The Smoking Goat
3408 30th Street, San Diego, CA 92104 (map); 858-955-5295; thesmokinggoatrestaurant.com
Cooking method: Grilled
Short Order: Easily one of the best premium-priced burgers in San Diego
Want Fries With That? Awesome duck fat truffle fries come standard, so yes
Price: Burger, $16
Note: Closed Mondays
Every bistro needs a great burger. It should be a few noticeable degrees better than what you'd find elsewhere, feature a primo beef patty cooked reliably to order, have a few cheffy tweaks that merit the price (but aren't so overdone they alienate purists), and come with stellar fresh-cut fries. On all counts, The Smoking Goat delivers.
Burgers are served open-faced on a brioche bun, with bubbly cheese and caramelized onions on top, and mustard aioli on the bottom. Lettuce, tomato, and an enormous housemade pickle come on the side. Even if you're iffy on mustard and onions like I am, eat it as intended. Chef Fred Piehl knows what he's doing, and having confidence in that pays off. The sweetness of the onions is matched by the savory mustard, the vegetable toppings are all exceptionally fresh, and the flavor of the beef shines through everything that's piled on top of it.
I thought the loosely formed beef patty could use a smidge more salt, but in terms of juiciness, it was off the charts. Eating this burger without having juices dribbling down your chin requires a make-out session. You have to get in close, and have a very personal moment with the patty. Kudos are also due to the cook who prepared it. The beef was nicely browned and cooked exactly to order, with a warm, pink center.
Thin-cut fries crisped in a mix of oil and rendered duck fat come standard, but there's nothing ordinary about them. Fresh from the fryer, they're tossed with truffle oil, dusted with Pecorino Romano and herbs, and served with a generous portion of the same mustard aioli that's on the burger. You're going to eat every last one.
Pricing a burger north of $15 sets up certain expectations, but whether it's atmosphere, quality, or flavor, the burger at The Smoking Goat is absolutely worth paying the premium price. To everyone who has been encouraging me to try it for the past three years: you were right, this is a great 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 San Diego food blog EJeats.com. On Twitter, she's @ErinJax