Archive for January, 2010

Red Robin, Santa Clara

You know, for all the flack that ‘chain restaurants’ get, Red Robin actually makes a decent burger. On top of that, they were Zagat rated as best burger in 2009. It seems almost unheard of, since places like Outback don’t get Zagat rated for best steak. Regardless, I do have fond memories of a few of the RR burgers, including the Royal Red Robin burger and the Lettuce Wrap burger.

I went with Lady D the other night for a quick bite. We were seated right away, luckily. This particular Red Robin is in the Rivermark plaza in Santa Clara, which is usually full of working professionals, families, and coffee snobs.

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I’ve seen coworkers at this location before. I guess it’s a popular destination!

I ordered the Royal Red Robin, and I did it for the fried egg (if you saw my Fatburger post, you’ll know it’s a soft spot of mine when there are eggs in a burger).

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The burgers here are large and juicy, and I love that egg flavor as it oozes over the meat. It’s slightly less junky and more ‘wholesome’ tasting than Fatburger, but still quite a novelty. I like the fat fries that the burgers come with, though they only give you a few (but it’s bottomless so you can always ask for more!). I like the garlic fries here, the regular ones are kind of plain unless you toss on a lot of the RR seasoning (MSG on steroids).

I still enjoy a good chain meal, this is a definitely a good rec for a fat burger that gives you some service.

The roundup:

Barney’s
Fatburger
Sonic Drive In
Red Robin
Tommy’s
Bullshead
Clarke’s Charcoal Broiler
Bob’s Big Boy
St. John’s Bar and Grill

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Sonic Drive In, Gilroy

I only just now noticed that what everyone calls ‘Sonics’ is really ‘Sonic Drive In.’ That doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as easily as Sonics does, I suppose. So, what is the big deal about Sonics? Well, besides the unusual menu selection of burgers, hot dogs, and breakfast sandwiches made with texas toast, why, the limeades and TOTS of course!

Drive ins are a dying art. Where are the cute roller girls that bring your burgers to your car? This place has some sort of roller skating staff, and minimal outdoor seating.

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The menu is conveniently placed next to your window, although sometimes you have to get flexible when it comes time to push the button. And they’re hard to understand over the intercom. Might I mention they mess up your order quite often? Must be the craptastic acoustics.

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Kyung and I ordered a lot of food – behold.

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A Sonic Burger with Cheese, no sauce. My usual order. Besides when I’m ordering the breakfast burrito. The burger is small but satisfying, and definitely a notch above McDonalds. I’d probably equate this burger to a tiny, less junky diner burger. Somewhat bland, but the soft bread and small meat patty are somehow still good.

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Kyung’s large coney dog. This is also his usual order. It’s pretty average, salty with a piece of bun missing! He likes the chili and onions in it though, which is why he continues to order it.

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Not a great picture, but the usual cherry limeade that I order. I think it’s just carbonated soda with syrup but hey, can’t complain. They put a cherry in it too. Yummy.

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Here’s the order fail. Everytime we go to Sonics there’s always something that goes wrong. In this case, our chili fries became ‘chili tots.’

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Okay here’s the real deal. At least there is no cheese. The fries are average, the chili not as good as the Tommy’s chili. But eh, chili is chili!

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And now I leave you with my favorite part of Sonics – the TOTS. TOTS TOTS TOTS. If it wasn’t for the tots, I probably wouldn’t make the trek to Gilroy for Sonics. Or Tracy. Or SoCal.

Sonic Drive In
6921 Cameron Boulevard, Gilroy
(408) 846-6400

The lowdown so far:
Barney’s
Fatburger
Sonic Drive In
Tommy’s
Bullshead
Clarke’s Charcoal Broiler
Bob’s Big Boy
St. John’s Bar and Grill

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Fatburger, Orange

Fatburger is such an awesome burger place. It’s a place I always want to go back to because I think of fried eggs and their burgers and it all just seems to make sense. Fatburger is another SoCal favorite – old school (opened the 50s, which seems to be a theme for all really good burger places in SoCal), and yet it has spread to beyond just SoCal – locations in other places of the US as well! According to Wikipedia there’s supposed to be a Fatburger in the Bay Area but I cannot find it. What a tease!

