April 18 2014 04:47 PM

Salt and vinegar fries are excellent at this Carlsbad joint; everything else is a who-cares

WEB CaponeBurger
The Capone
Photo by Jenny Montgomery

I always go into a restaurant feeling excited, positive and ready to have a great experience. But I'll admit that when the first thing I notice about a place is style and attitude (from the website alone), I start to worry that more attention was paid to flash than food. This has been my frustration with local "celebrity" chefs—obvious talent being overshadowed by trends and gimmicks—and it's my frustration with Notorious Burgers in Carlsbad.

The Prohibition-themed burger joint (6955 El Camino Real) has quirky, mafia-adjacent names, servers in old-timey suspenders and overloaded menu items that are intended to be "notorious," I suppose, but end up muddling up what could have been some simple, exceptional ideas.

How could I resist ordering waffle-cut fries smothered in cheese and crab? I couldn't, but you should. What a disappointing start to our meal. The cheese tasted like lukewarm Velveeta at best, and there were just a few anemic little shreds of sad crab plopped here and there among the potatoes. The whole mess came served in a fake cast-iron pan (plastic) that just added to the reheated lameness of it all. 

If you're in the mood for fries, skip the overloaded seafood combos and go for simplicity. Demand the salt and vinegar fries, with its petite dipping cup of créme fraiche. The thick sticks of potato are brined in sea salt and malt vinegar, giving each bite an addictive, puckery tang. These are excellent and way better than the other pile of cheesy nonsense. 

Then we moved on to sandwiches. Objectively, nothing was bad; I just felt underwhelmed by the whole experience. "Beef is Boss" is the slogan, and you can either build your own burger or order one of Notorious' crazy concoctions. I checked out the Capone, a towering, overloaded creation featuring habanero jack cheese, Sriracha sauce, crispy onions, avocado and the oh-so-trendy (and somewhat polarizing) fried egg. I continue to fall into the trap of trying dishes with a complicated list of ingredients, hoping to find that surprising new taste combination, but it rarely works. I almost always find myself tasting a big bite of who-cares. The Capone could have been a shining example of quality beef and unique flavors. Instead, the meat was dry, the Sriracha overwhelmed, the avocado was under-ripe and nothing shined.

If you're looking for a non-beef option, there are plenty of unique sandwiches to try. "The Snitch" is not so much a sandwich as it is chicken and waffles on a skewer. The chicken is thickly battered and fried, well-seasoned and juicy. The waffles, however, had no crispness at all and quickly became soggy from sitting in the sweet maple "mayo" drizzled on the bottom of the plate. As far as I could tell, it was just maple syrup making everything sticky and soggy, nothing as nuanced as a maple mayo.

I'll continue to be optimistic about new restaurants in town, and I hope Notorious smoothes out its rough edges. It's clearly got the spunk to please most crowds, but I hope it starts paying a little more attention to the finished product than first impressions.

Write to jennym@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com. Follow Jenny on Twitter @jennymontyinsd.


  • Visit one of the 70 participating restaurants, bars, coffeehouses and nightclubs in town on this night and 25 to 50 percent of sales will go to local HIV/AIDS services and prevention programs. 
  • Anthony Bernal and Chris Ward, who are vying to replace Todd Gloria on the San Diego City Council, will discuss urban issues, such as parking, homelessness and new developments
  • The new exhibition designed by Dave Ghilarducci is made from hundreds of rolls of packing tape and bound together by layers of plastic shrink-wrap. Visitors can navigate their way through cocoon-like passageways...
  • The renowned Mexican black and white photographer presents an exhibition exploring the principal themes within three groups: "Bestiarium"," Fantastic Women" and "Silent Natures."
  • Presented by Pacific Arts Movement, the sixth annual mini film fest features 14 film programs from 10 countries that includes everything from docs to romantic tearjerkers. See website for full lineup and...
  • The San Diego County Bike Coalition hosts this monthly bike-in happy hour event to get biking residents involved in their communities and discuss bike projects planned for that specific community
  • Debunk some of the stereotypes surrounding cannibalism at this new exhibition that takes a hands-on approach to the subject. Includes video games and interactive activities where patrons will have to decide...
  • So Say We All's monthly storytelling night features stories about those jobs we took because we had to take a job. Featured readers include Allison Gauss, Annmarie Houghtailing, Cecile Estelle, and more
  • Artists from the all-abstracts group show will talk about their work and techniques. Artists include Edwin Nutting, Danielle Nelisse, Leah Pantea, Lenore Simon, and more
See all events on Thursday, Apr 28