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Battle of the burgers

Perhaps no food is as quintessentially American as the hamburger. Sure, the name comes from Germany, but we have embraced and refined it far beyond what the originators ever dreamed.

Nowhere in San Diego is the art of the burger as celebrated as here in La Jolla. The hamburger, once synonymous with fast food, has found its way alongside rack of lamb and other high-brow entrees at some of La Jolla’s finest restaurants. There’s places where the hamburger is the featured food, and now we have a restaurant - the Burger Lounge - where it’s one of the ONLY foods.

Hamburgers have long appeared as quality options on menus around La Jolla. Stretching from Bully’s in Bird Rock to Jeff’s Burgers in La Jolla Shores, La Jolla’s “burger belt” is unbroken across the entire community. But never has the spotlight in our local dining scene shone so brightly on the hamburger as it does now.

The Spot, the beloved local restaurant on the corner of Prospect Street and Girard Avenue that has been a repeat winner of the “Best Burger” distinction in the Light’s annual reader’s poll, recently switched to a build-your-own burger format that allows the customer to design their burger to their exact specifications.

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At the sidewalk cafe at Jack’s La Jolla on Girard Ave., Kobe beef hamburgers and sliders have been among the most popular items.

At the Whaling Bar and Grill at La Valencia Hotel, the three-quarter pound Angus burger served on a Kaiser roll is perhaps the biggest burger in town, with a price tag to match - $17.

And now, the Burger Lounge comes to the Village with a menu offering quality burgers and not a whole lot else. The restaurant has seen consistent crowds in the weeks since it opened, the lines stretching out its front door a recurring reminder of the power of the burger.

Burger Lounge owner Dean Loring created the restaurant with the idea that people would pay for quality in a hamburger, and it appears he’s been right. The Grilled Lounge Burger costs $6.95 before factoring in fries and a drink, but Loring said the quality of his product is what’s truly unique. The restaurant uses all grass-fed beef shipped directly from Kansas.

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“Our attempt with the Burger Lounge was to do a common thing uncommonly well,” Loring said.

In addition to the beef, which is hormone- and antibiotic-free, the Burger Lounge has its own bun recipe baked exclusively for the restaurant, featuring a white-wheat mixture and a dabble of molasses. Loring said the response to the restaurant, which he envisioned as filling a void in the middle ground between high-end and “hit-and-miss” restaurants in La Jolla, has exceeded expectations.

“The response, I have to admit, has been pretty overwhelming,” Loring said.

“It’s all about the patty,” said Gregg Ellis of San Diego as he dined at the Burger Lounge. “This is a good one.”

Diners also seem willing to pay a slightly higher price for quality. One diner said the setting had something to do with it.

“We figured we would pay a little more going to lunch in La Jolla anyway,” said Laura Taylor, visiting from Albuquerque, New Mexico. "(The cost) is a little high, but not so bad.”

The Burger Lounge also offers turkey and veggie burger options, as do many restaurants in La Jolla with burgers on the menu. Right now in La Jolla, it would appear that there is a burger for everybody.