Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Norm's Place - Danville, CA

Norm's Place, in charming downtown Danville, CA, is an equally charming pub style place. I met my burger buddy, Mark and his brother Buzz for burger's and conversation. We were seated at a dark, wood-topped table by our friendly waitress Liz. The red walls were adorned with an interesting assortment of auto parts hung as art. Flat screens were strategically scattered throughout Norm's to keep one up with all the scores and highlights, even at noon on a Wednesday.

The menu is scattered with 10 ounce burger combinations like the Hart'z Burger and the Englishman. I asked Liz what she recommended. She pushed me off menu to a combination of her own making called the Dirty Burger, with bacon, avocado and swiss cheese. ($11.50 with fries.) She asked me if I wanted the bacon crispy. I can't imagine having it any other way, but I appreciated the choice. We also ordered onion rings. I asked Liz if they had milk shakes and I think I offended her. "We have upscale burgers. This is no burger, shakes and fries place." You have to love an employee with such passion.

As the onion rings arrived I noticed Weezer playing on the speakers. Next came Cocaine Blues, the Johnny Cash version from Folsom prison. I liked the place even better. The rings were thick with crispy batter. Hot and tasty, we rated them 4 spatulas.

The burgers and fries came next. I like to taste the fries before I taste my burger. These were medium thick with skins on. Slightly overcooked, salty and a little soggy, they rate a 2.5.

The burger however is a different story. It was cooked a perfect medium, juicy and seasoned nicely with a pepper mixture and topped with the afore mentioned crispy bacon and avocado. Another nice touch was the nicely toasted brioche-style bun. I really liked this burger and rate it 4.5 spatulas.

We sat and chatted, very comfortable in this charming spot. Liz kept our drinks full and didn't rush us out. I will be back.

Burger 4.5 spatulas out of 5
Fries 2.5 spatulas
Onion Rings 4 spatulas
Milk Shake - Don't even ask for one.

Norm's Place
356 Hartz Ave.
Danville, CA 94526

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Da Kitchen - Kahului, Maui, HI

Da Kitchen in Kahului, Maui is a local spot recommended to me by a friend before out recent trip. I was assured it is a great place to get the local flavor, both cultural and of a cuisine nature. She was right.

My wife, daughter and I arrived at the Maui airport just a little after noon, the day before Thanksgiving. By the time we waited for our luggage and got a rental car, we were quite hungry. I had been told that Da Kitchen was behind the Krispy Kreme, near the airport, but I asked the clerk at Avis how to get there. She told me it was across the street from the K Mart in the Triangle Square. It was pretty obvious we were close when we drove between the Krispy Kreme and the K Mart. We found the Triangle Square and there tucked in a strip mall unassumingly was Da Kitchen.

We were greeted warmly by our server and given a booth made of wood and vinyl. Up on the high wall was a big 3-D wave sculpted from fiberglass. If you aren't lucky enough to get a booth, there are outdoor style tables with green plastic chairs in the middle. Very casual.

I wasn't counting on having a burger until I saw the Loco Moco ($8.75). The menu described it as "A Homemade Burger topped with two eggs, gravy, sauteed onions and mushrooms. Please consult your physician prior to consumption." I asked the waitress if this was something only the stupid tourists got, or do the locals eat it. She laughed and said, "Lot's of locals eat it, That's the best thing I've ever heard." How could I resist? Given a choice of "mac" or salad on the side I took the mac.

Before long a towering plate of food arrived. Its centerpiece was sitting on a bed of rice. A burger covered in brown gravy, two fried eggs, over easy, sauteed onions and mushrooms. There were also two huge scoops of rice and a dollop of macaroni/potato salad. I cut into Mount Loco and the egg yolk oozed over the whole luscious mess. It reminded me a lot of Salisbury Steak I used to have as a kid. This is a very unusual taste that I liked better with each bite. The gravy was a little too salty for me, or I would have rated it even higher than the 4 spatulas I ended up at at. For sheer audacity and originality it deserves at least a 4.

The Mac was very good too. Creamy and a nice counter balance.

A real coincidence occurred the next day. My wife is reading a book called "The Tenth Muse" by Judith Jones. The author was the book editor for Julia Child. She tells a story of being in Hawaii and trying the Loco Moco. So my server wasn't steering me wrong. It is a local tradition.

Burger 4 spatulas (out of 5)
Mac 4 spatulas

Da Kitchen
425 Koloa St.
Kahului, Maui, Hawaii

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Mr. Bartley's Gourmet Burgers - Cambridge. MA

With a slogan as bold as "You Can't Beat Our Meat", the burgers here had better be good. Bartley's is about a block away from Harvard Square. I went there with my wife and two children for lunch. The place was completely full with people of all ages, from college students to the elderly.

We were greeted by Mr. Bartley himself and seated by his wife. We quickly took our seats right in the middle of the action and looked around at the walls that were filled with memorabilia, much of it political. Menus were soon dropped in front of us and we were looking at a list of more than 50 burgers. Our daughter chose the macaroni and cheese. Our son the hamburger. My wife decided on a greek salad. I chose the Mitt Romney, medium rare as Mr. Bartley recommended.

While we waited for our food, we looked around at the walls and pointed out the various artifacts. There were posters of Bill and Hillary, Reagan, Bush. A blow up deer head. Elvis. The Beatles. A Dice-K jersey. A barber pole and magazine covers. Then the food arrived. 

The Mitt Romney is a 7-ounce patty of choice beef covered with caramalized onions and Swiss cheese.  The side order of onion rings towered on the plate. The burger was cooked to a perfect medium rare. The onions were just right with the cheese melted perfectly. This burger was one of the best I have ever had. It gets a 5 spatula recommendation from me. 

The onion rings are billed as the best in the world, but I have had better. They were simply too bland for my taste. Jeffrey's in Menlo Park, CA trumps Bartley's onion rings by a long way. If you can get to Jeffrey's, that's the place for onion rings. 

My daughter thought macaroni and cheese was the best she had ever had. A kid can't go wrong with the mac and cheese at Bartley's.

Our visit to Bartley's was a really good experience. I look forward to my next visit and to trying the Bill Clinton burger. By the way, the menu says the Hillary Clinton burger will tax your taste buds.

Curt D. Van Emon

Burger 5 spatulas (out of 5)
Onion Rings 2.5 spatulas

Mr. Bartley's Gourmet Burgers
1246 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02138

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Village Pub - Woodside, CA

The Village Pub is a very popular upscale restaurant in Woodside. Like Buck’s, it is an institution in Woodside. But it is very high end and expensive. Fortunately, the food usually justifies the expense. It is also a fabulous room to dine in.

There are white table clothes on the tables in the main dining area. Dark burgundy velvet chairs and booths add a touch of elegance. The service is very attentive and better than most higher-end restaurants on the peninsula. They also have a great bar - well stocked with good scotches and other fine spirits.

