San Francisco: The Stunt Burgers at Uncle Boy's
245 Balboa Street, San Francisco CA 94118 (map); 415-742-4468; letseat.at/UncleBoyz
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: It's more fun to read the list of audacious creations on the menu than it is to eat them.
Want Fries with That? Didn't try the fries, but the zucchini sticks are just okay.
Price: O.G., $5.25; add cheese, + 65¢; Mama-Mia, $6.95; sides, $1.95 to $3.95
I had intended to fill this space with a review of the excellent burger at Namu. Then I got distracted. I'm guessing the picture above provides a more than ample explanation for how this might have happened.
It only required one look at the menu at Uncle Boy's for me to deviate from my intended course. The tiny little restaurant specializes in putting fried goodies that would usually get served as a side directly into their hamburgers. The Hip-Popper comes with two jalapeno poppers sitting on top of the patty, while the Mama-Mia (pictured above) gets accessorized with four mozzarella sticks (not to mention marinara sauce and a slice of jack cheese for good measure). Stunt-burgers, to be sure, but if onion rings make a good burger topping, why not some mozzarella sticks?
Even before considering the wisdom of their audacious toppings, it became evident that the basic burger at Uncle Boy's—the O.G.—leaves a little something to be desired. When I asked about the provenance of the approximately third-of-a-pound patties, I was told Uncle Boy's purchases their Angus beef at Restaurant Depot. They buy fresh beef, but cook it well past the point of maximizing its flavor potential. The end result is a patty that gets some flavor from the grill marks, but is otherwise rather dry. None of the generic fixings, from the slightly-too-large bun to the lettuce, tomato, or red onion could counteract the limitations of this meat. My dining companion provided the money sound-bite of the meal when she likened the burger to something she'd expect from the snack bar at the pool.
What this burger needed was an extra layer of molten cheese, but on the Mama-Mia I ordered, the four slightly spongy mozzarella sticks that protruded like the buck teeth of some strange monster simply did not want to flow. The marinara sauce did provide some lubrication, and made a classically trashy combo with the fried-ness of the mozzarella sticks. But the victory of this burger was in the derring-do, rather than the final product.
Sides at Uncle Boy's come out of bags in the freezer, and I likely should have stuck with fries, but the menu had me feeling frisky and I ordered zucchini sticks instead. These will mostly satisfy fans of garden-variety fried breadings as long as there's some dipping sauce on hand.
Uncle Boy's takes a swashbuckling attitude towards burger creations, and this is a lot of fun. The walls are lined with enough San Francisco sports paraphernalia to make any local feel proud, and even the restaurant's name gives it a lovable vibe ("Boy" is a common Filipino nickname—and most Filipinos apparently have an Uncle Boy in their own family). But, ultimately, after eating the burgers, Uncle Boy's seems like the kind of place you go with your buddies at two in the morning when you're feeling a little tipsy so you can brag, "Hey, look what I'm eating!" You know, a moment's distraction, rather than a permanent destination.
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.