Impression: Burger Joint: Strongly Recommended

807 Valencia
San Francisco, CA

Yes, Burger Joint is a bit outside Tournedos’ usual stomping grounds, but sometimes you can’t tie down a blog’s gastronomic ambitions like that. I’ve been meaning to stop by since I saw Burger Joint on a list of America’s best burgers, and this week I was hungry and in the Mission. It was clearly fate.

I had a cheeseburger and fries ($7.95), and a soda ($1.75). And I have to say, Burger Joint makes a damn tasty burger. The mark of a really good hamburger, I think, is that afterwards you sort of regret some of the toppings. Where condiments and other additions support and complement a merely adequate burger, they just distract from a really good one. In retrospect, the cheese was entirely unnecessary; the ketchup was probably dispensable. I think Burger Joint hits the mark with their use of mayonnaise, though — just enough to form a bulwark against soggy bun. They use good lettuce and tomato, but they aren’t necessary. I think I’d keep the red onion, though; it adds some crunch and some zing. But of course, the point of the hamburger is the meat. Burger Joint uses Niman Ranch beef, that talismanic meat, and they have a good touch with the grill. The burger is juicy without being oozy, and full of that elemental heft that is the hallmark of good beef, coppery and savory. (I’m tempted to say umami, but that’s a little overplayed, I think.) The patty was loose enough to avoid the dense rubbery quality of some oversquashed burgers, but held together throughout the whole meal. As I say, a damn tasty burger.

Their fries are pretty good, too — thick, square, crispy, and so fresh that the first few were really a bit too hot to eat. Not worth a separate trip, I think, but they come with the burger, so hey. My only complaint is that $1.75 for a soda is a bit on the excessive side. And, based on my recollection of a previous trip, I can’t really recommend the milkshakes.

Review: Taqueria el Castillito: Recommended

370 Golden Gate Avenue (between Hyde and Larkin)

Taqueria el Castillito has been my default taqueria for the past few months, and I think I now have enough information to write a proper review.

I stand by what I said before about their burritos — good and solid, with a tasty salsa (though the price seems to have gone up to $4.65). I want to elaborate a bit on my ideas on burritos while I’m on the topic. Burritos come in various levels of moistness; I prefer mine on the dry side. A messy, dripping burrito is not my idea of a good lunch. This is why I like rice in burritos, and why I get pinto beans instead of refried. They provide solidity. This is also why I like a chunky salsa that’s more a pico de gallo than a sauce per se.

Taqueria el Castillito also makes a pretty good torta ($4.64) — Mexican sandwich, for those of you who don’t know them. To me, the main thing that distinguishes a torta is the grilled bun it goes on. After that, it depends on the restaurant. Some just slap on a portion of meat and have done; others add all the toppings they would put on a burrito and then some. Taqueria el Castillito adds cheese, avocado, sour cream, tomatoes, and lettuce; I had grilled chicken on mine. It’s a tasty, if fat-filled, sandwich. They avoid the trap of over-creaming a torta; I’ve had many a torta that sort of oozed out of its soggy bun. For this reason, I tend not to order them in restaurants I haven’t come to trust.

I’ve had a few more of their meats, too. The carnitas is good; the carne asada is okay. I haven’t tried the pastor or the chorizo yet. I’m a little scared of the lengua.

Finally, I tried the alambres plate ($7.58), or as I think of it, the heart attack platter. Alambres means “wires” in Spanish. It’s a mess of beef, bacon, bell pepper, and onions all fried up together — basically a Philly cheese steak with bacon. It comes with rice, beans, salsa, salad, and tortillas. It’s really good, but it’s hard not to feel you’re shaving years off your life.

I also want to note that I now recommend against the location on McAllister. The food is more or less the same, but the folks at the McAllister location have, on multiple occasions, “accidentally” upgraded me to a super burrito and then tried to charge me for it. That’s either dishonesty or ineptitude, and I’m not OK with it. Better to walk the extra two blocks.