Traditionally, the vast span of commerce known as Mission Valley has mostly been a wasteland in terms of decent food options. There are a few bright spots: the so-weird-it's-cool Albie's Beef Inn among them, and my personal favorite, the IKEA cafeteria. Give me lingonberry sauce in an IV drip along with an endless supply of spongy Swedish meatballs to go with my particle-board purchases and I'm a happy lady. But, lately, there have been a few signs of life along this busy corridor.
Welcome to Bunz. Yes, the name evokes a Miami Beach tanning salon circa 1989 (get ready for my soon-to-open lingerie store, Boobz), but Jeff Rossman, the guy behind the College Area's popular Terra, has opened this casual dining room dedicated to the delicacies one puts between two fluffy buns: burgers and dogs. Bunz is by far the best burger in the valley, and it should be on any hamburger connoisseur's list.
Bunz shares space with the Days Hotel at the southeastern curve of Hotel Circle. It's perhaps an odd location for a burger joint specializing in antibiotic- and hormone-free meats, but this space is actually a Rossman family tradition, for decades the location of their Pam Pam Café & Grill.
Motel-attached restaurants are not what you'd usually call stylish or alluring; Bunz doesn't exactly break that mold. But it's friendly and open, and what they're offering is a high-quality diner-type experience.
Build your own burger or choose from one of the creations they've already dreamed up for you. If you want to go the creative route, there are plenty of standard burger toppings as well as items you don't normally find on a burger menu. Two kinds of ketchup (Heinz and housemade) are just the tip of the non-iceberg-containing menu. Try a topper of roasted poblano chiles, garlic aioli, fried egg or pickled jalapeños.
The burgers are cooked to medium, highlighting the quality of the meat. There's no point in even trying to be a top-shelf hamburger restaurant if you're going to skimp in that area; Rossman and Bunz understand this. The beef is a tender, flavorful foundation upon which you can play with add-ons.
Trust the chef's creations and go for something like the Singin' D' Blues, with ample amounts of creamy blue cheese, smoked bacon and garlicky sautéed mushrooms. This burger was a decadent combo of salty and creamy flavors, although by the end it was falling apart. The whole-wheat bun did a yeoman's job holding all the juicy ingredients together for most of the meal, but a bun with any sort of softness could only hold moist onions, special sauce and meat for so long before the whole thing fell apart.
Don't forget to explore the hot dog options, as well. I dare say the hot dogs are worth the visit even more than the burgers—and the burgers are great. I totally dug the Mission Valley dog, a rust-colored tube that offered a nice, squeaky snap with each bite. The wiener is topped with mushrooms and Bunz's grainy beer-and-thyme mustard. Big-time yum.
There's also a sweet selection of milkshakes, “concretes” (super-thick milkshakes) and even a sort-of-gross-but-probably-awesome “beer float,” featuring ice cream and Stone Smoked Porter. A nursing mother, I felt it was my duty to keep my calories up (you know, for the baby) by ordering a chocolate milkshake. I like my shakes a bit icier than Bunz's, but I was impressed with how dark and chocolatey the blended creation was; before I knew it, my glass was empty.