San Diego: In Pursuit of Poutine and a Classic Burger at Heights Tavern
3377 Adams Ave, San Diego CA 92116 (map); 619-302-8178; heightstavern.com
Cooking method: Grilled
Short Order: Your basic bar burger on a better than average bun
Want Fries With That? The fries will be the highlight of the meal, so yes
Price: Burger, $10.50; Canadian Poutine, $9
San Diego is so packed with burger purveyors that I'm often faced with the same dilemma when it's time to file a review: hit one of the established joints or try a place that's completely new. Last time, spurred by a conversation on Twitter, I went with the former. This time, it's the latter. Namely, Heights Tavern, the newest bar in Normal Heights.
Burgers are a core part of the menu, along with sandwiches, salads, and "wet fries"—including one option that'll send a speeding nostalgia bullet straight to the heart of any Canadian expat: poutine. Ah, the flawless confluence of crisp fries and squeaky cheese curds covered with chicken gravy (or sauce brune) is the stuff of dreams, and since the only place I've really been able to get a taste of home for the past three-ish years has been in my imagination, I hightailed it to Adams Avenue ASAP.
Along with the poutine, I got a classic burger ($10.50), with two four-ounce patties, lettuce, tomato, and house sauce. All burgers are served with regular or sweet potato fries, and assorted pickles, including a pickle spear, pickled red onions, and two spindly-looking green beans that seem totally out of place.
With its brioche bun, rosy tomato, and neat stack of iceberg, the burger at Heights Tavern makes a good first impression, but peel back the bread and it dissipates in a flash. The patties are an unappealing brown-grey, massively under-seasoned, and have zero-point-zero char. I wasn't asked how I wanted them cooked, so it appears that medium-well is the standard. Sandwiched together with the onions, tomato, and sauce, the beef completely vanishes. I'd say you might as well be eating a veggie burger, but that would have a lot more flavor.
What you get with this burger is the appearance of beef, and a hint at the texture, but that's it. My friends across the table had the same meat malfunction on their Bacon Bacon burger, saying its only saving grace was the bacon.
Burgers come with regular, skin-on, medium-cut spuds, or sweet potato fries. Both are crisp, lightly salted, and tasty enough that they easily outshine the burger. Ask for extra house sauce on the side or bacon mayo for dipping.
The "wet fries" covered in a spicy cheese sauce with brown sugar and maple syrup bacon and a few melted blobs of cheese were delicious. Unfortunately, they're calling the dish Canadian Poutine ($9), which just isn't accurate. Like most attempts at the dish around town, two (out of three) of the core components don't pass muster. The "house gravy" is a cheddar cheese sauce with a bacon fat-based roux and the curds weren't fresh enough to squeak or hold their shape. Naming this plate of topped fries Canadian Poutine is tantamount to wrapping up ground beef in a cold tortilla with pico and guac and calling it a carne asada burrito.
Semantics aside, it was a tasty dish. The execution of the bacon was delicious, the ingredients were complementary, and no fry was left standing. All it needs is a new name. One of my table mates had a great suggestion: Faux-tine.
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.