910 Prospect Street, La Jolla CA 92037 (map); 858-964-5400; nine-ten.com
Cooking method: Grilled
Short Order: The best burger I've ever had in San Diego, without question
Want Fries With That? Yes! Note-perfect fries come with the burger, or upgrade to truffle fries for $3 extra
Price: Nine-Ten burger (w/fries), $12; w/cheese or sautéed mushrooms, + $2; upgrade to truffle fries, + $2)
Notes: Burgers served during lunchtime (Mon. - Sat.) and at the bar, from 3:30-10 p.m. They're half price during happy hour (Mon. - Fri., 3:30 to 6:30).
I found the best burger in San Diego, and it wasn't even hiding. Nine-Ten has been on my radar since way back, but because I'd decided that La Jolla is a huge pain to drive to from downtown San Diego (it's not), and that parking is always impossible (again, not really), I put off tasting their burger for years. After righting that wrong, and realizing just how much I'd been missing, I want to go back in time to kick my own ass...but I'll be satisfied if you promise to go as soon as humanly possible.
Here's why: every element of Nine-Ten's burger is precisely calibrated burger perfection, from the bun (a soft and squishy sesame-topped brioche that's made fresh daily, in house), to the garnish (ruby red slices of tomato, lettuce, and various pickled veggies).
Underneath that bubbling drape of thoroughly melted cheddar is a loosely packed, coarsely ground, half-pound grass-fed beef patty that's grilled exactly to order. The seasoning is spot-on, as is the execution of the beef, which is striped with grill marks, browned beautifully, and flecked with char. The substantial patty sits on a thick smear of dijon aioli that quickly melts into the meat, imbuing it with even more moisture and flavor. It's that last addition that puts an already delicious burger in danger of causing pleasure blackouts. Yeah, you want this burger.
It's tempting to rush right into the first bite, but the vegetable roughage here is superb. Flip the top and layer on some tomatoes and lettuce. Then, punctuate every few glorious bites with a nibble of the housemade pickled veggies, including pickle spears, carrots, and artichoke.
Fries come standard, but you can also upgrade to truffle fries for $2 extra. There's no real need when the baseline spuds are this tasty. They're thick, crisp, and flaky on the outside, and full of fluffy starch. The other potato preparation, tasty housemade potato chips, come complimentary at the bar, so grab a seat within easy reaching distance of the giant bowls.
Happy hour (Monday to Friday, 3:30 - 6:30 p.m.), when the burger is half price, is the best time go to. There are also drink specials, including house wine for $5 a glass and a bartender's whim cocktail for $8. If what they're shaking doesn't move you, I'd stick with bartender Katie's St. Germain-ified mule.