1660 India Street, San Diego CA 92101 (map); 619-398-8383; prepkitchen.com
Cooking method: Grilled
Short Order: A carefully constructed and seriously delicious burger that's well worth the investment
Want Fries With That? Housemade chips come with the burger
Price: WNL Burger with classic garnish, $13
Notes: There are additional Prepkitchen locations in La Jolla and Del Mar, and the burger is also available at Whisknladle. See website for addresses
There's lots of great stuff to eat in Little Italy. Roman-style slices topped with potato and zucchini "velvet" at Napizza and fluffy meringue floating on crème anglaise at Monello are two of the top entries on my list, but the burger options are also solid, from the griddled cheese curd-topped number at Davanti Enoteca to my latest find: the WNL cheeseburger ($13) at Prepkitchen.
It comes two ways: with classic garnish, or "WNL garnish" (bacon, caramelized onion, remoulade, Gruyère, and an egg, sunny side up). Either way, it's tasty, but I like the more straight-forward presentation because it lets the beef (deservedly) stand in the spotlight.
A herculean effort goes into making these burgers just-so; don't let that casually askew leaf of lettuce tell you otherwise. A carefully calibrated blend of Black Angus chuck and shoulder from Creekstone Farms is ground on site, and the buns, pickles, and sauces (remoulade on the WNL version; dijonnaise on the classic) are all made in house.
That intense attention to detail carried over to the execution of the patty, which was loosely packed, with plenty of char on the outside and a juicy, moist interior. The patties are grilled, finished in the oven to melt the Gruyère, and topped with well-matched ingredients whose flavors mesh perfectly. You get the earthy cheese, savory dijonnaise, tangy pickles, and sweet tomatoes, and just enough red onion to add an acidic bite. I wanted to weep with emotion and grunt with lust. I did neither, because this is one of those restaurants that's a public place and I am a lady (sorta).
One surprise was how well the unconventional choice of lettuce worked. The romaine, combined with the dijonnaise (which tasted like it was spiked with garlic) and the assertive cheese gave the burger a faint Caesar salad-esque undertone. Factor in the lightly toasted, yet still squishy brioche bun and you've got one of the best burgers I've had in a long time. You should get one.
One gripe? The chips. Sure, they were tasty, but after a burger that delicious, I want to see what the kitchen can do with fries. And I'll take a little remoulade on the side, too.
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.