Julian, 30-something, and Mark, 70-something, are out to find the Mission’s best burger. Send suggestions to julian.mark@missionlocal.com. Check out their Fried Chicken Showdown series

Mark —

The last time I went to Curio, I ordered the “Holy Grail” burger. 

Man. 

Do you know what happens when you consume something that purports to be the Holy Grail and isn’t?

Like the villain from Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, your face melts off, you lose your soul and turn to dust.

Let’s just say I “chose poorly.”

Luckily, Curio is not hawking those faux Holy Grails anymore. Instead, they’re selling the “Americana Burger,” which doesn’t oversell itself. In many ways, it’s the humble-looking wooden cup hidden behind the glitter and gold of Curio’s menu. 

As a naked specimen, the Curio burger is a near-perfect example of “clean” American fare. For anyone who spent the early 2000s watching Spongebob on Saturday mornings, the Curio burger is the closest I’ve found to the Krabby Patty — the beau idéal of burgerdom that never quite found its match in reality. 

The butter pickles, American cheese, a sesame bun, and fresh lettuce are the halo around a remarkably thick and tasty patty that strikes a perfect, almost ethereal, umami. 

But for the sake of your soul, don’t get distracted. Because I did. And I paid. 

Curio will tempt you into tainting their lovely burger with some add-ons. Among them is the “Katsu Sharp Cheddar Cheese.” That’s what I ordered and that’s what I paid for — in more ways than one. 

But that’s my fault, because it is precisely what it says it is: a breaded and deep-fried hunk of cheddar that was so odd and hideous I chose to leave it off my burger and eat it solo. It tasted like a jalapeño popper with no jalapeño, and made me feel like one. The box it came in was even sealed with a sticker featuring a smiling cartoon personification of the deep-fried cheddar slab. Its name was “Mr. Katsu Cheddar,” and it was the substance of nightmares. 

I can already hear peanut gallery screaming that I should have been more daring and piled Mr. Katsu Cheddar onto my burger. But who knows what darkness would have befallen me and this mostly positive review of Curio’s beefy wedge. 

In the words of the ancient Grail Knight in the cave with Indiana Jones, I can say with confidence: I chose wisely.

Julian —

I also went to Curio in search of the Holy Grail. It had received quite a number of positive reviews, and perhaps, just maybe, a Christmas crusade would cleanse my memories of an annoying and anxiety-ridden year. 

Unfortunately, Curio is not, probably never was, the Holy Land. You may not know this, but it used to house the New College of California, an hippyish enterprise, remembered for its liberal humanist philosophy, financial chicanery and sexual harassment. 

The Holy Grail burger was nowhere to be found. So like you, I ordered the “Americana.”

The menu begins its description of this burger with the bun. What audacity! Who would use a bun as a device to call attention to a burger? Was the menu-writer another failed poet from the New College?

Undaunted, the menu went on. Not only a bun, but “a toasted potato-chip black sesame bun.”

Now, I’ve read and chewed over that phrase for hours, and I’m at a loss to explain it or why I should care. 

My emotional reaction was to flee. 

But reason prevailed. Mark, I told myself, you can’t tell a burger by its blurb.

And I’m happy to say, in Curio’s case, that’s true. 

Beef never makes it into print, but it makes the sandwich. A muscular, supremely confident hunk of seasoned ground beef, cooked to designer-perfection medium rare, transported me, for a few bites,  to kind of epicurean Jerusalem.

Maybe the menu writer thought he (or she) (or they) could entice vegetarians and vegans by flaunting exotic buns, sweet pickles and gooey sauce.  Don’t be fooled. Beef is both the alpha and the omega. 

Like many others around town these days, the Curio sauce is aioli-based. Though complimenting the meat, it showed no hint of awe. The sauce has its own tangy thing going, which I found pleasant, not pompous. 

The sandwich comes with a slice of white American cheese, which is unfortunate from a symbolic, or metaphorical perspective, but otherwise neither adds, nor subtracts.

The burger and fries.

Fresh and leafy, the lettuce was more than an ornament, but not much. The pickles were, as you say, butter, or sweetly spiced, so completely inappropriate and out of sync with the other sensations.

I’m surprised you didn’t mention the fries. I chose the fried potato strings. Yes, I did so with the image of Zuni’s shoestring fries in my head, while knowing in my heart they couldn’t compete. And fall short they did. Thin but not thin enough, and too bland to be addictive, I will say they were plentiful but “uninspired.” 

Were it not for the fried potato strings, I would have placed Curio higher on my list. 

Which raises a hippyish, liberal philosophical question. Is a “burger” only beef and bun, or is it a complete, multi-element, dining experience?

The ratings as of Dec. 26, 2020

Julian Mark

Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

Mark Rabine

Mark Rabine has lived in the Mission for over 40 years. "What a long strange trip it's been."

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