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Biting into the Best

When it comes to the tastiest burgers In town, our critic says a mouthful.


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IF WE ARE what we eat . . . hear us moo. According to the book Fast Food Nation, the average American eats three hamburgers a week. That’s 156 burgers a year for every one of us. At that rate, they’d better be good.

Here’s a list of new places that passed this burgerphile’s test. But before we get to it, kudos to some perennial favorites, without which no burger story could be complete:

We love Hodad’s in Ocean Beach for its beachy-retro ambience, complete with a booth fashioned from a VW bus, not to mention the double bacon burger you’ll need a forklift to manage. We salute the Waterfront in Little Italy for its decades as one of coolest dives in town and for its gorgeously greasy half-pounders topped with grilled onions. We thank Rocky’s Crown Pub for providing juicy, hockey puck–size hamburgers to generations of grateful fans, and Downtown Johnny Brown’s, not only for great burgers and equally fine fries but for staying the same while everything else downtown changes.

Our latest finds follow. Napkins ready? Go!

TIOLI’S CRAZEE BURGER

201 30th Street, North Park, 619-282-6044; tioliscrazee burger.com. Lunch and dinner daily (until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday).

How crazy is Tioli’s? Crazy enough to offer some of the very best burgers in town, at great prices to boot. More than 30 varieties—including ostrich and buffalo—make up Tioli’s menu. But why bother with exotics when the chef uses Creekstone Farms natural Angus beef, some of the most flavorful, juice-dripping meat ever to grace a bun? The Texas burger ($4.79) has a generous ladle of sweet ’n’ spicy homemade barbecue sauce, while the Croatia burger ($4.99) is topped with spicy pesto and roasted bellpepper purée; the Good Ol’ Plain is just that and just right ($4.49). Don’t miss the fries seasoned with Parmesan cheese ($1.99) or the house-made chi - potle ketchup, on each table, that packs a smoky punch. Quaint, neighborly atmosphere comes complete with oilcloth tablecloths and baseball on television.

BOOMERANGS GOURMET BURGER JOINT

4577 Clairemont Drive, Clairemont Mesa, 858-483-9500; boomerangburgers.com. Lunch and dinner daily.

Call this fun, two-story eatery the Cold Stone Creamery of the burger world. Before your Angus beef patty is shaped and grilled, you choose the “mix-ins” you want added to the meat. Consider the possibilities: fresh roasted garlic; sun-dried tomatoes; fresh horseradish; bacon; green onions; and about a dozen others, as well as your choice of cheese, special sauces (an extra 50 cents) and a side dish of onion rings or fabulous garlic–and–black pepper fries. We highly recommend the House Burger, marinated with a choice of BBQ or teriyaki sauce and laced with fresh roasted garlic, red onions, green peppers, carrots and mushrooms. Yummy—and you’re getting your vegetables, too. A third-pounder with choice of cheese and side dish is $8.99; the whopping three-quarter-pounder goes for $10.99. Friendly owners, patio dining, good beers on draft and an upstairs bar with flat-screen televisions are also part of Boomerangs’ winning formula.

CHEEBURGER CHEEBURGER

12002 Carmel Mountain Road, Rancho Bernardo, 858-613-1576; cheeburger.com. Lunch and dinner daily.

The name is as much fun to say now as it was back in the days of the Saturday Night Live skit that inspired this restaurant. And sure enough, as John Belushi would explain in the old Olympia Café, they serve “No Coke—Pepsi.” That’s the only limited choice here, however. This family-friendly eatery, with Trivial Pursuit cards on each table to inspire impromptu quizzes, offers malts and shakes in scores of flavors (“cinnamon bun” or “strawberry cheesecake,” anyone?) as well as your choice of unlimited burger toppings—peanut butter, chopped garlic and pepperoni among them. Cheeburger’s motto is “Big Is Better,” a claim backed by the Famous Pounder (20 ounces before cooking) burger for $11.49. Down one of these babies and your photo goes on the Wall of Fame. We found the third-pound Semi Serious ($6.79) ample for lunch, cooked as ordered and reasonably tender. It’s not gourmet beef, but it suits the families and groups of high school kids who frequent the place just fine.

BURGER LOUNGE

4116 Adams Avenue, Kensington, 619-584-2929; burgerlounge.com (also in La Jolla at 1101 Wall Street, 858-456-0196). Lunch and dinner daily.

You’ll find this branch of Burger Lounge right underneath the Kensington sign, just across from the library. The menu’s short—no fancy toppings and only three kinds of burgers— but the beef ’s so long on flavor it doesn’t matter. This is Tallgrass beef, from free-range, grass-fed, drug-free cattle, and it makes a beauty of a burger. If you don’t do red meat, the Lounge also has one of the better turkey versions we’ve sampled (flavored with fresh chopped basil) and a vegetarian quinoa burger. All are $6.95. The gleaming mod diner interior includes small tables and a counter; sidewalk tables are more relaxing and provide a view of the passing scene.

WESTERN STEAKBURGER

2730 University Avenue, North Park, 619-296-7058. Lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday (closed Sunday); cash only.

The hard-working older couple behind the counter may not run a fancy establishment, but they serve up smiles and honest, old-fashioned char-grilled burgers in equal measure to an appreciative working-class crowd. Big eaters swear by the Western Deluxe, a half-pounder piled high with gyros meat ($5.99). We found ourselves more than satisfied with the juicy quarter-pounder ($3.75) that takes two hands to hold. Grilled red onions on top are worth the extra $1.25, but even the plain version with leaf lettuce, tomato and mayo is just fine. Order at the counter, then dine in the no-frills dining room or on the small porch out front. Or take your bag of burgers to nearby Morley Field or Balboa Park for a picnic—just be sure to grab extra napkins.

CANADA STEAKBURGER

3604 University Avenue, City Heights, 619-283-4345; canadasteakburger.com. Lunch and dinner daily.

Situated between Club Fantasy Gentlemen’s Club and Savers 99 Cent store, this tiny brick building on a gritty stretch of University delivers a basic char-grilled burger at a small price ($3.49 for a 6- ouncer with all the fixings, including fresh chopped onion). Seating’s limited to about six two-tops; after you order at the counter, listen to the sounds of sizzling burgers, the television in the corner and the conversations around you. While burgers are a big draw here, Greek cuisine is also a specialty; we’d order the crisp, well-made Greek salad (small, $3.29) again and spring for a baklava, too.


BURGER LOUNGE

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