Day One: A Bittersweet Burger Symphony
I know that all of my Portland burger friends wake to the sweet smell of meats and food creativity. I wake in what can only be poetically described by the Verve’s cherished hit from 1997: it’s a bittersweet symphony, this life.
I’m trying to fit a square peg into the round hole of my intestines. I have insurmountable doubt San Francisco will live up to Portland Burger Week. My hopes are low, my cholesterol high. Yet, against all odds, I must push forward. If not me educating on the sacred teachings of Burger, then who?
“TODAY’S THE DAY! READY FOR BURGER WEEK?!” I yell to my creative partner, Adam.
“I forgot. But yeah, we can get lunch,” he responds.
It appears it will be an uphill battle to find someone who shares my ravishing passion for grease. But I must give Adam credit; he’s trying and willing to put in the effort to learn.
As noted in my SF Burger Week prequel, my true appreciation for Portland Burger Week is not in the $5 deals or the week long meat celebration, but rather the creativity of ingredients. It’s a time when a burger doesn’t have to be confined to conventional definitions, but can be free to experiment with kimchi or kool-aid pickles.
I decide to make my first burger an inventive head turner: The Ramen Burger.
L&L’s Hawaiian Barbecue
I grew up going to L&L’s Hawaiian Barbecue since it was one of my mom’s favorite Hawaiian past times. It’s a place where teenage Hawaiian locals flock for a quick fix of saimin and spam.
Unlike its island brethren, the San Francisco location lacks the same aloha spirit. It’s across the street from a questionable massage parlor, and no one greets you with a warm smile upon entry. The restaurant is adorned with faded posters of Hawaiian words, weird stock photos of hula dancers, and two dusty surfboards covered in L&L’s logos and hibiscus flowers. What is it that draws me to this hardly-Hawaiian establishment? Simple: the large sign outside beckoning me to try the Ramen Burger.
Despite my wishes, Adam insists on eating at the restaurant. I look at the plastic menu board and appreciate the option to make it “Loco Moco”, which means adding an egg. It’s well documented on this blog that I have grievances with some of the Portland Burger Week burgers that claim to be “Hawaiian” by adding a pineapple. The ramen burger doesn’t come with any sides, and I make the grave mistake of forgetting to add cheese. I order a Passion Orange Guava drink to feel a bit more authentic to my heritage. We order our ramen burgers and take a seat at a laminate wood grain counter with mismatched high chairs.
An uninterested server monotonously shouts a number and I grab my ramen burger, eager to begin SF Burger Week. I have low hopes based on the establishment aesthetics, but it’s not as bad as I anticipated.
The ramen “buns” are very overcooked and too hot to the touch to start eating, so I have to wait for it to cool down. In reality, it looks nothing like the photos outside. Surprisingly, the overcooked ramen ends up being a welcome crunch as the burger progresses. The lettuce was an unnecessary touch and becomes easily wilted. Red cabbage would have been a better choice, but I have to remember to keep my expectations low here – the fact that a ramen burger even exists in my vicinity is already groundbreaking.
Eating this burger feels like an emotional rollercoaster. At first, I hate it. Then, I appreciate it. Then, I like it more as I keep eating. Then, I wonder if my standards have lowered because I don’t have any inventive burgers in my midst. I give it a 6.5/10 rating overall.
I blame it on the mental fog of consuming a mediocre ramen burger, but in a confusing and unprecedented twist of events, I somehow find myself inside of a 7-Eleven purchasing a culturally appropriated Monster Energy drink. The Monster energy drink has a Chinese dragon graphic with Chinese symbols, encouraging me to “Unleash the Dragon” but on the back, a paragraph explains that Yerba Mate is the “green gold” of the Incan empire. None of it makes sense – I can’t help but wonder if this is a foreshadowing metaphor of what’s to come.
Tired, but also wired from my weird Monster Energy drink high, I opt for a burger that’s close to home. Across from my gym is a place called Beep’s Burgers. Every time I try to get yoked, it taunts me with its funky neon sign. Nothing makes you feel better about your life choices than eating a burger across the street from your gym and a Whole Foods, so I pull up, ready to destroy my body with meat.
I do a bit of background research and discover Beep’s Burgers has been around since 1962. In 2014, it was up for sale and an SFSU alumni student felt determined to buy it because she frequented Beep’s when she was in school. It became a registered San Francisco Legacy business in 2017, and it’s one of the few places in the city where you can still find a $7 burger.
It feels like an authentic piece of old San Francisco, and reminds me of one of my favorite childhood restaurants, Giant Burger, so it immediately digs into a soft spot in my heart. It also has beat-up vinyl seats, so that’s how you know it’s going to be good. I order curly fries, Dr. Pepper, and the Beep Burger and take my place amongst the crowd, standing in a cold fog. 80s music intersperses between patron names as I eagerly wait to hear “Order for Kelsey” called over the loudspeaker.
It’s too cold for me to eat outside, so I drive home with my treasures. I unravel my burger to discover I accidentally ordered the ½ pound burger instead of the ¼ burger and it’s intimidatingly monstrous in size. I suppose I’ll have to… Unleash the Dragon.
The Beep’s Burger is a classic American burger, which is typically not my forte, but this is undeniably good. It’s two perfectly seasoned patties, melted cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, and the secret signature Beep’s sauce. The bun is absolute heaven on earth – fluffy, sweet, and soft like Hawaiian bread. It melts in your mouth. I give it an outstandingly high 9/10 and praise the burger gods for keeping Beep’s Burgers in business. It’s refreshing to find a good burger for a reasonable price in San Francisco.
After the Beep’s Burger, my only option is to lie horizontally. I feel sick and too weak to move, and let the indigestion take over. For the first time, I’m secretly happy I’m not participating in the real burger week because if I had to consume more burgers after this, it would be truly detrimental to my health and well-being. I’ve really become so soft without my rigorous Portland burger training regimen, and it’s only day one. I must try harder tomorrow – the people of San Francisco are depending on me.