National Burger Month 05/05/2011: Taqueria La Cabaña

I post now for the sake of the two or three people who read my blog, hoping that they did not think I gave up on Burger Month. Not yet.

I was planning to make a burger on the fifth, but a friend asked if I could go to dinner, presumably to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. So I agreed to go out after ensuring that there would be burgers wherever we went. We ended up at the Taqueria La Cabaña on Mission Street in Santa Cruz.
I regularly eat at Cabaña. I think they make a good mole. I think it's great on their chicken enchiladas. I also think they make a really delicious Frankenstein's Burrito, which they call the California burrito, which is your basic super burrito with your choice of meats, and has sour cream, cheese, rice, beans and french fries, inside the tortilla. It is wonderful.

Since I am attempting a burger a day for this month, I ignored all my regular dishes and went for Cabaña's bacon cheeseburger with fries platter. I think it was a delicious burger. The beef patty was probably the frozen store bought variety fried on the taqueria griddle, so there was nothing too special there. I was hoping that the burger, fried as it was on the same griddle they use to fry their other taco meats would be infused with the flavors of carnitas, but alas I didn't get any of that. They did use a nice sesame seed roll and topped it with the usual suspects-- lettuce, onion, tomato. Condiments built into the burger were mustard and mayo. But no ketchup. And I think it worked better this way.

All in all, it was an above average diner-style burger. The bacon was crisp, as was the lettuce. The slice of American cheese, however, could stand to have been meltier. Other than that, I was pretty pleased.

Below is a picture that does the burger a little disservice. I did not have a proper camera with me.

Gifts: The Bacon Press and the Sloppy Joe

A little late with this blog. A little late with everything.

Last weekend was a good old time. It was graduation weekend and several of my friends came back to Santa Cruz to a) graduate, or b) celebrate with people who graduated. There were plenty of parties to go to. One of which featured the world premiere of Lindsey and my tribute to Lady Gaga at the karaoke at Coasters. That one was dedicated to our dear friend Becky, who walked the next day.


I also ran into Jim and Jessica at Jessica's reading for A New Cadence Poetry Series, which Jim facilitates. Jessica didn't read poetry. She read one of her excellent stories because this was the first installment of A New Cadence Poetry Series's A New Cadence Poetry Series Summer of Fiction. Later on, during the weekend, I met up with them at their place because our dear friend Alexis was back in town for Chris's graduation. They also gave me this:

It's a bacon press. I never knew these existed. The bacon press is a hefty piece of cast iron, with a wooden handle. Apparently, they're supposed to be placed on top of bacon on a skillet so that the bacon doesn't shrivel up while it fries. Jessica said they found it at a thrift store and thought of me when they bought it. Thanks, Jim and Jessica! Once I clean the rust up, it will be put to good use, helping me enjoy my bacon. Jim also suggested that perhaps I should start a publishing company called Bacon Press, and this can be my imprint.

And one more gift. I had a slow start to my Saturday. Had a late breakfast at 11:30. It wasn't that extravagant, so by 5PM I was pretty darn hungry. Hopped in my car and drove to my new favorite burger place in Santa Cruz, burger. Since burger. has opened, they've gotten better and better. Last night I found out that their beer license was granted and their taps are on and they have a pretty good selection of beers on tap. I predict that this place will be my favorite place this summer. And they have a few more things in store that have yet to come online-- a jukebox, movie nights, games... How exciting. Can it be that for the first time in forever, a restaurant will actually survive on the corner of Mission and Bay?

So I was sitting at the bar, having my usual Dude Burger (bacon, cheese and avocado), with garlic fries and a mint chocolate chip milkshake, when the guy behind the bar approaches and sets a plate in front of me. "I want you to try this," he said. "It's a sloppy joe."

Do they know the way to my heart or what?

Already I was kind of full from the burger and garlic fries extravaganza in front of me, but the sloppy joe was a new menu item and I had to give it a taste. I haven't had a sloppy joe since my time at P.S. 152 in Woodside, Queens. I remember that it was kind of a comfort food. Burger.'s sloppy joe was zesty. I think I tasted a little roasted red bell pepper in there, so it wasn't just a mess of meat in tomato sauce. If I hadn't already eaten 1/3 pounds of grass fed beef from Humboldt County, I would've scarfed the sloppy joe down and licked the plate. Oh man, that was good.

I then proceeded to walk around for the next four hours in food coma bliss.

Like whoah. What a great week for gifts.

National Burger Month 05/29/2010: Hubert Keller's Burger Bar... or let's ghetto-ize the coloreds and people with babies in the back corner of the room, where they can sit next to the kitchen entrance, in dim lighting, so they cannot take nice pictures of their burgers for their food blogs.

