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The 2009 Burger Bonanza: Namooooo Spices It Up

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!

NAMU

Price: $12
Beef: Niman Ranch
Bun: Pain de Mie
Fixings: Daikon sprouts, pickled daikon, soy-glazed onions
Condiments: aioli, Dijon
Cooked over: Grilled over binchotan-fired grill
Comes with: Fries or market salad

By the fifth or sixth or seventh or so burger, a burger quest can quickly turn from an “amazing, fun idea!!!” to a stomach-turning one that makes you glare across the office at Jessica, whose “amazing. fun. idea.” it was in the first place. Let’s just say that my enthusiasm for this project has ebbed and flowed.

It was ebbing when I dined at Namu, the modern, Korean-influenced restaurant out in the Richmond. But it picked up when I saw that I could add kimchee to my burger. Melanie Wong—the omnipresent, all-knowing SF-based Chowhound—raves about the Namu burger and gives credit to the binchotan-fired charcoal grill it’s cooked over. I’d like to pretend I’m this discerning, but once you add all the fixings to a burger, I’m really not convinced someone can tell what kind of wood its cooked over. (Clearly, on Chowhound this admission would demote me from Hound to olfactory-challenged half-breed.)

What I did enjoy about Namu is that it wasn’t more of the same. The burger came with a huge Niman Ranch patty (cooked a tad too rare), topped with slices of pickled daikon and daikon sprouts. Then I cheated—defying Burger Bonanza orders to only try burgers as they’re served—and got the addition of kimchee slaw, because, well, I love kimchee. And at this point in my burger research, I was looking to spice it up. I would have liked the slaw to be chunkier with more heat, but it added a nice kick. The pain de mie bun was nice but a little too delicate for the hefty burger. It fell apart. I've decided that unless a burger is intended to be a sloppy mess, dripping with special sauce or something, the bun has an obligation to stay intact.

And back to other things that make a burger taste good? Well, sometimes it’s the people that make them. And it’s impossible not to have a soft-spot for the three 20-something Lee brothers (the owners of Namu) who wear brown bandanas, with no irony, as a show of solidarity, like a little Namu gang. It kind of makes you feel like that burger's got some serious love behind it.