On a recent trip to the Woodside Pub for dinner, I observed a couple both happily noshing burgers and fries, while the rest of us stuffed shirts were eating Crispy Sweetbreads and Potato Crusted Striped Bass. I inquired as to the burger’s quality. They replied that they dined here often and only ate the burger. It was fantastic.

Never to let a good burger go untested, I decided to drop by at lunch soon after. I sat at one of the round marble-topped side tables in the bar. The service, as usual, was spot on. I ordered the Pub Burger with French Fries ($12). I asked it to be prepared medium and added white cheddar per the waiter’s suggestion.

The burger appeared before I had finished even one article in my New York Times. Even before I tried the burger, I had to snag a fry. They came stacked in a metal cup. Hot, salty, light and crisp, they were nearly perfect. They were cut medium thick and skinless. Yum.

Next I turned my attention to the burger. It came accompanied with many wonderful accoutrements. There were slices of baby tomatoes, romaine lettuce, pickle slivers and pesto mayo. I especially liked the pickled onion strings. They were purple like they had been soaked in beat juice, but tasted sweet like candy. I added the mayo and the onions to my burger.

The cheese was artfully melted and the burger prepared to a perfect medium. The bun, a curious heavy kind of bread, was not my favorite. It almost reminded me of a gourmet English muffin, but it detracted somewhat from the experience. The beef was flavorful, with out too much seasoning. I liked the burger, but it didn’t rock my world.

I guess I was a little disappointed after the ravings of my dinnertime acquaintances, but I could say I had fantastic fries accompanied by a good burger. Combining that all with the great ambiance, I recommend a trip to the Village Pub.

Burger 3.5 spatulas out of 5
Fries 5 spatulas

Village Pub
2967 Woodside Road
Woodside, CA

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Sportsman Grill and Billiards - Evansville, IN

Reviewed By Greg Hoover - Evansville, Indiana

I had to laugh when Scott introduced me to his burger blog. Scott is one of my all-time best friends, attending high school together, playing in bands, and just generally spending a lot of time with each other in our teenage years. We have always kept in touch, and share one of those rare friendships than anyone is lucky to have. But that’s not why I laughed. I laughed because I truly remember Scott as one of the great burger hounds.

That reputation was set in stone the day that Scott, Jim Bazini and I stopped at a little local burger joint in North Manchester, Indiana, en route home from a pilgrimage to the Guitar Gallery in Huntington. Scott had ordered the “Mr. Dave”—named after the Ray Kroc wannabe who owned the establishment—but without onion, pickle and mayonnaise, as I recall. The owner himself had taken the order, and he proceeded to correct Scott. “That is not a Mr. Dave if it doesn’t have all of the condiments; it is a cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato.” “Right,” said Scott. “A Mr. Dave without onion, pickle and mayonnaise.” They argued as if the world were ending: Mr. Dave sticking up for his right to correctly name his own burger; Scott for his as the customer, who is always right. Jim and I could only watch and laugh, loudly.

Right then I knew that Scott was a man who would get his burgers perfect, or not at all.

So it is truly a pleasure to be the first “Guest Reviewer” for my favorite burger maven’s blog. I chose a place I have asked Scott to come visit: The Sportsman Grill and Billiards in Evansville, Indiana.

Stepping into The Sportsman on Evansville’s west side (Franklin Street) is like taking a portal directly back to the 50’s. Six pool tables take up the eastern two-thirds of the bar’s real estate—each under a dusty oblong fluorescent light. Cue stick racks and chalk cones belie the bars real lifeblood. Beer ads and posters adorn the walls, as do neon signs extolling the virtues of Schlitz, Pabst, and that old locally brewed Evansville favorite, Gerst. There are also a couple of the prerequisite deer and moose heads stuffed and mounted in sentinel positions along the wall.

The billiards area is separated from the “dining room” by a non-existent wall that is marked by several floor-to-ceiling support posts. High Ceilings too, maybe twenty feet. Aged and darkened wood paneling adorns the walls up to a height of three and a half feet; it’s the kind that is in narrow little slats maybe two inches wide, and it clearly hasn’t been painted or stained since it was new. The floor is tiled—in that old tan with speckles style that you may remember from your Grandma’s kitchen—and the tables and chairs are of the Formica, padded red vinyl, and stainless steel variety. The lighting is dim, and except for the huge picture windows across the front, the back of the bar could easily pass for the middle of night at high noon. A huge (6 by 20 feet) hand-painted blackboard on the western wall has spaces to list the scores—by inning—of all of the day’s baseball games, sorted by either American or National League…a reminder not only of the greatness of America’s pastime fifty years ago, but that interleague play and 24 hour cable sports networks didn’t exist yet.

To order lunch at The Sportsman, you walk up to the end of the bar where the grill is located. After a moment for the fry cook to notice you, he steps around, leans on the wooden wall that’s about four feet high, and writes your order down himself on an old green receipt pad…then tears it off and hangs it on the grill. You then step to the bar and order your drink, find a table and await your meal amidst the scent of grilled things.

For all of the nostalgia so thick you have to brush it away from your face, this is hamburger heaven, and the burgers are exactly what you would expect if you stepped back into a 1952 diner or bar in rural southern Indiana. They are exquisite. Large unevenly shaped slabs of beefs, fried on a griddle in a little pool of butter until the edges are lacy, crispy, and crunch to perfection—the ideal complement to the thick beefy middle. Get a double with cheese, and watch as all three slices of the cheese melt perfectly into the ground beef. The buns are those old fashioned white ones like your Grandma use to use, probably Sunbeam or Holsum, and are buttered and grilled right alongside their meaty partners. The whole thing is served in that classic little red basket made of plastic, with a sheet of wax paper inside and generous portions of onion, lettuce and tomato alongside. No milk shakes, but longneck beer so cold it’s reminiscent of Lucifer’s heart. I’m telling you—it’s like being ten again and sitting in any one of dozens of Midwestern restaurants in the 50’s or 60’s. Of course, when I was ten, the pleasures of the Busch family were yet beyond my reach.

Ahhh, but as good as these burgers are they are not the star of this show. That place on the billboard is reserved for The Sportsman’s fries, and the experience begins when you order. Because immediately after that fry cook hangs your order on the grill, he turns back to his work counter, places a very large potato inside a cast iron contraption that looks like it should be smashing old soda cans, and slams a long handle down with precise yet unbridled force. After repeating that action a second time with yet another pound and a half spud, there—raw, white and with the skin still on—lie your 3 pounds of French fries. Before they even get a second to start to turn brown they are scooped up and tossed into the oil, where a sizzling and popping ensues to let you know that your potato is en route to Nirvana.

And Nirvana it is. Crispy edges; yet soft enough that they fold in half when you pick them up; and lots of crunchy little end pieces. If you’ve never experienced fresh cut fries, I’m telling you, you aren’t living. Unbelievable potato flavor. They come alongside the burger in the basket, and with two giant potatoes to each order of fries one order is the equivalent of about three extra large boxes of McDonalds fries in volume. Salty, just a bit greasy; French fry perfection. Trust me, you will eat them all. I know fried food is bad for you. I know that potatoes have become the food version of the antichrist in our salad-addled society. But I firmly believe in my heart that when my maker accepts me into Valhalla, and walks me down those streets paved with gold, the first place we will stop en route to my palace will be The Sportsman, and I fully expect Him to giggle in anticipation when his potatoes are slammed into spikes.