Thanks to Leslie who offered to take me to a burger place in return for my transporting her to the airport. What a way to kick of the final three days of National Burger Month. Contrary to the seemingly negative air of my blog post title, Keller's Burger Bar, on the sixth floor of Macy's Union Square, was actually a pleasant place to be. They had a wonderful view of Union Square, assuming you are not ghetto-ized into a corner. And while I did feel like I was shoved into the back corner of the restaurant with what seemed (and perhaps it was just coincidence) like the other people of color, or people with babies who could potentially be rowdy, we did have our own personal TV monitors, so we could watch the unfortunate beginning of the Los Angeles Lakers Western Conference Final game, in which they eliminated the Suns. Might as well have watched the Chicago-Philly NHL Finals game. I should've listened to Leslie, who suggested I order a kobe beef burger so I could take my aggressions out on Kobe Bryant via the kobe beef.

The burgers were actually delicious. I had the American Classic Cheeseburger, while Leslie ordered the Peppercorn burger. I think hers was better because it was slightly more flavorful. To be fair, the American Classic Cheeseburger was a good burger. It was perfectly cooked medium. The meat was juicy and delicious. The greens were fresh, and the cheddar was cheddar. But it would've been just okay if it weren't for the truffle sauce I ordered extra as a side, with which I doused the sandwich. The truffle sauce was perfectly salty, perfectly earthy and gave my otherwise just okay burger a strong anchor and kicked the burger up to good.

American Classic Cheeseburger, cracked wide open

In hindsight, perhaps I would've better been served by ordering Hubert's Favorite buffalo burger.

Leslie's Peppercorn burger was delicious. It was nicely crusted with red, black and white peppercorns, and like the Classic American was cooked to a pretty medium. On the side was a little cup of Keller's mustard spiced sauce. I think compared to the Classic American burger, which tastes quite like a classic American burger, this Peppercorn burger was a little more exciting. Without getting too gimmicky, the burger offered something more than the basic burger. The mustard sauce was piquant but not overwhelming. This was a very good burger.

Peppercorn Burger at Keller's Burger Bar

We skipped the cute little dessert burgers because I was beginning to feel like that Monty Python skit with the big eater.

National Burger Month 05/28/2010: burger. crawfish.

I knew that this evening I was going to meet with Aileen and Suebee again. This time, we wanted to go to Boiling Crab. Apparently, Ria played Boiling Crab up so much for Suebee that we definitely had to go while she was in town. So good to catch up.

So knowing that I was going to do some crawfish extravaganza de amor that evening, I went ahead and checked out how burger. was for lunch. If you remember, I went to this place before and really, truly liked their burgers. It's the real deal and I have since updated my Yelp review and said they have the best burgers in Santa Cruz. On this day I had their special of the day, the Don Ho. The Don Ho was three sliders/mini-burgers over fries (your choice of sweet potato or regular potato), with pineapple and a "Hawaiian" aioli. The sauce and the pineapple made the burger pop with flavor. But the problem with cooking sliders is that cooks don't always adjust the fry time to accommodate the lower meat content. I know-- it's a challenge. I've tried. I've been to plenty of places that say they have sliders. And it' okay, it's forgiveable that most sliders I eat are dry. The only places I know that have successfully made sliders to my liking (which means, small and juicy) are the Red in Santa Cruz, and White Castle's. The Red cooks em to perfection, medium. White Castle's is sort of steamed on the griddle. So unless burger. fixes their slider timing, stick to their regular burgers, which are excellent.

The other highlight of my lunch at burger. was the company I involuntarily had. I sat down on the shared long bench next to these two UCSC undergrads. I love UCSC undergrads. They remind me of a time when I once looked upon the world with a twinkle of optimism in my eyes. Their unbridled idealism makes me feel warm and fuzzy, as I do when I look at a cute welsh corgi puppy. But this day, I sat next to someone who was recounting to her friend all the drama in one of the ethnic student associations on campus. I mean I didn't want to listen, but she wasn't all hush hush about all the gossip, so I was an involuntary listener. And I listen well. My friends like to talk to me because I listen well, so I did my best this time around. Apparently, there are four people involved here. The storyteller, Minami, Hikari and James. James is in Tokyo now. I think Minami is going out with James. Storyteller was skyping with James. Hikari comes in and says "James, I'm sorry I was hating on you. I think you're okay guy." Hikari leaves, and James tells Minami "I knew Hikari hated me!" So storyteller was all up in arms about how Minami might be all plastic because how can she be hating on somebody and coming to her for advice about her own relationship with the guy she hates when she knows that the storyteller is in between everybody? Anyway, it's good that she's the kind of person she is, to be able to navigate the rocky communications between Minami, Hikari and James.

