If I told you that you can have a burger and beer at Eureka! (their exclamation point, not mine), the new restaurant in Huntington Beach's Bella Terra, that'd be enough, wouldn't it? For most people, it would be. If there's an easier food-and-beverage pairing to sell to Americans than burgers and beer, it's beer and pizza. No further details are needed. Still, some of you might be interested to know that Eureka is a growing West Coast chain that has a dozen restaurants so far, from Seattle to San Diego. You should also know they're planning to open a second Orange County outlet across the street from UC Irvine. But because it's in Bella Terra, you may have already deduced the crowd is made up of people just like you, the kind of folks whose ideal night out on the town involves thick burgers and pints of ale, all of it consumed while watching something sporty on flat-screen TVs. You'd also be correct in assuming the inside of the restaurant resembles most new places these days, with lots of concrete; thick, bare wood tables; raised booths; and a fire pit on the outside patio. And on weekend nights, you'll barely hear what the person sitting across the table is saying.
Yet you should know the burgers here aren't of the same stock as other beer-and-burger-centered places, such as, say, the Counter. You don't customize your burger at Eureka! You just order it. There's a so-called Vodka Burger, topped with a mix of peppers, tomatoes, red onions, prosciutto, garlic and capers flambéed in vodka so they can call it that, even if no vodka flavor is detectable. There's also the Jalapeño Egg Burger, for which the yolk of a sunny-side-up egg will explode and dribble like yellow lava flow around a patty already gilded with melted Cheddar, bacon and raw jalapeño slices. More than anything, the burgers here rely on toppings for flavor. Though cooked to spec and as thick as you would expect a $10 burger to be, the patties seem to be consistently underseasoned, if seasoned at all.
The buns are also closer to Big Boy's than anything else. The inside is fluffy rather than substantial, the outside speckled in sesame seeds rather than waxy—more fast food than gastropub. But with every $10-to-$12 burger you order, you get an avalanche of fries. It's rare that anyone ever finishes this insurmountable potato mountain, especially if they didn't know a burger already includes it before foolishly ordering the completely unnecessary truffle fries appetizer, which consists of the same thick, soggier-than-In-N-Out spears covered in a cheesy truffle sauce and garnished with scallions.
If someone at your table does order that appetizer, you can choose to upgrade your fries to the sweet potato variety for $1.25 more. It's a better starch, and not because it's zigzagged with honey and cinnamon, but because it also tends to be crispier. Or you can go with the onion rings, the most popular upgrade. Those tend to run out most nights, but I'm not sure why. They're not really “rings” either; they're domes, each cut from the whole hemisphere of an onion and, as such, floppy, structurally unsound and not particularly crispy.
For beers, more than 30 mostly local brews are available, all for about $6 per pint. The beer and the appetizers you'll eat it with should be the focus of your attention at Eureka! The osso bucco riblets, a plateful of pork meat clinging to tiny bones the size of guitar picks, are amazing—just the type of foodstuff that pairs well with a chilled malt beverage. The corndogs—the size of gumballs, speared on toothpicks, and served with homemade ketchup, a potent mustard and ranch—are flawless. And despite the eye-rolling title, the Nacho Average Nachos is better than most sports bar nachos, with legitimate chips and a drizzled sauce that tastes closer to adulterated Tabasco. If you order the steamers, be aware that some clams could be a bit sandy, but the broth is the perfect soaking medium for those yet-uneaten fries.
With the exception of the nicely pan-seared salmon served with a crisp medley of diced, charred veggies, you should avoid the rest of the main courses. The sodden crab cake could've used a little more time on the pan, and the Naked Chicken Saltimbocca—a chicken breast covered in mozzarella, prosciutto and a roasted tomato—will recall unfond memories of Sizzler's long-forgotten Malibu Chicken dish. Also, the chicken sliders are too similar to Chick-fil-A's breakfast biscuits to justify the nearly $11 cost. The most elusive item at Eureka! seems to be the braised short ribs, which were sold out two nights in a row when I was there. This puzzled me to no end. Isn't everyone ordering the burgers?
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.