Bare Back Grill
624 E Street, San Diego CA 92101 (map); plus a second location in Pacific Beach
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: House-ground organic beef and unique condiments make this Kiwi-style burger one of the best in San Diego
Want Fries With That? Hell, yes! Both the regular shoestring and the sweet potato are excellent.
Price: Lunchbox Special (burger, side, and a beer or soda), $10.99 during lunchtime (Mon. - Fri., 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.)
Bare Back Grill is one of San Diego's most celebrated places for burgers, with accolades from local media, including Beach and Bay Press (Best Restaurant, 2007), and AHT'ers alike. Their claim to fame: They're the only spot in town serving New Zealand-style burgers
Bare Back Grill may not be Kiwi-owned, but the recipes come straight form the source. While visiting New Zealand, founders Matt Baker and P.J. Lamont stumbled upon a hole-in-the-wall called Fergburger, a perpetually-packed restaurant in Queenstown that served some of the tastiest and most unique burgers they'd ever tried. After getting to know the owner, Matt and P.J. bought his recipes and in 2005 they opened their own Kiwi-inspired shop in Pacific Beach (they opened their Gaslamp location in 2008).
Eleven different burgers are available, ranging from the Bare Lil Lamb, a lamb burger with blue cheese crumbles, beetroot, and mint jelly on top, to the Average Joe, a classic hamburger. I opted for the Queenstown Fave, which has all of the same ingredients as the signature burger at Fergburger: a half-pound grilled beef patty topped with Edam cheese, garlic aioli, and BBG Sauce (tomato chutney).
Their beef patties are made from a precise blend of certified organic, grass-fed, locally produced beef that is ground on site. Chuck roll cuts are primarily used, which results in a mix that's 86 to 87 percent lean. The burger was cooked to medium rare (as requested) and had a thin layer of char that yielded to a warm, red center. Despite being made with leaner cuts of beef, there was no sacrifice in flavor or juiciness. This burger was everything you'd want it to be: tender, moist, and full of pure beefy flavor.
Even the most simple burger at Bare Back Grill is worthy of glowing praise because of the quality of the beef, but its what's on either side of the patty that makes the Queenstown Fave memorable. The most noticeable ingredient is the BBG sauce, a housemade tomato chutney that is like a sweeter, bolder version of ketchup. A slice of Edam cheese (a soft, mild cheese that melts easily) and a smear of housemade garlic aioli round out the sweetness of the chutney. The finishing touch, an herb focaccia bun from Sadie Rose Baking Company has a thin, slightly crunchy shell and a light and puffy interior that creates a good bread-to-meat ratio. The Queenstown Fave is different than your standard cheeseburger, and in this case, different is good.
Ordering a side of fries is essential. These colorful kumara (sweet potato) planks were the ideal texture: crisp on the outside, and warm and fluffy on the inside. The sweet potato fries were dressed up with blue cheese crumbles and, if that's not enough for you, two housemade mayo-based dips (roasted red pepper and wasabi). Both dips had a touch of tang and spice, and were the ideal mates for the cheesy, starchy spuds.
Given the choice between sweet potato and regular fries, my instinct is always to go with the former, but at Bare Back Grill the regular french fries are arguably the more exciting option. The lightly browned shoestring fries are topped with a mix of closely guarded seasonings, giving them a sweet and spicy kick. After asking around I was able to confirm that the fries do have a touch of sugar on them, which makes them taste somewhat like a spicier version of kettle corn in french fry form.
Plan to visit is when the Lunchbox Special is available. For $10.99, you get your choice of burger, a side, and a beer (or pop). Considering a Queenstown Fave—Bare Back's cheeseburger—is regularly $9.90 and fries are an additional $3.50 to $4.50 on top, a mid-day meal is your best bet.