That evening, we had four pounds of crawfish and two dungeness crabs between four people at Boiling Crab in San Jose. The wait was three hours, but it was well worth it. Thank goodness for the Target across the parking lot, for us to waste time in. My fingers smelled like crawfish well into the next day. I guess we could've gone to Crawdaddy a few miles away (and only 30 minutes wait), but the Whole Shabang at Boiling Crab is it. Plus, the servers had cool piercings.

This is the "before" shot. I would post an "after" shot but the after just looks like a pile of empty crawfish shells.

National Burger Month 05/27/2010: Burgertime

I have quite a few days to catch up on here... I've been slacking on my blogging, but definitely not on my burgers. The last week of May brought a few more drops of rain (perhaps Spring's last hurrah?) and a flurry of social activity. Alas, on a couple of days, nary a burger was consumed by me.

Thursday the 27th was one of them, making it two days in a row that no burgers were eaten by me. Wednesday night, we stopped at a sukiyaki/shabu shabu place in Japantown in SF called Shabusen. I'm typically wary of shabu shabu places because even though I love a good hot pot, there are too many bad hot pot places. We were split on whether to go to Mums Home of Shabu Shabu or this place. In the end, we chose Shabusen because despite Mums looking trendier and cooler, at least externally, Shabusen had sukiyaki, which I really do love. Shabusen's sukiyaki wasn't bad. I was confused by the rules they had: 90 minutes to eat an all-you-can eat dinner; if one person around the table ordered the all-you-can eat, then everybody has to order all-you-can-eat; you must address the person next to you as brougham; no sharing and no wasting food (I made one of these rules up... guess). But we finally figured out that we didn't have to order the all-you-can-eat because the regular dinner was all we could eat anyway. The scallops were fresh and delicious, and the meat was good. It was a bit pricy though.

No real burger content on the 27th. But there was this:

It's burgertime!

Thanks to the Santosi for my burgertimer. All the rest of the burgers for burgermonth were timed with the burgertimer.

National Burger Month 05/14/2010: Jack's and burger.

Oh man. I had two burgers today. This is fucking crazy and goddamit I'm really getting fat. I mean I guess I could justify this extravaganza of beef because I missed May 1st and May 2nd and I'm still catching up. So now I just need to double up for one more day and then I'll be all caught up.

And also after last night's burger trepidation, this is me re-upping on my commitment.

So my first burger was at Jack's. I went there for lunch. Jack's has been an old stand by for me, especially since it's a block away from my office. The people who work there are really nice and I don't know whether I should feel embarrassed about this, but they know me by name now and they know what I order all the time, so nowadays whenever I go in there they don't even have to talk to me. As far as burgers go, Jack's are standard fast food fare, but a little better.

But the highlight of my burger day was at a new place called burger. Found out about it last night at Hula's when the bartender told Lindsey that he opened up a new burger place on Mission and Bay. I'll just reproduce my Yelp review here because I'm trying to watch a John Waters movie with Bettina and Leslie right now and the movie's a little distracting.

I've been looking for a good burger in Santa Cruz for a long time. I mean there are a couple of real burger joints in town, but so far none of them have blown my socks off. I know where to go for a good veggie burger, and I know where to go when I want a mai tai with my burger, and I know where to go if I want a fast food burger in the middle of the day.

But finally, there's a place where there's an honest to goodness good burger that's tasty, moist and not too greasy. burger. (with the period) is it. I had what they call a "dude burger" which comes with avocado, bacon, lettuce and tomato. The bacon was perfectly crispy and not soggy. The veggies didn't have that stuck-in-the-fridge-all-day feeling. The bun had integrity and wasn't limp. And most importantly, the burger was cooked medium and did not seem to have been a frozen hockey puck of beef before it was delivered to me.

Oh, and they make really good shakes. I didn't order the horchata shake, but Leslie did and it was super.

I'm definitely coming back to Burger. soon.

the Dude Burger at Burger.

National Burger Month 05/13/2010: Ahi Tuna Burger at Hula's

I decided to skip the kitchen tonight and meet up with Lindsey, Kate, Ashley and Caroline at Hula's. This really isn't a proper burger review because I committed the ultimate food blogger sin: I didn't bring a camera. But watching people take pictures of their food kind of annoys me whenever I go out to eat so I guess I'm ok with not having pictures (though I have been known to take the camera out every now and then; I just kind of sheepishly whip it out and take a quick snap).

I was actually going to skip a burger last night because I was in the mood for poke or something. I like their pupus at Hula's. But Kate guilt tripped me into ordering one. She said something about making commitments and that sometimes commitments are hard, but once you make them you need to stick to them. And I said, commitment also takes lots of compromise, and I guess by eating a burger I would have to accept that I would compromise my desire to have poke. It's part of the deal. I made a commitment to the burger.