As an aside, if you were to veer away from your burger quest, you would find the most perfect specimen of the famed Indiana breaded pork tenderloin at The Sportsman as well. Huge—more than twice as big as the bun that attempts to hold it—and perfectly fried in the same oil as the fries. Thick, meaty, and crunchy. Order it with fresh sliced onion and American cheese. Fold it in half to more closely frame it under the bun.

At the risk of sounding just a bit trite and old fashioned, you have one last thing to do before leaving The Sportsman. When you’re finished, take in all of your surroundings and try to convince yourself that the last fifty years have really improved our society. For my part, at least in this setting, I find it hard to do.

The Sportsman Grill and Billiards
2315 West Franklin Street
Evansville, IN

Burger 4.0
Fries 5.0
Ambiance - Priceless

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Buck's of Woodside, Woodside, CA

Buck’s Restaurant in Woodside is a whacky place where big deals get done. It is run by an eccentric soul who loves to espouse opinions. They are printed right on the back of the menu. (e.g. Why human-caused global warming is bunk.) There are all kinds of fun memorabilia in the store, like a pair of Shaq’s shoes, a painting of Roy Rogers on Trigger and, outside in the parking lot, a giant salmon carved from wood. Legend has it that many a famous start-up has been birthed over a burger or breakfast at Buck’s.

The place was packed at lunchtime on a Wednesday afternoon. I met Jonathon there to discuss a dentistry mission trip to Juarez. We decided to talk teeth and service to others over a burger. We both ordered the Cheeseburger ($10.25) – mine with Swiss and his with cheddar. I got onion strings and he got fries.

Each burger came with a generous portion of lettuce, onion and tomato on the side. The burger was cooked nicely to medium and served on a sesame bun with no condiments. I added ketchup. My first bite revealed a serviceable burger. While not especially juicy or flavorful, it was adequate for the purpose.

The onion strings were much better. Thin and twisted into knots, they were breaded lightly with flour and pepper. Although only luke warm when served, they were still tasty. The fries were medium thick with skins on. Warmer than the strings, they made a reasonable accompaniment to the burger.

Our meal finished, we waived goodbye to the miniature Statue of Liberty and headed back down the hill, in search of better burgers to be found. Jonathon suggested Cable Car Joe’s in San Francisco. The search continues.

Burger 3 spatulas out of 5
Fries 3 spatulas
Onion Strings 4 spatulas

Buck’s of Woodside
3062 Woodside Road
Woodside CA 94062

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Nation's Giant Hamburgers - Fremont, CA

Nations is an institution in the East Bay. I remember my brother-in-law John telling me about them years ago. He has always been a regular at the Fremont location. It was appropriate he joined me for the review. A somewhat seedy and dilapidated building, it nevertheless has an inviting charm. At a Friday lunch, there were bikers, skinheads, 49er fans, workers and families all happily sharing their slabs of meat.

This one has a local feel as one steps to the counter to order. The cheeseburger is $4.30, fries $1.50 and shakes in two sizes are $2.20 or $3.10. If I had not been on a burger mission, I would have been very tempted to take a crack at the tempting “grand” breakfast menu. Instead I grabbed my receipt and number and took a seat.

It wasn’t long before my number was called and I retrieved my sustenance. The griddle-fried burger comes piled high with fresh onions, tomato, lettuce and mayo-based dressing. The bun is griddle-crisp. All of it is a nice blending of all flavors in the classic style. The burger is only a small piece of the overall package claimed to be “3/4 pound or more with everything”.

The fries are medium thick, hot, lightly salted and unadorned perfection. This is how I like fries best - no skins, no coating, no pepper - just potato, salt and grease served piping hot.

The shake was also very good. It was creamy and cold with not too much syrup, flowing thick and smooth up the straw.

I have been to newer Nations locations that feel more chain-like, this one is one really makes one feel at home.

Burger 3.5 spatulas out of 5
Fries 5 spatulas
Shake 4 spatulas

Nations Giant Hamburgers
39180 Fremont Blvd.
Fremont, CA

24 locations in the SF Bay Area

Bix Restaurant- San Francisco, CA

Bix Restaurant in San Francisco has been my favorite dinner spot for a long time. It is an elegant place with a great bar, Jazz trio playing at dinner and great food. I have always gone for dinner, but - being a daytime burger guy - had not tried the burger.

My wife Pat and I were joined by our friends Juan and Carla. The dinner entrees were too good to pass up, so Juan and I decided to split the Truffled Pecorino Cheese Burger with fries ($26.75) as an appetizer. Our waiter was a bit surprised, but gladly accommodated us, bringing the burger out split in half and perfectly served on two plates along with fries covered with parmesan cheese.

Having the burger split in half, showed off how it was prepared with a truffle mix stuffed in the center and served on a buttered rye bun. The meat was cooked perfectly, just south of medium. It was a near perfect burger experience. Juan was equally impressed with his half.

The fries were miraculously crisp, covered as they were in baked parmesan cheese. Dipping them in the homemade ketchup was a tasty counterpoint to our Etude Pinot Noir wine.

Bix is a fantastic spot for a relaxing evening with friends in a great environment of music, attentive service and an elegant crowd. The burger turned out to be a great beginning to a great evening.

Burger 5 spatulas out of 5
Fries 5 spatulas out of 5

Bix Restaurant
56 Gold St.
San Francisco, CA 94133

Friday, September 21, 2007

Oak City Bar & Grill - Menlo Park, CA

Oak City Bar and Grill in Menlo Park is a great place to hang out and eat meat, have a Martini and pretend all is right with the world. I have eaten the 10-ounce Pork Porterhouse and devoured the Sirloin, but I had never tried the Niman Ranch White Cheddar Cheese Burger. "So I Did" as Mick Jagger once cried out in "Far-Away Eyes".

For $16 you get a delicious hunk of Niman natural-fed beef, topped artfully with white cheddar and perfectly cooked grilled red onions. I left the ample amounts of lettuce and tomato off to the side. The Sesame Brioche bun is also impressive.

The first bite of the burger was heavenly - a balanced blending of the cheese, the burger and the onions. I found it a very rich combo that quickly made me full, allowing me to turn my attention to the fries.

The "City Fries" included with the burger are really quite unique. Piled in a large wooden bowl, they are thin as matchsticks and very crisp. With a generous sprinkling of salt, they are addictive. Even as they grow cold, they are still great.

Finishing off my Martini and fries, I thought that Mick could find Satisfaction here - at least for the palate.

Burger 4 spatulas out of 5
Fries 5 spatulas

Oak City Bar & Grill
1029 El Camino Real
Menlo Park, CA 94025

Giant Burger - Oakland

Giant Burger in Oakland on Telegraph, must once have been a moshing mecca of meat mastication. The dilapidated exterior and grungy interior, hint at greater days. I love the zigzag awning and old school sign out front. Harking back to days before 3/4-pound whoppers and Wendy's triples, the sign proclaims "1/4-pound" Giant Burger.

