Looking for Acceptable Burgers

Moving to SD presents several challenges like where to eat. Everyone has the best Italian place, or fish place, or Chinese place. But as a first temperature read, I started with burgers. Obviously, this is a VERY small sample, but it’s a start.

Juniper & Ivy
You don’t think “Burger” at J&I, but why not? We were seated at the counter, which is a thrill as you get to watch all the action. There are dozens of staff in the kitchen, at the seafood bar, at the pastry area, as well as waiters, servers and bussers. It’s a very busy restaurant, even at 5pm. We were told they only serve four burgers a night, and we ordered two. Two more went out while we were eating. So no more that night.

Dry aged wagyu beef, which is offered original or Animal Style. We opted for original because we wanted to really taste the meat. Served like In-N-Out’s Double-Double with double patty, double cheese, grilled onions, etc., this is a proper burger.

When you take the first bite, it reminds you why you ordered a burger in the first place. The first words that come to mind are BEEF and JUICY. The fatty wagyu makes the burger tender and succulent. The aging brings the beef flavor right to the front of the bite. The meat is the star of the show here. It’s not the vehicle to get the taste of the condiments. They don’t ask how you want it cooked. It just comes out perfect.

This burger did not last long. Maybe the best burger I’ve ever had. Oh, yeah, the fries are good, too. It’s $23. Expensive, but hey, it’s Wagyu and J&I. Were you expecting a bargain?

Swagyu Chop Shop

L&I gave me the itch for the wagyu burger, so for comparison: Swagyu in PB. The Signature Burger is a slightly different beast. Still two wagyu patties, two cheese, but it’s a smash burger. So there’s a lot of crunchy brown bits which I love. I’m the guy who always buys French Roast coffee because I like the bitter smokiness. And I’m all-in with a crust on a steak or burger. So this preparation lifted the experience.

The first bite gives you the beef flavor of the wagyu but you also get that char, with the cheese and Thousand Island dressing. It’s an addicting flavor that keeps you coming back for more and more bites. The burger was done medium, so no red center. It was a little less juicy than J&I, which is to be expected as it’s a smash burger. By mid-burger, it’s becoming a little one-note as there’s not much on the burger except the cheese. But I keep coming back for more.

By the last few bites, the salt starts to kick in, and by the last bite it’s too much. I could literally taste the salt itself in the last bite. That’s the reason it demanded bite after bite: the salt. This is good bar food to get you to drink more. It was $21.

Chicago Fire Grill

Okay, enough with the baller burgers.

At this point, I just wanted to try a normal burger, and I found it. The meat was good, not wagyu or aged, but just a normal grilled hamburger. It’s cooked over fire so it has the flavor of an outdoor home Weber. And it has the normal lettuce, tomato, etc. It tastes like a burger I would make at home. Nothing fancy, but familiar and satisfying.

And unlike the fancy places, they ask you how you want it cooked.

They guy running it was very personable, and for the price, I think this one is in the lead.

Five Guys

In the interest of a balanced report on the non-baller places, Five Guys was the next stop. It’s a little more expensive than Chicago Fire Grill, but you get to choose among many toppings. I ordered a tame version although nearly all the toppings are free with the burger. Unlike CFG, the burger does not come with fries and a drink.

The burger is hand formed and comes out looking like $100.

It’s cooked correctly, but unfortunately it falls apart as you eat it. I ended up letting the whole thing fall into the wrapping and trying to reconstruct pieces of it. The parts themselves didn’t fit together, and since the bun wasn’t really holding it all together, it became a mess. But it was tasty.

In the end, while this one tasted good, the price and its falling apart caused this one to sink in the ratings.

In the end, for my first very limited taste test, Chicago Fire Grill wins because it’s a good value for an acceptably good burger. In second place, and in first place for the rich flavor and quality of the burger and the pure entertainment value is J&I.

On to pizza.


That’s a brilliant trick to get people to come early.

People don’t go for the burger to J&I

Some do. I might.

I haven’t had the burger for a long time but the burger at The Lion’s Share was always one of the best for us in SD

Waste of valuable stomach space for all the other great dishes

@lilmikey, nice burger post! Looking forward to your pizza report.


For your further burger research you might want to consider:

Rocky’s Crown Pub in PB
The Friendly in North Park. It has a dedicated following especially for their no-frills burger
The Balboa - 2 locations, check to see which one is still open. I think one of them closed during Covid. There are many locals that will argue this is the best burger in SD. I haven’t tried it (yet) so can’t weigh in on whether it is the best or not
Hodad’s in OB. Long before Guy Fieri found Hodads it was a local fav. The burger is half beef/half bacon. Despite the seal of approval from the Mayor of Flavortown and being featured far too many times on DDD, the burger is usually pretty good.
Canada Steak Burger on the low end of your price range. A surprisingly good burger for not a lot of $$$

Here’s your insider tip for the day…don’t overlook the burger at Mexican taco joints. Most have flat tops (i.e. griddles) in back that they’re cooking steak and other meats on. Someone orders a burger and they throw the patty (yeah, the frozen ones from Sysco, Shamrock and US Foods) on the flat top to comingle with all the other meat fat and juices. Makes a damn fine burger. Some of the 'bertos do this and I think Lolitas does as well. It can be hit or miss in finding a taqueria that cooks their burgers on the same flattop as their meats but when you do, it’s a really good burger.

Five Guys still needs to do something about a bun that can stand up to their loaded burgers. I always wind up eating the last part with my fingers, though that’s really a testament to them. BUT they DO have the best fries of all the chain places IMHO…… I just have to remember to open the bag right away or they get soggy. So…… with assists…… I’m a big fan.

One of my favorites is from Station Tavern in South Park. Love their tatortots with chipolte dipping sauce.