San Diego: Dobson's Gets it Right...the Second Time
956 Broadway Circle, San Diego CA 92101 (map); 619-231-6771; dobsonsrestaurant.com
Cooking method: Grilled
Short Order: A tasty old-fashioned burger with a side of old-school ambience
Want Fries With That? The fries are decent, but I'd go for the Caesar salad
Price: Dobson's bar room burger, $12
Notes: The burger is only available on the lunch menu
There are a lot of things to like about Dobson's. The circa-1984 restaurant on Broadway Circle near Horton Plaza is one of the classier places to get lunch in the Gaslamp. The clientele of lawyers and downtown money men (and women) make it stand in stark contrast to other options in the area, most of which fill up with conventioneers or semi-employed, flip-flop wearing slackers during lunchtime. Not that I'm hating...this is my 'hood, and I (sometimes proudly) count myself in the latter camp.
Dobson's is a different place, with a different vibe. It's an appropriate venue for a three-martini lunch, or to broker a deal over old-school eats like their famous flaky pastry-topped mussel bisque, which most people seemed to be ordering, along with the cobb salad. I had the bar room burger ($12), a simple affair, topped with cheddar and two strips of bacon.
The meal started off on a good note, with complimentary fresh-baked sourdough bread and soft, salty butter. But when my burger arrived what felt like decades later, it was overcooked, with room temperature fries. I was hungry enough to power through it, but my stubbornness won out. In a classy establishment like Dobson's, you should be able to count on a properly cooked burger, and $12 is too much to pay for a phoned-in patty.
The second time around, the burger was much tastier, and cooked closer to my requested medium rare. It's served open-face on a lightly toasted sesame seed bun with the standard vegetable roughage and a pickle spear. The top bun is stacked underneath the bottom bun and a ramekin of chunky tomato aioli comes on the side, for smearing on the patty or as a dip for the fries.
The half-pound patty is loosely formed, flecked with char, and striped with grill marks. When cooked right, it's fatty and juicy, with a strong beefy flavor. I slapped a slice of tomato on top of the melted cheese, but the combination of sharp cheddar, salty, smoky bacon, and the aggressively beefy patty makes this old school burger just as good naked.
Burgers come with fries, house salad, or Caesar salad. The thin-cut fries are decent, but not terribly remarkable. They're lightly fried, served unsalted, and didn't taste fresh. Unless you feel emotionally unsatisfied eating a burger without fries, I'd go with the Caesar.
Waiting over 40 minutes to get a properly cooked burger was a bust, but I'm hoping my sub-par experience at Dobson's was unusual. Even with the slip-up, I'll endorse it as a worthy destination for a burger, on a few conditions: go solo, sit at the bar, and finish your meal with the berry cobbler.
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