'Yeah, Zeitgeist says “fuck you,” but because it really cares. It has a soul, and that soul is as enormous as its back patio.' Illustration by Molly Oleson

Zeitgeist, Julian.

It’s a name that conjures the Mission from a foggy past; a place where you might run into a ghost from the Beat era, or a straggling spirit from the old Picaro, the Macondo, or the Café Barbar; a place brimming over with hippie philosophers and activist poets; a place that would serve a burger that would give me something I could really get my teeth into.

Name aside, as everyone knows, Zeitgeist is your basic neighborhood grunge bar, dive bar, biker bar, rude bar, rowdy bar, outlaw bar and, for many, a boisterous beer garden. 

Which is why, when someone told me they made good burgers, I wondered whether that was alcohol, nostalgia, or both talking.

Zeitgeist keeps it strictly old-school: no online, no deliveries, and if you want to pick up, you can wait in person, in line, like everybody else.

With the menu pared back, I ordered the “classic cheeseburger,” without mayo, and fixings (onion, tomato and arugula) on the side. Arugula?

I forgot to order medium rare. Again.

The patty came cooked, with little flair, to an unimaginative medium, though it gamely held on to a beefy kind of taste. And, although I could sense seasoning, it was barely a hint.

The beef appeared to sight, smell and touch to be legitimate. It had a kind of shape and swagger that tells you it has not been recently liberated from a Costco freezer. 

The cheddar cheese melted deep into the beef, which was a good sign and a better taste: a kind of cheesiness missing from the often-used, and frequently abused, American.

The bun was a big problem. Wait. The bun? 

Don’t get me wrong. In and of itself, it was an admirable bun, a serious bun from a serious baker that overpowered the greasy presence of meat and cheese. The patty was on the thin side, barely a quarter pound, and submitted without protest to the bun’s thick dominance. 

The fixings didn’t fix the problem. Neither the onion (fresh) or tomato (absent) made little difference to the bun, and neither did the arugula, which seemed to sleep through it all. They reminded me of a poem about a sad little garden carelessly cared for by carnivores.

As a burger journalist in the Mission, I found the fries a paradox. They arrived seriously fried, could have been double-fried, and coated with something called “zeitspice,” which gave them a dive bar kind of twinkle and grunge bar kind of twist. But they promised more than they delivered, which is why they left me suspecting they were designed to be paired with a beer, not a burger.

If you’re looking for someplace to drink with a large open patio, multiple brews, a run-down décor and decent bar food, then Zeitgeist is the place for you. 

If you’re looking for a memorable burger, keep looking. –M.R.

Zeitgeist burger and fries. Photo by Lydia Chávez, February, 2021.

I dropped Catholicism in high school because God would not answer my prayers and just give me a girlfriend. But I’m back to praying again, Mark — not for my love life, but for you. 

It’s piteous that a man who can recognize a ghost from the Beat Era can’t recognize a good burger from the Now Era, even when it’s swirling around in his mouth. A sad little garden he must inhabit, tended by standards overinflated by the ephemeral Bowling Burger and skewed by an overpriced onion jam sandwich.

Oh merciful God, give this man some taste buds. Give him some perspective! 

When going to Zeitgeist for a burger, you might want to consider exactly that: You’re going to Zeitgeist for a burger. This is a place you go to have a couple beers, and then get kicked out for mispronouncing the bartender’s name. The burgers are there merely to accompany all of that joy and sorrow — and, for me, they did more than that. 

With the help of my burger consigliere, E, I was able to try both burgers on the Zeitgeist menu: the classic cheeseburger and the West Coast burger. The former, like many bar burgers we’ve tried so far, was delightfully impromptu, as if dad gilled them up on the fly to impress your friends. They had a deep medium-rare pink on the inside, and a nice bitter char on the outside that combined well with the rings of raw red onion and the staid sweetness of the potato bun. The cheddar cheese brought it all together, and the arugula gave everything a fresh pop. 

Most impressively, the burger was juicy, but not greasy. The bun, toasted, was not soaked through after a 12-block car ride home. 

The West Coast Burger — saddled with 1,000 Island dressing, grilled onions, tomato, a bit of white cheese — was as if an “In-N-Out burger grew up,” E said. And while this burger was fun, we both agreed: Just go to In-N-Out. Zeitgeist’s classic burger was better. 

As for the fries, well: I pray for them, as well. Too soggy, too seasoned. As if they were made to be abandoned by a patron who didn’t conform to Zeitgeist’s strict code of conduct and was bounced prematurely. 

Overall, however, the burger exceeded my expectations. So as long as I’m welcome, I’ll keep going back. –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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3 Comments

  1. Tidbits,

    Couple of years ago Zeitgeist sold more beer than any bar in California.

    Few decades back when I first visited it was a gay bikers’ bar owned by a guy from Guerneville who got himself murdered.

    Best fare to me has always been the kick buttox margaritas in the milk shake glasses.

    Used to be one of only places in town you could smoke pot in the corner in the back and in the dark.

    The inhospitable thing must be a new addition.

    go Giants!

    h.

  2. I enjoy these burger war articles, but I’m beginning to wonder how I can trust Mark’s opinion as an expert. (And not because we disagree, although I have had nothing but delectable burgers at Zeitgeist.)
    Mark, you’re a “hamburger journalist,” and yet you don’t know how to order your burgers? C’mon, man! If you prefer your burgers medium rare, but don’t ask for them to be cooked that way, is it the burger’s fault that it’s overdone? Please remember to order what you like, and then it will be worth hearing if you liked it or not.

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