And so it begins. The quest for San Diego county's best burger joint is under way. It is important to note that I have separated the candidates into two different classes. It turns out that not every hamburger can be fairly pitted against another, as they come from different backgrounds. I have decided to name these two classes the “welterweights” and the “heavyweights.”
To better understand why I did this, you simply need to see the difference in where and how the burger was made. A perfect example of a “welterweight” would be In N Out. In N Out is a chain, and as such produces a large quantity of its food at speed and from easily standardized parts. What makes it special is not simply the burger, but the environment and nostalgia of its history added with its lack of compromise when it comes to hamburger construction. A “heavyweight” would be best characterized as a Hodad's hamburger. This hamburger is merited on its parts and construction. It is an individual, and the joy comes from the hamburger itself. The burger by itself is the reason for a customer visiting the establishment. A double double just doesn't stand alone.
First up on our docket: Smashburger. Walking through the front door of this “burger joint,” I get the immediate impression that it wants to be perceived as chic. Its red lamps hanging from the lofty, untiled, bare bones black ceiling and high-backed booth seats remind me of IKEA. Or a sushi bar. I look around the restaurant and see a wide variety of options on the tables of those that have gone before me. I can tell immediately that this is a welterweight class burger. Looking at the menu, there is no clear “flagship” and it seems to be strongly steered towards the customization of your own burger.
I take a look at the menu and am drawn to the only thing I think could fairly represent this establishment. “I'll have the ‘classic with cheese,'” I say to the young lady behind the register. She attempts to ask me how I would like it in reference to bread and additional condiments or substitutions. I quickly quell her inquiry. “Just give it to me how it comes.” With a slight pause, she agrees and totals my order. Nearly $7. My wife said this place was “good.” It wouldn't be long before I either reinforced her belief or had to inform her that she was a silly girl.
My order came out and was delivered to my table on a wire basket. Now, time for the “Dollar Test.” This isn't a measure of value, per se, but is a consistent measure of size. I sadly must admit I picked this up from Angelina “lip face” Jolie in the movie Bone Collector, where she uses a dollar to depict the size of evidence in a photograph. That's the only good thing I've gotten from her in a film yet. As far as size and construction, this was a text book back yard BBQ hamburger. Nothing fancy or outlandish and the size was, well, “homemade like.”
I take my bite. Just like you'd expect from a cheeseburger made at home, the ingredients were fresh and their flavors apparent. The meat was well seasoned, and in this case, slightly well done yet still retained a decent amount of moisture. The bun was perfectly sized, condiments proportioned as though from a textbook named “Burger 101,” and the meat was above average in taste and size.
According to the co-owner, Dave (who was kind enough to show me the kitchen and cooking process) ingredients and their quality are what drive Smashburger's hamburgers. Boasting 100% angus beef – which I actually saw start out as a raw ball of beef – the burger is laid upon a piping hot grill slathered in butter, seasoned with something “super-secret” and literally smashed for a perfect 10 seconds with a hand held press in order to “caramelize” the beef. The process seemed impressively thought out and honest to the trade.
When it comes to my “Overall Flavor” rule, this hamburger holds up nicely. No one ingredient overpowers another and I could taste that it was fresh. As far as my “Blue Collar” rule, this hamburger causes a slight sting when I have to pony up the dough. Finally, my “20 Mile” rule. I have to be honest, so I have to say that my car wouldn't pass the 15 mile mark to get one of these. However, if you happen to be within that distance of a Smashburger, I recommend swinging by to try the “Spicy Baja.” It was pretty darn good.