San Diego: Going Beyond Beef at Burger Lounge
1608 India Street, San Diego CA 92101 (map); 619-237-7878; burgerlounge.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Both the turkey burger and the veggie burger are worth trying, especially if you want a break from beef-based burgers
Want Fries With That? Another AHT review says yes. Fries are thin-cut and sprinkled with herbs and garlic.
Price: Turkey burger, $7.95; veggie burger, $7.95; chocolate milkshake, $4.95
With five locations—plus two more under construction in the Gaslamp and West Hollywood— Burger Lounge is a locally-grown chain with a big reputation. Accolades include being named "Best Burger" by San Diego Magazine readers for the last three years, ahead of local legend Hodad's, a burger bar with a dedicated fan-base (myself included) willing to brave long lines for a bacon cheeseburger.
Most of the media praise is directed at Burger Lounge's grass-fed beef burger (previously reviewed on AHT), but I was on a mission to see if the non-beef offerings, namely the turkey burger and the quinoa veggie burger would be anywhere near as good.
Burger Lounge's turkey burger is crafted from a hand-formed mix of dark and white turkey with fresh basil. The patty is smashed flat on the grill, searing the meat and giving it a crunchy exterior. Burgers come topped with iceberg lettuce, tomato, house-made Thousand Island, onions (fresh or grilled), and pickles (upon request). The finishing touch is a remarkably spherical bun, which squishes down considerably when held and is thoroughly toasted, adding another tasty texture to the burger.
The turkey burger immediately made a good first impression, but it wasn't until a few bites in that I could identify what made it so different (and so good). In addition to tasting like rich, grilled turkey, the patty had a subtle, secondary flavor: a salty, slightly sweet flavor that was a lot like breakfast sausage. That combined with the cooking method made this turkey burger much better than most. Hardee's could learn a thing or two.
The turkey burger was a good start, but the real winner was the veggie burger. The shop makes their own patties from a mix of organic quinoa and brown rice with a medley of veggies (carrots, zucchini, and mushroom), seasonings (onion, garlic, chipotle powder, parsley), and panko breadcrumbs and Jack cheese to bind it all together. The lean and green patties are grilled to a crisp on both sides, giving them a crunchy exterior, much like the turkey patty.
In my (admittedly limited) experience with veggie burgers, I've noticed two important factors that can make or break them: texture and seasoning. In both categories, this burger excelled: It had a crunchy, falafel-esque texture, and the already flavorful grain, veggie, and cheese medley was seasoned with a buttload of spice, which gave the patty a bold, spicy bite. Unlike the turkey burger, which felt light in my stomach, the veggie burger hit me like a brick—a healthy, fiber-packed brick, meaning even without fries, it's filling enough to be a complete meal. I would definitely order this burger again, or add a veggie patty to one of the salads.
Unfortunately, neither burger was without its faults. The tomato slab on both burgers was flavorless, as was the stack of iceberg—arguably the lowest form of lettuce life. Topping issues didn't end there: the small and nearly transparent slice of white cheddar was cut so thinly that its flavor didn't register and it might as well have been absent. For eight bucks, I expected better.
Choosing two healthy burgers made ordering a chocolate shake seem like a smart (if not necessary) thing to do. Burger Lounge's five dollar(ish) chocolate shake was rich and creamy, with a generous swirl of whipped cream on top (and a bonus serving of shake in a metal cup on the side). The milkshake was the perfect consistency: thick, yet still drinkable.
Despite downer toppings, I consider my first foray into non-beef burger territory a worthwhile diversion. Burger Lounge not only has a tasty beef burger, they also make a turkey burger to be reckoned with and a veggie burger that even meat-eaters can appreciate.
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.