The Waterfront Bar and Grill
2044 Kettner Blvd San Diego, CA 92101 (map); 619-232-9656 ; waterfrontbarandgrill.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A decent, well-priced burger, but not spectacular
Want Fries With That? Might as well since they come with the burger anyway. Fries are standard-issue, yet tasty
Price: 1/4 pound Waterfront burger and fries, $6.40 (+ 50 cents for cheese)
Ever since I moved to San Diego, I've been hearing a lot about the burgers at The Waterfront, both word-of-mouth (including a nod by AHT reader PAR92037) and in the local media. The buzz seems to be that San Diego's oldest pub (circa 1933) is somewhat of a "sleeper hit"—a great spot that gets overlooked and overshadowed by more popular places like Rocky's and Hodad's.
I decided the best way to test out the bar's chops would be to order the simplest burger on the menu, the eponymously named Waterfront Burger. One of my cardinal rules for ordering at restaurants is if a dish has the name of the restaurant in it, it's going to be good. 99% of the time, it's a good strategy. This time, not so much.
One one hand, the burger had potential, starting with the patty, which, despite being a slim 1/4-pound and with only the slightest blush of pink, was still moist and flavorful. The medium-grind patty had a touch of char and tasted leaner than most, making it a refreshing break from burgers that send me into a meat coma and a good choice for medium-sized appetites. Toppings were fresh and well portioned, including lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles (but minus one point for the slice of grade-B American cheese). The only ingredient I passed on was the grilled onions, due to personal preference. At less than $7 for a complete meal (including fries and the cheese upgrade), it was also a solid value.
The burger was served with a handful of standard-issue, yet impossible-to-stop eating fries. Like the burger, they were tasty enough, but would have been vastly improved with a dash of seasoning, some dipping sauce, or any little extra touch that would take the flavor up a notch.
Unfortunately, a burger that started out as promising with a few minor flaws was K.O.'ed by the bun. The sad, spongy disc of bread was exactly like what you'd get 8/$1 at the grocery store. It had no heft or substance and half of it ended up sticking to the roof of my mouth. If not for this sloppy attention to detail, the Waterfront's burger coulda had class.
One saving grace of The Waterfront's burger was it tasted almost identical to what you'd get at In-N-Out, minus the spread. From the patty weight, to the grind of the beef, the cheese, and the portioning of the toppings, if I had eaten it blindfolded, I would have lost a lot of money in bet. Still, this positive comparison is a double-edged sword, for the obvious reason that In-N-Out burgers are a lot cheaper. Perhaps then, the final point in this burger's favor comes down to the fact that it's served in a bar, where you can also get beer.
In my experience, some bars are great because in addition having an excellent draft beer selection, they happen to serve burgers, while others are great because they make excellent burgers and also happen to serve beer. The Waterfront is the former: a bar with an excellent selection of beer and passably tasty (though not outstanding) burgers.
Judging by the people around me (all of whom also ordered burgers and looked satisfied with their selection), I probably should have chosen one of the larger, 1/2-pounders, which have more substantial toppings and are served on a different bun, not the basic quarter-pounder they put their name on.
Live and learn, I suppose.