Burger Buster

Angus burger at Burger Bar in San Francisco.

Times were that chefs considered it downright unseemly and uncouth to feature a burger on their menus. These days, that old-school mentality has been ground up and reshaped into a super-sized burger bonanza. It’s practically gauche now if a beefy patty isn’t front and center everywhere you turn.

I should know. One day recently, I embarked on a challenge to eat at three different burger joints in one day. Yes, that’s nearly one burger per hour in a three-hour span with no breaks in between.

But I was on a mission for a story for San Francisco magazine about new burger restaurants in the city, which you can read in this month’s December issue. I, of course, took along my husband, aka Meat Boy, on this gut-busting experience.

Would you believe that Americans consume 14 billion burgers annually, with 41 percent of us chowing down on one at least once a week? In 2008, two market research firms found that 7 percent more restaurants, from quick service to fine dining, offered burgers on their menus than did two years ago. In fine dining establishments alone, burgers have enjoyed a 30 percent penetration growth in the past three years, according to Nation’s Restaurant News.

“People are tired of gastro obnoxiousness,” says Clark Wolf, a bi-coastal restaurant consultant. “The economy falling into the pits has made burgers just a good idea and a good meal.”

Mission Burger's astounding specimen.

Of the three places we tried, we agreed that our favorite was to be found at the most unusual Mission Burger in San Francisco, which is located inside the Duc Loi market on Mission Street.

Yes, walk into the bustling Asian-Latino supermarket, and make a sharp left to the butcher case, where Anthony Myint and Danny Bowien have rented a small space to turn out messy, drippy, heart attack-inducing ($8) burgers that will leave you speechless after one bite. They’re available only noon to 3 p.m., daily except for Thursdays.

Since they’re behind a butcher case, they grind the meat themselves from aged brisket, short rib and chuck. The meat is extruded, with the thick strands formed into a tight column that’s then sliced into thick patties, giving the burgers a very hearty texture.

The burgers are fried in beef fat (yeah, baby!), then topped with Jack, caramelized onions and house-made caper aioli. It’s a flavor powerhouse, and so rich I don’t think I could eat a whole one by myself. But Meat Boy sure can.

The fries, cooked to order, arrive piping hot and crisp as can be. They are fabulous. Order a mint lemonade and real mint leaves get muddled in your plastic cup.

Once you place your order, take your ticket to any of the grocery store check-out stands to pay, then come back to the butcher case to pick up your burger.

If you’re lucky, you can snag a spot on the old vinyl couch by the worn coffee table, which serves as seating. Otherwise, you have to take your order to go elsewhere, as it’s way too messy to eat while hoofing it around the neighborhood.

For good measure, one dollar from each burger sold is donated to the San Francisco Food Bank.

Cheeseburger at Acme Burgerhaus.

Addicting crinkle-cut sweet potato fries at Acme Burgerhaus.

Next stop, Acme Burgerhaus in San Francisco, where burgers run the gamut from beef to salmon to veggie.

We went bonkers for the crinkle-cut sweet potato fries ($3.95). The cheeseburger ($6.95) and lamb burger ($9.95) were cooked fine, but a little bland. Fortunately, the condiment bar is stocked with copious amounts of both artichoke lemon and pesto mayonnaise, and both hot and pickled peppers.

Our last stop was the chicest – Burger Bar in San Francisco, Chef Hubert Keller’s glam eatery on the sixth floor of Macy’s with gorgeous views of Union Square and mini TVs in the cushy booths.

Big spenders can splurge on the “Rossini” (Kobe beef, foie gras and shaved black truffles – for a whopping $60).

For the rest of us, there’s an Angus burger ($9.75) with a big beefy taste. Buttermilk onion rings ($3.55) were thick and super crunchy with a heavily battered exterior, which may not be to everyone’s liking.

A disappointing vegan burger at Burger Bar.

The “Vegas Vegan” ($12) — hey, I had to take a respite from all that meat — featured large Portobello mushroom caps sandwiching eggplant, grilled Roma tomatoes, zucchini and sauteed pepper. It would have been marvelous except for the oil-laden eggplant, which turned the whole thing into a grease bomb.

For real fun, you can build your own milkshake (starting at $7) with a multitude of add-ons from Nutella to fresh strawberries to a shot of 150-year-old Grand Marnier ($30).

A dream of a milkshake at Burger Bar.

My vanilla ice cream shake with Nutella and hazelnuts was a frothy, creamy tower of goodness.

Three burgers in three hours in one day is not something I’d recommend. (Note: Kids, definitely do not attempt this without parental permission.)

I definitely earned my burger bragging rights, though, didn’t I?

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Date: Friday, 4. December 2009 5:25
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: General, Meat, More Food Gal -- In Other Publications, New Products, Restaurants

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25 comments

  1. 1

    You’re definitely dedicated, haha – lots of burger joint visits in one day! :-D

    Oh my, I’m allllll over those sweet potato fries and milkshake – holy yum.

  2. 2

    Congratulations on your burger triumph! That’s a lot of burger tasting in one day, and they all sound unique. The build your own milkshake sounds incredible!

