd is C-R-A-Z-Y.  After finally waking up early enough to get on the K train to Church, we found ourselves to surprisingly peaceful and quiet seats at MBC.  I can’t definitively say whether it was worth the wait, but if it’s not, it’s just barely not.

As always, I ordered the burger at medium rare with the optional fried egg.  The fried egg is a must from this brunch-specialized restaurant.

It is a gorgeous sight.  The egg perfectly cooked, with shape and uniformity sitting on a nice bed of lettuce and tomatoes that could have come straight from the farm.  The patty was just juicy enough, and the bun adds just a small sweetness that entrenches the burger.  And yet despite all of the individual elements being perfectly done, the cheeseburger is ultimately fairly ordinary.  Still, it is a sure bet to satisfy a craving.

Bun – The potato bun is toasted nicely to give satisfying crunch, filled with a soft mellow sweetness that doesn’t overpower the burger.  It could use just a bit of butter to really meld the bun into the burger, but it’s a very good bun on its own(4.75/5.0)

Meat – Like much of San Francisco, they use all-natural, grass-fed beef, MBC particularly from Prather Ranch (like I know what that means).  Like most grass-fed patties, the meat is a little leaner and a little more tart than your regular burger — either that or the seasoning is just a bit off.  That being said, MBC does a phenomenal job with the patty.  It perfectly released a small amount of savory juice as I bit into the burger.  It is everything that you would crave out of a nice thick beef patty.  (4.75/5.0)

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Toppings – The toppings on the burger are just mouth-watering before your eyes.  The gouda cheese is perfectly melted with just a wonderful crisp when you slightly burn the gouda.  The egg was by all definitions, perfect.  Just lightly gooey to enhance and mix all the burger juices together, while adding an ideal amount of texture.  The onions are grilled to perfection with satisfying crunchiness to go with the nice savory flavor. (4.75/5.0)

Sides – The fries are standard thick cut fries with a little bit of herb sprinkled over them, evenly cooked.  They’re nothing special, but the herb seasoning is actually pretty good. (3.5/5.0)

Overall, the burger is technically flawless, from head to toe.  It never really elevates above the sum of its parts — the end taste is more an appreciation of the all the individual flavors rather than one complete meal — but oh what individual flavors it brings.

Mission Beach Cafe’s Prather Ranch Grassfed Cheeseburger – 4.44/5.0 – It’s a lot of great things piled into one very good burger.

Gott’s Roadside

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As my wonderful wife often tells me, choice is usually not a good thing.  It’s never more pertinent than at Gott’s Roadside.  Gott’s makes a decent burger, but it’s easy to make a misstep here or there if you try to get fancy, so I’d advise sticking to the basics.

Despite going to the Ferry Building a half dozen times, I hadn’t known there was a famous California burger chain attached to the side of the Ferry Building until I actually went looking for it.  It’s tucked into the far north end of the mall, with the entrance pointed outside.  Once you find the place, it looks like your typical burger diner, with the huge banner above the grill that gets down to business.  A good sign, no pun intended.

Gott’s gets major bonus points for being an affordable burger chain in the San Francisco area, and for not going the fast food route in the process.  They offer ten different burgers, if you include the ahi tuna burger, but I will save you some trouble.  If you’re craving a burger, go simple, and you have yourself a nice satisfying burger at a reasonable price.

Bun – Gott’s offers an egg bun or a sourdough roll.  I highly recommend going with the egg bun.  It’s not toasted or buttered, but they add a little sweetness to compliment the burger. (3.75/5.0)

Patty – Gott’s uses Niman Ranch Farm Raised Beef, if that’s your thing.  I’m not sure it adds anything flavor-wise, but San Franciscans like to know which cow they’re eating, so there’s that.  It’s actually pretty good quality ground beef, but they’re all cooked to medium-well, so they do get a little dry.  (3.75/5.0)

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Toppings – All of the toppings are very fresh and crispy.  The cheese is decent if nothing special. Here is where I would advise you not to experiment too much with the Texas burger or the Wisconsin burger or whatnot.  They are just that — experiments.  The Texas burger toppings were like a heap of spicy salad stuffed into a burger.  I don’t hate vegetables, but this is just not a good flavor.  I found myself scooping stuff out, and eating the burger plain.  Eating the cheeseburger plain, btw — is awesome.  (3.0/5.0)

