There's a new trend in chain restaurants these days--I call it hipster fast food. Think Chipotle, Umami Burger, Super Duper Burger and to a lesser extent The Melt--all with varying degrees of foodie-ness. They try to appeal to folks who want something quick but not standard fast food quick. Each store has the basic decorative bones--wood, steel, etc.--but throws in artwork or something that is either city or neighborhood specific. Adding themselves to this canon of dining places with it's first San Francisco location is Smashburger in the shopping plaza at Portrero Hill. They've got stores all over the country, especially down LA way, so I was intrigued to try them out as an alternative to say In-And-Out. It's a pretty large space in the strip mall and they've done it up with some nods to both San Francisco and California based on some of the "artwork" on the wall.
I happened by there one weekday at the tail end of the work day lunch rush. The place was still hopping and seeing as how they'd only been open under a week I'll give them some slack that the line to order took a bit of time. There were a number of folks in front of me, who it seems, had never been to a burger joint before and didn't know how to order burgers and toppings and had to ask a question about every sauce and side. Which was odd considering some of them were quite large and I'm sure they probably eaten a burger or two in their life. Or maybe it was just my hunger and the smell of cooking meat that elevated my irritation levels for folks who can't seem to make up their minds knowing there are others in line behind them. Be that as it may I finally made my way to the lovely lady at the register who was still all smiles even after the previous customers, so points for that. Also, since I had had plenty of time waiting to peruse the menu I was ready and quick with my order. (others should take note to try and do the same when you have that kind of time)
I went with the bacon cheeseburger (you can get it as a single or double), added grilled onions (free, though you can get things like an egg or avocado for $1 more) with smash sauce (also free) on the side. Plus a side of veggie frites--carrots and green bean flash fried and served with ranch sauce for dipping. One of the shticks of Smashburger and hence their name, is that they press the patty on the grilled when cooking to give it a good char. I wondered about how this wouldn't press all the juice out of the burger at the same time and thus make it kind of dry. But watching them cook in the kitchen, the smash only happens once, and that is at the beginning when the meat is first put on the griddle. Thus the meat is cold and all the juices are still locked in it. Basically they are flattening out the burger to bun size and evening it out to a relative thinness that will cook evenly across the patty--make sense? Well, even if it doesn't, the process works and I had a really juicy, medium rare burger with great flavor. The outside had nice little char on it and while they don't really tell you about their burger seasonings I thought I could taste hints of salt, pepper, some garlic, maybe coriander(?)--not totally sure, either way, very flavorful. The bacon was somewhere between crisp and chewy which was fine, I mean it's bacon after all. It was served on an egg bun, which I like with burgers and this one was toasted and buttered, more points. Howevery, between the juicy meat, the juicy onions and the sauce, the bun didn't quite hold up after the first few bites and became a bit squishy as the all the liquid absorbed into the bun. It wasn't a total fail but would be nice if they could hearty up the bun somehow. I got a side of smashsauce, the yellow stuff, which basically a mix of spicy mustard, mayo, relish and some other spices, it wasn't bad and is a decent special sauce or ketchup mayo alternative.
The veggie frites I liked as an alternative to french fries (which they do offer in both regular and sweet potato). They were hot out of the fryer, salted and still had a nice bit crispness when you bite into them. My one critique would be that they need to drain them some when they come out of the fryer as they were a tad on the greasy side, much of which pooled at the bottom of the dish they were in. As they cool off that aspect is a bit unappetizing and while I patted them down with napkins, I'd rather not have to as I like this whole idea of veggies as a burger side dish and I'm glad they have it.
While it took some time to place my order, I have to say the food came out rather quickly, so props for keeping the kitchen humming even during the rush. And the whole shebang was just under $10, which is a bargain, particularly in this town. They put out a good burger and I can see myself hitting up this place again and there's parking(!) and a Safeway and a Sports Basement right there--try to find that at some of these other places. Either way, if you want a good burger and some alternative side choices, Smashburger is worth a try.