Trueburger, the new hamburger restaurant in downtown Oakland, is, well… true. Genuine meat patties made from cuts that are ground on the premises, shakes made with real ice cream (plus wonderful additions like actual bananas and peanut butter), all-beef kosher dogs that you can get topped with homemade chili and cheese, and truly nice people running the joint. What more could you ask for?
Greg Eng and Jason Low, both former sous chefs at Bay Wolf Restaurant in Oakland, wanted to open a restaurant that would appeal to everyone: young, old, middle aged, rich, working class and anything in between. Their goal was to provide high quality food that people loved to eat at affordable prices. After eating their a few times, I can vouch that they've succeeded. Eating at Trueburger is sort of like going back in time to one of those burger and shake restaurants that seemed to be in every town before fast food restaurants put them all out of business. Like Al's Diner in Happy Days or the hangout in Back to the Future, it serves American food made from real ingredients for regular people.
Located on Grand Avenue across the street and down a block from Lake Merritt, Trueburger is in the heart of downtown Oakland. When I asked Greg and Jason why they opened their restaurant in this location, they both enthusiastically told me that they live in Oakland and so wanted to invest in the city they mutually love. According to Greg, Oakland is the west coast's Brooklyn: it's a bit beat up and tarnished next to its glitzier and wealthier sister city of San Francisco, but filled with a talented and eclectic group of people who want and deserve great food.
So what can you find at Trueburger? The menu is simple and direct because Greg and Jason wanted to focus on making a few items really well. Burgers, hot dogs, chili dogs, smoked chicken sausage, shakes, fries and salads. That's pretty much it.
So far, my favorite item is the burger. Now, I should preface my review by saying that I am a finicky burger eater. I have a Three Little Bears mentality when it comes to hamburgers: not too thick (because then you can't taste the bun, cheese, and condiments) not too thin (because what's the point of a super thin burger?), but just right. Greg and Jason make their own meat patties -- the cuts they grind are a trade secret. I do know, however, that the meat is angus beef, not organic and not grass fed. All the meat is also ground at the restaurant. I've eaten two burgers there so far, and both were truly excellent. With an 80/20 meat/fat ratio that is just the perfect thickness and size, each burger bursts with real beef flavor. The buns are purchased from a local bakery in Berkeley. Fluffy with nooks inside, I could tell the buns are steam-baked and then laid on the grill just before they're served so they're crispy on the inside. The perfect vehicle for a good patty. For a little extra, you can top your burger with cheese, bacon, chili, or grilled onions.
In addition to those amazing burgers, Trueburger also has hot dogs. My daughter Sophie really enjoyed the Naked Hot Dog, which is a plain large Hebrew National dog in a bun, but the Housemade Chili-Cheese Dog with diced onions and cheddar cheese made me go weak at the knees. The chili (cooked fresh each day) is made with meat and beans and lots of other ingredients that meld together into the perfect amalgamation to sit on a dog. Topped with their cheese sauce, and you have a poem on a bun. Yes, it's really that good.
There aren't a lot of sides at Trueburger, but true to their goal, the few they have are done well. The fries are quite decent. Made from real potatoes (and not those frozen things a lot of other places use), they are soft and steamy on the inside and crispy and salty on the outside. You can have them plain, or topped with cheese sauce, chili or both. Trueburger also has locally-made pickles which are crispy and perfectly dilled. I was disappointed, however, that they didn't have onion rings as I think all good burger and dog places should have this item on the menu. Plus it's almost impossible to find a good onion ring, and I know Greg and Jason would make great ones.
Hamburgers and hot dogs aside, Trueburger is worth a visit for any shake-loving individual. Made from real vanilla and chocolate ice cream, Trueburger's shakes are thick and decadent. Yet what makes them really special is that you can add a variety of ingredients to them. So far, I've tried the vanilla banana, the vanilla caramel, and the vanilla orange cream -- all ridiculously delicious. You can also get a very nice root beer float (which my daughters loved). On my next stop I plan on trying one made with chocolate ice cream and peanut butter. Right now, you can choose to start your shake with vanilla or chocolate ice cream and then add up to 8 flavors (including malt), but once summer fruits are in season, Greg and Jason plan on adding other choices to the list. I can't wait to try blueberry and peach in June.
Oh yeah, there's also a 'Shroom Burger, smoked chicken sausage and three types of chopped salads. I can't imagine walking into Trueburger and not getting a hamburger or chili dog, but if you're interested in a healthier or vegetarian option, there's still plenty for you to eat.
Trueburger is open every weekday and Saturday for lunch, plus Thursday through Saturday evening for dinner. They have applied for a liquor license, so I'm hoping to have my chili dog with an ice cold beer in a few months, but for now Greg and Jason have an inspired selection of root beers and cream sodas on hand, as well as the standard soda fountain selection.
So if you're in the mood for a true burger -- homemade with a side of cheesy fries -- or a chili dog with a real ice cream shake, you need look no further than downtown Oakland.