844 Market Street, San Diego, CA, 92101 (map); 619-269-7156; knottybarrel.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: An honest, straightforward burger that's just plain good
Want Fries With That? You betcha. Light and crisp shoestring fries come with the burger so you're good to go
Price: Knotty Burger, $11
Knotty Barrel is the perfect example of how when one door closes, another door opens. In this case, the door that closed was a bar that served some of the greasiest (and worst) pizza in the city, and what opened in its place is a legitimately good gastropub, serving everything from burgers to curry shrimp po-boys, polenta, and fried twinkies. It's the kind of place where you can get dressed up if you want to, but jeans and Chucks are equally appropriate, so I was right at home.
There are three burger options on the menu, including a bison burger (with blue cheese), a grilled salmon "burger", and the Knotty burger, made from a half-pound of Angus beef, served open-face with bibb lettuce, onion, and heirloom tomatoes on the side.
Though the Knotty Burger isn't going to win any beauty contests, it was mighty tasty. The hand-formed beef patty was exceptionally well-seasoned, juicy, and bursting with flavor. The patty was cooked to my requested medium rare, with a moist red center and a tasty layer of salt and peppery crust on the outside. Had I not forced myself to put it down between bites, it, like Nicolas Cage, would have been gone in 60 seconds. The condiments worked nicely with the patty, especially the heirloom tomatoes, which had a stronger, sweeter flavor than traditional tomatoes.
Unfortunately, the cheddar cheese got lost, but still provided a tasty creamy texture. The fluffy egg bun held its own against the juicy patty, staying intact until the very end.
Burgers come with fries, and these thin, blonde spuds did not disappoint. The fries were deceptively light and crisp—so much so that if you told me they were cooked in something other than oil, I would have believed you. Like all really good shoestring fries, I jammed them in my mouth six at a time, hoping no one was watching.
The best surprise of the night was the ketchup, which tasted a lot like marinara sauce, and nothing like ketchup. As someone who gags just thinking of the stuff, this was a welcome change.
Beer is an essential part of dining at a gastropub, especially when you can get four 4-ounce samplers for $7. Of the 16 options, I chose (from left to right): Mission Brewery Hefewizen, Deschutes Black Butte Porter, Allagash White Ale, and Green Flash Tripple Belgian-style Ale—which has an alcohol content of 9.7% (but goes down almost as easy as a Rolling Rock).
With Comic-Con in full swing (and hordes of people looking for dinner downtown), Knotty Barrel is good bet for a great burger, and because it's not yet on everyone's radar, there's a decent chance that it won't be slammed with conventioneers.