San Francisco: The Burgers and Non-Burgers at Gott's Roadside
1 Ferry Building Plaza, Space #6, San Francisco CA 94105 (map); 415-318-3423; 2 more Bay Area locations listed at gotts.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Their ahi tuna burger is tasty, but would be better labeled a sandwich. Their cheeseburger with classic fast food-style ingredients and an extra helping of secret sauce is satisfying, although may not live up to all the praise
Want Fries with That? Fries taste like frozen, but are crisp outside, tender inside
Price: Cheeseburger, $7.99; ahi tuna burger, $14.99; fries, $2.69
With December upon us, we have officially entered list season. Yet rather than looking forward, I have found myself poring over all those lists from this past year that will expire at the stroke of midnight. I suppose I'm feeling a little guilty over the 54 out of 100 things I didn't manage to eat, and all the burger stones I've left unturned. Noticing Gott's Roadside on Food & Wine's list of the 25 best burgers in the country seemed a simple way—just a quick trip to the Ferry Building—to make a token gesture towards tasks left undone. Until I realized that, amongst the 24 all-beef patties on their list, F&W hadn't singled out Gott's for a glorious hamburger, but rather for their ahi tuna burger.
I can already hear the complaints, and I'm inclined to agree. Not only are we talking about fish, but the ahi burger at Gott's arrives as a single slab of tuna. If you want to make a "burger" out of non-traditional meat, you better run it through the grinder. Otherwise, a few slices of turkey on a burger bun would be a turkey burger (and a few slices of ham on that same bun would become a hamburger).
I'm not arguing with Food & Wine's palate. Gott's does serve a tasty sandwich. The exterior of the ahi comes marked up by the grill, while the inside remains a purplish-rare. A slaw of cabbage and carrots and a gingery wasabi mayonnaise deliver some Asian flair to the sandwich. The $14.99 price tag will cause a few winces, but that's what you should expect to be pay for things inside the San Francisco Ferry Building.
Unless, of course, you order one of the genuine hamburgers on the menu at Gott's.
Our own Adam Kuban sampled these goods back in 2006, when Gott's was known as Taylor's Automatic Refresher. He called their standard burger the "Whole Foods equivalent of a Whopper" and seemed to find it tasty enough, but clearly had expectations for something better.
Though they trumpet their use of fresh-ground Niman Ranch beef, my burger didn't offer a meat-first experience. Instead, the Gott's secret sauce ruled this cheeseburger, spilling off in rivulets as soon as I took my first bite. The pickles in the Thousand Island-ish sauce could sometimes combine with the actual pickles to make me think I was eating a pickle sandwich, but otherwise I quite enjoyed the way it sloppily intermingled with the crisp lettuce, American cheese, egg bun, and, of course, the beef. The relatively thin patty had been grilled until it offered just a touch of pink. With all that sauce lubricating the burger, it was hard to tell whether that doneness was enough to preserve any moisture.
I'd say I'm with Adam on this one, or maybe a bit more positively inclined—the Gott's burger I tried on this outing may not have quite lived up to the sometimes breathless praise the place gets, but still found this heavy-on-the-sauce, classic burger pretty satisfying.
For those who want something more than the standard burger, they have plenty of other creations on the menu as well. My guilty pleasure back when the restaurant was known as Taylor's had always been their Wisconsin Sourdough Burger. With griddled mushrooms, bacon, and BBQ sauce on there, it almost didn't matter if there was also beef between the tangy bread. I may just have to return to see how this old addiction fares under the Gott's regime.
Gott's offers all sorts of variations on the standard fries—sweet potato, chili cheese, and garlic are all options. The standard version tasted frozen to me (a fact confirmed by the guy behind the counter), but they still came out crisp while preserving a tender interior. If you go, don't forget to supplement your meal with a milkshake.
I'm sure I'm leaving all sorts of burger responsibilities behind in 2011, but this trip to Gott's at least assuages a bit of that guilt. Bring on the lists! Now, if you'll excuse me, I have 53 things to eat before December 31*.
* The ahi tuna burger fittingly turned out to be one of the items on that other list I had yet to eat.
About the author: David Kover is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and food enthusiast. He occasionally gets his tweet on at @pizzakover Or, check out his attempt to bring Brooklyn-style bagels to San Francisco at Schmendricks.com.