For this installment of Eat Here, Not There, I revisit Mick's Karma Bar in Irvine, which is owned by Michael and Megan Schepers, who also own Kitima Thai next door. I came back for the burger combo that so impressed me back in March, and found that it is as good a deal now as it was back then.
But first, here's what I wrote about it a few months ago.
The burger, made in the same kitchen that produces the beef panang next door, comes from the same sirloin. They tested out other cuts, Michael said, but found sirloin worked best. He's right. It's probably one of the leanest burgers I've had, but it's still beefy, smoky and satisfies as a good burger should. In every bite, sauces and juices mingle, the bread soaking in it, but never turning soggy.
If you asked me to make you a burger, this is what it would taste like. Just like Mick's, I'd form the patty to order just before grilling. Just like Mick's, I'd use a leaf lettuce instead of iceberg, red onion instead of brown. And I'd find a bun that has some integrity in the crust, the way their brioche bun does.
Yet, there's still some mystery to this burger. The “karma sauce” they've spread onto the bottom bun is not unlike the secret sauce other places guard as if we didn't know it's actually Thousand Island. This one isn't Thousand Island, but it aims for the same sweet spot. There's just a slight suggestion of spice. You see the red flecks, but it doesn't overpower. And there's a little bit of shredded cabbage involved, which is worked into the mix to contribute additional texture.
Alone, the burger is $5.50. The price is just right for a burger this size and this caliber. For a few bucks more (a total of $8.75) comes an icy glass of refillable Coke (or any soft drink of your choice) and a pile of properly fried-to-golden steak fries. Should you devour your lunch and leave no speck left like I did, the need for dinner will be eliminated.
What I like most about this burger is how it doesn't really fit any existing burger categories. It's not fast food. It's not The Counter. It isn't over-hyped like Charlie Palmer's DG Burger or retails dangerously close to the $10 price tag like theirs does.
Since that time, Mick's Karma Burger Combo has gotten only more popular. They're open for dinner now, serving these burgers. At lunch, the line forms by noontime with almost every single person ordering a Karma Burger.
Now you can have your choice of drink beyond just the soda fountain. A freshly mulled basil strawberry lemonade can be had at no extra charge if you do the combo.
Mick (actually Michael, but now forever known as Mick) has told me that they've jettisoned the juice bar and other menu items because it took kitchen time away from the burgers. They've even taken up an offer made by a customer of theirs who works at an intellectual property firm to trademark the phrase “Karma Burger”.