BUB'S @ the Ballpark
715 J St, San Diego, CA (map); 619-546-0815; bubssandiego.com
Cooking method: Grilled
Short Order: A serviceable bar burger that's satisfying, but not destination-worthy
Want Fries With That? Tasty tots come with the meal by default, but you can choose fries or salad instead
Price: The Woody Burger, $10; Bub's Turkey Burger, $10
As sports bars go, in downtown San Diego, Bub's has all the bases covered: the tap list is cheap and plentiful, giant TVs are everywhere, and the menu is an assortment of approachable, crowd-pleasing grub, like burgers, wings, and sandwiches. During Padre season and Chargers football games, the place is consistently packed, but I've always been curious what factor the food plays in drawing the crowd (versus the beer or big-screen TVs). On a quiet Tuesday afternoon, I found out.
There are six burgers on the menu, including the starter model (a classic cheeseburger called The Woody Burger), a few slightly more dressed up burgers, a turkey burger, and a veggie option. All are made in house from fresh-ground beef, turkey, or the vegetarian-friendly combo of "magic beans," rice, and vegetables. I ordered the classic cheeseburger and the turkey burger, mostly because of the giant, orange arrow pointing to it on the menu. As a general rule, I've found that when restaurants take pains to make an item stand out visually, it's typically a smart bet to order it.
Bub's beef burgers are all made with 100 percent brisket that's ground in-house daily, hand-formed into half-pound patties, and grilled to order. My patty had a decent amount of char and a great, semi-crumbly texture from the coarse grind. The patty was well seasoned, with a moist and juicy center and a fatty, steak-like flavor, but ultimately left me wishing there was another cut of beef mixed in with all of that brisket. The first few bites were good, but by the halfway point, the burger became a bit too one-note. To avoid burn-out, this is a place where going with one of the more complicated options, like the Black & Blue (with blackening spice and blue cheese crumbles) would be a wise idea.
I'm on the fence about most turkey burgers, and while this one was executed well, with a full crust on both sides of the patty, the most noticeable flavor element was plain 'ol salt. Without the chipotle mayo (which is intended to come on the burger, but was missing on mine), the burger was forgettable. Turkey needs help to be delicious. A big pinch of herbs, or some garlic mixed into the patty would go a long way.
As a healthier alternative it's not a bad choice, but as presented it's only noteworthy for being a good bargain ($10, with a heap of tots, fries, or a kick-ass side salad—the same price as the standard cheeseburger).
The default side of tots are your standard-issue, fried from frozen tots, but they're done well, and consequently, totally delicious.
Bub's doesn't make mind-blowing, destination-worthy burgers, but for the price they're a great deal, and if you're looking for a TV-plastered, sports bar steps from Petco Park with good grub, you really can't do much better.