Quintessential Americana, the burger—grilled meat on a bun—was already on the menu at many an Elizabethan feast in the late 16th century.
Minced meat and pastry have been around for even longer. The German port of Hamburg seems to have lent its name, at first to versions of steak tartare, then to variations on Salisbury steak, and finally in the 1930s to the hamburger as we know it now.
Countless individuals, cities and fast-food chains claim to be the originators of what has become a global go-to order—with a side of fries, of course. Here’s an inside look at some of my local favorites ahead of Burger Week, which this year runs Feb. 20-26.
West End Tap & Kitchen: One of the best burgers I’ve ever had in Santa Cruz was at West End Tap, where the house burger—grass-fed and pasture-raised—came on a Gayle’s challah bun ($13). Slightly sweet, the bun added a spot of luxury to the burger’s lettuce, tomato and pickled onion toppings. It came with fries so good that I laughed out loud as I ate every single one. Cheddar, blue cheese, mushrooms, avocado, bacon—for a few dollars more, you can add any of these choice extras. This particular burger already has it going on. The beef is terrific. The fries are textbook. I admit that I never fail to order the house pickles with the burger, since the sinus-clearing tartness of the pickles cuts perfectly through the rich meat. Add a beer. Spend some time. Check out the NBA.
515 Kitchen and Cocktails: Here we have the classic burger of the post-Whopper era: a half-pound of Angus beef, plus swiss cheese (nice choice, adds a certain nuttiness), with the now-ubiquitous caramelized onions, sherry aioli and bacon. Bacon is the extra touch here. It announces that this is a very people-friendly burger—a burger that acknowledges the universal guilty pleasure that is bacon. The house fries here, as you know, are thin, crisp and delicious.
Gabriella Cafe: Take a walk on the wild side and order the “unbun” version of the house grass-fed burger, which arrives wrapped in a cloud of butter lettuce. Or play it safe with the Burger Week-featured, 6-ounce, grass-fed burger on a house-made bun with organic tomato and local lettuce ($12). Just sort of unbelievably good, with or without the bun. And don’t miss the side of Live Earth Farm pickles for $1 more. Endless possibilities.
Mozaic: You have a choice of three burgers here this week, including the luscious house wild salmon burger, which is simply to die for with its honey Dijon and caramelized onions. The classic charbroiled Angus beef burger also comes with caramelized onions (both will run you a mere $12). The $10 veggie burger comes with provolone and fresh basil pesto, which sounds good even to a carnivore.
Red Restaurant and Bar: Here’s the burger I need to try this week: Red’s pistachio-encrusted crab patty with aioli, kimchi, arugula, and heirloom tomato. On a brioche bun with fries ($12). For the uninitiated, Red’s fries are a destination dish. Yes.
Splash: This Santa Cruz Wharf spot is going all out in terms of gonzo spicing for Burger Week. In addition to an Impossible Burger and a crab cake burger, the kitchen here has stepped up the heat on its half-pound black Angus burger by adding green chile cheese and spicy BBQ sauce to its presentation. Fried shallots add crunch to the melting, gooey interior. All burgers here run a mere $10 for those of you who like it cheap (and who doesn’t?)