**They are no longer in this tiny space. They closed their Chez Papa on the corner and move Mama into the bigger space. They still have their famous hamburger and the wait is a little less***
Sometimes restaurants get known for a particular dish which can be both a blessing and a curse. If the dish is really good it can bring the folks in to give it a try but it can also cause a place to be too crowded for locals. Or the other dishes can get neglected and things can slide to where the staff don't care and they just roll their eyes and take your order without much thought. Or in some cases the place soldiers on doing what they do well and meeting all expectations in other areas of food and service. One such place is Chez Maman, the original location in Potrero Hill (they have an off-shoot now in Hayes Valley).
It's a long narrow space in a quaint under visited neighborhood of San Francisco. The place is an institution in town and has a following of both locals and tourists and no matter what time of day you go it's gonna be crowded. It was with this in mind that I made my way there on a weekday morning to be there when they opened so I could slip in, eat and then get out before the lunch rush swamped the place. I like intimate settings as much as the next person but when Chez Maman is full it really feels full.
I'd been here several times before over the years but my last visit had been long before I started reviewing places thus I felt it was time to go back. My main reason for coming was that whenever you see lists of "Best SF Burgers", theirs always seems to show up. I remember having had it way back when, but couldn't really tell you much beyond I thought I enjoyed it. So upon my return my sole focus was to try it and revive my tastebud memories. I bellied up to a bar stool and and placed my order. The basic burger is $11 and it comes with choices of fries or salad. I decided to go all in and ordered mine medium rare with bacon, cheddar cheese and an egg for giggles--that's $15.50 not including tax--but I'll give them a pass on price as you can see from picture it's a rather large portion.
All are served on a toasted ciabatta bun with lettuce, tomato, grilled onions and a garlic aioli. (Ketchup is already on the bar) Since you are basically sitting right on top of the grill if you are at the bar you can watch them make your burger or order from start to finish. Below is mine on the tiny grill.
The meat was cooked to a perfect medium rare but this is no ordinary patty. They've taken the ground beef and mixed in bits of parsley, onion, garlic and other herbs to give it a unique flavor that I can only describe as very "herby". It's very akin to a fancy meatloaf and to be honest I'll say it's an acquired tasted. I couldn't really pinpoint what the specific seasonings were (my palate just ain't that refined) but whatever it was, while not unpleasant, was......different. It's not your traditional burger and some folks or purists may not take to the taste so be warned--this burger probably isn't for everyone. I'll even mark myself down as half a fan. Everything was cooked expertly. The egg was fried with some nice runny-ness from the yolk, the bacon was hearty, smokey, crispy on the edge and two big pieces. The cheddar was mildly sharp and tangy and held up against the sweetness of the grilled onions--a nice touch I really liked. Take note the aioli only gets a peasants squirt across the top bun and while the burger is juicy I wanted more and thus you do have to ask for more on the side--I recommend this. As for the fries--since everything is cooked to order they were hot, crisp, thin and sprinkled with a generous dose of parsley and salt--very nice.
Needless to say I'm torn about out right saying yes to trying the burger since it's seasoning could be an issue for some folks, but I would actually recommend giving Chez Maman a try. Since they are a French cafe they do offer a nice array of savory crepes, mussels--that the two ladies on my right seemed to enjoy and a steak and frites--that the gentleman on my left seemed to be really enjoying too. Thus they seem to have overcome the "this is the dish you need to try" trap which for a neighborhood restaurant, is a really good thing.
Some things to keep in mind if you go: parking isn't all that bad, the 10 Townsend stops just across the street, place is small so go early or be prepared to wait, they really only have one waiter who is very French meaning service could seem brusque but is actually very efficient, I can't stress enough that the place is super tiny--if you are claustrophobic at all--be warned. Otherwise--bon appetite!