A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR ABOUT SANTA CRUZ BURGER WEEK:
Santa Cruz does not get nearly enough love as a burger town. That’s ridiculous, as we have more great burgers than you can shake a side of fries at.
The thing is, nobody agrees exactly on what makes a burger great. We’ve discovered this around the GT office, where Lily Stoicheff and I in particular are always arguing about who makes the best burger in Santa Cruz, and saying how we’re going to write a point/counterpoint laying out our arguments. She thinks it’s Oswald, I say it’s Gabriella.
Actually, you know what’d be funny? If I just write why I think Gabriella has the best burger in town right here in this editor’s note, and don’t even tell her about it, so she doesn’t have a chance to argue with me. Bwah, this is perfect!
OK, I’ve thought about this for a while now, and I think the reason Gabriella’s burger is best boils down to one thing: everything. What I mean by that is that the integrity and balance of a Gabriella burger simply cannot be beat. Let me count the ways: first, it has the most compact and delicious focaccia bun you’re going to find anywhere. This bun is flat and sleek—a stealth bomber could fly along its surface and successfully avoid radar detection. The grass-fed beef is delicious, the tomato super fresh, and there’s just enough lettuce to attain crunch—and not a leaf more. I do not want to have to eat my way through a lettuce field to get to the parts of my burger I really care about. And the bacon is subtle, so that the whole thing comes together in a kind of perfect meat-sandwich storm. That’s what I mean by balance, and that’s what the Gabriella burger has.
I can’t wait to see Lily’s face when she reads this. I’ll guess she’ll have to take her counterpoint somewhere else, since she can’t very well argue with me here in this editor’s note, can she?
Sure I can.
What? Lily, is that you?
What are you doing in my editor’s note?
I’m just over at Oswald’s eating an amazing burger and laughing at how dumb you are.
Wait … what is happening right now?
Well, Steve, right now I’m ridiculing your foolish assertion that Oswald is not the best burger in town. Let me tell you what I want in a burger: I want a light-as-a-butterfly-kiss toasted brioche bun to soak up all those delicious meat juices without becoming a gooey mess. This is key to the structural integrity of the burger, of which Oswald is a master.
No, I mean how are you even doing this? Talking to me in my own blurb?
You see, there’s zero slippage between the lettuce, tomato, pickled onion, aioli and melted cheese. The architecture is so well executed that you are able to enjoy the full combination of flavor elements down to the last perfect bite without having one of the components slide out.
This is not the place for this, Lily! I know we have this argument all the time about which of these is the best burger, but you can’t just come in here and hijack this note! Also, you’re wrong! Very, very wrong! I love Oswald’s burger, too, but Gabriella’s is simply …
Oh, and about that aioli—or as I like to call it, the special sauce of grown ups. Greater than the sum of its simple ingredients in a way that’s kind of mysterious, it takes the Oswald burger up a notch from damn near perfect to …
Hey hey, that’s all the time we have! Looking at the final tally, I see that absolutely everyone agrees with me that Gabriella has the best burger in Santa Cruz!
I will find you. I have a certain set of skills.
What an amazing unanimous win for this fantastic burger! Until next Burger Week, everyone enjoy these staff picks—of course there’s no way we could try every burger in Santa Cruz, but we all gained weight trying. It’s a small sampling, maybe, but I think you’ll see from these picks that people are passionate about their favorites, and about what makes a great burger and why.
And Lily, get the hell out of my head.
— STEVE PALOPOLI (& LILY STOICHEFF)
View participating Santa Cruz Burger Week restaurants and burger specials at SantaCruzBurgerWeek.com and at the bottom of this story.
BURGER WEEK STAFF PICKS
By the time I sprinted over to the Buttery, I was hungry. The hungry of a person who follows a strict feeding schedule, and has then missed lunch because of an overbooking of morning interviews. So when the woman behind the counter handed me a burger that felt as heavy as a small infant, something took over. Excitement isn’t the right word—maybe a deep, stomach-growling carnivorous glee? OK, apologies for that visual, but seriously, the weight of the Buttery’s bacon and cheese burger with a ciabatta bun is enough to feel like you’ve done some weight-lifting on the way back to your table. It makes sense, then, that the burger itself doesn’t come with sides—believe me, you won’t need them. Although if you’ve been to the Buttery you know it’s pretty impossible to leave the deli area without side-eyeing those chocolate ganache pecan sandies, buttery croissants and all their other heavenly sweets. But back to this burger. The mayonnaise-Dijon blend oh-so subtly heightens the thin grilled onions and one-third pound beef patty. The bacon cuts through with salty perfection against the backdrop of jack cheese and organic local greens. It’s everything I wanted from a bacon burger. Anne-Marie Harrison
East End Gastropub
A couple of months ago, I came across a recipe for a burger from Shake Shack, a trendy New York burger chain that some have called “the In-N-Out of the East Coast” (these people are wrong), and the instructions on how to cook the meat stuck out to me. It said that you should freeze the meat for 15 minutes before you put it on the grill, and you should only salt the outside of the patty once, right before you cook it.
