The 2009 Burger Bonanza: Balboa Cafe and Its Baguette
Welcome to the 2009 Burger Bonanza wherein two girls eat 20 of the city's best burgers, on the path to burger enlightenment. The 10 best will then be chosen to be featured—in ranking order—in 7x7's September magazine issue. Burgers must fit our "fancy burger" parameter: made with beef and available as part of the regular dinner menu at upscale restaurants in SF. Beyond that, we're open to suggestions, which we hope you will leave in the comment box below!
Beef: All-natural ground chuck from Vande Rose Farms
Bun: Bay Bread French baguette
Fixings: House made pickles, lettuce, marinated onions, your choice of cheddar, Swiss or Roquefort.
Comes with: Shoestring fries
The Balboa Burger (a different burger is served at the bar)—which the classic SF restaurant often serves up to 100 a day—brings up an aspect of the burger that’s normally not a point of discussion: patty shape. Unless you’re dealing with Wendy’s, hamburger patties are generally round. Although ground beef doesn’t naturally form into a disc, there’s something just very natural about a round shape. Something organic.
In this regard, Balboa’s burger patty is not very organic—it’s a rectangle. There’s a method to the madness though: It’s shaped this way to fit into the baguette “bun” it’s served within. Which I suppose is better than Zuni’s square bun with a round patty, because the meat-to-bread ratio is all there. But for a burger traditionalist, a rectangle is disconcerting.
As far as it’s taste? The Balboa burger is solid—especially for the price, which includes shoestring fries that I think are too crisp, but some people go nutty over. The patty was a little tough (probably from cooks spending hours handling it, shaping it into perfect rectangle, but what do I know) and the burger comes with a lot of tangy house-made pickles. The chewy baguette doesn't work for me; you lose that luscious factor that some burgers provide. But there’s something to be said for an unpretentious, white-tablecloth burger that you can eat by candlelight. Which at Balboa you can.