Pop Life

Saturday, September 06, 2003



Sharon and I went to Joe's Cable Car in the outer Mission (@ Silver to be more exact) last night to have what is supposed to be the best hamburger in San Francisco. At least, that's what the critics claim...left up to popular opinion, it's somewhat surprisingly In 'N' Out, which probably benefits from all the Los Angeles' transplants up in the Bay. (There are practically no convenient places to go get an In 'N' Out burger in San Francisco unless you count Daly City or pedestrian snarl of Fisherman's Wharf to be convenient.)

Joe's builds its reputation on a few factors: age (they've been there since 1965), food quality (they grind their chuck every day), and general atmosphere (they have enough neon and lights turned on there to power a small city). They repeatedly win "best burger in SF" contests though one presumes that momentum, as much as anything, helps to generate the continued interest. I only say this because what you actually get at Joe's is a good burger, without question, but also, quite possibly, the most overpriced burger I've ever had.

That perhaps isn't entire fair of course since there are many haute cousine restaurants that serve burgers in an attempt to be ironic, ala "yes, we have foie gras and Beluga caviar on our menu but let's connect with the common man by offering a burger made from ground filet mignon"...and charge $20 for the pleasure. But at least there, you're likely to get amenities like a warm dinner role, large wine selection, and strange looking silverware with uncertain functions.

Joe's on the other hand, breaks you off with plastic utensils and a plastic plate. Arguably, that's a step up from Manhattan's famed Corner Bistro which serves quite tasty burgers and fries on dinky paper plates that gave me grade school flashbacks, but then again, Corner Bistro charges you only about $4-5 for their basic burger and that's for a restaurant located in swank West Greenwich.

In contrast, for your basic Joe's burger, a quarter-pounder that comes with fixings but no fries, that will run you $7.25. Yeah, that's right. $7.25, not including tax or tip. If you want to pony up to a 1/3 pounder, which is the standard weight at gourmet burger joints like Barney's, that's will run you $1.75 more. To get the 1/2 pounder, equivalent to the size of the Corner Bistro burger, the basic burger will cost you $10.25. Once again, not including tax or tip which bring up the cost to more like $13.

At it's cheapest, we're talking about a $10 burger. A $10 burger that comes with no fries, arrives on a plastic plate, and is at a restaurant in the outer Mission that's more dank than swank. I could make the obvious joke here and ask "where's the beef?" but maybe I'll just be more upfront and say that this burger is woefully overpriced, especially considering that, as far as burgers go, Joe's is good but not extraordinary. An In 'N' Out burger is tastier, but that's because they throw some 1,000 Island dressing on the bun. The standard INO burger is small but easy to chomp through, whereas Joe's is big and messy (which many people like, myself not really being one of them, but I can appreciate that a juicy burger has its own rewards). Barney's, which I previously had thought was good but also somewhat overpriced (not anymore now), is bigger, pretty tasty and messy as hell too, though again, not as juicy. What Joe's gives you is a big, juicy hamburger...but it's not that tasty. The meat, eaten on its own, is rather bland and uncompelling and it takes a healthy dose of fixings and ketchup to make it more appealing.

If I'm paying $10 for a burger in what amounts to be a glorified diner, that sh-t better knock me off my feet and make me rediscover hamburgers like a heretic rediscovers Christ. Suffice to say, no such sacred conversion occured yesterday. You want a good burger in S.F.? Try Barney's or Burger Joint (locations throughout) or heck, even In 'N' Out if you want. Those will set you back about $7 tops and you can blow that extra $3 on some fries or maybe a shake.

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