San Diego: Old-School Greatness at The Grill at Torrey Pines
The Grill at Torrey Pines
11480 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla CA 92037 (map); 858-453-4420; lodgetorreypines.com
Cooking method: Griddled
Short Order: An old-school drugstore counter-style burger, masterfully prepared
Want Fries With That? Definitely. They're delicious and well worth the extra $2
Price: Drugstore Style Hamburger, $12
Sometimes when I'm writing up an AHT review, my temptation is to just insert a bunch of photos with only the word "GO" underneath in 24-point font that's bolded, underlined, and bright red. Partly because in a lot of cases the photos speak for themselves, and also because reading the review will delay your enjoyment of a spectacularly delicious burger by a few important minutes. This is one of those times.
Inside the grounds of famed La Jolla golf course Torrey Pines, there are two restaurants: schmantzy-pants A.R. Valentien and The Grill, a more casual spot with a traditional set-up out front, and a cozier, dark bar in the back. You can get the Drugstore Style Hamburger in both areas. Please do, because this is easily one of the top burgers in San Diego.
Executive Chef Jeff Jackson designed the burger to mimic the kind you'd get at drug store counters in the 1950s. It starts with a half-pound of loosely-packed, deliciously fatty 70/30 Niman Ranch chuck that's generously seasoned with salt and griddled on the flat-top, resulting in a beautiful brown crust. Finely diced onions cook up underneath it, so you get a little bit of the flavor in every bite. The toppings (the standard LTP, plus house-made mayo) are all stacked underneath the patty to bring them to "mouth temperature" so you don't get jarred out of your burger haze by ice-cold lettuce.
What makes the burger particularly unique is how the bun is handled. Instead of being toasted, the top half is laid on the patty and covered with a pan towards the end of the cooking process. The steam makes it soft and squishy, so that when you pick it up your fingers sink into the warm bread. I thought I'd miss the crunch that would have come from toasting, but the char on the patty lent enough textural contrast. It was different, in a good way.
Admittedly, my burger came out a bit shy of my requested medium-rare, but with beef this high quality, I wasn't fazed. That little rare spot in the center sent a happy little jolt up my spine, and besides, it was easy enough to avoid. Order yours medium if you can't risk a too-rare center. There's plenty of fat in the beef to keep the patty from drying out.
Fries are an optional upgrade from the defacto mixed greens salad, and they're well worth it. Thin cut, crisp, and golden, these spuds are dusted with just enough salt and are so tasty that you'll have to push the plate out of reach with half of them remaining if you want to leave lunch anything less than gut-bustingly full.
If you're a golfer, playing a round at Torrey Pines is probably already on your bucket list, but if you're not, it's still worth visiting the course, if only for a drugstore-style burger.
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.