  3. 3

    There’s a place in SF where I can build my own milkshake?? I’m there! Now let’s see….a plane ticket costs $89 one way….

  4. 4

    So tasty. I love a good burger, especially if it’s paired with good fries. Curious: did you eat all three burgers? “Cause if you did, I’m tagging along next time :)!

  5. 5

    Unplanned Cooking: Actually, it was more than three burgers total, since the hubby and I EACH got a burger at two of the three places. But we came prepared — we packed a cooler with ice packs for leftovers. So guess what dinner was that night? Yup!

  6. 6

    That’s quite a story. My cholesterol went up just reading it. Though something of a Meat Boy myself, I am in awe of the accomplishment!

    The 14 billion burgers Americans eat a year are kind of sad, given that probably 99.9% of them are fast food. My rule is that I won’t eat a burger unless it’s calorie-worthy. Among fast food chains, only In-n-Out is worthy. Kirk’s is worthy. Places that won’t make it medium-rare are generally a no.

    Wondering — what burgers in the South Bay are faves?

  7. 7

    Now that’s a fun day! Probably to be followed by a day of fasting and exercising! But hey, it sounds more than worth it. I really want to try all of those but especially Mission Burger.

    My favorite burger in the city is the one at the Slow Club. Just can’t beat that burger and those fries are ridiculous.

  8. 8

    I feel like I gained 15 lbs just looking at the pictures! Now that is a LOT of food in one day.

  9. 9

    This post, at least, warrants you a name change to “Meat Girl” or maybe “Burger Babe.” ;-)

  10. 10

    Carolyn, Pam and I were at Burger Bar last night and I mentioned your SFMag article. The burger story has truly come full circle. As far as the burgers, we were both on the fence. Both burgers(Angus and organic) were a bit too charred on the outside and uniformly red on the inside even though I ordered medium and Pam ordered med-rare. Lacked any sort of seasoning and buns seemed too tall for the already round-shaped patty. But the place was hoppin!

  11. 11

    Wow! That’s a lot of burgers… But you made me hungry!

    And I hope you made it to the gym after all that meat…. ;)

  12. 12

    I did not know what I was tired of, but now its got a name “gastro obnoxiousness” love it! If you ever need any help with researching these posts, I got your back, although I suspect that’s what Meat Boy is doing.

  13. 13

    I like Mission Street Burger, but I think Burger Joint tends to get ignored by these types of articles and it’s right up there in quality. Get the grilled onions.

  14. 14

    You’re killing me! What I wouldn’t do for a good beef burger right now. All we have in Kuching is McD’s. So sad.

    Your milkshake looks divine.

  15. 15

    oh my goodness. I wish I could have tagged along. I certainly do love my burgers, they’re one of my fave food! I’m also loving that crinkle-cut sweet potato fries…That is just absolutey gorgeous!

  16. 16

    MMMMM,…the burger looks so delciois & those crinkled sweet potatoes look divine!!

    Now, you have made me hungry even that it is breakfast time over here,…

  17. 17

    That shake looks absolutely amazing. This day of burgers looks like my husband’s dream day! :)

  18. 18

    Love the story. The boyfriend and I met up last night and ate at Le Burger Brasserie in the Paris (in Vegas). I love burgers and will have to check out Mission Burger!

  19. 19

    Moe: The hubby, of course, still raves about In-N-Out. The burger at Mayfield Bakery & Cafe in Palo Alto also is quite impressive. I hear the one at the Village Pub in Woodside is also worth crowing about, but we have yet to try that one.

  20. 20

    I LOVE a good burger, but against all taboo, I order my burgers well-done (raw ground meat just freaks me out). The biggest challenge is finding a place that can keep a big burger patty moist, so I hardly ever order one while out. Know of any? I usually end up making my own gut-busting burgers at home, and I’m proud to say I can make a mean fully-cooked burger. Even my husband agrees!

  21. 21

    Oh wow! those sweet potato fries are doing things to me! :P I must have some-somehow! :D

  22. 22

    Lisa: If you get the Mission Burger well done, I’m sure it’ll still be incredibly juicy. Because it’s seared in beef fat, it’s one super duper juicy patty.

  23. 23

    That Mission Burger sounds heavenly. I roasted a goose for thanksgiving and now have a few tupperwares of goose fat so I’ve been using it to fry everything… Haven’t tried burgers yet but that might be next…. Now I just have to figure out where i can get extruded aged beef.

  24. 24

    i tried burger bar as well and wasn’t as impressed as i’d hoped to be. but the milkshakes were the tops! i’m definitely going to try those sweet potato fries – thanks for the tip!

  25. 25

    We just tried Burger Bar this weekend – I thought the burger was good and the skinny fries were almost as yummy as Left Bank. But the chocolate nutella milkshake was actually too much (at a whopping $8.75 too!) My daughter has vowed to stick to regular chocolate shakes in the future. Maybe we should’ve had the vanilla with nutella like you did!

    We had a nice window table with a lovely view of the skaters down in the square – that definitely made the meal.

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