Kyung used to eat a ton of Fatburger when he was living in SoCal, post college, and he’s always keen on going back there. We went a couple nights ago to get some good grubbin.

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This place isn’t fancy – it’s a franchise after all. But it’s decently clean, the food is great and satisfies any junk food addiction, and the staff is actually very friendly. The girl behind the counter was super chatty, and brought our food to us with a huge smile.

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My favorite part about this place is the fried egg in the burger. You may think it’s no big deal, you can get that at many other burger places, and while that’s true, there’s something about the way they do it here that’s great. The fried egg is thick – it’s not thin, it’s not watery, and it provides a significant contribution in terms of taste and texture – it’s not just some runny white yellow thing oozing over your meat patty. The meat patty is thick, the bun soft, the cheese mostly melted but not overly so, it’s a great burger that’s further enhanced by a great side.

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I ordered a medium, by the way. I originally was going to order a small, but those are super super tiny. It’s about 2.5 oz of meat pre cooked if you get the small. The medium is 5 oz or so. Our table had a small ordered and it was TINY! Slider sized!

Kyung ordered the chili cheese fries and a hamburger. The chili cheese fries were just ok, the chili and fries were thick but the cheese was shredded and just tossed over the beans and fries so they weren’t a gooey melty mess. More like gooey chunky mess.

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I think Fatburger has one of the best fast food burgers, period. The burger is well put together and tastes wholesome and like someone spent time thinking about it, not just a thin meat patty sandwiched between thin buns with two squirts of ketchup and mustard. Gimme my egg on top!

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Fatburger
2318 N. Tustin Ave. Suite C
The Mall of Orange
Orange, CA 92865
P: 714-974-0395

The lowdown so far:
Barney’s
Fatburger
Tommy’s
Bullshead
Clarke’s Charcoal Broiler
Bob’s Big Boy
St. John’s Bar and Grill

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St. John’s Bar and Grill, Sunnyvale

St. John’s is a pretty good low key local place to get burgers. It’s family oriented, cheap (every day they have some sort of burger that’s half off), and has some okay eats. I think over the years though, the place has gone slightly downhill. I seem to remember my first experience there being a lot better. Maybe I was really hungry. My subsequent attempts to go back have been met with no luck – everytime I tried to go back (3 or 4 times) the place was always closed! Finally, it was open this past week at a time I went.

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You can actually see St. John’s off of Lawrence Expressway (perhaps on your way to Fry’s, or the Kaiser Hospital) but it’s located inside a strip mall next to a florist and some shady looking insurance company with some giant banner with a smiling Asian woman.

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Once inside, you’re met with a lot of dark wood and big booths. There’s a long countertop where the burgers are made, but they’re so high that you can’t see what goes on back there anyway. After you order from their decent menu, you are given a beeper. The menu is pretty standard – various versions of hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and of course, chicken.

I ordered a cheeseburger with grilled mushrooms, and Kyung ordered a hamburger with garlic. We also ordered onion rings and buffalo wings.

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I was not impressed by my cheeseburger. It arrived without mushrooms, so I went back to the counter. The guy takes the bun with his ungloved, non food friendly grubby hand, reaches into a giant metal vat of precooked mushrooms, tosses it onto my burger, and unceremoniously replaces the bun and says nothing. The burger was salty, and the mushrooms didn’t taste like grilled oiliness, I don’t know what it tasted like. Not good, is the best way to put it. The onion rings, on the other hand, were great – fat and crispy. I ate mostly that. I am not a fan of buffalo wings in general so I only took one bite but Kyung thought they were great.

Each burger comes with a bag of lays chips. We left our bags unopened on the table.

St. John’s, you’re not as good as I remembered. I don’t know if I want another round.

St. John’s Bar and Grill
510 Lawrence Expy
Sunnyvale, CA 94085
(408) 738-8515

The lowdown so far:
Barney’s
Tommy’s
Bullshead
Clarke’s Charcoal Broiler
Bob’s Big Boy
St. John’s Bar and Grill

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Clarke’s Charcoal Broiler, Mountain View

I’ve decided that there’s something about self-serve burger places that I don’t like. I don’t like having to rummage for my lettuce, pickles, ketchup, what have you, at a counter with ten other people, when the burger creator could very well have just added lettuce for me. Take Clarke’s for instance. They’ll ask you if you want tomato, and they will put that in your burger for you. But lettuce? Pickles? You’re on your own there.