Perusing the menu I selected one of only 5 or 6 items not crossed out with black tape. The cheeseburger was $3.85 with fries. The Milk Shake was $2.50.

The burger was cooked right there behind the counter in plain sight. The fries were pulled dripping hot from the fryer just before they were bagged and handed over. As a result, the food was piping hot, save the milk shake which was cold and creamy.

The fries were thick and old-fashioned - a little soggy rather than crisp, but very tasty.

Served with copious amounts of onion slices, fresh tomato and shredded lettuce, the burger was topped with American cheese, mayo and mustard. The soft bun capped it off. That left the burger itself as only a small part of the total package. But somehow I found it quite satisfying. As I happily munched, I imagined a time when this burger and its restaurant were giants.

Burger 3.5 spatulas out of 5
Fries 3.5 spatulas
Shake 3 spatulas

Giant Burgers
2150 Telegraph
Oakland, CA

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Burger Joint - San Francisco, CA

Burger Joint in San Francisco feels like a 50’s diner down to the atomic look and lack of air conditioning. Green laminate tables and red Naugahyde seats complete the look. You order your burger at the counter and retire to a booth. Too bad there are no waitresses on roller skates.

Burger Joint’s claim to fame is serving Niman Ranch naturally fed beef, free of hormones and antibiotics. This isn’t the same as free range, grass fed, because they are finished on grain. But it is a step in the right direction.

While Power Stations’ “Some like it hot”, played overhead, - appropriate on this rare 90-degree day in San Francisco. I ordered the Cheeseburger and Fries ($7.95). I chose swiss cheese and added grilled onions (50 cents additional). Fries by themselves are $3.45. There are no onion rings. An egregious violation of burger joint rules. I also opted to partake of a chocolate shake ($4.75).

The 6-ounce burger arrived juicy and hot. The grilled onions piled on top were sweet and scrumptious. The burger was very fresh tasting and flavorful. I rate it 4 spatulas out of 5. My burger buddies joining me rated their burgers as follows. Juli 3.5, Bill 3.75, Robin 4.

The best thing were the fries. Fresh, fat and hot, skins-on they were fabulous. 5 spatulas. The shake was creamy, cold and not too syrupy tasting. 4 spatulas.

I would recommend Burger joint for a good hamburger, but it wasn’t the transcendent burger experience I expected. The food, the music and the restaurant were all hot. And that is half the battle on a good burger.

Burger 4 spatulas out of 5
Fries 5 spatulas
Milk Shake 4 spatulas

Burger Joint
807 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

Other locations on Haight Street and in the International Terminal at SFO.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Malibu Grill - San Jose, CA

Malibu Grill in San Jose came recommended by a waiter at another location where I had tried a burger. His wife had done an extensive survey of South Bay burgers and found it to be the best burger. In my search to date, that isn't saying much. I have yet to try a truly fantastic burger south of Palo Alto. So I was very excited to make the trek south and try out the burger.

Tucked into the corner of a small strip center on Camden Avenue, Malibu Grill is very unassuming, almost hidden. Walking in though, it is a lively large place - clean and busting with plasma screens beaming sports to all corners of the bar. On a weekday, the hard-core sports fanatics weren't in attendance. Instead, there were several families and some construction workers, happily munching away.

I stepped to the counter and ordered a Sirloin Burger with Blue Cheese ($8.95). It came with fries and a pickle. I ordered a half-order of onion rings ($4.95 for a full order). The person taking the order said "15 to 20 minutes". I was kind of surprised looking around since they weren't that busy.

I sat down at one of the clean and well-kept tables and awaited my feast. In less than ten minutes I had my food. "Under promise, over deliver." a business mentor often said.

The burger came topped with copious amounts of luscious looking grilled onions and blue cheese. I forgot to ask, but it had to be a half-pound at least. The first bite was anticlimactic. The burger was a little overcooked and not juicy at all. I have always thought that chuck is better than sirloin for burgers as the extra fat adds to the juiciness and flavor. I give the burger a 2.5 spatulas out of 5.

The fries we medium thick, with just the right amount of salt and pepper. They were piping hot and quite good. 3.5. The onion rings were medium sized onion slices battered. They were a little soggy and tepid. 2 spatulas.

Still looking for my holy grail of a great burger in the South Bay, I appeal to other burger buddies for suggestions.

Burger 2.5 spatulas out of 5
Fries 2 spatulas
Onion Rings 3.5 spatulas

Malibu Grill
5735 Camden Ave.
San Jose, CA 95124

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Zuni Café – San Francisco, CA

Zuni Café is a San Francisco institution. Zuni has a great reputation as a restaurant and quite a following. Many rate the burger the best. So my burger buddy Mark and I decided to try it out. The yellow awnings call out as you drive along Market Street. If you don’t want to pony up the $10 for valet parking, you might work up a good appetite walking 5 blocks from a parking spot as I did.

As I waited for Mark to appear, I read through the Zuni cookbook at the bar. They grind their own chuck. A good sign. A look at the menu revealed the burger to be priced at $13.50. We added mountain gorgonzola ($1.75) and grilled onions ($1) - a staggering sum of $16.25 for the burger. We also ordered shoestring potatoes for $6. I was running short of cash already, so Mark and I agreed to split the fries.

The burger is a thing of beauty. Elegantly presented with pickled zucchini shavings and a candied onion on the side. The square bun is ciabatta style. There is a light garlic aioli on the bottom bun. The cheese and a grilled red onion slice sat artfully on top with the bun top slightly askew. The burger was cooked a perfect, juicy medium. All the elements played well together. The bun was a little stiff for my taste, but that is a quibble. Mark and I rated it a 4.5 spatulas out of 5.

The shoestring potatoes were thin and crisp. They are actually smaller and thinner than a shoestring. Very good, they are even yummy when they have cooled off. I dipped them in the homemade ketchup. We rated them a 4.5 as well.

The check came to just under $50. We added a $10 tip for the great service. $60 for two burgers, an order of fries, an ice tea and an Arnold Palmer. That’s a lot of coin for a burger. My Indiana dad would not believe it - unless maybe he tasted it.

Burger 4.5 spatulas out of 5
Fries 4.5 spatulas

Zuni Café
1658 Market Street
San Francisco, CA

Tied House - Mountain View, CA

Tied House in Mountain View turned out to be a nice surprise. I typed “best burger Mountain View” into google on my iPhone. Clarke’s came up about 10 times, In-N-Out twice, my blog once and then “Tied House”. I have always said the food at brew-pubs is an after thought. Large portions do not necessarily make a good meal. This one seems to care a little more about the food. Although I have eaten at Tied House many times, I never tried the burger. I should have.

