San Diego: Hubcap's Burger is Within Inches of Perfection
3926 30th St, San Diego CA 92104 (map); 619-291-1859; hubcapsd.com
Cooking method: Grilled
Short Order: A tasty burger that, with a few minor tweaks, could easily be one of the best in the city
Want Fries With That? Nah, skip 'em.
Price: Hubcap burger, $9; fries with red eye gravy and fluffy cheese, $9
Notes: Pints and cocktails are $5 from 5 to 7 p.m., daily. Restaurant is closed on Mondays
When farm-to-table taco spot El Take it Easy switched concepts to a "grass-fed burger, cocktail and craft beer shack" named Hubcap almost overnight, I was cautiously optimistic. Enthusiastically captioned Yelp photos showed promise, and owner Jay Porter's other venture, The Linkery, already puts out an excellent burger (or so says my San Diego AHT predecessor).
If you want to know exactly what goes into the burger, simply flip over your menu, or click here and you'll be directed to a doodle that deconstructs the entire creation, noting the seven-ounce grass-fed beef patty, housemade pickles and mayo, and "fluffy cheese spread" (cream cheese mixed with cheddar and blue cheese). The final assembled burger is a beauty to behold, and within inches—millimeters, even—of perfection.
Normally, I'd start off by speaking to the merits of the beef, but the bun was so delicious that it deserves top billing. It's buttered, then grilled on the plancha (aka flattop), until golden brown, giving it a crisp, crunchy texture (much like the buns at In-N-Out). All of the vegetable toppings, from the house-made bread and butter pickles and the tomato, to the iceberg and the white onion (which I nixed), were cut razor-thin. This treatment transformed the vegetable portion of the burger it into what tasted like a mayo-dressed salad on top of the beef. It worked for everything except the lettuce. Cut that thin, it registered as wet, not crunchy. Fettuccine-sized strips, as opposed to angel hair, would be better. That being said, the flavors were totally on point. The knockout combination of sweet and tangy pickles, fatty mayo, and salty, savory cheese was excellent. This is easily one of the best burgers I've had in months.
Not being one to question the infinite wisdom of a burger doodle, I went along with the suggested temperature: rare. The loosely packed, lightly seasoned patty I received had a moist and juicy pink center and a barely-browned exterior with almost zero crust. If your personal preference is for a patty with more char, order yours medium-rare or even medium. There's plenty of mayo to make up for any moisture gap that might result from a longer cooking time.
You can add a side of fries for $4, but I had to try the poutine-esque fries topped with fluffy cheese mixed into the red eye gravy, with sliced ham on top. The first few bites were great, but the high salt factor makes this a dish you'll want to split with four people (and drinking a beer with it is not negotiable). Next time, I'd skip the fries entirely. They're serviceable, but the burger outshines them and is more than enough to satisfy any appetite.
Tweaking the lettuce and getting some more char on that top-quality beef would put Hubcap's burger squarely within "best in the city" territory, but as served, it's still going to blow your socks off. Might want to spare them the carnage and opt for flip-flops.
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