Pete Mayo's Waffle Burgers
5044 Imperial Ave, San Diego CA 92102 (map); 619-381-9408
Cooking method: Griddled
Short Order: This burger sub-genre has potential, but this incarnation needs work
Want Fries With That? Waffle fries are tasty, but not enough to redeem the meal
Price: Original waffle burger and fries, $7.75
My quest to uncover hidden gems has been taking me out of my comfortable Metro San Diego bubble lately, with mixed results. The somewhat celebrated Buddies Burgers was a bust, so I was hoping a spot that's doing something unique—slinging burgers with waffles instead of buns—would be better, perhaps even squarely qualifying as a hidden gem. Pete Mayo's Waffle Burgers has been open for several months, but due to its location (a sketchy stretch of Imperial Avenue) it could easily remain undiscovered for a long time.
The shop isn't exactly welcoming. The two rooms (kitchen and dining area) are separated by a makeshift plywood wall with a slot to slide your cash through and a small ordering "window". There are bars on the windows and two loud fans in place of AC. Sitting under the glaring lights, I'll admit my optimism started to wane, but in the name of exploration, I soldiered on, opting for the base burger offering ($7.75, with fries), made with a quarter-pound beef patty, topped with grilled onions and peppers, plus the typical burger toppings.
The waffle was the key selling point, but the first major disappointment came when I peered into the kitchen and didn't see a waffle iron and jug of batter in action. Instead, cheap frozen waffles were being toasted on the griddle, alongside the beef.
I'll give points for creativity, but here's the thing: using a frozen waffle in place of even the most basic bun isn't an improvement, and the novelty doesn't last past the first couple of bites. A commercial waffle, with minor toasting, tastes flat and dull. You get a little bit of crunch, but that's it. The contents of the burger were similarly disappointing. The griddled beef patty was pleasantly fatty and juicy, with some tasty flecks of char, but the seasoning (a mix of spices) was a bit aggressive, and the beef was hastily formed, and a bit too thin.
There were also some missteps with the toppings, which included shredded iceberg (which tasted totally out of place), and a greasy slice of cheddar. I nixed the onions, and didn't see any of the advertised peppers, but there was plenty of ketchup (a condiment that wasn't mentioned on the menu, and that I hate with the burning passion of a million blazing suns). Luckily, my interest waned at the precise moment I risked crossing the safe-haven of the outer ring of the burger to the ketchup-contaminated middle.
Even though they were cooked from frozen (and came out of a giant bag), the crisp, battered waffle fries were above reproach. The thick coating of batter shattered into hot, oily shards, while the interior of the fries contained soft and warm potato fluff. If you're nearby, it's worth a visit to get your hands on a grease-spotted bag of spuds, but I'd skip the burger.
As a sub-genre, I have to believe that waffle burgers have serious potential to be great. Take a savory waffle, like the ones at Miura Milk Bar, with crunchy little bits of bacon and cheese baked right into the batter, squeeze some mayo into the craters, slap on a patty, a slice of cheddar, and maybe some grilled onions, and you've really got something. The waffle would be crisp, but also fluffy, and studded with crispy cheese bits and salty pops of pork. The heat from the waffle would melt the cheese, transforming it into a creamy blanket of dairy that melds all of the ingredients together. Now that is a waffle burger.
Unfortunately, the only place it exists (at least that I know of) is my imagination. Pete's version is more bargain bin than burger elite, and though the intention is commendable, the execution needs a lot of work.
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