3683 5th Avenue, San Diego, CA 92103 (map)
Cooking Method: Charbroiled
Short Order: Thick and juicy Angus beef burgers made with a mix of secret spices that are big on flavor
Want Fries With That? Definitely! A giant serving of crisp, thin-cut, skin-on fries come with the burger, so you're all set
Price: Build-a-Burger w/cheese, $10
Hillcrest's diverse restaurant scene includes everything from designer cupcakes to a diverse selection of ethnic restaurants, making it one of the best neighborhoods in San Diego to dine. Having already discovered burger greatness at Crest Cafe, I returned to the 'hood to sample the burgers at R-Gang Eatery, local celebri-chef Rich Sweeney's restaurant.
Sweeney, the former executive chef of Confidential Restaurant (and catering company owner), also had a short run on season 5 of Top Chef. His untimely departure in the third episode was due to a s'mores debacle, but he's clearly taken it in stride—the menu features a "s'mores du jour," made with handmade marshmallows.
R-Gang's burger options include their signature burger (with house-made BBQ sauce, blue cheese, extra thick-cut bacon, and tempuraed jalapeno slices) and a chicken burger (made from a mix of house-ground chicken, apple, and cheddar topped with pineapple coleslaw and housemade teriyaki sauce). I was craving something simple, so I played it safe and built my own cheeseburger with cheddar. Had I wanted to get more creative, R-Gang could have accommodated that. Custom burgers include five cheeses plus add-ons like bacon, avocado, sautéed mushrooms, or caramelized onions.
Burgers are made with 8-ounce patties of 80/20 blend of Angus chuck mixed with a secret blend of spices, including garlic, Worcestershire sauce, and paprika, among others. The garlic stood out the most, while the other spices gave the beef a bolder, deeper flavor. Toppings included a thick slice of fresh tomato and a handful of peppery arugula, a good match for the seasoned patty.
Burgers are cooked to order, and my request for medium-rare was executed perfectly. The loosely packed patty had visible char lines on the crust and a squishy pink interior that was full of herb-spiked juice and rich, beefy flavor. The focaccia roll from Sadie Rose Baking Company worked perfectly with the patty. The thin layer of browned crust on the outside yielded to a fluffy, soft center that squished down considerably and did a commendable job of holding up to the juice-soaked patty.
Like the burger, the fries were perked up with a good dose of seasoning, including salt, garlic, parsley, and rosemary. The more than generous portion of fresh-cut, skin-on russets were crisp and fluffy, and so good that I was so absorbed in eating them that I completely forgot about the burger for a good ten minutes.
R-Gang's burger and fries was a great example of how, with a few simple tweaks, burgers can be transformed into something that's simultaneously comforting and, dare I say, downright elegant. The precise blend of spices in the burger and on the fries elevated the flavor profile just the right amount, making R-Gang's burger unique, but not so strange that it will alienate burger purists.