Several years ago, when I worked at Bob Thomas & Associates Public Relations based in Redondo Beach, CA, I went to San Diego for a client and Bob told me while I was there to go to Rocky’s Crown Pub for one of the best burgers on the planet.
Bob loves a great burger and when the man whose name was on the door recommended a place, we were all wise to heed his advice.
I did go there and it was awesome and so when I moved down here a couple years ago, one of my missions was to get to to Rocky’s. I live in the Gaslamp and Rocky’s is in Pacific Beach so my plan was to put my beach cruiser on the trolley, take it to Old Town, bike around Mission Bay and pop into Rocky’s for a burger and a beer.
Finally, I managed to do this and let me say that Rocky’s Crown Pub has – without question – the best burger in San Diego.
It was just good as it I remembered it being from my previous visit several years earlier. If you’re making a list of the 10 best burgers San Diego, Rocky’s needs to be at the top of it.
“It never changes,” said one regular patron.
And that is one of the qualities that make it such a great burger.
Another is the price. It’s just $8.50 for a quarter-pound cheeseburger and $9.75 for a half-pounder. For $17.25 you get a mound of perfectly-cooked fries and a pint of very cold beer as part of its weekday lunch special (11 a.m.-2 p.m.).
It’s an old-fashioned burger at an old-fashioned price. Personally, I find it ridiculous to pay more than 10 bucks for a burger, especially when you live in a city that has a better one for around 8 bucks but often I see them on menus for $14, $17 and sometimes even topping $20.
What Makes This The Best Burger In San Diego
Rocky’s Crown Pub burgers have all the ingredients a great hamburger or cheeseburger should have:
• Quality meat
• A perfectly-sized bun that does not overwhelm the meat
• Crisp lettuce, crunchy onions and thick slices of fresh tomato
Plus the setting is a perfect for a great burger, for Rocky’s is a no-nonsense dive bar. It’s somewhat dark, there’s beer on tap, the tables and chairs are made of wood there’s sports on the TVs and regular patrons. All great burgers, it seems, are in dive bars.
Nearly Identical To Ercoles Manhattan Beach Best Burger
It is nearly identical to another place Bob turned me onto, Ercoles in Manhattan Beach. This dive bar dates back to the 1920s and has LA’s best burger for the same reasons as Rocky’s does here.
As is the case with Erc’s, as locals call it, Rocky’s is well known across the community for its great burgers. I walked in at about 12:30 on a Wednesday afternoon and the seats at the bar were all occupied. All the tables were taken, too. Every single person was eating a burger. There is some outdoor seating, but I wanted the full flavor of the place, so to speak, and that only happens inside the joint.
A server – a burly, bearded man who would probably be intimating in any other setting – pointed to an area in the small bar and said “there’s a seat over there under the photo of the football players.” The photo was a large, faded one of the Super Bowl Champion Chicago Bears “Black And Blues Brothers.”
When I walked in and surveyed the seating situation, I had the foresight to quickly review the short menu because I knew this was the kind of place where you had to know what you wanted when they asked for your order. It would not be good style to be undecided, rubbing your hand over your chin, in such a busy environment. Especially when the choices are simply the size of the burger (1/3 pound, by the way, is plenty for someone of my medium build), yes or no on fries and whether or not you want a hamburger or cheeseburger.
I opted for a cheeseburger and the lunch special stood out because I wanted a beer, too.
Like Erc’s, this is also a place where you get what they give you. There’s no “oh, can I have it with this and that, leave that off, and such-and-such on the side.” They don’t even ask how you would like it cooked. So don’t go in there being picky and difficult. Rest assured, what you get will be awesome.
Unlike Erc’s, the burger has pickle slices on it as opposed to a thick slice of a kosher dill. And it doesn’t come with anything (a basket of fries is $4.50 which is more than enough for two if you have a friend with you), instead a bag of chips.
The taste of the burgers is nearly identical. Erc’s has more juice dripping out of it – you need to have several napkins handy when you eat one – but Rockys’ is just as juicy. It just doesn’t drip. So one thick napkin will suffice (people must have had good chuckle seeing me pull four or five napkins out of the dispenser while waiting for my burger!).
All this combines to make Rocky’s Crown Pub not just the best place for burgers but one of the must-do restaurants in San Diego.
Top Burgers In San Diego
Now as I mentioned this is the best burger in San Diego but how about the top 10 burgers in San Diego?
Well. the closest thing to Rocky’s I have found is at Tivoli, the old dive bar in the Gaslamp. It’s spot-on as far as quality of the meat goes and the size of the bun and it has something you can’t get at Rocky’s – thick, crisp onion rings. The burger is close in taste to Rocky’s and while it’s close, it’s not better.
What about Hodad’s? I know several people claim that Hodad’s has San Diego’s best burger but they are tasting the atmosphere at the Ocean Beach location more than the burger. The fact of the matter is, the quality of the meat is not in the same league as that of Rocky’s and Tivoli, and therefore is not nearly as good.
However, the atmosphere at Hodad’s in Ocean Beach does beat both places. You can sit inside an old VW Bug and soak in the 60’s hippie culture. Like Tivoli it has onion rings; here they are served in a huge stack and are pretty good.
Back in the Gaslamp, Barleymash has a really good burger with quality meat, tho it’s just not quite as good as the ones at Rocky’s and Tivoli. The bun is too big, too. The cool thing about Barleymash is the setting – it’s an open-air happening bar with nice-looking bartenders and servers.
I still need to get to Shake Shack and a chef friend of mine from Chicago brags about the one at Balboa Bar & Grill, but it’s a real burger bummer that the location closest to me in Banker’s Hill closed permanently during COVID before I got a chance to go there. I also need to go to Burger Lounge here in the Gaslamp, tho it’s just a counter with a few tables and not really a bar setting, which I prefer.
Obviously, I still have some work – and eating! – to do when it comes to burgers in San Diego.
Rocky’s Crown Pub Pacific Beach Location & Map