24-5 Health Issue
Written by Bakersfield Magazine
It must be in our DNA. We like ‘em fried, charbroiled, grilled, and...pretty much any other way you can prepare ‘em. So how do you sort truly good burgers from the mediocre? You’ve got to taste them, of course. So with the help of the gourmands on our A-List, we compiled a list of the best patties in Bakersfield. And just like a cheap horror movie, there was an excessive amount of cheese.
I've often found that being this magazine’s assistant editor comes with perks. The job is full of them. But never have I been literally so full of perks.
When we decided to, once again, tackle this mountainous feature, the responsibility fell on my shoulders to take the burgers our fantastic A-List members recommended, and put them to the test.
This happened for two reasons. The first was because we knew we needed someone objective to taste all the burgers, and who better to do that than someone with no stake in the ranking? The second was because I pleaded to be given the assignment. Hey, I like burgers.
I thought long and hard about a feature of this proportion, and then thought long and hard about my own proportions. Was I willing to go down in glory having tasted the best burgers in Bakersfield, and ultimately go up a pant size? The answer was an unequivocal yes. My boss quipped, “No pain, no gain.”
There was definitely gain.
It’s important to have your wits about you when you embark on a gastronomical journey such as this. Especially because there’s a side effect to writing about hamburgers that no one talks about. It’s called burger lust.
Many people in history have been afflicted by this delicious disorder. I’m sure even Teddy Roosevelt dug burgers. That’s why hamburgers are so ingrained in our culture. They’re referenced in TV shows, movies, songs, and have even spawned super-villains (how many of us still have nightmares about the Hamburglar?).
Pulp Fiction featured heavy, almost philosophical, burger talk. It still has me craving a “Big Kahuna Burger.” And a season four episode of How I Met Your Mother had Marshall searching for a savory burger that had eluded him for years after a chance tasting.
“The bun, like a sesame-freckled breast of an angel,” he began, “resting gently on the ketchup and mustard below, flavors mingling in a seductive pas de deux. And then...a pickle! The most playful little pickle! Then a slice of tomato, a leaf of lettuce, and a patty of ground beef so exquisite, swirling in your mouth, breaking apart, and combining again in a fugue of sweets and savory so delightful. This is no mere sandwich of grilled meat and toasted bread...this is God, speaking to us in food.”
I tried to keep Marshall’s sentiments in the back of my head as I, too, immersed myself in Bakersfield burger-lore.
There was a lot to consider. Even more to taste. And copious amounts of Tums to ingest. But here, our dear readers, is the list. These are Bakersfield’s best burgers, as selected by our A-List and tasted by one woman. A woman whose burger lust has been appeased...for now.
#1 34th Street Carwash Deli 920 34th Street
Until you’ve eaten this life-altering burger, you can’t say you’re really from Bakersfield.
It’s one of those burgers that tastes so good while you’re eating it, you casually think about applying for a marriage license and changing your last name to “Ortegaburger.” You wouldn’t mind being tied down for the rest of your life to this burger. Then again, you’d live in constant fear that someone would eat your family. And it would probably be you who eventually devoured them.
Still, the Ortegaburger blends its flavors so perfectly, it takes the number one spot. Many places serve their variation of a burger with an Ortega chile, but only the Carwash gets it right.
It starts off with their hand-made patty that gets a bit of a crust after being on the grill. Yet it’s so thick, it stays juicy through and through. The chile adds the right amount of flavor and moisture to each bite and melds with their secret sauce and traditional condiments (lettuce, tomato, bread & butter pickle, onion) so wonderfully, I can’t tell if the spots on my “burger score sheet” are grease stains or tears. That’s right. I’m willing to admit this burger made me cry a little. It’s that good.
Tums needed: •
#2 Wool Growers 620 E. 19th Street
You wouldn’t think a place famous for its Basque cuisine would rank on a list of burgers. Alas, their cheeseburger is the stuff of legend. Probably because you wouldn’t assume something so simple would taste so heavenly. It literally comes with meat, cheese, and mayo. It’s an item you think a picky 6-year-old would order, except for the fact that it weighs about as much as a 6-year-old.
The patty was so gigantic, I wondered how best to approach it. Cutting it in half seemed like a defeatist move. Besides, is that how a real woman would eat a burger? (My English grandmother would argue a real woman wouldn’t actually eat a burger).
