Rendering by Serhat

My Burger Bona Fides:

Over the years, I've eaten my fair share of burgers around the country and around the world (The USO in Izmir, Turkey and Wichita Burgers in Yokosuka, Japan immediately come to mind). I was born in Dearborn, Michigan, grew up as a military brat and spent a few years in the US Navy as well; I went to first grade in Okinawa, graduated from high school in Turkey and live in San Diego now. The Navy sent me to the Chicago area (Great Lakes Naval Training Center) for boot camp, Bainbridge, Md. for Radioman A School, San Diego, Japan, an all expense paid leisure cruise off the coast of Viet Nam and finally, to San Francisco. I've traveled through 16 other foreign countries (1), lived in 6 states (2) and traveled through another 24 and the District of Columbia.

And I've eaten at all of the major chains, maybe 100 plus places total (3), although, for some strange reason, I've never been to a Sonic. In Silicon Valley, there's another 9 places whose names I still remember (4), in the LA area, there's Hamburger Hamlet (don't ask about Hamburger Habit) and here in the San Diego area, another 20 or so (5).

In San Francisco, we loved The Hippo and the Not Yet World Famous Clown Alley but sadly, both are gone now and in Santa Rosa, Quinley's (also gone) had a special place in my heart...

I'm sure there are many, many more as most were from countless, nameless stands, snack bars, bowling alleys, roach coaches, etc and most were mediocre; some were very good and quite a few were very bad as well.

Although I'm known for my preference for a good hot dog, I estimate I've eaten at least 3000 burgers (maybe more) in my life. That works out to less than 1 a week (and it's very likely more than that) times my 61 years. And I'm not anywhere near the burger freak my brother Jim is (we call him J Wellington Webster) and our mechanic buddy Al Bernal was known to eat a burger 5 days a week back in the early 80's...

My 10 Most Memorable Burgers:

1) Twenty for a Buck: One of my earliest memories...

My dad was career Air Force and we discovered this place, a roadside shack, on our way from one assignment to another. I can no longer remember the name of the place but they advertised "Buy 'em by the bag full, 20 for a Buck". When we opened up the bag, they were absolutely the worst burgers I've ever had, mainly suet and bread. And they were so greasy that not only was the orange wax paper saturated with it, but so was the paper bag they came in. We tossed it at the next rest stop, where we whipped out the old portable stove and made our own breakfast (somewhere in Arkansas, 1957).

2) McDonald's at Miracle Mile Shopping Center, Toledo, Ohio (1963): You always remember your first...

My dad had gotten transferred again and we were in Toledo, visiting my mom's family. In this case, it was the first McDonald's I'd ever seen; I was immediately hooked and their single hamburger is still the best thing on the menu. And their fries were the Gold Standard for many, many years (until they started messing around with the formula).

3) Food poisoning at the snack bar: Cigli Air Force Base, Turkey

This happened in the summer of 1965. We had been transferred to Turkey and I worked across the street at Base Civil Engineering and had stopped by the snack bar for lunch. It was 120 degrees out on the base's flight line, a few hundred yards behind the snack bar and it was the mayo that got me. I got nauseous to start with, then my field of vision narrowed down to almost nothing (tunnel vision) and everything went gray (I was almost blind). I should probably also mention the roaring and ringing in my ears (auditory hallucinations). I was able to see well enough to push my bike over to the base dispensary, then home, where I recovered and went back to work the next day.

4) The NCO Club: Izmir, Turkey (1966)

The NCO Club (Non-Commissioned Officer's Club) in Izmir, Turkey got a brand new building shortly after we arrived in-country (1 Jan 64). The NCO Club is underwritten by the Air Force, of course and the food was already wonderful and very reasonably priced; steaks were a couple of bucks and the Filet Mignon was $3.50 with side dishes (our first meal in Turkey). The new building was supposedly modeled after the Playboy Club in Chicago and it was first rate with white linen, formal 5 star service and the same low, low prices. My favorite was their burger, delivered under a stainless steel server, a large patty cooked to order, a good bun and your choice of fixin's (I was a teenager and preferred burgers to steak back then). I can't remember anything about the burger now but the sheer luxury of having a great lunch, just around the corner from the high school, and for appreciably less than $2 will always stay with me.

5) Student Center Cafeteria: Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Ill. (1968)

After we came back from Turkey, I started classes at SIU and found a part time job in the Student Center, first as a busser, then dishwasher, then soda jerk and then as the grill cook. The job was simple and during the lunch rush, I'd lay down 96 burger patties on the double grill, then flip the 96 patties, lay down 96 buns, then bag 96 burgers and repeat until the crowd finally dissipated several hours later. Approximately 10,000 students went through there at lunch time every day and I estimate I made well ever 2,000 burgers every shift.

6) The Little Hut: Toledo, Ohio (1973)

After I got out of the Navy, we moved to Ohio to be near my mom Lucille and brother Jim. My mom was the cook and had almost bought the Little Hut several times and my whole family worked there at one time or the other (the wife even got robbed there). The place was right next to the Fire Station, the cops always stopped by and it wasn't far from the Bus yard so those guys were always in there too. The Little Hut burger was huge, close to 8 inches across, with an almost flat patty and it was an instant hit. They also had a great hot roast beef plate but the Hutburger was king. Sadly, the Little Hut is no longer there and the whole neighborhood resembles a bombed-out war zone now (my brother Jim took a trip to Toledo to check it out shortly after he retired to Cleveland last year).

