San Diego: Dive Bar Burgers Done Right at Doods Foods
1863 5th Ave San Diego, CA 92101, in the Tin Can Ale House (map); 619-381-2756
Cooking method: Griddled
Short Order: A tasty, extra-loaded burger that's cheap to boot
Want Fries With That? For $2, why not? Fries are a bit greasy, but they're great when dipped in some Doods chipotle sauce
Price: Flying Cheeseburger, $8; fries, $2
Notes: Lunch and dinner Mon. - Fri., open at 8 p.m. on Saturdays, closed Sundays
After back-to-back burger busts, redemption came in an unlikely location: a dive bar in Bankers Hill. Doods Foods owner Tom Logsdon says he nabbed the spot with a bit of serendipitous luck. The owners of Tin Can Alehouse needed to serve food to maintain their liquor license, and after slinging burgers to friends out of his home, Logsdon was looking for a place to go legit.
His mission is simple: crafting made-from-scratch burgers and sandwiches that are within reach of the cash-strapped clientele, which is mostly broke musicians (Logsdon's words). There are two burgers on the menu: a $4 single, and the signature option, the $8 "Flying Cheeseburger" with two patties, cheese, bacon, grilled onions, and creamy chipotle "Doods Sauce" that is on everything on the menu, and rightfully so.
At lunchtime (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.), you can score a single burger and fries for $5, and during happy hour (4 p.m. to 8 p.m.), a side of fries come free with every sandwich.
Burgers are made with fresh ground beef that Logsdon picks up on his way to the bar from a Mexican market, along with everything else he needs for the day, like fresh baked rolls, veggies, and cheese. The beef is a particularly fatty chuck that's seasoned with a Mexican-leaning spice blend before the patties hit the griddle.
There's a lot that goes very right. The fatty beef is exceptionally juicy, and browns up beautifully, with a good crust on both sides. Burgers are also cooked reliably to order. My medium rare patties were tender and moist in the middle, with a lot of pink. You also get huge bang for your buck. For $8, you get close to 3/4 of a pound of beef, plus bacon and cheese. However, cutting it in half revealed the only major issue: the beef is ground too fine, which negatively effects the patty's texture.
Luckily, there are plenty of other elements to close the gap. The thick-cut slab bacon is executed perfectly, the cheese is fully melted, the veggies are fresh, and the Doods Sauce is delicious. Even the roll works. It's sturdier than a standard burger bun and soaks up a lot of moisture, which is essential for such a big (and fatty) burger.
Fries on the side are an extra $2, or $5 for a size big enough to share. The hand-cut, skin-on spuds are a bit greasy, but they're great when dipped in the creamy chipotle sauce. Onion rings aren't my thing, but if you love a ton of crunchy batter, these ones are great. I pulled out the onion, dunked the batter in the sauce, and ate it like a savory doughnut.
A coarser grind would go a long way to improving this already awesome burger, and the spicy patties may not be suitable for hard-line purists, but judging by Doods Foods' first place finish in a radio station's burger battle, locals are clearly ready for something different. The menu may have been designed with starving artists in mind, but a big burger done right (and cheap) is something everyone can get behind.
About the author: Erin Jackson is a food writer and photographer who is obsessed with discovering the best eats in San Diego. You can find all of her discoveries on her food blog EJeats.com. On Twitter, she's @ErinJax