Sunday, February 22, 2009

Chili's Grill & Bar - Union City, CA

Chili’s Grill & Bar in Union City was my second choice to the Fuddruckers in the same shopping center. The Fuddruckers is now closed permanently, so my brother-in-law John and I went to the nearby Chili’s. I haven’t had a burger in a Chili’s for some time. I remember when they first opened. In the 80’s, we used to eat at a Chili’s in Cupertino. They had a great burger that tasted fresh and juicy. Many years ago when they went to frozen beef, I stopped going regularly.

So it was definitely with low expectations that I ordered the Southern Smoked Bacon Big Mouth Burger ($8.79). It comes with brown sugar chili rubbed bacon, smoked cheddar, onion strings, mayo, lettuce, tomato and ancho chili BBQ sauce. It also comes with fries. John ordered the Big Mouth Bites ($7.99), which are basically Chili’s take on sliders. I verified with the server that the beef is frozen and not fresh.
I must say the burger was very good. The flavors mixed very well. The bacon was great by itself, thick, sweet and a little spicy. I ate the whole thing and was happy I did. The fries are run-of-the-mill medium cut with skins on. They were salty and hot, but unremarkable.

So, in a pinch, Chili’s isn’t a bad option, even though it is a chain. They get my props for giving it a solid effort on the burger.

Burger 4 spatulas out of 5
Fries 2 spatulas

Chili’s Bar & Grill
32120 Dyer St.
Union City, CA 94587

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Peggy Sue's Restaurant - San Jose, CA

Peggy Sue’s Restaurant in San Jose is a 50’s diner-style restaurant in downtown San Jose. I had a break from watching my daughter’s volleyball tournament at the nearby convention center. So I walked over in the rain and entered a packed restaurant. A line of volleyball players, fifteen-deep waited at the order counter.

Ten minutes later I placed my order for a Lucy Burger ($7.45), I upped it from 1/3-pound to 1/2-pound. The Lucy comes with bacon and American cheese. I also ordered fries ($1.85), onion rings ($2.15) and chocolate, peanut butter shake ($5.00).

I took my seat at one of the few unoccupied laminate tables sitting on the clean black and white tile floor. Posters, photos and articles from the 50’s adorned the walls. My number was called and I retrieved my food.

The shake was thick and creamy, and nicely presented with whip cream topped with sprinkles and a cherry. There was way too much peanut butter, in the mix, overwhelming the chocolate.

The burger looked good. The bun looked right out of the bakery, but it was not toasted. Although the patty was cooked medium, the meat was not juicy. The bacon was not that crisp and the burger wasn’t that hot. Overall, it was pretty average.

The fries were medium cut but, equally unremarkable. The onion rings were medium thick and battered, but not crisp.

As I walked out I noticed a sign on the front that said “Best Burger Silicon Valley 2004, Wave Magazine Readers Choice.” Either that means Silicon Valley readers didn’t try many burgers or Peggy Sue’s has lost some quality since 2004.

Burger 2.5 spatulas out of 5
French Fries 2.5 spatulas
Onion Rings 2 spatulas
Milk Shake 3 spatulas

Peggy Sue’s Restaurant
29 N. San Pedro
San Jose, CA 95110

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The folks at emailed me for some recommendations for burger photos to put on their site. They have a fun gallery of burger photos and locations. Most in New York. You can see photos and get addresses for each type of food like, burgers, Thai and cheap. Can't wait to try some when I go out there next.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Boardwalk - Los Altos, CA

The Boardwalk in Los Altos, CA is a cozy hang out for having a classic style burger. They also have pizza and a bar and lots of comfort food like chicken wings, tuna melts and pastrami. But I came into the wood-lined hangout with a burger on my mind.

There was a line at the counter at noontime on a rainy Wednesday. The flat screen TV's had soccer going. I think it was a World Cup qualifying match.

I ordered a double cheeseburger ($6.80) consisting of two 1/4-pound patties, American cheese, mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato and onion slice. I also ordered onion rings ($2.45) and fries ($2.25). The nice girl at the counter offered to split the order so I didn't have to pay for both.

They gave me coaster-pager and I walked across the wood floor, to take a seat at a wood table on a wood chair next to a wooden bar. It was about 5 minutes later that the pager went off. I strolled to the counter to get my food. I asked for ranch dressing for the onion rings and was granted my request.

