San Francisco: A Good, If Not Great Burger at Magnolia (but Great, Great Beer)
Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery
1398 Haight Street, San Francisco CA 94117 (map); 415-864-7468, magnoliapub.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A well-cooked pub burger made with good, fresh ingredients falls just shy of greatness due to being a little under salted and a little weak on the beefy flavor.
Want Fries with That? Fries are fresh-tasting and well seasoned, and are a great vehicle for the mind-blowingly good beer mustard that's served alongside the burger.
Price: Pub burger, $14, + $1 for cheese
You can expect a wait when you go to Magnolia in the Upper Haight neighborhood of San Francisco. There are plenty of reasons for this—the consistently excellent beer, a local staple (and frequent award winner), is definitely one of them, as are their nightly specials (half-priced pint Tuesdays; fried chicken Thursdays). Their food menu has something to do with it, as well—the thoughtful, well-executed pub fare is easily one of the neighborhood's best options.
And then there's the spirit of the place. Dark wood booths cluster in the restaurant's center, with tables filled with large, boisterous groups lining the gold-painted walls (an epic mural is hidden beneath the gold—a point of much contention among Magnolia's long-time patrons); while an excellent soundtrack dominates the restaurant's background noise (The Black Keys were on rotation when I last visited, to my delight). It's a spot that reflects the neighborhood's storied history and more sophisticated present.
But what about the burger? The self-described pub burger ($14) has a pedigree worthy of Magnolia's well-curated menu: Prather Ranch beef, an Acme bun, and sides of housemade aioli and beer mustard. It certainly has all of the right ingredients for tasty, higher-end burger.
And, in brief, it is a quite tasty burger. The hand-formed patty is made from a mixture of Prather Ranch dry-aged beef cuts seasoned with salt and pepper; it's primarily chuck, with some steak scraps (and a 25 percent fat content). The grind was nicely loose, and the burger had a gorgeous pink color when cut it half. The accompanying vegetables were fresh; the Acme bun well proportioned to the amount of meat. The burger could have used a bit more of a crust, but it had some nice grill marks.
It's a good burger. But it wasn't quite a great burger. While all of the elements seemed to be in line, the burger didn't have quite the punch of beefy flavor I was hoping for. Perhaps it was undersalted—but even the cheddar cheese ($1), which had a great, sharp saltiness when pulled off the burger was somehow lost in combination. Still, the quality of the ingredients was evident, and when topped with the seriously excellent beer mustard, the burger was a great companion to my Proving Ground IPA.
You can get fries or a salad with your burger; go with the fries. Fresh-tasting and well salted, they're very tasty as-is, and even better as a vehicle for that mustard.
As for other worthy dishes, the devils on horseback ($6 for two) seem pretty expensive considering the small serving, but are so good that we stopped complaining once we tried them. Sweet dates are generously stuffed with goat cheese, wrapped in thick strips of bacon two-ways, and drizzled with a kolsch gastrique. It's not a new formula, but one Magnolia does particularly well—the sweet-salty-smoky-tangy flavor combination was excellent.
Magnolia may not make my favorite burger in the city, but it's a damn tasty one, nonetheless. And a worthy accompaniment to their beer, which makes the spot destination-worthy alone. Throw in some good vibes and a great soundtrack, and I'm sold.
About the author: Lauren Sloss is a bicoastal food-lover who is based in San Francisco. Some of her favorite things include The Black Keys, goat gouda, and guacamole. You can follow her on Twitter @laurensloss.