This made me pause, because the Stoicheff family burger patty that I was raised on and carried to adulthood more closely resembles a meatball than a steak. It’s a blended patty that includes chopped onion, an egg, panko breadcrumbs, chopped parsley, garlic and onion powder, cracked black pepper, Worcester sauce, and kosher salt, cooked close to room temp because doing so usually makes for more even cooking. So, I was skeptical but also intrigued enough to give it a shot.
And—sorry, Dad—it’s a game changer. There’s something about the way the meat caramelizes on the outside, while leaving a soft, juicy interior that I’ve never been able to achieve with other methods. Is it the salt? The cold meat? The 100-percent meat patty? No, really, I’m asking.
I mention this because I’m pretty sure that’s what they do at East End for their house burger. The outside is beautifully caramelized, the inside juicy when cooked medium rare, really flavorful and not too salty, sandwiched in a griddled bun with a slice of melty cheese and a few housemade cucumber pickles. LS
When it comes to burgers, what is the right balance between savory and sweet? If it’s too savory, it just tastes salty—some people are into that, but it’s not my thing. If it’s too sweet, it probably means it’s swimming in barbecue sauce or something.
But Zachary’s Gourmet Burger finds the savory-sweet sweet spot. It’s an elegantly constructed dome of umami with just the smallest hint of something sugary that you can’t help but want to chase all the way through with your burger-chomping teeth. I’m not sure where that touch of sweetness comes from, but I figure it must have something to do with the nexus of bacon, just-ripe-enough avocado and cheese (swiss is my preference). Normally, I’m a big fan of frying bacon back into the Stone Age, ‘till it’s so crisp you could shatter it with a flick of your fingers. But god, not on a burger. On a burger you shouldn’t notice the taste or consistency until about halfway through the bite—it should be subtle enough for you to wonder “Wait, did I get bacon on this?” before you remember that you did, and that you are a genius. That’s how you feel eating Zach’s gourmet burger. SP
While they have recently renovated their restaurant in the East Cliff Plaza, my preferred place to enjoy a burger from U.S. Meal is from a barstool at nearby East Cliff Brewing. Located just around the corner from the restaurant, guests can order off U.S. Meal’s full menu and have their meal delivered to them without interrupting their game of Jenga.
Weighing in at a quarter of a pound, the house burger may be on the modest side, but it’s nonetheless satisfying—and at $6.50 with a side of fries, it’s kind of a steal. TBH, this is my preferred size of burger, as I can easily eat one and feel satiated without hating myself afterward. It’s accompanied by a thick slice of red onion, tomatoes, lettuce, plenty of pickles, American cheese and thick-cut fries. Oh, and mayo—ye mayo haters be warned. It’s seriously tasty, one of my favorite non-fancy burgers in Santa Cruz.
