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Joe's Cable Car, SF - best burger, onion rings, chocolate malt?

I just read David's Lebovitz's post on Joe's Cable Car in SF. Seems he had the best burger, onion rings, & a good chocolate malt there. Is it really a $10 burger? What do hounds think?

David's post:

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  1. lol... yes, it really is that good. but it's not a cheap place to eat -- like they say you get what you pay for. real beef that's cut and ground in front of you. also, the place is very clean, the service is great, and you'd have to be a grinch if the decor doesn't put a smile on your face. still everything comes to you on plastic plates so when you get your bill for $50 for two people, don't choke on your milkshake.

    1. Joe's is a funny place. Back in the day before the burger craze, Joe's was the place. Somewhere along the line the prices crept up but the burgers didn't improve along with the prices or the competition. Good burgers but you can get a better or comparable burger at a number of places...Barney's, Burgermeister, etc, for a lot less.

      If the burgers are indeed $10 bucks (for the small/4 oz?)...onion rings, a shake, tax and tip gets close or over $20 bucks. If it was $10 bucks and the fries or onions rings were included...that seems fair. OTOH, 2 people for $40+ bucks? Think about that.

      Maybe Joe's has gotten better but I don't recall them to be "that" good...not $10 buck good.

      6 Replies
      1. re: ML8000

        Yes, the $10 figure is for a plain quarter-pound (pre-cooked weight) hamburger. If you go up to 6oz and want one slice of cheese (only $1 per slice!) you're looking at $14.50. With fries it's now $17. Add a shake and you're going to have to start selling internal organs to settle the tab.

        I've been to Joe's twice, and, even if the prices were the same, would much rather go to Burgermeister or Zeitgeist or Absinthe.

        I think Joe's is like La Taqueria: its glory days have long-since passed it by, but now that it is featured in countless guidebooks, it can coast for years. Only an out-of-towner is going to be blown away by the place -- there are simply too many other good (and more reasonably priced) options in the city. None of which have been featured on FoodTv.

        1. re: jpancake

          For further comparison, the hamburgers at BurgerMeister are 8oz (half-pound) and for a cheeseburger with fries you're looking at about $10 total.

          The equivalent burger & fries at Joe's would cost $18.25:
          $10 + $4.75 (for the 'Paul Bunyan Special' 8oz upgrade) + $1 (for the cheese slice) + $2.50 (for the fries)

        2. re: ML8000

          Or Moe's in North Beach! That's a good burger.

          Are you saying people believe what they hear on TV? Tut, tut.

          Frankly, I don't get the burger craze. I can get excellent fresh molida de rez around the corner at 2.50$/lb, fire up the propane, and have a sweet half-pounder in 15 minutes.

          1. re: bbulkow

            gotta love that burger at Moe's on Grant Ave. in North Beach— it's a 5-napkin burger.

            1. re: Cynsa

              I agree with you guys that Mo's in North Beach is very good. The odd thing is, Mo's at Yerba Buena Garden isn't nearly as good and I could never figure out why. The burgers are completely different and not in a good way. (it might be lack of the huge charcoal grill?)

              1. re: Cynsa

                Haven't been to the Mo's in North Beach, but the Mo's in Berkeley was my all-times fave (North side of campus near Top Dog). Too bad it didn't last long.

            1. It's a lot more than $10. It's good. Maybe it's worth it to you--to me, it isn't. Big Mouth Burger or Darla's or ..... deliver a much better quality/value ratio.

              1. They did a great job of showcasing this place on Diners,Drive-ins and Dives. I made a mental note of the place but now I'm glad I saw about the prices, wow.

                11 Replies
                  1. re: 5am

                    My college age son who lives in SF (Ingleside) called me all excited after seeing this place on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. He was all set to head on over. Called back again to say that he had checked the prices and reviews online and was horrified by the prices. He felt the only affordable way to partake would be for his dad and I to head in and treat him to a meal. We opted out and he headed to Beep's Burgers (Ocean and Lee) two blocks from his apartment and saved himself $10.

                    1. re: baseballfan

                      Send your son to Tennessee Grill (Taraval and 20th) in the Sunset. The Tennessee special is fresh beef, charbroiled, cooked to order (med-rare, etc.) comes w/ fries (only average fries) for $4.25. A coke kicks it up another $1.25. Best burger deal in town. Not so close to the Ingleside but not super far either.

                      1. re: baseballfan

                        At Lakeside Cafe (2529 Ocean Ave.) you can get a 1/2 lb. Angus beef burger, meat ground at the restaurant every day, with excellent fries for $7.75 (+.75 for cheese) and they cook the burger very accurately to order.

                        Lakeside Cafe
                        2529 Ocean Ave, San Francisco, CA 94132

                        1. re: Nancy Berry

                          Tried Lakeside Cafe for the first time the other day and it smelled like the inside of a nursing home. The menu looked good, but my friend and I couldn't stick around long enough to order.

                          1. re: Civil Bear

                            The restaurant appeals to an older demographic -- I've also seen many families with young children there -- but it certainly doesn't smell like anything other than a clean, well-maintained restaurant. I sense a bit of ageism here. You should have tried the food -- it's quite good, especially the hamburgers.