Sides – The sides here do redeem whatever weirdness.  They add just a touch of crispiness to their sweet potato fries, and sweet potato fries are awesome.  I really don’t understand what took so long for sweet potato fries to become popular.  Even if sweet potato isn’t your thing, they also offer amazing garlic fries.  Whatever fries you get, they’re worth the trip on their own.  (4.5/5.0)

Overall, Gott’s is a good option for a burger, and definitely in the more affordable range of San Francisco burgers.  Just keep it simple.

Gott’s Roadside’s Cheeseburger with sweet potato fries – 3.75/5.0 – Keep it simple and definitely order fries.

A quick update..

The blog is going through some changes, so I may be experimenting with the format.  And hopefully, I’ll be able to publish updates a little more regularly.

Serpentine

Serpentine is a long train ride away for me, but I made it out here for Sunday brunch, no less.  The area seemed nearly deserted at the time, with not much traffic other than a small gathering of people outside of the restaurant.  It is appreciably larger and less densely packed than most of these trendy joints, so already it won points with me.  Three different people showed me to my seat, ironically right behind the hostess’ counter, which they didn’t seem to use after showing me to my table.  There were not many options on the burger, so ordering was as simple as knowledge of gruyere as the right melting cheese for the job.  As always, I ordered my patty medium-rare, and my courteous waitress brought it out about 10 minutes later.

While nothing here was reinventing the wheel, the burger came out looking perfect.  The meat, the flavors, all of it, aside from an overly tough bun, was a nostalgic dream.  San Francisco can confuse you with its lamb and bone marrow-infused burgers, but this one is all about familiarity.

Bun -The clear weakness of the burger comes in the form of the bun.  The fresh acme bun is functional by design, but it doesn’t add anything taste-wise.  It’s a little too tough, more like a french bread than a burger bun, and doesn’t add anything sweet or buttery that might compliment the burger.  It does it’s job, and manages not to get in the way of the other flavors, but that’s about it.  (2.5/5.0)

Meat - The ground beef is fresh and tender for a grass-fed burger — the familiar smell of ground beef does all the work here. It is however, a little drier than I like my burger to be.  There was very little burger grease left at the end to dip the last bits into.  Still, the quality of the beef is more than apparent — you won’t feel cheated on the meat. (4.0/5.0)

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Toppings – Everything about the toppings reminded me of an old fashioned picnic at the park.  The grilled onions, lettuce, gruyere cheese, mayonnaise and secret sauce on the side were all as fresh as you could ask for.  Even the homemade pickles your aunt always spends her free time pickling are absolutely fresh and delicious.  It’s everything you could ask for if you couldn’t ask for anything because you don’t want all your relatives to think you’re the snooty cousin who likes an egg on their burger.  But for the record, I do. (4.5/5.0).

Sides – Thin cut fries. Nothing special, but if you’re a fan of McDonald’s fries, these are perfectly satisfying.  They taste a little healthier, a little more like potatoes than fried lard — but whether that’s a positive for you is up to your taste.  (4.0/5.0)

If you’re looking to find that familiar cheeseburger craving from your dad’s backyard grill, Serpentine is the verbatim of satisfaction.  It’s not groundbreaking, and it’s another one of those expensive restaurant burgers, but there’s something to be said for that feeling of home that Serpentine recreates with the burger, and for that, it deserves a half a point.

Serpentine’s Prather Ranch Hamburger (with gruyere cheese) – A solid homemade burger that doesn’t try to do too much. (4.25/5.0)

Fish & Farm

So here I was in the small, empty, dimly lit Hotel Mark Twain lobby restaurant in the middle of hotel central, Union Square downtown, all the things that should scream an uppity tourist trap, and none of that mattered.  Everything melted away with the perfectly melted white cheddar.  Every inch of the Niman Ranch Cheeseburger greeted you like an old friend welcoming you back home.  The wonderful aroma of the perfect char mixed with the burger juices oozing from the pores of the patty; the lightly buttered Acme bun, to give the bread a perfect texture; a light tangy secret sauce that doesn’t demand too much attention or overwhelm the other flavors;  grilled onions and pickled cucumber, fresh and crisp, the fried egg with a light fry gristle at the surface and gushing yolk working to mix all the various flavors.  So many of the things on this burger are just perfect.