The menu sports a Wild Game Burger that rotates between buffalo, venison, elk and ostrich. That day was buffalo. I have had buffalo before and don’t prefer it to straight beef. My server, Patrick, recommended the Roasted Garlic Burger, I added bleu cheese ($9.50). The burgers are made of 1/2 pound of ground chuck. There is a garlic aioli and red onion crisps. The burger was a little over-cooked but with a tasty charcoally crust. I gave it a 3.5 spatulas out of 5.

The $9.50 included half and half of onion rings and fries. The o-rings were medium-thick and battered. 3 spatulas. The fries were medium-thick, coated and cold. 2 spatulas.

The Tied House is a lively place in an old warehouse type building. There are flat screens playing sports and the service was excellent. If you are looking for a good art-house brew and a burger, this could be your place.

Burger 3.5
Onion Rings 3
French Fries 2

Tied House
954 Villa Street
Mountain View, CA 94041

Another location in San Jose.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Barneys's Gourmet Hamburgers - Oakland, CA

I headed off to Barney’s expecting a greasy spoon type place. Instead I found a hip and happening spot with marble floors, wood tables, leather seats and outdoor dining. Just up from Berkeley, the place has a college town feel. I wish I had brought my Birkenstocks.

Joined by my burger buddy Mark, we perused the expansive menu before settling on a Blackened Burger with Swiss cheese ($7.80) for me and Baja Burger with avocado ad bacon ($7.95) for Mark. I had heard the curly fries ($4.50) were awesome, so we ordered those, along with onion rings ($4.75) and a mocha shake ($4.25).

Our server was polite, well informed and speedy. She told us all the burgers are made with 1/3 pound of fresh ground chuck, except for the Big Barney’s Burger, which is a full pound. She quickly brought a spectacular plate of onion rings to our table. An onion had been halved and split into huge rings. These were battered and topped with parmesan cheese. They were crunchy and luscious. 4.5 spatulas out of 5. One order was more than two of us could eat. The curly fries weren’t as impressive as the o-rings, but held their one in crispness. (3.5 spatulas) Both were even better when dunked in the peppery ranch dressing that accompanied them.

As we were tackling the deep-fried delicacies, the burgers arrived. They were almost two beautiful to eat. (The kind fast food places photograph for ads before replacing with a microwave slab of gruel.)

My blackened burger was cooked to perfection - pink and juicy in the middle with a nice peppery crust on the outside. It was served with a tangy thousand island type dressing, which softened the late-hitting, zing of the pepper. It also came with lettuce and tomato and a soft sesame bun. I have to give this a 5 spatulas. I really enjoyed it. Mark was equally enthusiastic about his Baja Burger.

The Mocha shake was a very nice accompaniment to all the spice as well. A nice coffee taste gave it a little twist from the classic chocolate. 4 spatulas.

It won’t be long before I return to Barney’s. Maybe with a tie-die bib.

Burger 5 spatulas (out of 5)
Fries 3.5 spatulas
Onion Rings 4.5 spatulas
Shake 4 spatulas

Barney’s Gourmet Burgers
5819 College Ave.
Oakland, CA

Additional Locations is Oakland, San Francisco, Berkeley and San Rafael.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Pearl's Phat Burgers, Mill Valley, CA

Pearl's is a tiny spot that sits right in the middle of Mill Valley, hometown of Mash's B.J. Honeycutt. B.J. may be fiction, but Pearl's is not. The burgers are swell. This location is tiny with just four laminate tables and a counter. Everything is done in fifties style down to the light blue Naugahyde chairs.

I took my family and my sister's family. Stepping up to the counter to order, there are lots of special burgers posted on the wall. The grill behind the order taker resembles a Mash triage unit, buzzing with activity. The place smells greasy and great. A straight-ahead Phat Burger is just $4.90, but I went for the special Prized Pearl with bacon, sautéed onions, blue cheese and mayo for $6.95. Each burger has one half pound of fresh ground beef, unless you wimp out and order the quarter pound mini. I also ordered onion rings ($2.95), fries ($2) and a chocolate milk shake ($3.35).

The prized Pearl was excellent - juicy, fresh and a great mixture of flavors. The bacon was salty and crispy, the blue cheese tangy and creamy. I rated it a 4.5 spatulas out of 5. My brother-in-law, Jason had the Bula Burger. It is an Hawaiian influenced concoction with bacon, pineapple, cheese and teriyaki sauce. He loved it and dubbed it "spicy, juicy and drippy". Everyone else had cheeseburgers they liked.

The prize of the outing just might be the onion rings. Peppery, thin-cut and crispy, these crunchy beauties were the best I have had to date. (5 spatulas). At first I thought the fries were not that special, but they grew on me. Phat-cut with just the right amount of salt, they were "crisp on the outside and soft inside" as described by my sister Amy. They ended up rated a 3.5.

The shake was cold and thick. Quite good, but the best thing was an extra phat straw that allowed you to suck in the thick shake without waiting for it to melt first. This got me a quicker brain freeze and got the shake a 4.

I was stuffed when we were done. I needed one of those ambulance helicopters with the side litters to lift me out. Choppers!

Burger 4.5 spatulas (out of 5)
Fries 3.5 spatulas
Onion Rings 5 spatulas
Shake 4 spatulas

Pearl's Phat Burgers
8 E. Blithedale Avenue
Mill Valley, CA 94941

Also a new location at 708 Post in San Francsisco. (Not yet reviewed.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

JZ Cool Eatery - Menlo Park, CA

I have eaten at JZ Cool many times. Usually the cobb salad. It is a granola munching nirvana with organic this and natural that. Low impact, locally grown seasonal produce is stressed. My wife and I stopped by for lunch and noticed a lot of changes. More of a fixed menu. More sandwiches. Screaming my name was the grass fed burger with braised onions and aioli ($9). My wife got the roast pork sandwich with arugula and tomato pear chutney. There are no milkshakes or fries. I considered an organic root beer. But any root beer that looks like Sprite won't work for me.

The burger came out cooked medium to perfection. It sat on panini. The aioli was perfect with the burger. The beef was tasty and juicy. I loved it. 4 spatulas out of 5.

Now if I can just get Ms. Cool to fry up some organic O-rings and Fries and a grass-fed milk shake, I might eat nowhere else.

JZ Cool Eatery
827 Santa Cruz Avenue
Menlo Park, CA 94025

Monday, July 16, 2007

Clarkes Charcoal Broiler- Mountain View

Steve and I decided to check out Clarkes in Mountain View. For 50 years or more, Clarkes has been the feeding trough for burger boys on the peninsula. The building is decrepit at best, which adds to its charm. There are blue vinyl booths with faux wood laminate tops for inside carnivores and outdoor seating as well.

Clarkes flame broils it's 1/3 pound fresh burgers. They come out very smokey tasting, which I generally do not prefer. I ordered the Bacon Cheeseburger ($7.20), O-rings ($3.95), fries ($1.50) and a chocolate milk shake ($4.85). Steve went for the straight cheeseburger. We took our number and took our seat. Very soon our order was ready.

