2760 5th Avenue #100, San Diego CA 92103 (map); 619-542-0394; ave5restaurant.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A classic burger with a few subtle upgrades that really, really work
Want Fries With That? Mos' def. Regular fries are tasty; truffle fries are better
Price: Burger and fries, $12 (+$1 for truffle fries)
Notes: Get a burger and fries for $8 before 8 p.m. on Tuesdays
Most of the buzz surrounding Ave 5 is praise for mad scientist bartender Mike Yen, whose modernist molecular cocktails have been featured right here on Serious Eats. On the same night that I tasted his bloody mary, peach bellini, and blueberry mojito shots, I was also on a mission to see if Ave 5's cheeseburger was equally praise-worthy. Based on the fact that my first instinct after biting into it was to slap my hand down on the bar and exclaim "Oh hell yes!" I can say with confidence that it is.
Even from halfway across the room, I had a good feeling about the burger. The thick patty was draped with melted cheddar cheese and served on a soft challah bun with a pile of golden-brown shoestring fries on the side. It looked like exactly what I'd been craving: a high-quality burger that wasn't overly complicated nor too simple.
Still shaken from an undercooked burger at Quality Social, I was a bit nervous to inspect the patty, but my trepidation disappeared when I cut through the thin crust of crisp char and saw the middle of the patty was almost entirely pink, yet still comfortably within medium-rare range. The thick and juicy seven-ounce patty was well seasoned with salt and pepper, and had a rich, savory beefiness. Draped over it was a thoroughly melted slice of cheddar, with a smear of Dijon on top. Butter lettuce, tomato, and pickled red onion came on the side, but I opted to eat it straight up because it looked perfect without any of the roughage.
After nearly a year of hamburger coverage for AHT, it's not often that I come across a new burger technique, but Ave 5's bun preparation was something I'd never heard before. Instead of smearing aioli on the bun after toasting it, the challah bun is spread with aioli, then toasted on the griddle. This method allows the aioli to seep into the bun, adding some crunch and a savory counterbalance to the sweetness of the challah.
Shoestring fries come standard, but I upgraded to the truffle fries. Despite differing opinions about truffle oil, I have to say a dash of it on fries is not a bad thing...so long as the oil acts as an accent and not a mask. I tried the fries first—they were so good that I momentarily forgot about the burger. Crisp, light, and golden brown, they were aces all around.
When it comes to cheffy burgers, so many places go too far, but Ave 5's burger is an exercise in restraint. Little upgrades like the aioli and Dijon, plus the challah bun and the pickled onions are just enough of a departure from the norm to appeal to gourmands and purists.