Oakland, CA: Fivetenburger Serves Burgers Befitting a Lunch Truck
A mobile food truck; follow them at @fivetenburger on Twitter or check out their website, fivetenburger.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: A solid burger served out of a lunch truck, even if the beef could pop just a bit more
Want Fries with That? Yes; the garlic oil used to fry these potatoes cancels out any imperfections
Price: "Loaded" cheeseburger, $6.75; grass-fed cheeseburger, $8.75; garlic oil fries, $2.50
In case you didn't notice, food trucks are, like, a big deal. Just letting you know, though I'm guessing the droves of newspaper articles and that whole reality TV show situation might have tipped you off. In San Francisco alone, the local food truck meet-up, Off the Grid, boasts ten different locations of varying sizes weekly. Depending on the day, you might find vendors serving crème brûlée or Filipino burritos out their windows. But when I arrived at the Golden Gate Fields location this past weekend, the longest line, by far, was for a burger.
The object of everyone's attention, Roland Robles and his Fivetenburger truck—so named for Oakland's 510 area code—seems to understand that unlike crème brûlée, hamburgers and lunch trucks share a long history together. With that in mind, he doesn't do anything too fancy, just serves up a mostly classic griddled patty-bun-cheese combo that is more or less what you want out the window of an aluminum-sided box on wheels.
Before we get to the hamburger though, we need to talk about the fries. Because, well, you need to eat them just to get to your burger. The Fivetenburger crew places burgers in the bottom of the bag and then covers them in a healthy portion of their garlic oil fries. These fries come out ultra-crisp, to the point that some lack the tender potato center of a perfect fry. But I found myself too intrigued by the flavor imparted by the garlic oil to care too much. The taste of the allium seemed to float in and out in strength with each bite, teasing me a bit, making me want more. It didn't hurt that, unlike standard Bay Area garlic fries, this version didn't give me breath that would wilt daisies.
The burgers emerged from the bottom of the bag wrapped in paper and sporting a mustache of stray french fries. Hiding behind the potatoes was a six-ounce patty of well-salted, fresh ground beef from Golden Gate Meats. The fellow at the griddle had cooked the patty to a perfect medium rare, though we found ourselves wishing the flat top had burned just a bit hotter, because the meat had darkened but not quite crusted over.
The extra flavor offered by a healthy burger crust might have come in handy considering the bun from North Beach Bakery, though pleasantly tender, can be a little forward with its sweet-eggy flavor. The flavors of the melted American cheese (or cheddar or Swiss), the homemade pickles, and the mayo, mustard, and ketchup that all find their way onto a "loaded" Fivetenburger add further competition for the beef. All told, the final product achieved pretty good parts-become-whole flavor synergy, but I'd have taken meat that popped just a bit more.
Please note that if you want a burger that can strut around alongside some of the more fancy-pants offerings at an Off the Grid event, Fivetenburger will also top their patties with St. Agur blue cheese, a fried egg, or bacon. They also offer a patty made of grass-fed beef from Eel River Ranch. A dining companion who had gone this route reported being very pleased that the meat didn't offer the gamey funk one sometimes gets from pastured beef. From afar, my only concern was that the rare meat at the center of the patty appeared a bit compact.
But, then, maybe that's my attempt to preserve the romantic notion that any burger served out of a classic lunch truck ought to be made of the least pretentious ingredients on hand. Or, possibly, I just want to make sure that you save some extra cash for one of the cupcakes from the truck parked across the way.
About the author: David Kover is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and food enthusiast. He fully admits that half the fun of going to Off the Grid at Golden Gate Fields is the chance to bet on the ponies.