I feel like this is an appropriate time to assert a controversial opinion: American cheese is the best cheese for burgers. There, I said it. I mean, it’s scientifically engineered to be the meltiest, stretchiest cheese on the market. OK, so you could use a fancy melty cheese like Gruyere or raclette, but if you can’t make a trip to Whole Foods, a nice plastic-wrapped slice of American will do just fine every time. LS
This unapologetically straight-forward burger has the charbroiled flavors beef lovers would expect from the unabashedly old-school Wooden Nickel Bar and Grill on Freedom Boulevard in Watsonville. Of course, any sturdy bar burger will pair nicely with a West Coast craft beer, of which the joint has five, including Deschutes Black Butte Porter and Lagunitas IPA. For Burger Week, the Wooden Nickel will be serving basically a supped-up half-pound version of its standard third-pound creation, which comes complete with tomato, lettuce, cheese and grilled onion on a toasted, buttery bun, with sides of slaw, a brownie and some French fries. Those fries—skinnier than steak fries, thicker than skinny fries—taste of actual fresh potatoes, and are loved by South County families and beer-guzzling sports fans alike. JACOB PIERCE
Red Restaurant and Bar
For many of the bar-going crowd in Santa Cruz, going to the Red before 9 p.m. can sound like a dubious prospect—those dark corners in the cold light of day? Dinnertime might just be the best time to go, not only to revisit the stained glass cupola of the old hotel architecture, but also because that’s when the delightful Red staff has yet to be overrun by the 20-something meat market. Most importantly, you can also focus on the burgers—like the Johnny Cash burger with applewood smoked bacon, cheddar, onion strings and bourbon barbecue sauce. With a thick, juicy patty, the burger itself could’ve benefitted from more of that delicious bourbon sauce and less of the brioche bun—tasters are encouraged to eat the halves separately to find the delightful dollop of garlic under the bun (which, with a big ol’ brioche is easily lost). The Red always has a strong fry game, so the healthy serving of French favorites that comes with the Johnny Cash provides a perfectly salty addition to a satisfying, but otherwise under-salted, burger. The real winner might be the adventurous sounding Raven Burger with double cream Brie, caramelized apples, arugula and balsamic reduction, but you can only eat so many burgers between deadlines. (I know this is Burger Week, but for dessert, the mini churros with chocolate dipping sauce are an absolute must—a coveted favorite to accompany a delicious cocktail, or two.) AMH
Hoffman’s Bistro and Patisserie
Whether in the world of burgers or burritos, sometimes we consumers have a choice to make when it comes to toppings: guacamole or fresh avocado? The correct option—nine times out of 10—is avocado, especially because you never know for sure what the status of the guacamole will be. Is it a brand new batch with freshly squeezed lime? Will it taste instead like it came out of a bargain bin at Safeway? This distinction is one the California burger from Hoffman’s Bistro and Patisserie has going for it: real avocado slices over a few strips of bacon, Jack cheese and two patties. It comes on a toasted wheat bun, which may not sound adventurous at first, but it sure breaks the mold out of traditional sesame and brioche buns. Let the tourists and college kids go to Five Guys across the street for food doused in peanut oil and high-fructose corn syrup. We’ll be here at Hoffman’s, enjoying life’s finer sandwiches, which also include the Gilroy burger, another item the restaurant is featuring this week. JP
MEATLESS PICKS: Veggie Burgers Reimagined
By Maria Grusauskas
Worlds away from the frozen aisle at the grocery store, the homemade veggie patties that Santa Cruz restaurants are serving up give new meaning to the very concept. Of the dozens of veggie burgers found on menus around town, no two are even remotely similar. With bases and binders that range from black and garbanzo beans to almond flour to rice to quinoa, coupled with the abundance of possibility that cooking with vegetables provides, the local veggie burger game is an exciting journey of textures, flavor and character. They satiate burger-level hunger, while nourishing the body and comforting the soul. Plus, it’s a lot easier to justify the essential side of fries or a milkshake (or both!) when you go the veggie route. Following are just three of our favorites—be sure to seek these and many other creative iterations out during Santa Cruz Burger Week.
West End Tap
Just outside the limelight of West End’s popular and beloved grass-fed, pasture-raised beef patties, which they grind and shape daily, is a vegetarian rendition that blew my mind and tastebuds. While it wasn’t listed on the dinner menu one busy night last week, our server assured us that they do have them at dinner. Just ask. Made in-house daily, this burger is a refreshing blend of garden flavors that doesn’t waste a second trying to imitate meat. The texture is soft, and loaded with body-loving goodness: spinach, carrots, red bell peppers, and zucchini—all finely minced—and bound with quinoa and garbanzo bean flour. Served on a luxurious, freshly baked Challah bun from Gayle’s Bakery, this masterpiece comes with house sauce (hold the sauce to make it vegan), lettuce, tomato, pickled red onions, and a huge pile of fries you will want to share with a friend.
