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There’s No Late-Night Burger Like a Desi Burger

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Two men in glasses look ravenously hungry as they dig into a burgers and fries.
YSG Halal offers a Pakistani American twist on the late-night fast food burger. (Thien Pham)

The Midnight Diners is a regular collaboration between KQED food editor Luke Tsai and artist Thien Pham. Follow them each week as they explore the hot pot restaurants, taco carts and 24-hour casino buffets that make up the Bay Area’s after-hours dining scene.

Fremont’s hottest club is a Pakistani burger shack in a little strip mall on Thornton Avenue.

That’s what it felt like, anyway, when we pulled up to YSG Halal at 11 o’clock on a recent Friday night. When we visited, the restaurant had only been open for about a week, and everything still felt a bit bare-bones and provisional — with not much in the way of amenities or decor beyond a perfunctory “YSG BAE” Instagram wall. But the place was hopping, with a steady stream of customers lined up to get their late-night burger fix. Every takeout order seemed massive — six or seven desi burgers and a bunch of milkshakes in one shot. Meanwhile, big groups of twentysomethings crowded around the tables, reaching over each other to get at baskets of loaded fries.

YSG Halal is the brick-and-mortar descendent of a popular food truck, YeeShaans Grubb, which accounts for its mouthful of an official name: “YSG Halal YeeShaans Grubb.” If you squint the right way, it looks like a regular old slice of Americana from the outside — a little Hopper-esque glass box of a diner where the whole gang can load up on burgers and shakes after the big game.

One point of distinction: At least during our visit, almost all of the other customers appeared to be young people of South Asian descent.

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Another: the actual food, which is a joyful distillation of the kind of diasporic mash-up you can find in any of the Bay Area’s great immigrant food cities. The backbone of the menu is a selection of six or seven different kinds of desi burgers, which, broadly speaking, refers to a burger with varying degrees of South Asian spicing and toppings — specifically Pakistani and made with halal-certified beef or chicken, in the case of YSG Halal. In the signature “DesYee” beef burger, those notes are relatively subtle: some cumin, coriander and diced onion in the patty give it a little bit of that kebab house flavor. Otherwise, it just eats like a really solid fast-food burger — which, a lot of times, is exactly what I’m craving when midnight comes around. (Visit a Wendy’s or McDonald’s drive-thru around that time, and you’ll see I’m not the only one.)

Illustration of a restaurant exterior late at night: It's a small burger shop crowded with customers and lit up from within. The sign reads "YSG Halal YeeShaans Grubb."
The place was hopping at 11 p.m. on a Friday night. (Thien Pham)

The “ChaplYee” burger, though, was what really sold me. Inspired by the thin, crisply seared chapli kebabs that you can get at any Afghan or Pakistani kebab spot, this beef patty featured the same house masala spice mix as the DesYee burger, but upped the onion quotient by a factor of ten, then added a bunch of chopped chili peppers to give it a spicy kick. The result is utterly delicious — the type of thing Pakistani American families might grill up at exactly the kind of backyard barbecue I’m always hoping I’ll be invited to.

YSG’s other big specialty is various permutations of saucy, meat-bedecked loaded fries. But coming at the tail end of a long night of indulgent eating, that felt a bit excessive, even to me. As it is, the burgers come with a generous portion of perfectly serviceable seasoned fries. My one tip is to ask for a tub of the pale green, aioli-like “SpiceYee” dipping sauce, a spectacularly addicting condiment that reminded me of the aji verde sauce Peruvian restaurants sometimes serve with rotisserie chicken. And, of course, you’ll want to wash it all down with one of the restaurant’s tasty, lassi-adjacent mango milkshakes.

What could be more American than that?

YSG Halal is open at 4342 Thornton Ave., Ste. A, in Fremont, from Tuesday to Thursday 5 p.m.–midnight, Friday to Saturday 5 p.m.–1 a.m. and Sunday 5–10 p.m. On Friday, Feb. 16, the restaurant will host a grand opening celebration, complete with a burger eating competition and free burgers for the first 50 guests.

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