I'm just another
blue red-blooded American who loves him some bloody beef and flavorful cheese on a big, toasted bun. If there's a beer and a ball game (anything but baseball, please), that makes the experience all the more merrier.
The only rule: Each burger I tried had to be some variation of or as close to a cheeseburger as possible, based on what said burger joint/restaurant/stand had to offer. After many miles driven to the furthest burger outposts in our county (damn, OC is much bigger than I thought!), many a burger consumed and several TUMS later, we have the breakdown for what my belly most recommends, depending on your budget.
LESS THAN $5
$4.29: Long considered In-N-Out's OC burger nemesis, TK is the pride of OC's burger-eating masses. Many a man has tried to second-guess its finger-licking goodness; most have been proven wrong. TK has all the key components to present a simple yet delicious cheeseburger. No flashy claims or tough-to-say ingredients. Just meat, cheese, a bun and the veggies. And like everyone in the burger biz, there's a "secret sauce" (is any secret sauce all that secret, or anything more than a variation of Thousand Island?). Though we're just talking burgers, the "Big Bargain Combo" is absolutely the way to go. TK's fries are a big part of the sell--thick and crunchy, and you're never cheated on quantity. I recommend asking for an extra cup of sauce and adding a shot of ketchup. Extra perk: There's always a nice-looking lady working the counter--that's part of the TK Burgers business plan.
Bacon cheeseburger, $4.35: Apollo is one of those places that has been in the neighborhood for ages and goes about its business without much acclaim, but with enough local knowledge to keep it afloat. The charbroiled bacon cheeseburger is the pride and joy. Get some chili for tipping or topping, and you're got yourself one hell of a meal and a great way to carb-load.
12012 Chapman Ave., Garden Grove,
Cheeseburger, $2.65: Surely, the king, right? From a publicity standpoint, certainly. It's the California burger that even New Yorkers know about. Stacked against the legends of OC Burgers, it would probably fit somewhere into the top three, especially considering the price. But OC Burgerdom is about more than the white-and-red burger empire. That said, if I was told my last meal would consist of all the meat and cheese and "secret sauce" In-N-Out packs into the Double-Double, I wouldn't join the gods any less disappointed.
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The Soul Burger, $9.50 with fries or salad: I don't know how much "soul" the Soul Burger has, but the combination of pepper jack cheese and chipotle sauce makes this burger. Don't get me wrong, the meat on this hearty burger is tasty, but the bit of spice makes this a definite must-try. Memphis is a mellow OC gem that most people know for music and happy hour, but it has a solid menu, top to bottom. The burger was a recommendation from a friend--and well-worth the price.
2920 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 432-7685. 201 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 564-1064. www.memphiscafe.com.