At Clarkes you get just the burger, ordered toppings and bun. They have a big fixings bar nearby loaded with onions, condiments and other items to pile on. You used to have to ask for tomato, but no longer. It is at the bar. There is no "special sauce" which I missed.

As we munched, I found the bacon a bit chewy, not adding to the positive experience. The smokey burger itself was OK, but nothing exceptional. Steve pointed out that I shouldn't order bacon, then maybe I could better experience the burger. I rated mine 3 spatulas out of 5. Steve liked his better. Onion rings were thick cuts of onions with heavy breading. I thought they were the best thing in the meal and rated them with 4 spatulas. Fries were thicker, skins-on style. They were only warm, not hot. 2.5 spatulas. The milk shake was thick and cold and rated a 3.5.

I found Clarkes better for its retro ambiance than its food. I would go back for another taste or just to get a feel the past days on the peninsula.

Burger 3 spatulas (out of 5)
Fries 2.5 spatulas
Onion Rings 4 spatulas
Shake 3.5 spatulas

Clarkes Charcoal Broiler
615 W. El Camino Real
Mountain View, CA 94040

Monday, June 4, 2007

Jeffrey's - San Mateo, CA

Jeffrey's has a big sign in their front window. It says "Best Burger Top 5, Chronicle", throwing down the gauntlet before you even enter the restaurant. The restaurant is shiny and clean, evoking a 50s diner feel with red naugahyde and stainless steel. "Sherry Baby" played on the speakers. It all feels shiny and new. The large menu board proclaims "Fresh Ground Today - Beef or Turkey". You place your order at the counter inside the door, take a number and take a seat. Elvis and Jerry Lee at the counter were efficient and cheerful. I ordered the Bacon Cheeseburger $6.69, my buddy Jeff had the cheeseburger.

We also ordered onion rings $2.99, fries $1.39 and chocolate shakes $3.59. I ordered my 1/3-pound of fresh chuck to be cooked medium. It came out closer to medium rare with melted American cheese and crisp bacon on top. I added ketchup. The white bun was fresh and tasty. I thought the burger was juicy and flavorful. Jeff thought it was a little greasy. If you get a burger from chuck, the traditional hamburger, it contains more fat than a burger from sirloin or other steak. Franky, Annette and I like them that way. I gave it 3.5 out of 5 spatulas. Jeff went with a 3.

Like a Doris Day picture, the shakes were a little syrupy and sweet. Mine wasn't that cold. They came with whip cream and a cherry on top. We both gave the shake a 3. "There is a freshness about the onion." Jeff proclaimed and he was right. The onion rings were thick and crisp - heavily breaded and cooked just right. I rated them a 5. The fries were medium thick with the skins on. They were slightly overcooked and a little greasy. Nothing special. 2.5.

I found the ambiance cheerful, the service quick and efficient. I enjoyed Jeffrey's and the rest of the people filling the place to the brim seemed to agree. I hear Jeffrey's is coming to Menlo Park. I think Ike would approve.

Burger 3.5 spatulas (out of 5)
Fries 2.5 spatulas
Onion Rings 5 spatulas
Shake 3 spatulas

Jeffrey's Hamburgers
42 South B Street
San Mateo, CA 94401

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Palo Alto Creamery - Stanford, CA

The Creamery has been a favorite of mine for years. Both the Palo Alto and the Stanford restaurants feature the same menu. The Stanford store is usually packed at lunch with a line out the door. On Sunny days they have patio seating in the shadow of Bloomingdales. The crowd is an eclectic mix of ladies at lunch, tourists loaded with shopping bags, families with screaming infants, Stanford students and business people. Breakfast is served all day, but the claim to fame is the burgers and shakes. The Palo Alto location used to try to give off a 50s diner vibe with naugahyde booths, a juke box and old-fashioned candy at the counter, but the music is now current pop and the vibe more present day, particularly at the mall store.

I had never tried the Fountain Burger ($9.95 with fries). Strange, since it is the namesake burger of a burger joint. But in my guise of burger blogger, I felt it my sworn duty. So I dived in with relish. (Pun intended.) I also ordered Onion Rings ($6.95) and a chocolate shake ($5). The Creamery has table service and it is always quick and attentive. Clever slogans like "I am in the waiter protection program." grace the back of the servers' t-shirts.

The Fountain Burger was a delightful concoction. Thick and smoky Hobbes bacon and grilled onions topped a fresh beef patty cooked to a juicy medium. A mayonnaise sauce and melted Swiss also sat atop the grilled rye bread. The fries were thick and occasionally crispy with the skins left on. They were a little too darkly cooked for me. I was told that is because the recent batches have too much sugar in them. The large beer battered onion rings, Maui-style, faired better, especially when dipped in ranch dressing. The milk shake was killer - creamy, thick, cold and syrupy.

When you have worked up a massive hunger walking the among piles of luxury swag at Stanford Mall, give the credit card a cooling off for a few minutes and enjoy a burger at the Creamery.

Burger 4.5 spatulas (out of 5)
Fries 3 spatulas
Onion Rings 4 spatulas
Shake 5 spatulas

Stanford Palo Alto Creamery
Stanford Sopping Center
Stanford, CA 94304
Phone 650-327-3141

Slow Club - San Francisco, CA

Slow Club is a hip and happening restaurant just off the 101 freeway in a San Francisco, South of Market location. All the food is fresh and tasty. The servers are very aloof with an extremely high tattoo quotient and cutting-edge eye-glasses. Don't expect attentive service or even a friendly greeting when you show up. On a menu with grilled flatbread and grilled pork paillard, one would not necessarily expect to find a great burger. One would be wrong.

The menu has the current date on it, so it changes, but the three times I have eaten here, the burger ($10.50 with fries and swiss, jack or cheddar cheese - another $1.50 for Gorgonzola)) has been on the menu. I was told by the waitress that it was Neiman Ranch beef. The May 16 menu on the website says Prather Ranch. It doesn't matter. It is cooked to perfection just south of medium. The balsamic onions, mustard and aoili blend for a spicy mixture underneath the soft roll. This one gets a 4.5 spatulas. The thin cut fries are light and tasty and rate a 4.5 as well.

So, if you have a friend craving a muffaletta sandwich, but you just want a burger with a side of attitude, this place is for you.

Burger 4.5 spatulas (out of 5)
Fries 4.5 spatulas

Slow Club
2501 Mariposa St.
San Francisco, CA 94110

St. John's Bar & Grill - Santa Clara, CA

St. John's Bar & Grill is impressive in its scale alone. Very unassuming as one passes on Lawrence expressway, it morphs into a jammed parking lot and billowing smoke from an outside chicken grill at lunch on a typical day in Silicon Valley. This spot is so popular that the parking for the strip mall was jammed and I ended up sharing a space with a dumpster. As I walked in, 100 people sat outside in the beergarden and equal number were seated inside. Two women at the counter were ringing up orders as fast as they could. The line to order was at least 30 people deep, but I moved to the front in about ten minutes. I noticed in the restaurant that there were perhaps 5 women out of the 200 or so souls scarfing down their charred flesh. A golf theme permeated the decor and the television screens scattered throughout. A full bar was also available.

