The Best Burgers in San Diego
Our Best Restaurants issue is coming—here are my five burger finalists
The Bare Lil Lamb Burger at Queenstown Public House. | Photo: Sam Wells
Burgers are the quintessential American food. You can make a case for pizza, sure. But, especially in Southern California, where car culture reigns, the burger reigns. Americans eat 50 billion burgers a year. Lined up, that’s 800,000 miles of burgers. Enough to circle the earth 32 times, or go to the moon and back, and then go to the moon again. Burgers account for 60 percent of all sandwiches sold. McDonald’s? They buy over a billion pounds of beef every year.
I’m thinking about this because it’s “Best Restaurants” time of year again. Our June issue will unveil our readers’ picks, and every year I have to compile my own list. It’s grueling. For any category, there are at least five possible winners. And, as I explain every year, there is no "right" answer. These are just my favorites. I'm sure there are a thousand answers to this question. So here are my finalists for “Best Burger,” and why, for 2018:
One of San Diego’s classics. It first arrived on the scene when Junipero Serra brought his religious things to make San Diego, he also brought this burger. At the little bar and grill in Crown Point near Pacific Beach, the staff is gruff. Lovable, but could potentially murder a customer for taking too long. The burger is so basic. Lumpy, greasy, buttery, amazing. Cons: How many years can you name it the best burger?
3786 Ingraham Street, Crown Point, Rockyburger.com
Chef Jeff Jackson is one of the most talented, classically trained French chefs in America. He was also one of the pioneers of tip to tail cooking in San Diego. For the Drugstore Burger, he wanted to recreate the simple burger of American drugstores. He steams the bun in its own grease, uses phenomenal meat, but keeps it simple. It’s a near-perfect snapshot of 1930s Americana.
11480 N. Torrey Pines Rd., Torrey Pines, lodgetorreypines.com
Another phenomenal chef doing phenomenal things. James Beard nominee Carl Schroeder designed this for the sister restaurant of Market Restaurant in Del Mar. The patty is a combo of brisket, short rib, and chuck. Then aged white cheddar, tomato, pickled red onions on a brioche. Indulgent on every level.
2202 4th Ave., Bankers Hill, bankershillsd.com
Lamb is the best meat. The tastiest meat. And in New Zealand there are more sheep than people (true fact). So it makes sense that the New Zealand-based Queenstown would have this as their star. Grass-fed lamb burger, fried egg, blue cheese, beets, on a focaccia bun. It’s even got that mint jelly. Not the organic, chefy kind—but the alien-green jelly anyone from the 70s has a secret love for.
1557 Columbia Street, Little Italy, queenstownpublichouse.com
As basic as it gets. There’s something about a non-fussy burger. Classic foods sometimes lose something in fancy translations. And the Balboa’s is delicious—patty, lettuce, onion, tomato, American cheese (the greatest cheese for silky meltability), and a spicy aioli. It’s a cult. Join it.
1863 Fifth Ave., Bankers Hill, thebalboabarandgrill.com