1503 30th Street, San Diego CA 92102 (map); 619-255-0616; alchemysandiego.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: An exceptional grass-fed burger that will appeal to purists—high quality ingredients classically prepared
Want Fries With That? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Crisp Parmesan frites come with the burger and you will want to eat every last one
Price: Burger, $12
Notes: Only open for dinner every day and brunch on the weekends; burger is available on both menus
Every city needs a place like Alchemy. The restaurant's mission statement;—to serve food with meaning prepared by people who care—is exactly what they excel at doing. The eclectic menu, which includes gourmet standards, plus street food like falafel and black garlic pad thai, makes it a great venue to expand your palate. And unlike some upscale restaurants that half-heartedly toss a burger on the menu to appease unadventurous eaters, Alchemy has crafted an exceptional grass-fed burger that will appeal to purists.
Chef Ricardo Heredia set out to create a straightforward, simple burger with high quality ingredients. To that end, the burger features a patty seasoned with nothing more than salt and pepper, topped with best in class versions of essential ingredients like red leaf lettuce, house-cured pickles, exceptionally fresh tomatoes, and a slice of savory Mahon cheese. Heredia admits that the restaurant doesn't turn a big profit on the burger, but it's one of the most popular items, and when you consider that you can get a half-pound burger, fries, and a beer for less than $20, it's easy to see why. From a value and taste perspective, Alchemy's burger is off the charts.
If you've never tried grass-fed beef, this is the burger in San Diego to lose your grass-fed virginity to. The thick patty, made from a half-pound of 80/20 grass-fed beef from Estancia Farms, had a pure and clean flavor that was intensely beefy and reminded me of a lean steak. The meat was fairly loosely packed, with a nice sear on the outside, a moist, ruby-red center, and a thin crust, which kept the juices inside contained.
Grass-fed beef may be the star of Alchemy's burger, but the same level of attention went into selecting the toppings, most notably the thin slice of sharp and slightly salty Mahon cheese, and the crunchy house-made pickles. The final touch, a toasted brioche bun from Bread and Cie squished down considerably, providing just the right amount of cushion and an ideal bread-to-meat ratio.
The only downside of Alchemy's burger is its unfortunate oval-shaped patty, which makes it difficult to get a complete bite of bread, meat, and veggies. The patty's shape also made me nervous to put the burger down between bites due to potential ingredient slippage, which meant I ate it in record time—not a good thing, because a burger of this quality is supposed to be savored, not hoovered.
Alchemy's Parmesan frites are equally worthy of praise. The thin and crisp fries are covered with a generous dusting of Parmesan cheese, giving them a crumbly texture and slightly sharp, cheesy kick. That combined with the two dipping sauces (ketchup and a homemade dijon aioli) make them so addictive that it was impossible to leave any on the plate. After finishing the whole serving, I wanted to take a nap, get a second order, and get right back to business.
You can get a cheaper burger lots of other places, but considering the exceptional quality of the beef and the care put into the preparation, Alchemy's $12 burger and fries isn't just worth every penny—it's a bargain.
About the author: Erin Jackson is a freelance food writer and photographer who is obsessed with discovering the best cheap and tasty eats in San Diego, including all things sweet and sugary, for her dessert blog San Diego Sugar.