The very nice lady at the counter took my order. I got the one-third pound blue bacon burger ($7.25). The burger is made from fresh ground chuck. I also ordered beer-battered onion rings ($3.50) and small side of just cut fries ($1.95). I was issued a pager and scouted out a red-checkered, table-clothed table. The line to order never shortened as I sat. The burger was ready quickly, about 5 minutes.

I liked the combination of the perfectly cooked bacon - crisp and salty - with the bleu cheese. But the burger was overcooked and dry. (3 spatulas). The onion rings were beer-battered Maui style and were tasty but nothing special (3). The fries were of medium thickness with the skins on, the best part of the meal (4).

Overall, I am not sure that I would battle the crowds to return, but it wasn't bad.

Burger 3 spatulas (out of 5)
Fries 4 spatulas
Onion Rings 3 spatulas

St. John's Bar & Grill
510 Lawrence Expressway, Ste 110
Sunnyvale, CA 94086

Kirk's Steakburgers - Palo Alto, CA

Kirk's is located in the Town & Country shopping Center right across from Palo Alto High School. But there are no high school kids in the restaurant on a recent Thursday at lunch time, just lot's of photos of old Paly sports teams. I hear Kirk's is mean to the students and shoos them away. Either that or the students don't feel like spending $8 for a hamburger. But I have no such hesitation in pursuit of the best burger in the Bay Area.

I was joined by my friends Jeff and Dave for lunch. We stepped up to the counter and ordered. Given a number, we retired to a table to wait for our feast. Jeff ordered the 1/3 pound burger with chedder and pineapple - he says it is a local legend. I stuck with the featured items with stars by them on the menu. Those were Kirk's Big Griller ($8), combo of shoestring onion rings and steakfries ($4.19) and the vanilla milkshake ($3.85). Dave wimped out and ordered the caesar salad with chicken. He didn't want to get too filled up for his stretching class. The salad resulted in our burgers sitting under the heat lamp while it arrived, possibly from the grocery store nearby.

The Big Griller is a half-pound of fresh beef cooked to order and served on a roll. It has grilled onions and swiss cheese. I added only mayo at the generous toppings bar. The burger was quite juicy and tasty, if slightly overcooked. I rated it 4 spatulas. The onion strings were fabulous - lightly battered and crisp. (5 Spatulas) The steak fries were hot, but too big. (2.5). Finally the vanilla shake was thick and very cold, but not headache cold. (3.5). Jeff rated his Burger a 4 and the mocha malt shake a 5.

In closing, Kirk's serves a very nice burger and deserves to remain in a Palo Alto fixture. Perhaps some coupons to the high school could patch up the relationship with the students.

Burger 4 spatulas (out of 5)
Fries 2.5
Onion Strings 5
Milk Shake 3.5

Kirk's Steakburgers
75 Town & Country Village
Palo Alto, CA 94309

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Val's Burgers - Hayward, CA

I had heard from several people that Val's had the best burger in all of the Bay Area. I can see what they meant. My friend Mark and I met for lunch on a Tuesday. The restaurant was busy. George, the manager, met us at the door and gave us a little history on Val's. Started in 1958, Val's has been pretty much in the same spot. Val himself died 18 years ago, but his wife still owns the restaurant.

Val's pretty much looks like it is still in the 50s, in every positive sense. Décor includes a yellow linoleum floor, dark red naugahyde booths, dark wood arched ceiling and hand painted menus above the flame broiler.

Our friendly server, told us about the menu. We sheepishly ordered the Mama burger - one half pound of fresh beef. ($5). Other options include the 1/3 pound Baby ($4.25) and the one pound Papa ($8.95) which actually consists of 2 Mama patties. Mark asked how many people actually order the Papa and George told us that it was a pretty large percentage.

My Mama had swiss cheese, and bacon. Mark’s was chedder. We got a side of grilled onions to put on. They come on a plate and are tender and sweet. Mayo, mustard, ketchup and pickle chips are on the table, to add to the burger. I put on some onions, mustard and mayo and took a bite. I must say the burger is fantastic. The smokey taste of flame broiling comes through as a compliment to the very tasty beef. The burger was juicy and cooked perfectly to medium. The burger is thicker than most burgers, which really keeps in the juices. The bacon was very thick and tasty. Not as crispy as I usually like but very lean, so it wasn’t chewy. All is wrapped in a soft plain white bun. Mark was equally pleased with his burger.

We also tried the onion rings ($3.55), steak fries ($2.55) and mushroom ($3.55) sides. The onion rings were very large and sweet onion slices, like a Maui onion. The breading is thick and crisp. They were served piping hot. Delicious. I am not usually a fan of the large steak fries. These were as good as they get. They weren’t powdery inside like some, nor were they soggy or greasy. But neither were they especially crisp on the outside. The mushrooms came recommended by George. They are button mushrooms - sauteed with herbs and served with toothpicks. They were an excellent compliment to the meal.

Finally, I had to try the chocolate milk shake ($3.65), which was thick and smooth and tasty.

I must say that Val’s lived up to its reputation.

Burger 5 spatulas (out of 5)
Fries 3
Onion Rings 5
Milk Shake 4

Val’s Burgers
2115 Kelly Street
Hayward, CA

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Dutch Goose - Menlo Park, CA

A Menlo Park institution for more than 35 years, the Dutch Goose is the bookend to the Oasis, with local residents debating which is better. Like the Oasis, the Goose has names carved into the wood booths and tables. Families, sports teams and beer drinkers watching the big screen TV, mix in peace. I went here with my 14 year-old daughter in a break from our traditional Saturday trek to Johnny Rockets. The restaurant was packed as we stood in line at the counter to order. There were still plenty of tables including outside tables.

While we waited for our food, we had an order of the famous deviled eggs that have been a Goose favorite for years. They are smothered in a spicy mustard-tinged filling. This goes surprisingly well with a beer.

My name was called and food was retrieved. I ordered the standard Bacon Cheeseburger ($6.75). It comes with lettuce, tomato slice, onion slice, American cheese and the secret sauce. The sauce reminds me of tarter sauce. Definitely mayo-based with lemon and pickle chucks. It is messy and liberally applied to good effect. The burger comes on a yellow bun with sesame top. The patty is most likely frozen and 1/3 pound. I couldn’t find someone to ask. My daughter had a plain cheeseburger with just sauce. ($5.75) She pronounced it quite good and rated it 3.5 (out of 5) after scraping off some of the sauce.

We also ordered fries. Until recently the Dutch Goose did not serve fries. To quote John Belushi, “ No fries, chips”. New owners brought in a fryer and the regulars were appalled. They should not have bothered. The thin fries still have the skin on the ends. They are greasy and unremarkable. I had low hopes when I saw a huge pile of pre-made fries under the heat lamp by the fryer as I ordered.

My burger was good. All the elements are well-balanced and play well together. The burger was properly cooked at medium. It wasn’t especially juicy, but I expect this from a frozen patty. They do offer other choices of cheese which I will try next time.

