Smashburger has landed in San Francisco, bringing burgers (smashed, hence the name), huge salads, flash-fried veggie frites (carrots and asparagus), a black bean-based veggie burger, Häagen-Dazs shakes, and a compact beer and wine list, all wrapped up in a fast casual concept. Yes, in S.F. we have artisan burger options all over town, but the addition of this concept to the Potrero shopping center is a welcome one -- Safeway, Togo's, Peet's and Noah's bagels are the other dining options, with a 24-hour McDonald's located a half block away.
As a heat seeker with a hot sauce collection, I appreciate that Smashburger aptly plays around with heat in the form of fresh jalapeños and offers an appropriately spicy Baja burger. In the Bay Area, there are other Smashburgers that opened this year in Novato, Mill Valley, and San Jose, and Smashburger is a chain of 200 or so restaurants founded by industry exec Tom Ryan, based in Colorado. Note Smashburger is in major growth mode, so expect to see more locations soon.
Smashing one's meat on the griddle goes against conventional cooking wisdom -- any time I've tried burgers that were pushed down with a spatula, they have been wan and pale and definitely not juicy. I wondered if the Angus meat would taste tough and dull via the Smashburger process -- achieving a Maillard reaction does not usually have to involve such forceful pushing. The Smashburger I tried wasn't tough but only a touch tender, and only somewhat juicy -- not the world's best burger, just a good version for the price point.
I was able to smash the meat with a manager on a 400 degree flat grill at the Potrero opening event last week. It was a useful exercise for observing the process and seeing the "behind the scenes" photos that give visual cues on what a good stack of fried onions should look like (or not). The chain's meat is said to never be frozen -- that seems true -- and is fresh prepped and formed into balls that rest in a refrigerated drawer.
Each region gets its own burger, and the Bay Area Smashburger has baby arugula, sautéed portabella mushrooms, aged Swiss cheese, and truffle mayo on a ciabatta bun -- our cohorts in Sacramento got the sourdough bun that we could rightly lay claim to. The amount of greens on the burger could be a side salad in itself, and picking the burger up can be messy fun. The Bay Area version seems to address our regional identity: We are often thought of as an innovative place that adores fresh produce and sometimes fancy ingredients. Should you digress from the Bay Area burger, there's a decent list of free sauces and toppings. Smashburger portions are on the generous side, staff are efficient and friendly. the sandwiches are in the $6 range -- and the vibe and set up are family friendly.