Betty Burgers/Betty’s Eat Inn
All-natural (hormone and antibiotic-free) beef patties highlight the menu here, but once you try “Tracks in the Grass,” you may never go back. Betty’s vegetarian burger patty is made in-house from tofu, carrots, green onion, celery, black beans, garbanzo bean flour and egg to bind it all together. It’s crispy on the outside with a soft interior that pops with falafel-reminiscent flavor. In other words, if I hadn’t been told there was tofu in the mix I never would have known. You may want to skip the massive whole wheat bun and go “bareback” with a lettuce wrapping (or ask for the regular old less-healthy white flour bun, which is not quite as large), if only to keep this delicious burger in the spotlight of your palate. Avocado is a popular addition (or a substitute for the Secret Lube) according to Yelpers, though it won’t make the burger vegan. To that end, if you’re not vegan and you’re feeling indulgent, do go all out and add cheddar cheese and a Vanilla Malt (made with Marianne’s ice cream), which comes topped with a voluptuous mound of whipped cream and signature red cherry. Fries? No hemming and hawing: get the half sweet potato and half regular basket.
Saturn Cafe has its plant-based burger game dialed. From the creative minds of ur favorite spaced-out foodies comes the cornerstone of its adventurous burger menu: the Saturn Patty. Made in-house, it incorporates hearty brown rice, organic black beans and vegetables with almond meal and rice flour, for a winning blend of protein and carbohydrates that also happens to be vegan, soy- and gluten-free. Shared with a friend last week, the Diablo made for a satisfying lunch. The patty is dense and chewy, and paired well with just the right amount of spice from jalapeños and pepper jack cheese—though vegan cheese can be substituted—as well as award-winning fries and an award-winning milkshake menu that rivals any: The selection includes vegan flavors, and all shakes come with a wide, milk-shake-grade straw (which you’ll need for the thick homemade whipped cream that tops it off) and of course, the ultimate act of love—that metal mixer cup that holds all of the milkshake that couldn’t fit in the pretty tall glass. Otherworldly.
Santa Cruz Burger Week Participants on Their Featured Burgers
110 Walnut St., Santa Cruz, 459-9999
The California Burger has always been a customer favorite with homemade guacamole, bacon, and cheddar, so we decided to feature it for Burger Week for only $10, including our waffle fries! Enjoy with a draft beer or a soda.
209 Esplanade, Capitola, 854-2244
Featuring our $10 Bay Bar Bomber third-pound 100 percent Chuck patty, double cheddar, three strips of bacon, onion ring, fried egg and thousand island dressing. Or our $7 Teriyaki Burger third-pound Chuck, pineapple ring, house teriyaki glaze, and mayo. Both with lettuce, tomato, pickles.
8041 Soquel Drive, Aptos, 999-0939
A delicious Italian twist on the American classic by our authentic Italian chef. We’re serving three delectable meatball sliders with fresh mozzarella, housemade marinara and crisp basil. Enjoy a summer evening on our newly renovated patio, and come back to try our all-new menu and all-new restaurant. Mangia!
1000 41st Ave., Capitola, 475-5901; 505 Seabright Ave., Santa Cruz, 423-8190; 1222 Pacific Ave., Downtown Santa Cruz, 600-7056
Go wild this Burger Week with our spicy Latin Lover—a combo of seasoned beef, chorizo, roasted red peppers, jalapeños and sautéed onions. Or try the Jiffy Swine—this pairing of peanut butter lube and bacon is a huge hit! Voted Best Burger eight years.
15520 Hwy. 9, Boulder Creek, 338-4000
For Santa Cruz Burger Week we’ll offer our famous Zayante Burger or our Veggie Black Bean Burger (both available with or without delicious fries and a drink). Each burger will be offered with or without cheese and includes fresh and flavorful toppings, and a tasty house spread!
1501 41st Ave., Capitola, 475.8010
Just open one year, East End will feature its housemade 100-percent grass-fed burger for SCBW. Paying homage to a traditional American burger, it’s topped with shaved onions, shredded iceberg, American cheese and house thousand island sauce. This juicy burger will rival any in town, we promise!
910 Cedar St., Santa Cruz, 457-1677
The Gabriella burger is often described as the best ever had. If you feel otherwise after sampling we will give you a free piece of focaccia! Be forewarned that people have been known to go nuts over our burger and refuse to ever eat anything else.
303 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz, 426-7770
Decisions, decisions. Which of our three wondrous half-pound burgers will you order during Burger Week? Or after your first, will you feel compelled to come back for all three? Fans of HQ burgers will tell you: resistance is futile. Â
1102 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, 420-0135
Hoffman’s cooks it up right whether it’s the 8 oz. natural grass-fed Angus beef, free-range chicken breast, or vegetarian black bean patty. SCBW options: Gilroy Burger with roasted garlic, crispy onions, mushrooms, Jack cheese; El Diablo with avocado, bacon, Jack cheese; and Hoffman’s Burger with bacon, cheddar, crispy onions. All with fries!
