Taste of the Town - Burger Round-up In Alameda
Alameda's Hamburgers Hold Their Own
I never thought of myself as picky about food. In fact, there aren’t many foods I won’t eat. But I don’t eat hamburgers. I do eat beef, but I rarely choose it—ground or otherwise—when I eat out. That’s what I realized when I was assigned to survey five Alameda restaurants with reputations for serving a decent hamburger. But this actually makes me a perfect person to appraise our Island’s burger offerings, because I have few preconceived notions about what a great burger should be. I just go by my gut. (And now, after sampling myriad burgers around town, my gut goes with me.) Epicureans—carnivores and health-conscious eaters alike—take notice: There’s no need to schlep over to Barney’s on Piedmont Avenue or wait in line at the In-N-Out off Edgewater Drive. There are delicious burgers arrayed across the Island from High Street to Webster Street, and these five eateries—Alameda Grill, Bip’s Broiler, Linguini’s Pizza and Brew, McGee’s Bar & Grill and Nation’s Giant Hamburgers—provide enough options to keep you eating locally for a very long time.
Unless you are a cyclist who hangs at Alameda Cycle on Park Street, or you keep your money at the Alameda Credit Union on Webb Street, you can easily miss this little hole in the wall. If you are a burger lover, I suggest you march straight into what may very be the best-little-burger-house in town. However, be prepared to take your food to go or eat outside at the two small tables or the single long bench. Just bundle up for a yummy lunch on a chilly winter afternoon or cool spring evening. The burgers are cooked to order, with a choice of three weights: 1/3, 1/2 or 2/3 pound, with prices starting at $3.55. (For the mathematically challenged, like me, a 1/3 pound is a little more than five ounces.) The biggest is the double burger with double cheese, and it’s the priciest at $6.95. The Korean BBQ hamburger—with grilled onions and mushrooms, lettuce, tomato and a spicy barbeque sauce—received rave reviews in our party. Cooking up a wide selection of beef, garden, tofu and turkey burgers, Alameda Grill is, in the words of one of my hungry eating companions, guilty of “wafting burgerlicious temptation” all around its Park Street neighborhood.
Alameda Grill, 1520 Park St., (510) 523-1700; 10 a.m.–7 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Sat.
“Restoring a piece of Alameda history” could be the tag line for this small diner, located in the southwestern corner of the building that houses Encinal Market. With original fixtures saved from the previous owners, as well as Formica and booths from the 1950s rescued from various closed diners throughout Northern California, this old-school place reminds me of many of the classic diners I knew and loved growing up in New Jersey. The burgers are the same—old-fashioned creations with paper cradling the toasted bun, a patty with grill marks from the authentic char broiler, plus fries and pickles, all nestled into one of those red plastic baskets. The burgers come in 1/3- or 1/2-pound choices priced at $5.95 and up, with names like Plenty of Chili Burger and the Trail Boss Burger ($8.50), which is a giant mouthful on a French roll with cheese, onion rings and barbecue sauce. The waitress was at the ready with a bottomless cup of coffee, but I regretted not trying the milkshakes.
Bip’s Broiler, 3211 Encinal Ave., (510) 769-9933; 11 a.m.–7 p.m. Mon.–Sat. Closed Wednesdays.
Linguini’s Pizza and Brew
You may be surprised that an Italian restaurant famous for its varieties of pizza can flip a respectable burger, but Linguini’s certainly can; nine of them, in fact, with three veggie options, most priced at $7.50 or $8.50. The hefty “D.P.” will set you back $9.50, but it boasts two half-pound patties, double Swiss cheese and all the fixings. I love the turkey burgers here—patties made with freshly ground turkey mixed with finely chopped carrots, celery, onions and herbs. It’s served on a whole-wheat roll with lettuce, tomato and red onions, and I actually feel like I am being healthy enough to eat the side of steak fries that accompanies it.
Linguini’s Pizza and Brew, 1506 Park St., (510) 521-2141; 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Mon.–Thu., 11:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m. Fri.- Sat., 4 p.m.–9:30 p.m. Sun.
McGee’s Bar & Grill
What can be better than a burger and a pint of beer? Make it a McGee’s custom-named burger—the Lily, the Costello and the Rhonda burgers are all excellent choices from the grill. The 1/4-pound Costello, with Jack cheese and avocado, is lighter fare and was just right for me; the beefier half-pound Larry burger hosts Swiss cheese on a French roll. These burgers, with prices starting at around $5, are part of the regular menu, while the most excellent and incredibly tasty 8-ounce Texas Lester burger ($8.50), on the specials menu, sports cheddar, bacon and barbecue sauce, with onion rings on the side.
McGee’s Bar & Grill, 1645 Park St., (510) 522-3470; 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Sun.
Nation’s Giant Hamburgers
It was with great trepidation that I crossed the threshold of Nation’s at the corner of Webster Street and Taylor Avenue. I am not a fast-food junkie (remember, I didn’t think I even liked hamburgers), and honestly, by the time I got there, I was seriously burgered-out. So, I dragged my three kids along as true taste-testers and ended up enjoying the fare immensely. While my children ate bacon cheeseburgers (three slices of bacon!) dripping with juice and cheese and taste, I chowed down on the Harvester, Nation’s vegetarian offering. Drop some cheese and fixin’s on the Harvester and you get an excellent substitute for a beef hamburger. The least expensive joint in the survey, Nation’s comes in under five bucks a burger. But beware, even after a bulky burger it will be impossible to pass up a slice of New York–style cheesecake or banana cream pie for dessert.
Nation’s Giant Hamburgers, 1432 Webster St., (510) 521-8888; 6 a.m.–3 a.m. daily.
—By Mary Lee Shalvoy
—Photography by Lori Eanes