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Fish & Farm was one of five burgers I tried during the Thanksgiving weekend, while the wife was visiting her brother.  While she tolerates my burger obsession, asking her to eat five burgers in five days might have been pushing it.  Anyhoo, I made my way to Union Square on Black Friday for the 2010 Top Burger according to 7×7 Magazine.  Thankfully, Fish & Farm is located a few blocks west of the foot traffic in the hotel area, in the lobby of the inconspicuous Hotel Mark Twain.  I was a little wary of the restaurant itself, which seems to be caught between trying to charm the tourists and hotel guests, and trying to recruit locals.

I may have caught the whole wait staff off guard; I made a reservation for one at 5:00PM, when they opened for dinner, thinking it’d be more polite not to hold a table during the busy hours of a Friday night.  Most of the wait staff were still busy setting tablecloths and setting the plates, glasses and water.  I laughed a little to myself as the hostess dropped a big box of business cards all over the floor as I came in.  Then I felt bad.  Whoops.  Already a little uncomfortable with my surroundings, I just went ahead and got down to business – I ordered the Niman Ranch Cheeseburger cooked to Medium Rare with a Fried Egg, and a glass of diet coke.

Toppings – The burger was topped with grilled onions, and fresh pickled cucumbers.  There was also a cup of steak sauce on the side.  There’s also a secret sauce dripping from the burger — a combination of soft tasty peppercorns (to be honest, I thought they were coriander seeds at first — for shame) and tangy horseradish.  What really made the all the flavors bind together was the gooey white cheddar cheese and seasoned fried egg (optional $2 extra) which just absorbs all the flavors in a glorious mess.  It’s a pretty damn good combo. (5.0/5.0)

Meat – Everything about the patty is right; the evenly sizzled char, the wonderful savory goodness oozing out of the pores, and the tender, perfectly cooked medium rare patty; but even more is that with all these devotions to technique and style, the substance of the burger is absolutely nostalgic.  It could have just as easily come from your backyard barbecue, albeit with less dropped-on-grass goodness.  The amazing aroma, the instant gratification as you bite into the burger and all the juices are released.  It’s freakin’ fantastic. (5.0/5.0)

Bun – I am not ashamed to admit that I am a big fan of butter.  In this case, I am a huge fan of the perfectly buttered brioche buns that cover the burger.  The satisfying crunch met by the soft buttery goodness right before your teeth dig into the burger are just amazing.  It’s not too sweet, but perfectly blends with the peppercorn and secret sauce, all the while holding the burger together without falling apart.  Just amazing.  (5.0/5.0)

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Sides – They offer nice evenly cooked thick-cut fries.  They have a pinch of mild crusted herbs sprinkled over them, but really my advice would be to use them to scoop up whatever wonderful mix of burger juices, peppercorns, and secret sauce have fallen after you’ve scarfed down the burger.  They’re not special, but they’re above average (3.5/5.0).

Everything about this place had me off-guard.  It can give off a sort of snobbish vibe, aimed at tourists around the downtown area.  They even offer tiny little shot glasses of fancy pants soup before your meal.  But once you sink your teeth into the cheeseburger, everything melts away, and you’re home.

Fish and Farm’s Niman Ranch Cheeseburger (with the fried egg) – 4.6/5.0 – It’s upscale and pricey, in a weird lobby in a weird hotel, it’s not exactly what you expect of a burger joint, but it’s absolutely delicious.

Marlowe

When we first moved to San Francisco, and honestly still, we relied on Yelp, 7×7, and Frommer’s for all our recommendations, seeing how the few people we knew here were other imported Texans.  When we started looking for a good burger, everyone and their dog had a different opinion about which burger was the best.  Some just gave up and pointed to In-N-Out, a good fast food option for sure, but still fast food.  After doing a lot of research, a small bit more people recommended or compared Marlowe to everything else.  Suddenly we had option number one.  Unfortunately, like all of the rest of

San Francisco, Marlowe needs a reservation, even for lunch.  It took several months to find a convenient time, but finally, after several months, we booked a reservation the day before Thanksgiving.