But now that I think of it, compromise only works if it comes from both sides. I compromised my desire to skip a day by ordering an ahi tuna burger at Hula's last night. But the burger ain't compromising anything. What kind of relationship is this? I am being abused by a burger.

I've had the seared ahi burger at Hula's before. While I think some of the food there is pretty good, I don't remember being a huge fan of the ahi burger. It didn't knock my socks out. It was tasty, yes. There was a nice strong taste of ginger in it. The special sauce was zesty. But in the end, I wasn't entirely wowed. The bun was limp and the burger was a little too dry for tuna. So weh weh. So goes my compromise.

On the bright side, The sweet potato fries on the side, and the mai tais were delicious.

June 14 is National Strawberry Shortcake Day

June 14 is my mother's birthday. But I didn't get to celebrate with her because she's 3,000 miles away. Instead, I gave her a phonecall and I visited Santa Cruz's Swanton Berry Farm to get myself some of their strawberry shortcake.

Just a short drive of a few miles north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1, right on the Pacific coast, is Swanton Ranch. I initially wanted to bike up and eat my shortcake there but the thought of the ride back to Santa Cruz after pigging out on strawberry shortcake deterred me from doing just that. I chose the easier route of hopping in the car and going there.

Swanton Berry Farm is a 100% union shop (their farmstand shop is all about Cesar Chavez). All the farm workers are part of the United Farm Workers. All their produce is also organic and the berry varieties they offer are better tasting, lower yielding berries. They do great work, and their strawberries are beautiful.

Aside from the fresh berries, they do u-pick and they make great jams. But today's not about jam-- Swanton sells strawberry shortcake in ready-to-go plastic tubs in their chiller. I got a couple to take home.

The shortcake was perfect. The cake itself wasn't excruciatingly sweet. It was just right. The berries didn't taste like anything was added to them to boost their flavor. They were fresh yo.

Swanton Berry Farms: union labor + organic strawberries = delicious strawberry shortcake

National Burger Month Day 28: Wimpy Burgers at the Red

Becky came back to Santa Cruz for a week. It was so good to have her back, even if only for a week. On her final night, went to Santa Cruz's Red, the preeminent meet market in town for Orange and Marin County university students who want to pretend they are at a real big city lounge. Oh if only they knew...

The Red has great cocktails. On this night I started with a wonderful negroni in a frosted aluminum cup and ended with a rye whiskey manhattan. I also had some of their awesome, awesome sliders. The Red offers two main kinds of sliders-- the Wimpy Platter and the Lil Mac Platter. Both are really good sliders. The Lil Mac is their dressed up slider, comes with three little burgers, each with its own sauce. There's a bacon & gorgonzola burger; a pesto & swiss cheese burger; and a bbq smoked cheddar burger. I decided to go with the Wimpy Platter, which was a set of three sliders that are miniature replicas of their fullsized Bluto Burger. Wimpy is topped with onion marmalade and russian dressing.

The Red: Inebriate university students and wannabe dwellers from the OC and really good burgers.

National Burger Month Day 7: Cheeseburger at Crow's Nest

Wow. This was the first disappointment of National Burger Month. I just got back from the procedure they did on my foot at the doctor's and I wasn't in the mood to cook burgers so we decided to take the show on the road. Wednesday is Happy Hour all night at the Crow's Nest. It's not too bad of a place to go to on a Wednesday night. We used to go here all the time to catch the yatchs sail in and we enjoyed the half priced beers and appetizers. Tonight I ordered the standard cheeseburger, medium with fries on the side. The fries were good. The burger, I don't know. I guess we've been spoiling ourselves the past few days with really good, fresh, juicy burgers with top quality meats and the most interesting works. So I don't know if this is a result of having our expectations heightened by six straight days of good food or that the Crow's Nest burgers were just sub par. My guess is that it's a little of both. The burger was dry, I asked for medium. The meat was devoid of flavor and had a really rough unpolished texture. Now burgers are not always polished food, but this was simply and utterly devoid of burgery goodness. If there were an a priori essential burger, this particular specimen only succeeded in being a visual approximation of that essential burger. The substance was lost in translation. I guess we'll just have to make up for this travesty on Day 8.

A bad burger deserves a bad picture. Cellphone camera this time.

The Crow's Nest is a pretty strange place. The crowd is strange, yet mixed-- old folks and young folks, but mostly Santa Cruz folks. It was Santa Cruzy. John ran into a bunch of surf bro bras who wanted to do special handshakes with him. I was having a blast watching people dance the white man shuffle to the acoustic Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin that the house band was playing. The scenery was stellar. Santa Cruz at dusk is really pretty.

But in the end, the burgers were a flop. I would have had a better burger if I went to a fast food place, and those are kind words.