475 3rd St., San Francisco CA 94107 (map); 415-644-0838
Cooking Method: Char-grilled
Short Order: Hand-pattied, drive-in style burger that packs a delicious cheesy punch
Want Fries with That? For an extra $2 you get delicious thin cut Kennebec chips
Price: The Cheeseburger, $6; double, +$2; hickory bacon, $1; housemade chips, $2
Notes: Open Mon. to Fri., 11:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.; cash only; prices include tax
"Mexican food and burgers, why not?" was my reaction to hearing about Garaje, a new spot on 3rd Street in SoMa. Like the name implies, the restaurant is themed to look like a big garage: long and narrow, and adorned with street signs and other auto memorabilia. While you'd expect the Mexican-themed menu to have a Mexican-themed burger, surprisingly, Garaje serves a simple drive-in style burger—a burger that not only delivers on flavor but is also of the most affordable burgers in an area filled with white tablecloth options.
The first thing I noticed when I picked up my cheeseburger ($6) was how hefty the burger felt for its size. The burger is a perfect example of what I would make if I were to make a fast food style (or drive-in style) burger: a super soft bun from Acme Bakery, a thin, well salted, crusty patty covered in two slices of melted American cheese, and minimal, fresh, toppings.
The Acme hamburger bun appeared a little on the large side for a single patty burger, but it squished down nicely and was so soft and toasty (some butter probably helped there) that it didn't detract from the whole experience. The fresh ground Angus chuck patty is char-grilled with only the addition of salt. Despite only being 1/3-pound the patty maintained a bit of pink in the middle and its pronounced beefy flavor came out despite the large bun and copious amounts of cheese.
Toppings are are simple and traditional with just the right balance of shredded lettuce, grilled onions, cheap pickles, and homemade Thousand Island. From the first bite to the last this is an amazing burger.
At first I was skeptical of a place that offers chips instead of fries, but Garaje's paper-thin chips ($2) were deliciously crisp and salty. Made from Kennebec potatoes and topped with salt and cooked in rice bran oil, the chips were so good I was tempted to put them on the burger. I would have liked a bigger order considering how thin they are, but these were awesome, like original Lays but much tastier.
For $6 you'd be hard pressed to find a better burger for the price in the city, and with Garaje's many Mexican-themed options and decent beer selection, you can bet that this newcomer will stick around.