Rather than appear dainty, it’s best to simply pick up this behemoth and chow down. This burger is the plainest on the list, but for that, it’s almost the greatest. It’s pure burger.
After a few bites, though, lethargy sits in. There is no possible way you can finish the hamburger in one sitting but forcing the whole thing down your gullet is a sad idea. However, the thought of walking away from its juicy half-eaten carcass is almost as sad.
Tums needed: •
#3 Fishlips 1517 18th Street
It’s hard to pick just one burger at a place known for rockin’ tunes and rockin’ eats, but the Angus Young, and all its cheeky school-boy charm, makes our list. OK, so the burger doesn’t actually come dressed in Young’s signature uniform, but it does come dressed to the nines with hearty slices of avocado and melty Swiss cheese.
The burger is piled high with the usual suspects (red onion, pickles, lettuce, tomato), but it comes with a knife sticking out the top. Except the knife is not purely for aesthetic purposes...if you are planning to get most of the burger in your mouth, you’ll want to cut it in half. This burger makes the cut for a number of reasons, one being that even though the patty is plenty juicy, the bun stays surprisingly crisp.
The main reason, though, is the way each of the condiments complement each other. No one flavor overpowers the other and each of them is as important as the next.
Kind of like AC/DC. Still, after sampling the Angus Young, nothing’s stopping you from doing the “duck walk” on your way out the door.
Tums needed: • •
#4 Burger Hut 1112 19th Street
It’s true, the Burger Hut is an unassuming place to grab a burger. That’s because there are a grand total of four tables inside the establishment. However, the flavors of their “famous” Teriyaki Burger are anything but modest. In fact, one taste will have you methodically picking apart your burger trying to find the flavor crystals that just have to be stashed in their somewhere.
But the only thing you’ll find will be a bit of shredded lettuce, a tomato, some white onion, a smallish patty, and the secret weapon: marinated teriyaki beef.
One automatically expects pineapple on a teriyaki burger, but it seems the Burger Hut has taken a different approach, piling an already tasty burger with tender beef that’s been grilled after soaking in a sweet, savory teriyaki marinade...a marinade that should be available by the glass.
Hyperboles aside, Burger Hut has something special.
Tums needed: nada
#5 Café Med 4809 Stockdale Highway
Again, a fantastic burger in a seemingly unlikely place. When you’re craving Mediterranean food, you’re usually not thinking about something served on a bun with cheese, but Café Med has met all the requirements of a hearty (and heart-clogging) cheeseburger.
Because Bakersfieldians are serious about their burgers, this is yet another local restaurant that uses enough ground beef to fill a football helmet when making their patties. The whole thing is roughly the size of a football, too, which makes it a bit hard to eat. Each bite would push the condiments to the other side. It probably took me three bites before I got any beef. That said, they were tasty bites. At one point, I realized the best way to eat this enormo-burger was to rotate the darn thing in my hands every time I took a bite, much the way one would eat corn on the cob.
The meat wasn’t the only thing that was fresh, however, as each of the condiments were crisp and flavorful, giving this burger staying power. It also makes this burger worthy of the “loner lunch.” Take it from me, it’s worth the scrutiny and sideways glances of being “that girl who’s eating alone” to taste this beefy creation.Tums needed: •
#6 Andre’s Drive-In 1419 Brundage Lane
Since burgers neither originated in France, nor are they a staple on French menus, we have to assume that this burger received its moniker due to the huge sourdough French roll it’s served in. That, or the abundance of French’s mustard slathered on top. In any case, this is not a burger to joke around with.
For one thing, it’s massive. For another, it’s served wrapped in more paper than you’d find at the bottom of some kid’s locker on the last day of school. So you know the makers of this gastronomic specialty take it seriously. The patty was typical, but there’s two of them on this burger, plus two slices of cheese, onions, tomatoes, enough shredded lettuce to serve a family of bunnies for a week, and special sauce. You’re already going to be stuffed. Then comes the coup de grâce...delivered by the bun. A sourdough French roll seems unremarkable, you say.
Normally, I’d agree. But before assembling each French Burger, some thoughtful Andre’s cook apparently soaks each roll in a highly-flavorful buttery concoction. Once it’s good and moist, it’s tossed on a griddle to toast up brown and crispy. Admittedly, halfway through my burger, I began disassembling it to nosh on the roll. And isn’t that what the French would do, too?