Burger 3 spatulas (out of 5)
Fries 2
No onion rings or milk shakes.

Dutch Goose
3567 Alameda De Las Pulgas
Menlo Park, CA 94025

The Counter - Palo Alto, CA

The Counter recently opened on California Street in Palo Alto’s “second” down town. This is the second location with the first being in Santa Monica. The place has an L.A. feel with concrete floors, metal retro chairs and faux terrazzo counters and tables. Current hit music blasts from overhead. There is a full bar and always a line for a table at lunch, also much like L.A. I sit at the counter so I don’t have to wait for a table. There is also a full bar. Flat screens float above the counter.

All this would be a bit over-the-top if the burger weren’t great. And it is. The menu sports several suggested combinations for the burgers, but the real fun is the build-your-own menu. You can order 1/3 ($7.95), 2/3 ($9.95) or 1 pound ($12.95) burgers made from “all vegetarian diet” fresh Angus beef. (I hope after mad-cow that all beef is vegetarian fed, but at least this is going to be prion-free.) They also offer turkey or vegetarian versions.

Next you pick your cheese from 10 choices – gruyére, Danish blue, imported swiss. There are eighteen free toppings from which you can choose four, extras are 50 cents. These include pickles, bermuda red onions, grilled onions, jalapenos, etc. Then these are nine premium toppings for $1 each, like honey cured bacon, chili or fried egg. Next choose your sauce from 17 choices. So far I have tried the horseradish mayo, spicy sour cream and the peppercorn steak sauce, which you dip the burger in. Finally there are three buns. English muffin, hamburger bun and honey wheat bun.

My favorite combo in three tries has been 1/3 pound, gruyere, bacon, grilled onions and horseradish mayo. The burger is cooked to order, I had mine medium. It was just right. The beef is juicy, and flavorful. The onions are soft and sweet, but piled on a little higher than I like, but that is easy to correct. The bun is firm and in the right propotion to the burger. The burger has been delightful each time and I can’t recommend it more highly. It’s a five!

I also recommend the "Fifty-Fifty" of fries and onion rings ($3.95). The onion rings are micro thin sliced, and lightly breaded then fried brick style. They come out in clumps and taste great dunked in the ranch dressing provided. The fries are very thinly sliced and served with BBQ sauce. They are very good, but not as good as the o-rings. The whole thing is enough for two people, too much for just me.
The tab for Burger, Fries, O-rings and coke was about $16.

I was told that more of these restaurants are coming to the Bay Area. I think they will do quite well. (Update: There is now a counter is San Jose. Read the review.)

Burger - 5 spatulas (out of 5)
Fries 4
Onion Rings 4.5

The Counter
369 California Street
Palo Alto, CA 94306

Johnny Rockets - Redwood City, CA

Johnny Rockets been a favorite of mine for years. I have been taking my daughter to this one almost every Saturday for close to ten years. The decor is a reproduction of a 50s diner. The staff wear the faux military hats that used to be worn at drive-in restaurants. The menu is bursting with burgers. All the burgers are made from fresh beef. The half-pound balls of raw hamburger are smashed down on the griddle with a spatula to begin the cooking. The white buns are baked and brought in fresh each day. All the fixings are fresh too.

My favorite burger is the St. Louis. It has grilled onions, bacon and a spicy mustard sauce. The standard St. Louis comes with pickle and lettuce which I leave off. The burger is served wrapped in paper, to keep the whole juicy mess from falling apart too soon. The hamburger is flavorful and balanced beautifully with the sauce and onions. It is almost perfect and is consistently good every time I go.

Also, get the half-and-half of onion rings and fries. The fries are medium thick and always served very hot. They are unadorned with no seasonings beyond salt and are just the way fries should be - crisp, hot and golden. The onion rings are a single ring of medium thickness. Crispy and hot. Great when dipped in the provided ranch dressing. Don't miss the shakes either which are made from fresh milk and ice cream. I like the peanut butter chocolate.

Burger 4.5 Spatulas (out of 5)
Fires 4
Onion rings 4
Milk Shake 4

Johnny Rockets
Sequoia Station
1111 El Camino Real
Redwood City, CA 94063

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Momo's San Francisco Grill - San Francisco, CA

Momo's is a popular premium restaurant near PacBell Park in San Francisco. Generally higher end fair, they specialize in classic American food like ribs, cobb salads and fish. The atmosphere is fun and the service attentive and polite. I had eaten here several times before and found the food quite good, but had not tried the burger.

I tried the 1/3 pound bacon cheeseburger ($15) which came with a choice of swiss or chedder cheese. I chose swiss. Huge amounts of lettuce, tomato and pickles accompanied the burger on the side. I left them off. The burger is from fresh beef and was cooked medium as requested. Mayo, mustard and ketchup came on the side. I added the mayo. The burger was served on ciabatta bread, which I found a little to chewy and too much work to bite through. The bacon was crisp the way it should be. The burger overall was bland. There was no spicing in the meat or the sauce. It was supposed to be flame-broiled, but didn't have much flavor in that regard either.

In summary, even though the burger was made from fresh ingredients seemingly with great care, it lacked distinctiveness and flavor. At $15, I expect a little more.

The fries were coated, sort of like you would get at Carl's Jr. Not very good.

Burger 3 Spatulas (Out of 5)
Fries 2

Momo's San Francisco Grill
760 Second Street
San Francisco, CA

Monday, March 12, 2007

Oasis - Menlo Park, CA

The Oasis is your classic college bar atmosphere. Wooden tables with names carved in them are surrounded by posters of past Stanford sports teams. In recent years the Oasis has become more family oriented, while still catering to beer drinkers, softball teams and students. TVs throughout the bar show different sporting events. There is a nice outdoor area with two long rows of tables. One thing that hasn't changed is the burger.

I prefer the double cheeseburger ($6.65). A classic, greasy-spoon style burger from two small frozen patties. Somehow the mustard, mayo, tomoto and onion seam to combine for just the right taste. Nothing fancy or pretentious, it just hits the spot.

The fries are only so-so and the onion rings are frozen standard issue. No milk shakes, but the beers are cold and the atmosphere fun.

Burger 3.5 spatulas (out of 5)
Fries 2 spatulas
Onion Rings 2 spatulas

Oasis Beer Garden
241 El Camino Real
Menlo Park, CA

Best Burgers Intro

I grew up on a beef farm in Indiana. So I have always loved burgers.

This site is for other burger lovers to learn where they can find the best burgers in the SF Bay Area and to share their favorites. Of course, burger lovers are a passionate bunch. I hope to keep this upbeat and positive.

To me a burger is a meal. It is best when accompanied by fries and/or onion rings and the occassional milk shake. I like all burgers from the greasy, small-slab burger at a Foster Freeze to the gourmet grass-fed angus burger with blue cheese.

I will rate each restaurant fom 1 to 5 with five being the best. One being inedible. I will also rate fries, onion rings and milk shakes if available. I hope you will feel free to email me with suggestions of your favorites to try.