The burger looked fantastic. A very nicely formed white bun cradled two impressive patties dripping with melted cheese. As I bit in, the bun was pleasantly crunchy on top but springy and spongy on the inside to soak up the juice. The combo was a very tasty and balanced blend of all the flavors.

It reminded me a lot of the Oasis in Menlo Park. I learned the restaurants are related, because I got a gift card for Christmas that has them both on it. Checking the website, the Oasis is listed as another location along with the Garrett in Campbell and Jakes in Willow Glen, Sunnyvale and Saratoga. The menu looked the same on the other sites.

The onion rings were battered and while hot, I found them, to be not too crisp on the outside and a little chewy on the inside. The fries were better, although standard-issue medium-cut with skins on. They were hot and relatively tasty and didn't have the "old grease" taste I seem to find at a lot of places.

But the burger is definitely worth the visit. It also looks like a fun place to take in a game or the upcoming March Madness.

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

The Boardwalk
4940 El Camino Real
Los Altos, CA 94022

Monday, February 9, 2009

Jim-Denny's - Sacramento, CA

Jim Denny’s in Sacramento is a Jim Dandy of a place for a burger. A Sacramento fixture for years, it was resurrected a few years ago and now serves up a great hamburger.

You can’t miss the landmark as you walk up 12th street from the Convention center. It is a small white building with a vintage red sign out front. On a Saturday afternoon, the tables outside were packed with people eating and waiting for their to-go orders served up at the side window. The real action is inside, where a small counter of about 10 chairs faces the griddle. Patsy, the owner fries up burgers starting with the tiny 1/6-pound model going all the way up to a 1-pound monster. I went for the 1/2-pound Superburger with fries ($8.75). I added American cheese ($1), Bacon ($1) and grilled onions. Patsy slapped the fresh beef on the griddle and chatted with us as we waited. I also ordered up a blackberry-Oreo shake on her recommendation.

The shake came first. I found it creamy and perfect. The Oreo and blackberry nicely played off against one another. Yum. My friend Margaret ordered a chocolate shake along with her Superburger. She liked it as well.

When the burger was ready, one of the servers asked us what we wanted on it. Mustard, yes. Mayo, yes. Lettuce, no. Tomato, no. I really liked the interaction. At one point a friend called to join us. I ordered a burger and fries for him and they let us save a place at the counter. When he arrived the burger came right off the grill for him. Great service.

My burger was yummy. The classic white bun was toasted nicely. The American cheese hung out on the side artfully. It was just the right amount of mayo and mustard. The beef was tasty and juicy. The fries were thin, crisp and salty.

I really do not know how you can improve on an experience like this. (Except if they had onion rings.) It was a fun walk back to a time when things were simpler and everyone was friendly. I cannot recommend Jim Denny’s any more highly.

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

Jim Denny’s
816 12th Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Ford's Real Hamburgers - Sacramento, CA

Ford’s Real Hamburgers is Sacramento has the look of an old ice cream stand. It is pretty seedy looking when you pull up, giving one pause to eat there. But the place was very busy mid-afternoon one Sunday, so I went ahead and gave it a shot.

I placed my order at the window, which is inside an area that was probably once outdoors under an awning, but has now been glassed in. I ordered the 1/2-pound burger with bacon and American cheese ($10.51), eschewing the tomato and lettuce when asked. I also ordered the onion rings ($4.04) and fries ($1.68). Just for grins, I also ordered a small chocolate shake ($3.58).

I took my place at a very worn wood table attached to the wall. There where other threadbare tables and chairs strewn about. A dusty sign leaned precariously in the window next to me proclaiming Best Hamburger 2001, City Search. It seemed a place in decline and my expectations were low.

My name was called and I retrieved my brown plastic tray loaded with grub. Ford’s does not cheat you on quantity. The shake was in a Styrofoam cup. It was very chocolaty with a hint of coffee, and none of the Hershey’s chocolate taste you often find in shakes. I liked it for its uniqueness.

The onion rings were thin and dark, looking a little overcooked. They were hot and crisp and tasted good dunked in the spicy mustard sauce that accompanied them, another unique little touch. Fries were very thin and hot. Also, a little overcooked. I can’t be sure, but they tasted fresh cut, but also tasted a little of old grease.

