Burger Heaven at The Balboa

Sometimes a girl just needs a fat, juicy burger in her life. If you read that and thought, ew, I’ve never thought that – you’re lying to yourself. As Americans, I think we’re all programmed to love a good burger. Even vegetarians are getting their fix (“The Impossible Burger” craze is sweeping San Diego – a plant-based burger that smells, sizzles, and bleeds like meat). After weeks of trying to suppress this carnal burger craving, I gave in and tried a new place that I’ve heard a lot about from burger lovers around San Diego.

The Balboa Bar and Grill is a place I’ve driven by countless times, right on 5th avenue as you head from downtown into Banker’s Hill. Is it in downtown, or Banker’s Hill? I’m not even sure – it’s a no-man’s land spot, and both the interior and exterior mimic this neutral territory. It’s dark, with no windows besides the front door, and it seemed that most of the patrons were more interested in nursing their liquid meals. Part of our party grabbed a table, and the rest of us headed straight to the bar to get down to business and order dinner. If you haven’t got the picture already, the Balboa isn’t a place that waiters come by and refill your waters or anything – you simply chose from the handful of burgers or sandwiches on the menu and they’ll bring it out shortly after.

Down to the goods: I started with a cocktail – The Aviation. Made with luxardo maraschino liqueur, crème de violette, fresh lemon, gin, and luxardo cherry. My friend thought I got a charcoal cocktail – again, it is REALLY dark inside. It was delightfully light and refreshing, not overly sweet. For the main event, I ordered The Balboa burger, which comes with LTO, American Cheese, and a Zesty House Aioli. All burgers are 1/3 lb fresh patties, which I got served medium (how they recommend). It sounds so simple, but this was the perfect burger. The bun, a freshly baked bolillo roll, was thick enough to be a factor (unlike those flat fast-food burger buns) but was so soft and delicious, without getting too soggy. Beware – this is a multi-napkin, juices dripping down your arm burger situation. So messy, but so worth it. We also ordered large orders of the regular fries as well as the garlic fries to share. Even though the only different was the garlic, we all preferred the garlic fries to the traditional Kennebec.

Burgers scarfed down, a pile of napkins discarded and garlic breath all around, just like that we were on our way out. Full and happy, everyone agreed – we all had just experienced one of the best burgers of our lives. Hands down. No fluff, no fancy ingredients, and no long wait – The Balboa may not be the prettiest place in town, but it delivers when it comes to the search for San Diego’s best burgers.

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