Encore Champagne & Dining Room
531 F Street, San Diego CA 92101 (map); 619-255-5152; encoregaslamp.com
Cooking method: Grilled
Short Order: A premium burger that's totally worth the splurge
Want Fries With That? The thin-cut fries are crisp and tasty, so yes
Price: Three-course "Power Lunch," $20
When Encore Champagne & Dining Room opened in downtown San Diego, I had some initial reservations about trying their burger. Beef patties and "bubbly" seem like an awkward pair, and the last thing I want to do is shell out for a pricey burger only to discover it's not worth the investment.
Knowing that Ryan Studebaker (former chef de cuisine at Solace and the Moonlight Lounge, Gingham, and Prepkitchen Del Mar—all acclaimed restaurants) had signed on as executive chef boosted my confidence about spending $14 for a burger and fries, which, comparatively speaking, is totally reasonable in my sunny corner of the universe anyway.
If you go during lunch, you've got a few options: order the burger off the regular menu ($14), or get it in one of the prix-fixe "power lunch" options, either with an appetizer for $15, or with an appetizer and a drink (wine, sparkling wine, beer, or a sparkling wine cocktail) for $20. That's the route I went, opting for a roasted beet salad and a raspberry Bellini.
My server warned me that my medium-rare burger would be "quite rare," and when it arrived, I instantly understood why. The kitchen's interpretation of medium-rare is right on the razor's edge, which is great if you appreciate a tender, juice-laden patty radiating with bold, beefy flavor.
The patty, which is easily a half-pound, is made from naturally raised and certified humane Angus beef from Aspen Ridge Natural Beef, out of Greely, Colorado. The execution is impeccable. The beef is coarsely ground, expertly seasoned, and flecked with little spots of char on both sides from the hot grill. It's topped with buttery Manchego cheese, wilted arugula, sweet onion jam, roasted tomato, and remoulade on a soft, squishy bun. Taken together, the result is a savory, decadent burger with little pings of sweetness and acidity. Remarkably, the bun held together to the last bite.
The roasted beet salad came on the same plate as the burger, nestled beside the thin-cut, herbed fries. Both sides were tasty, but way too salty. I got through the salad, but left the majority of the fries untouched. Luckily, the burger was so big, I was stuffed anyway.
Even if sweet, pink drinks aren't your thing, hear me out on the raspberry Bellini. Of all the drink options on the prix fixe menu, it makes the most sense because if you sip it slowly enough, you can save some for the end of the meal, which is almost as good as having dessert. I thought the acidity of the raspberry purée was the perfect choice to balance the sweetness of the sparkling wine. Other options include strawberry, peach, pear, litchi, pineapple, or fig.
In downtown San Diego, upscale burgers with a price tag to match aren't hard to find, but few are as awesome as the burger at Encore—especially when you get the prix fix deal. You should go.