Julian, 20-something, and Mark, 70-something, are out to find the Mission’s best burger. If you have suggestions, write a comment — or send an e-mail to Julian at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may remember Mark and Julian from the best fried chicken sandwich series.
First thing’s first: Bender’s is open. After six long months of quarantine, the “rock ‘n roll” bar on the corner of 19th and South Van Ness has constructed jerry-rigged a walk-up station, two outdoor patios, and seems to be taking customers in droves.
Second, per city rules, you can only drink if you order food. That should not be hard. As far as burgers are concerned, Bender’s is perhaps one of the Mission’s best-hidden gems. They serve the burgers your dad made — or always wanted to make: juicy and charred, unabashedly sloppy and improvised-looking, the kind of cholesterol bomb that prompts the side-eye from the heart doctor.
I ordered the Bent Burger, a concoction of bacon, jalapeño, “bent Sauce,” lettuce, onion, and cheese. And of course, a beef patty. This time around, the patty was more like a big ball of meat thrown between two thin buns — but that was a plus: It was perfectly medium and juicy, and unobstructed by the bun.
On top of that, the cheddar, the bacon, and the jalapeno coalesced into a sort of patty of its own, which was delectable and it was unobstructed by the veggies.
Long story, short: This burger is unobstructed sin, and you should eat it.
Sadly, Bender’s appears to have done away with its tater tots, which were some of my favorites, and has replaced them “crinkle-cut” fries — ”Just like you got for lunch in the school cafetria! [sic]” — which, you know, fine, whatever. Everyone emerges from quarantine a little unhinged. But these fries, featuring a good ratio of crisp and potato, got the job done.
The burger, of course, is best eaten with a pint of beer. But also: not necessary. And to this, Bender’s should adapt. Its staff is clearly not used to being an establishment with a food focus.
“This is the first time I’ve taken a phone order in my 17 years working here,” an employee told me as I ordered, clearly flustered, a little frantic. “I can’t hear myself think!”
There’s no option to order online, and the flustered employee was the third person the phone had been passed to.
One thing is clear: Bender’s, traditionally a place to get moon-howling drunk on a Friday, serves more than “drunk foods to soak up your favorite booze.” The booze, at least nowadays, should merely be a complement to one of your favorite burgers.
Walking around the Mission BC (Before Covid), I would hear rumors of a Benders burger cult.
Religious and political cults flourished for years in the neighborhood, though usually connected to a charismatic individual. Who gets beguiled by a burger?
And then I read your account, Julian, and I caught the tone of a true believer.
Since I’ve exchanged British detective series for Danish political thrillers, I ordered Bender’s “bent burger” because of Bent Sejrø, a character on Borgen, currently showing on Netflix.
Bent Sejrø shares many attributes with the bent burger including short, fat, and disheveled.
Unlike Borgen’s main character, an impeccably dressed Prime Minister, the beef was unquestionably the star of this show. Not a cookie-cutter corporate patty, but a handful of charbroiled flesh, seasoned with old-school nostalgia and beefy authority.
The meat, cooked at medium rare, exuded a youthful juice Bent Sejrø lost long ago.
Placed delicately over the beef were three or four Jalapeno chips, which, like journalist Katrine Fønsmark, added a smart and refreshing spice.
Although Borgen has some saucy scenes, it doesn’t feature “bent sauce”. A zestier concoction than intra-party Danish politics, the sauce intrigued my taste buds but did not take over the show.
What about the bacon? Rather than neat crispy strips looking to make a name for themselves, the crumbled bacon recalled the rumpled tweed jacket and baggy pants of washed-up politicos.
But even in this minimalist condition, the bacon made a louder statement than the cheese. You assert the cheese to be “cheddar,” but the menu says “American.” I agree with the menu.
Can you tell me Jullian? Other than adding another layer of fat, what role does American cheese play in the whole burger experience?
Fortunately, I prepared for the bun to collapse under the weight of everything else going on. I wasn’t disappointed.
Sorry to hear about the absent tater tots. Those machine-cut crinkle fries were undoubtedly extras. Like decent Danish citizens, they were civilized but cool and detached, in need of a touch more salt.
I agree Benders serves better than your standard bar burger, but does it deserve cult status? I’m not convinced.