San Diego: Corvette Diner Takes You Back in Time with OK Burgers and Killer Shakes
2965 Historic Decatur Road, San Diego CA 92106 (map); 619-542-1476; cohnrestaurants.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A perfectly acceptable, though not life-changing burger
Want Fries With That? Yes; light and crispy skin-on fries come with the burger, or you can upgrade your side
Price: Brenda burger with fries, $9.50
Notes: The Rory Burger (with peanut butter, bacon, and mayo) is listed as "money back guaranteed to please"
Corvette Diner spares no expense on camp. From quirky dish names to crazy wigs on the waitresses, the retro '50s theme saturates every detail of the experience. The dining area is decked out with an actual soda counter (where malts, shakes, and floats are made), a DJ booth where you can request and dedicate songs, and yes, a Corvette. The other half of the restaurant is an arcade, where you can trade hard-earned skee ball points for prizes. The all-encompassing kitsch vibe of the place makes it feel strange to write a serious review because it feels like the whole raison d'etre of a place like this is to not be serious. Having fun is the whole point. The bird is the word. And so on.
With so many crazy items on the menu, like the breaded pickles with "ranch dippage", martinis with a Pop Rocks rim, and a platter of cotton candy that was bigger than my head, it was hard to stay focused and order actual food. I decided on a Brenda burger (a half-pound beef patty with lean bacon and Swiss cheese) and a CPBB shake (Chocolate-Peanut Butter-Banana).
The Brenda Burger was listed as being a half pound, but looked (and felt) a little light. Compared to other half pound patties, it was definitely slimmer and didn't have the slightly menacing heft that inspires a touch of fear and demands respect that I've come to associate with half pound burgers. The patty was cooked through and was a little bit dry. Luckily, what burger juice was absent was made up for by a glob of cool and creamy mayo on the bottom bun. Though slightly overcooked for my liking, the patty was well seasoned. The flavor profile was helped out by two slices of bacon, which, though lean, had an appealing smoky taste without being overly salty. The other toppings—cheese, lettuce, pickles—were well portioned and fresh, but lopsidedly distributed, which made eating the burger challenging. Uneven distribution of toppings made me not want to put down between bites because I feared that if I lost my grip on the bun, it would fall apart. Consequently, it was consumed too quickly.
It's a shame that the patty was so thin. Despite it being (supposedly) a half pound, it was only about a finger width thick, which probably is the main reason it was overcooked, and subsequently, a little dry. Had the beef been shaped into a thicker patty with a smaller diameter, it would have been a lot tastier.
The thin-cut, skin-on fries were light, crispy, and tasty. They were cooked to a golden brown and lightly salted. For an additional $1.99, you can upgrade to a Caesar salad, waffle-cut fries, or onion rings, but I was perfectly content with the basic fries.
The star of the meal, without doubt, was the milkshake. Thick, creamy, and tasting exactly as advertised, the show-stealing chocolate-peanut butter-banana shake was topped with whipped cream, a cherry, Reese's peanut butter cup segments, and banana chips. It was so good that I literally sat on my hands to restrain myself from finishing it before the burger arrived. The shake was served in an iconic glass, alongside a metal mixing canister, which had about a cup of bonus milkshake in it.
Even though I can't file my dinner at Corvette Diner under "life-changing meals", the kooky atmosphere made it a trippy and unique dining experience. This place is about fun first and food second, and true to form, the burger, though not perfect, was better than average—just make sure you insist on a medium-rare or rare patty. Corvette Diner is a great option for a perfectly acceptable burger when you've got the kids in tow or want to escape the ordinary. Since the shake outshone the burger, I say split a burger and order two shakes.