Monday, March 4, 2024

Burger Island – Past and Present

Many people have said Coronado reminds them of a Norman Rockwell painting. Concerts in the park, the Fourth of July parade, and a significant military presence. Oh, yeah, I almost forgot… hamburgers. There is no shortage of places you can grab a burger. We have more hamburgers on the island than a town our size should. We used to have more, and a few that have disappeared bring back fond memories for locals.

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Oscar’s Menu from the ’50s. Courtesy of the Coronado Historical Association Collection

I grew up here but was not old enough to experience Oscar’s, the island’s iconic drive-in. This diner sat where Swadee, Coronado Karate, and Nado Republic are today. Yes, we had a diner like Arnold’s in Happy Days, complete with car hops on roller skates.

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Char Burger on its journey up the Strand to its new home. Courtesy of the Coronado Historical Association Collection

My favorite place growing up was Char Burger. It was a small shack that served flame-broiled hamburgers. The building was built in Chua Vista and came to us on a truck that drove it up the Stand and plopped it down where it sat for years.

Current day Night & Day Cafe

High school in the ’80s meant a fair share of late-night burgers at the local greasy spoon, better known today as the Night & Day Cafe. Its then 24-hour status was legendary with local kids.

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Wendy’s was a popular hangout for kids in the ’80s. Courtesy of the Coronado Historical Association Collection

Wendy’s was also a regular hangout. It sat where the Tavern is today. I am happy to trade that underwhelming square patty for the Tavern’s shishito-topped burger. Wendy’s was where the cool kids hung out. Today the cool kids are still there, but they are not drinking Frosties; they are slinging cocktails behind the bar.

When McDonald’s opened on North Island in the mid-’80s, it caused quite a stir. The golden arches were located on the base next to the Navy Exchange. Back then, you could access a Big Mac without a military Id card or sticker on your car. Cars filled with high school kids would make a mad dash at lunchtime to get through the drive-through and back to school before the lunch bell rang.

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Danny’s Palm Bar home of the Slam Burger. Courtesy of the Coronado Historical Association Collection

After college, Danny’s Palm Bar, home of the “Slam Burger,” was a popular hangout. Legend has it that the Slam Burger won the best burger in San Diego so many times that they kicked them out of the contest because Coronado isn’t technically San Diego. Danny’s hasn’t changed in all these years, and frankly, I like it that way.

Fast forward to today, and burger choices abound. The two extremes are Burger King on one end of the island and Stake on the other, with no shortage of options in between.

Nicky Rottens, Coronado Brewing Company, Night and Day Cafe, Burger Lounge, Danny’s, Clayton’s, The Islander, The Henry, Little Frenchies, McP’s, Chez Loma, the Brigantine, and the Tavern all serve good burgers.

Here are a few hamburgers that top my list. The original “OG Leroy’s Burger” is now served at the Islander — who doesn’t like bacon jam? The Little Frenchie’s “Le Burger” has a fountain of good French cheese poured over the top table-side. The “Grilled Bacon and Blistered Shishito Pepper Burger” at the Tavern is full of umami. Truffle fries accompany the “All-American Burger” at The Henry. Stake’s “Dry-Aged Stake Burger” is made with trim from their fantastic lineup of steaks and comes with blue cheese and mushrooms.

With this many burgers, why would you need to leave the island? The truth is you don’t, but why not do it anyway? Suppose you are looking for something out of the ordinary. You can slip down the Strand or head over the bridge for a burger you can’t find here.

Swagyu Chop Shop, in Imperial Beach, is a butcher shop specializing in wagyu beef. They also serve a killer burger called the “Swagyu Smash Burger.” This burger features two four-ounce patties made from wagyu steak trim, American cheese, bread and butter pickles, a signature sauce, and a brioche bun. The owner, chef Steve Brown, is blowing up this concept and opening places all over San Diego.

Hayes Burger, Barrio Logan.

A quick trip over the bridge will land you in Barrio Logan where my new favorite burger lives at Hayes Burger. This burger style is the first cousin to the now famous “Dirty Flat Top Burger” at The Friendly in North Park. I love the simplicity of this place. They have a hamburger for $7, a cheeseburger for $7.25, and a double cheeseburger that will cost you $10. The food is fantastic, and the backdrop of all the murals in Chicano Park adds to the experience.

Tell me, don’t you want a burger now? Start at the Ferry Landing and work toward the beach; it’s your patriotic duty.

CHA LogoFor more Coronado history, check out the Coronado Historical Association. CHA has a new app that maps historic homes and offers walking tours of the island. To download the FREE app, search the Apple App Store and Google Play Store for “Coronado’s Historical Gems.” They also have a treasure trove of great historical pictures available for purchase. We are all part of Coronado History; take advantage of what CHA offers.


Clyde Van Arsdall
Clyde Van Arsdall
Clyde is a trained chef that has worked in hospitality for nearly 40 years. In addition to cooking, he is a freelance food writer and storyteller. Currently he works for CH Projects managing the pool and Beginner's Diner at the Lafayette Hotel. Clyde is a third-generation Coronado local, CHS graduate, and father of three. He also owns and operates Olive Avenue Supper Club, a boutique catering company specializing in culinary experiences. You can follow his culinary journey on Instagram @oliveavenuesuppper and read all his stories at www.oliveavenuesupper.comHave a story for The Coronado Times to cover? Send news tips or story ideas to: [email protected]

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