2591 S. Main St., Soquel, 479-9777
We have new owners and a new chef—check us out for Burger Week! We’ll feature our scrumptious Americana Burger: California-grown Harris Ranch Angus beef or vegan patty, with lettuce, tomato, pickle and fries; with options like avocado, bacon, mushrooms, cheddar, GruyÃ¨re, Jack and blue cheese.
110 Church St., Santa Cruz, 454-8663
Enjoy authentic Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors. Choose from the popular top sirloin Mozaic Burger, delicious Wild Salmon Burger and vegetarian Opa Burger, with fries or Greek salad. Pair with wine or an award-winning martini from the full bar, and grab some baklava for the road! Â
841-A Almar Ave., Santa Cruz, 421-0507
Gather with friends, raise a pint, play some pool and achieve Burger Nirvana with our amazing Greek Burger, King Burger or Portobello Mushroom Burger for Burger Week. We take burgers seriously and have an extensive burger menu year-round. Opening a new location in Aptos soon!
200 Locust St., Santa Cruz, 429-1913
Red’s chef is taking it up a notch with the Burger on the Cusp, a decadently divine pistachio encrusted crab burger topped with a whole lot of goodness, and served with truffle rosemary fries. Try it with one of many signature cocktails or suds on tap.
1220 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, 426-9930
Rosie McCann’s is a pub that holds a high standard for its food. The Fire Burger featured for Burger Week is direct from farm to kitchen, crafted from 100-percent grass-fed Braveheart Angus beef, with grilled jalapeños, chili flakes, Jack cheese, and chipotle ranch sauce, and house-cut fries.
145 Laurel St., Santa Cruz, 429-8505
Even meat eaters will love the burger at this award-winning vegetarian restaurant. The Space Cowboy is an event on a bun, and you’ll party on when you become a Saturn regular. Try one of the thick, out-of-this-world, nationally award-winning milkshakes.
7500 Old Dominion Court, Aptos, 688-8987
10110 Soquel Drive, Aptos, 662-2227
Sid’s is a carnivore’s dream. Choose from five burgers, all half-pound Angus beef patties, with delectable smoked embellishments such as bacon, pastrami, brisket and pulled pork, paired with a side of fries. You’ll be basking in burger bliss! Â
4101 Soquel Drive, Soquel, 346-6952
At Surf City Sandwich, we love to spice things up. Our Spicy Muchacho has been our best-selling specialty burger. We combine the classic flavors and textures of Mexico to create a grande burger that is a fiesta in your mouth!
702 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz, 458-3020
“The Buttery Burger” from the Best Bakery in Santa Cruz (GT’s Best Of). Made with 100-percent grass-fed patties, oozing with smoked gouda and cheddar, with smoky bacon, lettuce, tomato and our killer Coca-Cola caramelized onions! Buns made in-house. Take dessert to go, you won’t have room!
21505 East Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz 475-1982
Stop by for laid-back burgers, fries and comfort! We’ll offer our most popular burger: the Salmon-Crab-Avocado burger for Burger Week at a great price for everyone to enjoy. We also have regular, garlic, and sweet potato fries and hope you’ll discover your new favorite burger spot.
334-D Ingalls St., Santa Cruz, 471-8115
We’re featuring our new, totally veggie burger for SCBW. Our team has refined this made-from-scratch burger for months! It’s a BIG, juicy patty with housemade kimchi to give it that extra tang and spice on a daily-delivered, fresh Gayle’s sesame bun. (Gluten-free option without bun.)
1819 Freedom Boulevard, Freedom, 724-2600
Our popular half-pound hamburger, with grilled onions, lettuce and tomato, and served with crispy, savory fries is a great deal for Burger Week. Stop on by, enjoy our friendly, cozy atmosphere and find out for yourself where you can savor the burger voted the best in Pajaro Valley!
819 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, 427-0646
For Santa Cruz Burger Week, this downtown favorite has added another crowd-pleaser to the mouthwatering menu. The Pesto Mushroom Burger offers up housemade everything, including the bun, and pairs with your choice of fries, fresh fruit or potato salad. You’ll leave happy!