                            1. re: Nancy Berry

                              Sense a bit of ageism? If your senses work properly, I doubt you could enjoy your lunch alongside a faint scent of urine and ammonia...regardless of the age of the clientele. Or does my failure to ignore the odor make me some sort of ageophobe?

                              My friend and I drove across town to try this place. Perhaps our experience was an isolated incident, but I am in no rush to go back and find out.

                              1. re: Civil Bear

                                My family has been going to Lakeside for years and we've never had that experience. I guess that my sense of smell isn't as acute and sensitive as yours or, as you said, this was an isolated incident.

                                1. re: Civil Bear

                                  Dol Ho has a strong smell of Bengay (really!), but that doesn't ruin my experience of eating there.

                                  1. re: Atomica

                                    If I walk into an old school place and see a bunch of seniors in there, it usually means a couple of things -- the food is usually decent and it's probably reasonably priced. Diners at breakfast are often validated by the smell of ben gay.

                      2. I live 3 blocks from Joe's and have eaten there a couple of times. But I would rather drive to Luka's in Oakland for a burger fix. At $11 for burger and fries, even if you include the cost of gas and bridge toll the price is about the same. And Joe's fries are second rate while most hounds seem to agree that Luka's are among the best.

                        It's great that they take the time to prep and grind the meat, but there doesn't seem to be anything special about the meat, except that is rather lean. That's great if you're watching your cholesterol, but may be part of the reason why they get mixed reviews. Fat tastes good!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Zeldog

                          And at Joe's, can you eat his burger while sipping a glassful of
                          the amazing Duchesse de Bourgogne ?

                          Awesome burger + great fries + one of the most delicious beers on earth
                          for only about $2 more than Joe's burger, questionable fries, and an ice-filled
                          paper cup of coke.

                        2. I like their burgers and shakes a lot (and I've really had a couple of fantastic chocolate shakes there), but I never go because of the prices. Mediocre fries The great burgers and fries at Big Mouth satisfy those cravings for a better price.

                            1. re: baron45

                              Couldn't happen to a nicer tourist trap.

                              1. re: wolfe

                                I think it became a tourist trap, especially post Fieri. My kids loved that place and we went there many, many times in the '90s and early '00s. It was never cheap, but it used to be more justified before quality burgers became so ubiquitous. But the prices kept rising. The paper plates and plastic utensils was wrong at that price point. I even found the endless Sinatra irritating the last few times I was there.

                                Through it all, the burgers and shakes were great. So I'm actually happy to see the owner shut it down rather than sell it.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    It happens.
                                    "All of the restaurant's regular customers end up getting pushed out by Fieri fans, who track down the restaurants at an unofficial Fieri fan site called Flavor Town U.S.A. "

                                    1. re: wolfe

                                      As one who ate there several times a year for more than 20, I don't think it ever was a tourist trap. It was always a personality place with pricey but great burgers. Joe is a San Francisco "character" in the best way, and I wish him Happy retirement.

                                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      >A tourist trap in the Excelsior?
                                      I find that more plausible than people who live around there paying the $25 or whatever it would be for a adquately filling burger/fries/drink.

                                      It's funny how defensive the EATER INTERVIEW is w.r.t. to price. Arent the drink prices unadvertised? Do they over charge for drinks too? Do the have special high quality drinks or does he have some rationalization why he can overcharge for drinks ... since his view on the burgers is "you have to pay for high quality marbled meat" etc.

                                      My fondest wish would be for him to turn that space in rentable parking. Although I hate that place so much I might not be willing to give him any money ever in any form for anything.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        That was the problem - the place has been pretty empty for a while now. They outpriced the neighbor who were more likely to go to Beeps.

                                        1. re: sugartoof

                                          I've eaten at several Oakland "moral equivalents" of BEEP BUGER (like those late nite GIANT BURGER type palces), but I found BEEP somewhere between disgusting and inedible ... I didnt throw it away after the first bite, but I wasnt able to finish it. Aside from throwing part of it away, I seem to remember it was one of those uniformly gray thin patties we generally consider to be at the bottom of the hamburger barrel. Yes, it was worse than most fast food burgers.

                                          This was maybe 15mos ago. I've never been back even though I drive past there often. Is it worth another try?

                                          1. re: psb

                                            I wouldn't know. I think they do mostly City College business, and Yelp reviews suggest it can be okay. I didn't mean to sound as if I was endorsing the place, or have any recent experience, I just know it's seen a resurgence and it gets more business than Joe's.

                                            1. re: psb

                                              LOL, intended or not, your misspelling of burger is hilarious.

                                              I had such a chalky and awful shake at Beep’s Burgers over the summer that I couldn't bring myself to order a burger without a recent recommendation. A sun-faded sign at the front promoting a Hormel hot dog or something also scared me off.

                                  2. Like some others have stated, I've found Joe's pretty average. A neon fest at night.

                                    Pearl’s, Prather Ranch, Polker’s, Mo’s hit the mark.

                                    If you're going to pay $10, pay $15 for the one at Absinte.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Foodnut8

                                      I would like that place okay as a sort of locals' hangout, if only it weren't so expensive. It's almost $30 for a burger, fries, and a soft drink. At those prices one can have any other burger in the city, many of which are far superior.

                                      1. re: dunstable

                                        You do bring up a good point - had they kept prices at a Burgermeister level, affordable to locals, then you would have seen the place continue to do well even serving a mediocre burger.