7) Dave's Giant Heimburgers, Fairfield, Ca. (1988)

Pat Morita (Arnold on "Happy Days", Mr. Miyagi in "The Karate Kid") and I both ate here during our high school days (I didn't meet Mr. Morita until years later). It's right next to the local high school and was known as Harvey's at the time (owner Russell Harvey went on to found the Nation's Giant Burger chain in the San Francisco Bay Area). If you've ever seen the interior shots of Arnold's on "Happy Days", you know what Harvey's looked like inside.

By the time we moved back to Fairfield, it was owned by Dave Heimburger, who refuses to accommodate customers (no fries or tomatoes, cash only, no credit cards or checks, etc). Dave got into trouble with the IRS and I began talking to the property owner (Mr. Harvey). It was on Fairfield's main drag (West Texas Street), it'd be easy to add a drive thru window, the place hadn't been remodeled ever but Dave came up with the money at the last minute...

8) Hamburger Harry of The International Hamburger Hall Of Fame

Film maker Harrod Blank ("Wild Wheels", "Wild Wheels II") introduced us to Harry about the time Harry finished building the Hamburgermobile (photo above). Harry tells us the fiberglass work was done by the craftsmen at nearby Disney World and he's into this project somewhere over the $100K mark. Harry also has great collection of hamburger art, rivaling our own hot dog collection in size (if not bigger). And shortly after the movie "Good Burger" came out, we helped Harry track down the owner of the Good Burgermobile and it's now part of Harry's world class collection. He's also got a 72 foot tall triple cheeseburger shaped building on the drawing board...

See his web site here:
Hamburger Harry & the Hamburgermobile

9) Hodad's in Ocean Beach, Ca.: A San Diego institution (2007)

I was young and poor the first time I lived in San Diego (1970 - 1972) and never made it over to Hodad's at the time. When we moved back here in 2003, one of the things on my "To Do" list was to check the place out. Unfortunately, that took me another 4 years and am I ever sorry. Michael Bauer of The San Francisco Chronicle rates Hodad's as one of the best burgers in the country and we agree. Don't forget the Frings (onion rings and fries) if you ever make it to Hodad's and the milk shakes are to die for. I should point out that Hodad's was my first serious eats after my recent heart attack, despite the consequences (it's that good). Check out the photo of a Hodad's burger (below).

Hodad's is a second generation, family run business (since the late 60's) and son Mike Hardin is currently large and in charge, a real fun guy.

No web site

Hodad's decilicious, artery clogging / heart stopping burger

10) Fred & The Alpine Monster Burger

There are no eating contest winners in THIS family. We proved it last year when the Boy and I decided to take on Fred's 2 pound Alpine Monster Burger (photos below) in nearby Alpine. We barely got halfway through it between the both of us and went home licking our wounds. It's by no means the best burger we've ever had nor is it the largest we've ever seen but we learned our lesson and won't be doing that again...
Fred, the 2lb Monster Alpine Burger & the leftovers...
And I should probably mention the Build a Better Burger Contest. It's held in the Napa area every spring, the top prize is a cool $50,000 and, for legal reasons, residents of California, Puerto Rico and US Territories or possessions are ineligible...
Get the specifics here:

And we should remind everyone that May is National Hamburger Month.


1) Australia, Canada, England, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Rhodes, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, The Philippines and Yugoslavia

2) Alabama (twice in Mobile), California (49 years now), Southern Illinois (I went to SIU in Carbondale and my dad's family is from Cave-In-Rock), Mississippi (Biloxi), New Mexico (twice in Albuquerque) and Ohio (5 times in Toledo)

3) The ones I remember: A&W, Bob's Big Boy, Burger Chef, Burger King, Carl's Jr, Chili's, San Francisco Sourdough Burger at Coco's, Dairy Queen, Fatburger, Foster Freeze, Frisch's Big Boy, Fuddrucker's, Hardee's, In-N-Out, Islands, the second-ever location of Jack In The Box, Nation's Giant, Rally's, Red Barn, Red Robin, Skelley's (a truck stop), Spoons, Original Tommy's, Wendy's, White Castle, White Hut & White Tower...

4) Adam's Apple, Buster's Grill (Cupertino), Clark's, Kirk's Steakburgers, St. James' Infirmary, St. John's, Squeezer's,The 49er Steakburger & The Garrett

5) Beef-N-Bun, Boll Weevil, Boomerang Burgers, BunBoyz, Burger Lounge, Burgers & Brew Downtown, Charley's in Lemon Grove, Goodies, Gordon Biersch's Microbrewery, Grossmont College Food Court, Hamburger Mary's, Johnny B's Burgers & Brews, Neighborhood, Roadhouse Grill, Studio Diner, The Brew House in Eastlake , The Corvette Diner, The Hamburger Factory, Tioli's Crazee Burger & Trophys

UPDATE (28 April 2009): I finally ate at a Sonic. Eh...

1) Click on graphics for a better view

2) Rendering at top commissioned from Serhat

3 ) Photo of Hodad burger by J Frank Webster

4) Photos of Fred and the Alpine Monster Burger by J Frank Webster

5) Photo of Hamburger Harry and the Hamburgermobile used with permission