Jay's Cheesesteak on 21st and Valencia. Photo by Julian Mark

Julian,

In 20 years, your readers will want to know: Where were you when the Capitol Hill riots broke out? 

I was at home, eating a burger from Jay’s Cheesesteak.

Let me back up for a minute, because ordering 1/3 lb. burger from Jay’s Cheesesteak is like politics. It’s about making a choice.

And, unlike some republics, Jay’s offers a wide range of choices. If you have trouble making a decision, Jay’s is not for you.

Not only do you get to choose cooking style, but you get to choose among seven cheeses, eight variations of fries, seven condiments, eleven extra options and nine sauces. Wow. It took me over an hour to imagine them all.

So after substantial dithering, I ordered a medium-rare burger with American cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and pickles on the side.

I also chose the waffle fries.

Generally I consider American cheese a waste of taste and capacity, but given that today was to be the Consecration of Joe Biden, I thought “American” would be fitting.

Boy, was I right about that. No sooner had the burger and fries arrived than a herd of radical religious rightists, neo-Nazi milita, bikers, posers, conspiracy theorists, white supremacists, and misguided tourists swarmed through the Capitol waving Trumpist flags. 

Or were they invited in by the Capitol Hill cops who pointed the way to the Senate chambers and Speaker’s Office? 

It was shocking. Unnerving. 

If ever there was a time for comfort food, this had to be it.

Unfortunately, I had a burger and fries from Jay’s Cheesesteak.

I ordered medium-rare and got medium-well, leaving the patty, drained and tasteless, as absurd for a burger as the bow Sen. Dianne Feinstein used to wear in her younger days. The cheese called into the very essence of heartland America. As bland as Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, it only made me more anxious.

What did help was heaping on the lettuce, tomato, onions and pickles. Usually I consider plant life to be as distracting as Rachel Maddow, but this time they really improved the whole experience. Nothing special, they could have come from a freezer in any of the country’s Costcos, but unlike the American cheese, they got the job done.

Had I stopped with the burger, I would have been fine. Like if the mob in the Capitol had just snapped a few selfies and gone home. But a pile of waffle fries stood by as I addictively watched images of white men, high on resentment, braying their way back and forth through the Rotunda. 

The waffle fries were, after a lengthy delivery, still somewhat crisp, which I had predicted. However, without a lot of ketchup, they’re as greasy as commentary from Tucker Carlson. After they entered my stomach, I wanted to call the National Guard to take them out.

Whether it was the burger, the fries, or the sordid historical moment, this was a time for the toilet. —M.R.


Jay’s Cheesesteak’s Bacon jalapeño burger with waffle fries.

Mark, 

I’m not sure I can stand by and let you impeach Jay’s Cheesesteak. Like you hinted at — but didn’t really quite say — Jay’s is capital-D democracy incarnate. A hungry customer can choose between 25 cheesesteaks, 19 burgers, 25 sandwiches, 5 hot dogs, 25 sides and 10 — 10! — sauces. 

That’s freedom. That’s America. And you just took a dump on it. 

No wonder people are so angry at you elites. You sit high and comfy in your castles, singing the praises of highfalutin cow products from Curio, Monk’s Kettle, and Mission Bowling — while scoffing at what can truly be considered The People’s Burger. 

I really enjoyed Jay’s. Before trying its burger, I was a regular consumer of its cheesesteaks. I was nervous to try the burger, fearing that it might not measure up to Jay’s Cheesesteak’s namesake product.

It did. 

I ordered the jalapeño burger and added bacon. It was heavy like a stone when I took it out of the bag. And it smelled, well, like a burger — not like caper aioli, or onion jam, or whatever it is the gentry gets high on these days. 

The jalapeños (pickled) and the bacon (crispy, almost cremated) overflowed from the burger, stuck to an amalgam of jack cheese. The patty was flatter than burgers past, but nonetheless showed a little pink in the middle. 

The first bite was glorious. The crunch of the thin, toasted bun, the shredded lettuce and swirl of jalapeños, cheese, and beef was decidedly more “Coachella” than “insurrection.” It was pedestrian, but not contrived like WesBurger — and perfect for the sober and drunk alike. 

The one slightly undemocratic aspect of this experience was that I chose curly fries and got waffle fries instead. But I’d hardly call Jay’s Cheesesteak a banana republic. They probably just ran out of curly fries. And it was all for the best: the waffle fries were crispy, seasoned, and had just the right amount of potato. 

In the end, Jay’s rocked. Among its peers — Double Decker, Big Mouth, and Whiz Burger — I’d say Jay’s is the best. And by no slim margin, but a landslide. J.M.

Mark Rabine

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

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.

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7 Comments

  1. I got their seitan “steak” to go a few months ago. Greezy bits w/ iceberg lettuce on a tasteless commercial white bread roll. It was filling at least……

  2. MR – I think you went wrong with the American cheese while watching people (many in funny costumes) try to overturn a free election (and rejection.) Gorgonzola might have been a better approach.

  3. If this is the same Jay’s that used to be on Divisidaro, near Hayes, I am going to have to check it out! The cheese steak is simply marvelous and the people are wonderful.

  4. My buddy and I had cheesesteaks at Jay’s a while ago for the first and last time. We ordered with great optimism, but what we got was no comparison to the dozens of cheesesteaks we consumed on the east coast, or I’ve made myself. The many choices do not impress me. Irrelevant for a cheesesteak so disappointing. The thought of trying a burger there is unthinkable.

  5. Jay’s on Divis was awful. How they remain in business in a city with so many options is beyond me.

  6. I love this article. It really nails down Jay’s. What you get on one day will not be the same the next, but it’s tolerable food if you aren’t that concerned with quality. Not mentioned was that all the meat is Niman Ranch, so if you care where your meat comes from Jay’s is one of the few sub-$20 options the Mission has to offer.

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