A very faint haze, remnants of smoke from the grill, sometimes occupies the air at Juicy’s Giant Hamburgers. The haze captures the sunlight, gentles it, so the light only nudges the textured walls.
I don’t mind the mist. It’s a sign of a grill hard at work. And honest work at that.
In these days when so many comfort classics have been “localized,” foodie-fied or otherwise tarted up with truffle oil, Juicy’s proudly sticks to basic burgers.
They come in single or double patties, between buns courtesy of Sara Lee. Lettuce, tomato and white onion are standard. Want cheese? It’s American, melted so it seeps into the patty. Bacon and Ortega chiles are about a buck extra. Ketchup and mustard squirt from squeeze bottles.
And that’s pretty much it. For those looking to elaborate, there are pickles and jalapeño slices at the condiment bar, and bottles of Tapatio on the windowsill above.
Placing and picking up orders are done at the same counter. Add a little green to the tip bowl — the staff is young and friendly.
Burgers come wrapped in white kitchen paper, fries in pouches of the same material. Who needs plates? At a recent lunch, we smooth out the burger wrappers, dump on the fries, apply ketchup where it’s needed and commence feasting.
The burgers are gloriously messy, the buns barely able to contain what they’re sandwiching, the whole thing listing to one side under the weight of the meat. Fingers are dripping as a pile of crumpled napkins rises between me and my companion.
French fries are just as good — thick, golden batons crisp on the outside, soft and puffy within. Another time, they’re too dark, suggesting grease that might need refreshing, but on a third visit, the fries are back in top form.
The kitchen’s default setting is to cook the beef through, so if you like some pink, be sure to say so. At one lunch, a cheeseburger is cooked beautifully rare, just as I’d requested. Many places won’t do that anymore.
Juicy’s is a local institution, though to some driving by, it might look like a chain. Perhaps that’s an effect of the ebullient Juicy’s sign rendered in red and yellow neon, two classic fast food colors thought to induce hunger.
But a closer inspection reveals things no chain restaurant would ever offer. I’m thinking of the redwood siding and windows trimmed in barn door red, the ’50s and ’60s tunes sometimes played a bit too loud, the faux marble tables, banquet chairs straight out of a small town coffee shop, and a kitchen that’s open for all to see.
Not stylish in the usual sense, but taken together, the look and feel of the restaurant are charmingly quirky.
Beef and only beef
Juicy’s serves more than the beef.
The killer chicken features a tender strip of bird, lashings of bacon and cheese, and some of the burgers’ sloppy appeal.
Sourdough grilled cheese, alas, is strangely thin given the hulking items elsewhere on the menu. And a garden burger is just that, though I appreciate thickly sliced onion dusted with seasoned salt and swipes of creamy mustard.
But these infractions are easy to forgive because, let’s face it, why order grilled cheese or a vegetable patty in a burger joint? (I only did so in the interests of being comprehensive.)
If your diet (in either sense of the word) forbids you beef, go elsewhere.
Burgers and fries are Juicy’s raisons d’être; they are what the restaurant does best.
Just the basics. And thank goodness for that.