The small local burger/ribs/breakfast joint is in a good location on El Camino in Mountain View near downtown Castro. When I think of ‘burgers’ in Mountain View, I usually think of Clarke’s. Convenient, not crowded, and large selection of burger types.

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The main eating part is split into three parts – the center where there are high bar stools and tables, and the condiment bar. Then there are two wings to the side with booths. You can also sit outside.

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I had the lizzie burger, which is a cheeseburger with grilled onions. My burger was decent, but didn’t have wow factor. Maybe I wasn’t hungry enough. Honestly though, after having the santa fe burger at Barney’s which had amazing grilled onions, it was no competition. The cheese in my burger was melted just right, but the onions weren’t as grilled as I would have liked – bordered on just cooked, but no caramelized flavor. And of course, I had to go to the condiment bar to get my lettuce. The meat was decent, but the bun was too thick and I never end up eating both halves.

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Apologies for the terrible pictures in this post, had to use the Droid since my actual camera was sitting at home being a bum.

Clarke’s Charcoal Broiler
615 W El Camino Real
Mountain View, CA 94040

The lowdown so far:

Barney’s
Tommy’s
Bullshead
Clarke’s Charcoal Broiler
Bob’s Big Boy

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Barney’s Gourmet Hamburgers, Berkeley

Our Sunday trek to get ramen turned into a burger meal. Santouka – you fail. Barney’s, you win! Barney’s Gourmet Hamburgers has been a Berkeley favorite for both burger and hipster enthusiasts alike. The first time I went in college, I didn’t really care about ‘gourmet burgers.’ Back then, McDonalds was good enough (hey, it still is, I’m just saying). But now I can definitely appreciate a well made, high quality burger.

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The weird thing about this restaurant is that it doesn’t face Shattuck. If you drive down Shattuck looking for it, you’re bound to see Crepevine instead and think Barney’s no longer exists. It’s hidden behind Crepevine towards the small street between Barney’s and Andronico’s.

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The inside is very no nonsense – walls covered in awards, gleaming silver counter tops, wooden tables and chairs.

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We started with the famous vegetable basket, which are basically deep fried veggies – onions, zucchini, and fat mushrooms. The outside is crunchy, and the veggies taste very fresh. The mushrooms are so big and hearty it’s like eating crunchy steak. That’s how meaty they are! Another plus? The batter is thick enough so that you don’t bite into a scalding hot oily mess.

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The chili cheese fries were nothing to write home about – skinny fries with bean chili and cheese that wasn’t particularly compelling.

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Behold my delicious Santa Fe burger! This is a definite must – thick beef patty covered in lots of grilled jalapeno and onion, all on a soft sesame bun. The jalapenos are HOT! They leave the seeds in, and these are fresh jalapenos, not pickled ones. I couldn’t stop marvelling how spicy and drool worthy my burger was. So far one of the best burgers I’ve ever had.

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Kyung’s burger was not quite as oozingly greasy (darn!) but was very tasty – he had the blackened burger, which had a very robustly spiced meat patty that had a slight kick to it. It was covered in cajun seasoning and made the patty look red.

So far in burger month, Barney’s is far and away the winner.

Barney’s Gourmet Hamburgers
1600 Shattuck Ave
Berkeley, CA 94709
510-849-2827

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Bob’s Big Boy, Norco

When Kyung was a wee youngster, he used to love going to Bob’s Big Boy, a small hamburger joint in SoCal. The joint became lowkey for a while, but in the last couple years has reappeared all around SoCal and seems to now be referred to as ‘Big Boy.’ I didn’t go to the original one in Burbank, but I did get to try the one in Norco. After going, I think I want to try the original. The Norco one was pretty disappointing for a restaurant that’s supposed to have a lot of history, including having local classic car meets. This Norco location was full of families and SUVs.

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The inside is very diner like, and since it was a few days post Christmas, the place was still very festive with Christmas lights.

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The staff wasn’t especially friendly, and they were hard to flag down at times. I kind of expected a cheery ‘hello honey’ that you always get at family diners, but I guess this was probably more similar to Denny’s.

