San Francisco: The Voters Don't Quite Get it Right at Greenburger's
518 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA 94117 (map); 415-829-2491; sfgreenburgers.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: A burger that was voted best of San Francisco in an SF Weekly poll turns out to taste just pretty good, with quality meat but too much bun
Want Fries with That? Yes, but even better is if you upgrade to the sweet potato fries
Price: The Burger, $10; add sweet potato fries, +$1; add cheese, +$1
Greenburger's opened in San Francisco's Lower Haight in mid-March. By the end of April, it claimed enough votes in SF Weekly's reader's poll to earn the title of best burger in the city*. Way to make an impression! In fact, this groundswell of support came so soon after the opening, I found myself wondering whether the burger could really be that good, or if I should chalk it up to new restaurant euphoria (newphoria?). Which probably explains why I didn't rush out immediately thereafter to try the burger, and why the burger I got when I finally made it to Greenburger's turned out to be pretty good but, sorry, not best.
At Greenburger's, owners Matthew and Stefanie Nudelman—a married couple that met when she responded to a room-for-rent ad he'd posted on Craigslist—have created a sandwich-salad-burger menu. But they've given it the requisite San Francisco touches, using sustainable or organic products wherever possible, and offering several vegetarian options. Old family photos hang on mint green walls that are well lit by the floor-to-ceiling windows in the front. It's a very pleasant space. The cleverest touch, however, may be the suggestion "map" on one wall, where customers can suggest dishes, apparently by location (Idaho = tater tots; Texas = Frito Pie).
Predictably, Greenburger's serves something called The Greenburger, but that's actually their veggie burger. We're here to talk about their beef, which they simply call The Burger. They construct their patty out of fresh, hormone-free, antibiotic-free beef from Five Dot Ranch. The good-sized patty develops a little crust on the outside, and gives off just a hint of grass-fed flavor. It had been cooked just how I like it, on the rarer side of medium-rare, keeping the meat moist. Quality meat, properly cooked tastes good, and so the only real flaw with my patty was a too fine grind on the beef.
Most of the extras at Greenburger's are on an as-you-wish system. No tomato, pickles, lettuce, or condiments arrive on the burger. Rather, a fixings bar in one corner of the restaurant allows you to leave your patty bare, or load it up to capacity. You can ask for any of the higher value add-ons—cheese, bacon, sautéed mushrooms—when you place your order (of course, at a price). I got the cheddar, and though nicely melted, it didn't offer much in the way of tangy flavor.
However, it was the only accoutrement that I had no choice about that bothered me the most. The rectangular brioche bun from Bakers of Paris insisted on springing back to maximum height no matter how much I squished it down as I ate, and so a cottony mouthful of bread became a major distraction as I reached the central portion of my burger.
Please don't discount the sides at Greenburger's. They delivered crisp, well-salted fries that I would have enjoyed without a second thought, but my dining companion's excitement over her sweet potato fries distracted me. And she was right—the orange sticks of potato offered a killer sweet-salty combination. (Also, stay tuned to Serious Drinks for a few words on a pretty great chocolate shake.)
I fear I may hear it from the the SF Weekly readers who made Greenburger's their choice for burger king of San Francisco. And if so, please direct all hate mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm bracing myself.
* Note: The SF Weekly editors chose the burger at Lark Creek Steak for their best-of pick.
About the author: David Kover is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and food enthusiast. Um, he really likes burgers.