It’s been a banner year for pushing burger boundaries in San Francisco. The Bay Area is at the epicenter of what may likely become a global movement to produce kinder, gentler and more Earth-friendly versions without sacrificing flavor and feel. These are the best new ones I’ve tried this year in the city — including one that has no beef at all!
The Impossible Burger at Cockscomb and Jardinière
Silicon Valley startup Impossible Foods announced the West Coast debut of the Impossible Burger last month. The plant-based patty is made with ingredients including wheat protein, coconut fat, potatoes and heme, a naturally occurring nonprotein that imparts a characteristic flavor and juiciness to meat. It’s exponentially nicer to the planet and requires way less water to produce than a real beef burger. I was an instant recruit when I tried it at the launch press conference, but am sure it would be much better and more flavorful if you try it at one of the two San Francisco restaurants exclusively serving it right now, Cockscomb (served at lunch with caramelized onions, lettuce, Gruyère cheese, Grandma Helen's pickles, Dijon mustard and mixed greens) and Jardinière (served in the lounge with caramelized onions, avocado, special sauce and a side of pommes frites).
Hot Wes at WesBurger ‘N’ More
The Hot Wes rose to local cult fame via pop ups for a few years before the brick and mortar restaurant WesBurger ‘N’ More opened in April. Topped with onion rings, queso and jalapenos, it’s a mighty burger that deserves to be served daily. And yes, honey, the Hot Wes is also a hot mess. Don’t wear your finest when you go; do ask about any off-menu milkshake specials that might be in effect. And don’t forget to get a crucial side of tater tots.
Gouda Burger at Mezcalito
Mezcalito is a lively new addition to Polk Street in the former Reverb/Verbena space. Mezcal is the obvious draw here and the staff is just itching to share their extensive collective knowledge with enthusiastic drinkers. But you don’t want to overlook the food here. Much care has been taken to make the gouda burger, dressed with caramelized onion and served on a soft potato bun, a super delicious foil to the alcohol. Without it, you may not actually remember what happens there. It's the only responsible choice.
The Sully’s Burger at Chief Sullivan’s
The former O’Reilly’s Irish Pub in North Beach reopened as Chief Sullivan’s earlier this year and everything still looks fairly shiny and new, including the strangely attractive fake fireplace. The kitchen is quietly turning out terrific food including the Sully’s Burger, a house ground beef and bacon blend topped with grilled onions, cheddar, smoked garlic aioli, fried egg, HP sauce and thick slabs of corned beef. It might ultimately take a couple of days or at least a few minutes off of your life, but what a sweet way to go.
Apocalypse Burger at In Situ
In Situ is one of the most provocative restaurants to open this year in San Francisco, a frequently changing art experiment inside the newly renovated SFMOMA based on recipes from acclaimed chefs around the world. There’s a walk-in lounge as well as a reservations-only dining room. The latter is where you can order Mission Chinese Food founder Anthony Myint’s Apocalypse Burger.
The diminutive cheeseburger shows up inside a black rice cracker fashioned to look like a piece of charcoal, and it’s very confusing at first. You dab on some caper aioli and wrap it in lettuce with pickles, onions and tomatoes that have been brushed with ketchup and compressed and pop it all in one bite. A dollar from each burger sold is donated to ZeroFoodprint for food-related carbon offsets, with the hopes it will raise awareness to further support this important nonprofit. Not a bad choice for the apocalypse, now.
I write stories and books for myself and other people (shh!), and have nearly a quarter century of bylines in publications ranging from Associated Press to Zagat.