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.