San Francisco: The Bacon-Marinated Burger at Don Pisto's
510 Union Street, San Francisco CA 94133 (map); 415-395-0939; DonPistos.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: The burger at Don Pisto's is marinated in bacon. It's a bold stroke of bacon-beef fusion, and there's plenty to like, but I'd call it smokey meatloaf instead of a proper burger.
Want Fries with That? No fries on the menu at Don Pisto's; spend those calories on a margarita
Price: Hamburguesa, $9
Notes: Bottomless sangria and mimosas available at brunch
There is no sign outside of Don Pisto's, just some tinted windows and an expanse of brown brick. Maybe that's how they snuck a Mexican restaurant into North Beach, a neighborhood that only seems to permit Italian food. Or maybe those tinted windows conceal other secrets—secrets that have been marinated in pork fat. Tucked away alongside the assorted tacos and Mexican-inspired options on Don Pisto's menu is a hamburguesa ("hamburger" in Spanish) which, the menu explains, is marinated in bacon and onion. There seem to be two basic reactions to this discovery: 1) Oh god, that sounds delicious! 2) How the heck do you marinate something in bacon?
Here's how the whole marinating thing works. Don Pisto's cooks up some bacon, sautés onions in the rendered fat, and then pours it all—bacon, onions, and grease—over a hunk of chuck. This sits overnight and then the whole mess goes through the meat-grinder in the morning. Really, these burgers are marinated in bacon and then, well, made with bacon.
The patty that gets formed from this bacon-onion-beef mash weighs in at about half a pound. It's cooked on the grill, and the restaurant doesn't ask how you want it done because burgers come standard at medium rare. I wasn't so sure about this—my burger didn't show even a smidge of pink, but it was hard to say if this was the effect of the already-cooked bacon and onions that were mixed into the patty, or if we had entered medium-well territory. No matter, the loosely-packed burger was tender to the bite and offered plenty of moisture. Pork fat will have that effect.
So does the hamburguesa at Don Pisto's live up to that initial moment of bacon-induced excitement? If you're in it for the bacon, then absolutely. But I had a "Where's the beef?" reaction while eating this burger. The flavors were more evocative of smoky meatloaf than of hamburger.
Because Don Pisto's has given some extra oomph to their patty, they seem to feel the need for restraint when it comes to dressing it up. They spread some guacamole across the top of the burger, almost like icing on a cake. The avocados taste deliciously fresh, but I would have taken a bit more salt and lime in there. Besides this, the plate comes almost bare, with a few hunks of radish and a wedge of lime alongside the burger. It's too bad, because I think the bacony-smokiness of the hamburguesa would stand up quite well to all sorts of embellishment. I certainly would have taken a slice of Monterey Jack cheese or cheddar on top, and some sautéed jalapenos or pickled red onions would have added another layer of flavor as well.
The toasted bun that holds the whole operation together is just slightly too big, but I enjoyed the egginess of the bites around the edges. I also appreciated the show of neighborhood solidarity Don Pisto's demonstrates in sourcing their buns from the nondescript bakery, Italian French Baking Company, just up the block.
As for sides, papas fritas don't appear anywhere on the menu at Don Pisto's. You can order chips and guacamole, but since the burger already comes topped with guac, this seems redundant. The prudent move is to spend those missing french fry calories on alcohol instead. Don Pisto's margarita does a nice job of finding the just-right balance between tequila and sweetness; or, if you're in for brunch, they offer bottomless glasses of sangria and mimosa.
Okay, so despite the tinted windows, Don Pisto's burger is not quite the secret I've made it out to be. Earlier this month, the hamburguesa appeared on 7x7 San Francisco's list of 100 Things to Try Before You Die (it's one of four burgery entries on the list). For the sheer boldness of their bacon-beef fusion, I'd agree that the burger at Don Pisto's is worth a try—there's definitely some flavor there. But though it might horrify the bacon-obsessed contingent out there, if I had to choose, I'd take my own burger with a little more beef and a little less pork product.
About the author: David Kover is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and food enthusiast. Though he's an equal opportunity eater, there's a special place in his heart for crispy slices of pizza and juicy hamburgers. You can check out his pizza reviews over at Slice.