The burger was a big patty with lots of crisp bacon top and bottom. There were two slices of cheese on the top and two more on the bottom. Also, a tangy Thousand Island sauce graced the top and bottom bun, which was a little crunchy and toasted, but good. The burger was not that hot and the cheese not melted, but the flavor of the burger was really good. Along with a slice of red onion, Ford’s achieved a nice blending of all the flavors. I would like to try this burger piping hot and with the cheese next to the patty instead of having the bacon in between the patty and cheese.

I left and took external shots of the faded signed and worn exterior. Ford’s is a real enigma. A lot of good ideas, executed in a fashion that results in less of an impression than they could have with a little more attention to detail.

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

Ford’s Real Hamburgers
1948 Sutterville Rd.
Sacramento, CA 95822

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Rose & Crown - Palo Alto, CA

The Rose and Crown in Palo Alto is a classic English style pub set back from the street in a parking lot. It has been there forever, but my guess is lots of residents don’t even know it exists. It is so hidden. You know it is an English pub when you walk in at lunch time and people are sitting at the counter drinking Guinness.

My friend Jeff and I decided to go there when he told me they have a good burger. I ordered the 1/3-pound Ground Beef Burger with cheese ($7.95). I added Stilton, of course, but I could of just as easily gone for Cheshire. The burger also came with their “famous” watercress mayo. I also ordered Onion rings ($5.95). Jeff got chips ($5.95) with his fish and chips.

We sat outside and the food came quickly. The burger seemed a little small atop a great looking homemade bun that was very light colored and spongy. It was toasted perfectly and very tasty. The burger itself was good with the Stilton and the deservedly famous mayo was very tasty.
The best thing though was the chips. They cut the potatoes up every morning and fry them up thick, fresh and hot with vinegar. These may be the best fried potatoes I have ever had. The onion rings were more standard issue battered and medium thick.

The Rose & Crown is a nice place to hang out for lunch. Quiet and inviting, it is a place I will go back for a Guinness ad some chips.

Burger 3 spatulas out of 5
Fries (Chips) 5 spatulas

The Rose & Crown
547 Emerson Avenue
Palo Alto, CA 94301

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Custom Burger - San Francisco, CA

Custom Burger in San Francisco is a modern looking, creative place to get your burger. I stopped by on my way to a business meeting in San Francisco. Just .3 miles off of 101 on 7th street, it is a very convenient burger place if you are passing through S.F.

Walking in I was impressed by the stark, clean design of the place. The chalk boards behind the counter for each step of building your custom burger we very clear and easy to follow. I barked out my order to the cashier. Step one Angus Burger ($6.99). Step 2 Bleu Cheese (1.49), Bacon ($1.29), Step 3, sautéed onions, Step 4 secret sauce, Step 5 seeded bun. I also ordered a side of half and half fries and sweet potato fries ($3.79). After I saw a stack of onion rings come out, I wish I had ordered them too. I guess I will have to go back.

By the way, they have lots of patty options, including a Kobe Beef, lamb, turkey, veggie, chicken or salmon! With similar variety in every step of ordering too. According to their website, they have a big commitment to local too, using locally raised hormone-free beef, buns from a local bakery and pies baked locally from scratch.

I took my number a red chair at a clean laminate table. There is a standing counter with stools in the middle for those in a hurry. I had barely written a few notes when the burger arrived. The burger was in a cool little basket lined with red checked paper and sporting a side holder for a small container of the secret sauce, which looks and tastes suspiciously like thousand island.

I happen to like Thousand Island dressing. I slathered it liberally on my ample sesame bun. I then placed the bun on the mound of cheese, crispy bacon and generously applied onions and took a bite. The burger was smoky and nicely pink in the middle-a good, strong flavor to counteract the bleu cheese and the secret sauce. I really liked this burger. I think next time I would tweak it with a slightly milder cheese or less bleu.

The fries were also in a red-checked-paper-lined wire basket. The potato fries were hot, medium cut with skins on. Tasty and good. The sweet potato fries were crisp on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside. Yummy.

I was running late for my meeting and did not have time to hang around and soak up the ambiance. But I really liked the sophistication and creativity of Custom Burger. Certainly the best I have tried South of Market. It was also nice to see someone not go for the retro theme that is so overdone in burger places.

Burger 4.5 spatulas out of 5
Fries 4 spatulas
Sweet Potato Fries 4 spatulas

Custom Burger
121 Seventh Street
San Francisco, CA 94103