Chula Vista is famous for its Little League baseball champions, American Idol finalist Jessica Sanchez, Bonita Vista High School’s show choirs and Southwestern College’s mariachi and student publications.
Hamburgers, though, may be the next big thing.
Travel Channel foodies Andrew Zimmern, Adam Richman and Anthony Bourdain, have celebrated some of San Diego’s best seafood and Mexican food, but always stayed north of Chula Vista.
Burgers and beer may soon stamp Chula Vista on the foodie map. Thanks to A La Burger, a hip hangout with burgers of beauty, located inside Hi Ball Bar.
“We want to be known as the spot for gourmet burgers south of the 54,” said Co-Founder Jesse Bojorquez. “There really isn’t a spot like that around here, unless you go to Fuddruckers maybe.”
Bojorquez and partner Jorge Medina, 25, met eight years ago at the Hi Ball Bar where their burgers are now a hit.
“I would throw parties at Hi Ball and Jorge and his brother would come,” said Bojorquez. “We all just started hanging out and getting to know each other.”
Located just east of I-5 on E Street, the dimly lit dive is where Bojorquez and Medina work Thursdays and Saturdays to create unique burgers tested on friends and regulars.
“I would go up to North Park and that area for local eats and figured why am I eating here when I can make all this stuff at the bar?” said Bojorquez.
Medina said he had the same idea.
“We have no background in cooking, except breakfast for my lady,” he said. “I used to work at a catering place and all I did was barbeque and flip meat. I thought, why don’t I just make the meat and flip it?”
A La Burgers are fresh. Buns are ordered on Tuesday and picked up from a Hillcrest bakery on Thursdays. Saturday’s supply is ordered that same day. Meat and vegetables come from a local produce market.
“Our main focus is keeping everything local – the meat, the veggies, the buns, everything,” said Medina.
Bojorquez’s family has owned Hi Ball for 11 years. Its interior is not the most welcoming, but plans to modernize are in the works, he said.
“A change in the lighting is something we want to look into,” he said. “We also want to shop different thrift stores for chairs in order to have a unique style to each table. Maybe a king’s throne somewhere, too.”
Constant experimentation has produced several new burgers, including an omelet burger where an entire omelet dominates the burger. The Cheese Burger has blocks of cheddar cheese mixed inside the meat with a layer of pepper jack and a three-cheese, Mex-mix rounding it out.
“It’s a cheesy and crispy, great balance,” said Rene Gonzalez, 26. “The fact that they put cheese in the meat is genius.”
Most polished of the assortment is The Gourmet Burger, whose patty is 40 percent lamb, 60 percent diezmillo (Chuck) and seasoned with four different spices. Between the freshly-baked buns goes American cheese, lettuce, tomato, bacon and of course an egg, cooked to the customer’s preference. A side of crinkle-cut fries come served either regular or parmesan-pesto style.
Food is fabulous, but location is a problem. When high schools release the hounds, the area becomes a feeding frenzy. Typical choice for the youngsters is the Wendy’s just a short walk away, but with A La Burger’s $7 combo, a healthier, more satisfying burger is available.
Once A La Burger’s menu crawls out of the dive’s abyss, the generous prices may not last.
“Ideally we’d like to have a food truck so we can travel the burger and get it out to everyone,” said Medina.
Bojorquez is looking forward to A La Burger’s future.
“We want to be able to say we made something out of nothing,” he said.