A few years ago, Bill Lee swore that Billy Quon’s Sur in Carmel was his last restaurant.
Sur is still going strong – so strong that it has inspired Lee and his wife Teresa to venture out again, this time to a burger spot on Alvarado Street. Sur Burger is an offshoot of Sur; same chef (Herman Hernandez), same execution. And since it’s not a full-service restaurant – guests order at a counter – perhaps it doesn’t really go against Lee’s earlier vow.
One imagines it’s still a lot of work, effortless as it may seem. On a busy weekend afternoon, the line went just about out the door. Sitting outside gave an even better view of just how many people peeked inside and decided to stay. And although the streetside patio welcomes people-watching under heat lamps, the interior design is just as beautiful as Sur’s – which is to say, immaculate. Red leather booths and wooden tables sit underneath enormous and breathtaking photos of Big Sur, while modern light fixtures and a clean, stylish counter (including an impressive array of sauces and condiments) occupy the periphery.
Sur Burger has a clear focus on… well, you guessed it: burgers. All come with crisp, fluffy fries (plain, sweet potato or Gilroy garlic). Interesting takes include the Drunken Onion burger with onion marmalade and onion rings, or the teriyaki burger with jalepeño, roasted pineapple and ginger bacon. Chef Hernandez even makes a vegan burger from scratch—even in the age of pre-packed Impossible Burgers as an alternative to meat.
How about a classic with a twist? Like a reuben in burger form. A big pretzel bun provides a soft home for braised sauerkraut, dill pickles, fontina, Thousand Island dressing and Sur’s signature glazed bacon. A beef patty (all are hormone-and antibiotic-free) stands in for corned beef, and makes a surprisingly impressive replacement.
Though the bacon adds a little sweetness to SUBU’s reuben, sweet-and-savory lovers will find their jam (or syrup) with the Belgian waffle burger. A half-pound of smoky beef and even a fried egg barely temper all the sugar. When pressed between a waffle sandwich topped with lavender honey butter and syrup, the burger becomes more like dessert.
Many times, I’ve found myself at Billy Quon’s Sur for the fried chicken and waffles. Happily, I can now get Hernandez’s dish in my own neighborhood. Newer is the spicy Southern fried chicken burger. The Sriracha ranch brings as much pep as the “kickin’” coleslaw, but neither dominate, so the spice remains approachable – especially with a generous and refreshing layer of cabbage.
Appetizers are nothing to scoff at here, like sashimi wontons or Asian nachos. Salads boast farmers’ market veggies, and desserts revolve around ice cream and waffles (with bacon, of course). Bacon also shows up in a honey milkshake, but there’s plenty for traditionalists, like Ghiradelli chocolate or salted caramel. A strawberry shake comes adorned with fresh slices and cream, a testament to the Lees’ experience, which is apparent in every delicious detail.
SUR BURGER 409 Alvarado St., Monterey. Sun-Thu 11am-9pm, Fri-Sat 11am-11pm. 241-6064, surburger.com