Since we were at a diner, I ordered a Oreo milkshake. It was decent, but the whipped cream was too much and the oreo was skimpy.

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I ordered the ‘Big Boy’ which is ‘the original Double-Decker Hamburger’ and is what they are famous for. It tasted and looked exactly like a giant Big Mac.

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Maybe the two SoCal founders of McDonald’s and Bob’s Big Boy were friends at some point? I don’t know. The burger was decent, with sauce that tasted just like the Big Mac’s secret sauce, but it was unnerving, since if I wanted something like this I could get it for cheaper and faster at MCD.

Kyung ordered a chili burger, which was served open face and tasted almost like a giant sloppy joe.

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It felt like eating a hamburger swimming inside of chili, instead of a chili burger.

I probably won’t eat Bob’s Big Boy again, except at the original Burbank location, so that I can see if that place is as historical as it seems to be. And, maybe it’ll taste better!

Bob’s Big Boy
3521 Hamner Avenue
Norco , California 92860
(951)280-3388

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Bullshead, SF

Today was an adventure to West Portal in SF in search of a tasty cheeseburger. Danimal suggested we try Bullshead, a neighborhood favorite.

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It’s a small restaurant tucked into a busy street corner next to the end of a rail line. Amidst honking cars and the dinner crowd, it’s a small oasis.

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The staff was friendly, and our food came out quickly. The only weird thing, though they were very discreet about it, was that it seemed that their drains had gotten clogged during the normal business day. Someone came in with a giant pump, and was mopping the ground. Someone else came with two large unopened bottles of Drano. I briefly thought about how gross this was while the food was being prepared, but I soon forgot about it when our appetizer came – we ordered buffalo wings and those wings were so good! Crispy on the outside (slightly tasted like it was fried in peanut oil), and soft and moist meat inside. Ranch and hot sauce were both served on the side, so you weren’t forced to eat spicy if you didn’t want to!

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We were super excited to try the burgers after the good wings. This place is known for their buffalo burgers, so of course we had to order it. This place is also known for having lots of meat, and you can order burgers in many several types and sizes (1/3 lb or 1/2 lb, turkey, beef, 100% organic beef, and buffalo). There are also chicken and fish burgers for the non red meat eaters.

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At this point anticipation was high!

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My 1/3 lb buffalo meat cheeseburger was delicious – slightly pink in the middle, thick patty, thick cheddar slice melted, and fresh tomatoes and lettuce. The french fries were bland, but it was probably intentional so that you could salt them yourselves.

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Kyung’s garlic burger was covered in so much garlic that you can still smell it hours later. He ordered the 1/2 lb buffalo burger with onion rings. The onion rings were so good – thick and crispy. I put one of them in my burger and it made my burger even better!

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Danimal’s Hawaiian was large and super juicy; halfway through it fell apart but he was definitely enjoying the burger. He had always been meaning to order the burger his last few visits, and this time he did and it was worth the wait!

A great find in a cool neighborhood.

BullsHead Restaurant
840 Ulloa St
San Francisco, CA 94127
(415) 665-4350

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Tommy’s

New year new diet? No, not me. Back to blogging though. January will be burger month. Mmm.

LA is known for having some of the best junk food around. Home of the chili dog, kogi truck, fat pastrami sandwiches, you name it. First stop on this burger train? Tommy’s! And it’s not just any Tommy’s. Make sure it’s the Tommy’s with the shack in its logo. Apparently there are imitations.

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What’s so special about Tommy’s you say? Big fat chili burgers. Oooh yes.

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These burgers are so …thick. Thick but soft buns, fat piece of meat patty covered in melted cheese and topped with pickles, tomato, and a healthy topping of chili. The chili isn’t spicy, but it’s well-spiced. Now imagine that with chili cheese fries on the side. Fat fries covered in hot chili.

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The restaurant itself is typical fast food stop – but the colors remind me of In-n-Out!

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I think this burger month is starting out delicious!

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Original Tommy’s Hamburgers
Corona
2280 Compton Ave.
951.272.9381
Drive-thru/Dining Room
Sun-Thur: Open 9AM-11PM / Fri-Sat: Open 9AM-12AM