Tums needed: • •
#7 John’s Burgers 1000 Oak Street (3 other locations)
Again, sometimes less is more. Trying to do too much with hamburger can detract from the overall burgerness. You don’t want extra condiments tossed on there for the fun of it. The flavors should be finely selected and sloppily assembled. That’s what you get at John’s.
The cheeseburger is both sloppy and delicious and elicits thoughts of eating at a burgery (that’s a word, right?) from the ‘50s. I kind of wish I wore my argyle sweater and saddle shoes that day.
The burger was charbroiled and just thick enough. It’s a wonder I walked away without more food on my shirt because this thing was a cacophonous explosion of shredded lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, cheese, mayo, ketchup, and a patty.
The bun was little help in keeping it together, but I can’t complain. Most of the flavors are subtle, but you do get that fresh onion bite—which people have come to expect with a John’s burger. This is a classic old-fashioned burger brimming with flavor but not trying to do to much.
Tums needed: •
#8 Goose Loonie’s 816 18th Street
One could argue it’s a mistake to call a burger crazy. One could also argue that it’s in poor taste to ask someone who’s been eating burgers for a week to assemble their own, because left to their own devices, they’ll probably order a salad instead. It’s served open-faced, with condiments including onions, tomatoes, lettuce, and avocado, laid out on the plate. But they draw the line at the cheddar cheese and applewood-smoked bacon.
Those are already on the patty, as if the cooks are worried you’ll screw that part up and the bacon will end up underneath the bottom bun. A secret sauce tops off this burger.
The bun also has something unique going for it. It’s a toasted cornmeal bun, so it’s a bit sweeter. That does, however, bring out the smoky flavors of the burger and the bacon. And the red onion provides a delightful bite to balance out the woodsiness of the avocado. That is, if you choose to put those on your burger at all. Of course, assembling your own burger is one of the best parts of being in America, right? You can have it your way. Oh, wait, that’s Burger King.
Tums needed: •
#9 Moo Creamery 4885 Truxtun Avenue
It’s hard not to giggle as you make the sound of the animal you’re about to eat when ordering, but that’s where the laughter ends. Probably because it’s hard to chuckle when your mouth is wrapped around this tender, chic burger. It’s the only burger on the list that looks visibly cute. The super-thick patty comes on a fresh-baked and lightly-grilled brioche bun with caramelized onions, lettuce, Dijon mustard, and their famous Moo Sauce.
Each and every bite tasted wonderful and was complemented by the homemade pickles served on the side. Unlike burgers that are too condiment heavy, the Moo Burger sticks with a minimal list of ingredients and that works in its favor.
The aftertaste provided by the onions and the grilled beef is also noteworthy. But keep in mind, Moo serves their burgers medium rare to medium (unless you ask nicely), so as to keep the flavor of the meat very apparent.
The Moo Burger might be the shortest-named burger on the list, but it’s not lacking in flavor. You know, if they were going for a short name, they should go with the Yum Burger. It’s even got one of the same letters.
Tums needed: nada
#10 Happy Jack’s 1800 20th Street
Sticking with a purist approach, I again sampled the basic burger (and added bacon), which tasted anything but basic. Talk about a Mom and Pop operation—Happy Jack’s does everything old-fashioned, even down to payment options. Cash only at this stead.
Also, you’d better be willing to sit next to a stranger when you dine, though by the end of your meal, they won’t be a stranger anymore. There is one wrap-around bar with limited seating. Everybody is there for the same reason (to gorge on old-fashioned hamburgers), so you get along fine.
The burger arrived piled high with onions, lettuce, American cheese, tomatoes, secret sauce, a hefty patty, and bread and butter pickles, which elevated this burger to the next level. Those pickles really set the burger apart with a little extra kick of sweetness. And the secret sauce
dds just the right amount of tang. It put this burger on our list. It also keeps this burger in my dreams. Not really, because my dreams consist mainly of Robert Pattinson and I fighting off dinosaurs in a Jurassic Park-type locale. But you get the idea...it’s a burger that will put a smile on your happy face.
Tums needed: • •
Article appeared in our 27-1 Issue - April 2010