558 Sacramento Street, San Francisco CA 94111(map); 415-772-9060; wayfaretavern.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Tender, flavorful beef topped with brie cheese and thick slices of bacon from celebrity chef Tyler Florence. It's seriously tasty, as long as the price doesn't turn your stomach
Want Fries with That? Thin, crisp and nicely salty fries are included
Price: Wayfare Burger "Le Grande"; $19; w/egg, +$2
When it comes to burgers served by celebrity chefs, I'm inclined to worry that I'll receive something with the culinary equivalent of a spray-on tan and frosted tips. How else do they demonstrate their kitchen stardom unless they apply a few gratuitous touches to the bread-patty-cheese combination? Well, at Tyler Florence's Wayfare Tavern, the burger certainly does arrive dressed up, but rather than something overwrought, Wayfare's Le Grande burger offers all sorts of satisfying flavor. You just have to be willing to pay for it.
A weekday lunch at Wayfare Tavern meant that my T-shirt and jeans stood out amongst the packed house of Financial District power lunchers. Despite their suits and ties, it appeared that many of these diners had come for the same reason I had—I heard two separate conversations about the "best burger in the city" while I sat waiting for my dining companion. The decor at Wayfare Tavern matches the crowd, all exposed brick, dark wood, and a few taxidermied stag's heads. It left me feeling like I should have ditched the T-shirt for some Ralph Lauren and a splash of Old Spice.
If the burger at Wayfare costs a staggering $19, it comes surrounded by ingredients expensive enough to at least make a gesture at justifying the price. The sizable patty—a little over six ounces—had been shrouded in expertly melted brie cheese and topped with several thick slices of smoked bacon. A soft disc of roasted onion sat underneath the top bun. Maybe it's all these rich ingredients that inspired Florence to dub his burger "Le Grande?" Either way, the beauty of this burger is that each accoutrement is restrained enough to complement, but not overwhelm the beef.
Wayfare Tavern makes its patties from a proprietary grind of grass-fed beef. The chef smartly attempted to balance the salt content of the bacon with that of his beef, though I think he erred on the side of caution, and I'd have taken just a few more sodium crystals on my patty. Similarly, my patty had been grilled just a touch past medium rare. It mostly didn't matter though, as the tender, high-quality beef melded with the funk of the cheese, the smoke of the bacon, and sweet of the onion to make a standout mouthful.
A generous cone of fries in a metal cup arrived alongside the Wayfare Burger. Plenty of salt and a few flakes of parsley had been scattered over these very crisp, thin potatoes. Note that you also get to start your meal with one of Wayfare's renowned eggy-tangy popovers.
So, do the men in suits have it right when they call this the best burger in the city? That will probably depend, in part, on whether you have an expense account or a fat bank balance to cover the check. But if price is no object, even if I have other burgers that I'd elevate above this one, I can see how it's in the conversation.
About the author: David Kover is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and food enthusiast. He occasionally gets his tweet on at @pizzakover. Or, you can get the scoop on his attempt to bring Brooklyn-style bagels to San Francisco here.