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The 2009 Burger Bonanza: Nopa Raises the Bar

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!

NOPA
Price: $13
Beef: Marin Sun Farms grassfed chuck, ground in-house, ½ pound
Bun: Housemade brioche
Fixings: Pickled red onions, Little Gem lettuce
Condiments: Basil aioli, sometimes harissa
Comes with: Excellent Kennebec potatoes French fries
Cooked over: Almond-wood fired grill
Add-ons: Becker Lane bacon, three kinds of cheese

Even the most perfect burger—and Nopa’s comes close to perfect—needs something more than the ultimate bun and the house-ground meat of a pampered cow. I’m learning there’s a lot to be said for where you eat your burger in a restaurant. And at Nopa, you should eat it at the counter overlooking the kitchen. This allows you to smile at your linecook, get a whiff of the fire (not many burgers out there are cooked on a live fire) and soak up the energy of the kitchen that ebbs and flows with the pace of the ticket machine right beside you, stuttering out order after order after order.

Ambiance makes your burger taste better and you get this whole show at Nopa, without having to lift a finger. That is, until your burger is placed in front of you. And when it comes, you'll want to use both hands and not let go.

Size matters with a burger and the size of Nopa's burger is just right, about five inches in diameter. The height includes a feisty brioche bun that neither disintegrates with the juice of the meat nor requires calling in the Jaws of Life to fit it in your mouth. While some restaurants try to get fancy with red leaf lettuce and such, Nopa has chosen Little Gem which provides the essential crunch factor without compromising gourmetness with the lowbrow iceberg (although I would argue that iceberg still rules when it comes to burgers). The meat is well-seasoned, juicy and tender and the pickled onions call to mind Zuni’s. It’s a burger that needs no ketchup (although I asked for it, slightly shamefaced)—the basil aioli is enough. It’s not a burger you’re going to want to share, either. So don’t ask for two plates.

Delicious factor: I could lose my cynicism for this burger. You know those emoticons? This burger makes me want to use the smiley face that's jumping up and down.