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That’s as good a place to start our quest as I could find.  We met up around 1pm and walked to Marlowe from the Caltrain stop.  As we approached the restaurant, the walkway heightened our expectations with reviews of butter and dripping beef patties inside.

Everything about the place is very San Francisco, from the pristine aged wood tabletops to the four chalkboard portraits, with a diagram of each meat (beef, pork, fish, and lamb) they serve and the various cuts.  Of course, it wouldn’t truly be San Francisco if the tables weren’t crammed in together so as to ensure you can hear your neighbors’ conversations.

As we waited for our table to be set up, we just watched as table after table would order nothing but burgers.  Clearly, the burgers here are the main attraction for lunch.  Since this is the first review, I’ll try to establish four basic points to the burgers – toppings, meat, bun, and sides (or lack thereof)

Toppings – Burgers were topped with fresh chopped lettuce, bacon, cheddar cheese, and aioli sauce.  At the time I ate the burger, there was nothing remarkable.  The bacon was a little dryer than I would have made it myself, but still good.  The cheese was properly melted good ol’ fashioned cheddar.  The aoili had a nice zip to it, if not really earth-shattering. (3.0/5.0)

Meat – Right off the bat, the first thing anyone is going to notice, is that the burger has a little tart to it, courtesy of a small portion of lamb ground into the patty.  It’s definitely a change of pace, thought I’m not entirely sure if it’s positive or negative — something I’d definitely consider next time I come back.  When I have an option, I usually ask for my burgers at medium rare.   It was a little overcooked, more like a medium-well, but still juicy enough that I could dip the last little bits of the burger into a nice burger juice left on the plate as I finished. (4.5/5.0)

Bun – Marlowe used an Acme brioche bun, which apparently is a local bread company of some renown around the bay area.  I, myself — no clue.  It was a nice sweet bun that would have gone a lot better with a different burger, but as is, the mix of sweetness of the brioche bun and the tart from the lamb/beef patty was a little weird, but in a good way. (4.0/5.0)

marloweSides – The fries were pretty standard thick cut fries.  There was a little fru-fru seasoning that you would probably expect from an upscale place like this, but nothing I would bother to remember.  Good enough that I was happy they come with the burger, but not good enough to pay for separately. (3.0/5.0)

Based on that, Marlowe’s overall experience was about a 3.6, good, but I walked away a little disappointed for something that gets so consistently lauded among the foodie blogs, but then I burped.  And while that may sound gross to you, a good burger burp is so enjoyable to a burger lover like myself, that when it’s good you know it.  All the strange flavors — the aioli, the bit of ground lamb, and the brioche bun, even the fru-fru fry seasoning I couldn’t identify at the time — all came together to leave this amazing aftertaste in my mouth.  Like the polar opposite of the feeling 30 minutes after a Big Mac when you regret your meal choices.  For that alone, I am bumping this burger up to a B.

Marlowe’s Marlowe Burger – 4.0/5.0 – An eclectic mix of flavors that lingers just long enough to make you crave it again.  

A quick hello.

Hello and welcome. The mission is to find the best burgers in San Francisco. Not just any burger will do. A good burger should start with a charred beef patty, dripping with juices. The bun should absorb all those juices and give texture and maybe a little oomph to the sandwich. Cheese absolutely must ooze around the patty. A good burger may be as simple as ground beef covered with American cheese, and a couple of pickles on a sesame seed bun, or you can throw fried eggs, avocados, and whatever else you find tasty all over it.

Since moving to the Bay Area from burger-plenty San Antonio, we have explored enough of the area to get a lay of the burger scenery. There are a lot of gourmet chefs edging to get themselves an edge in a competitive restaurant market, local burger chains pumping out what sells, and food trucks just trying to find a niche.

All challengers are welcome. LET’S DO THIS!

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