Hamburger Heaven 2

The Texas Transplant, Hopdoddy, Revolutionizes An American Classic at Fashion Island

Some dishes seem deceivingly easy to master. Burgers are at the top of that list. The basic framework of a great burger is simple: a beef patty covered in melted cheese wedged between a fluffy bun. Condiments range from lettuce and tomato to ketchup and mayo. But, many things can go afoul from there. The fare at Hopdoddy, Fashion Island’s newest eatery, takes the basic burger premise and elevates it to the next unctuous level. This is one reason why celebrities such as Jimmy Kimmel and Rachel Ray flock to Hopdoddy for their burger fix.

Instead of purchasing ground meat from a supplier, Hopdoddy hires a butcher. The prep station, hidden inside a large walk-in refrigerator that’s slightly visible from the dining room, cranks out freshly ground meats each day–grass-fed beef, Angus beef, bison, lamb, and sushi-grade tuna. Only the finest hormone-and antibiotic-free cuts make the grade.

Another point of pride: the buns. Hopdoddy’s resident bakers pull fluffy hot loaves from the oven multiple times each day. The fresh bread comes in a gluten-free version, which has become a standard in most OC restaurants.

The day Hopdoddy opened, a girlfriend and fellow food writer joined me for lunch. The dining room was packed. We sat near a window and people-watched as shoppers strolled into Fashion Island on that warm November afternoon. The bar was lined with single diners–some on laptops, others watching the big screen TVs. The interesting thing about this burger joint is that it feels suitable for the guys–men in button-down shirts and ties–but it’s not so testosterone laden that it feels like a sports bar. Possibly, this is due to the restaurant’s origins in Austin, Texas. The city, touted as a hipster haven in the heart of the Lone Star state, is a hotspot for the epicurean set. Southern hospitality shines through at Hopdoddy, from the bubbly attitudes of the wait staff to the gracious service from the regional manager.

We started our meal with a Tex-Mex staple: chile con queso. The melted cheese at first reminds us of something served at Angels Stadium. But, I know if this is anything like the real queso you find in Texas, then we’re in for a treat. I was first introduced to this Austin staple, thanks to a few transplant chefs who made their marks in New York and Los Angeles.

The chile con queso at Hopdoddy pairs best with the piping hot Kennebec French fries. Traditionally, tortilla chips are dipped into the gooey cheese, similar to nachos. Here, the fries reign supreme. We barely dented the queso, when a cone of truffle fries appeared at our table. The speckled truffle aioli works well as a dipping sauce. But, once you try it on the Primetime burger–which is also a Rachel Ray favorite–you realize it tastes great on anything savory.

The Primetime, made from Texas Akaushi beef, melted Brie, caramelized onions and slathered with that spectacular truffle aioli, reminded us of a dish found at a fine steakhouse. A pile of spicy arugula greens added a nice peppery bite.

The Thunderbird chicken sandwich sounds out of place at a burger joint, but the flavors hark back to the restaurant’s Austin roots. Seared Poblano peppers, pico de gallo and chipotle mayonnaise enliven the tender chicken and remind you that this is much more than just a burger spot. The rotating craft beers and thick milk shakes will keep you returning to this cool and casual eatery.

Another reason to eat here is to support a good cause. Every time a Goodnight for a Good Cause burger is ordered, the restaurant donates $1 to the Dream Street Foundation in Newport Beach: a charity dedicated to providing free camping programs for kids battling life-threatening diseases. Also, this burger is really tasty. The hickory barbeque Angus beef patty comes with Tillamook cheddar cheese, caramelized onions and spicy sliced Jalapenos. It’s a supercharged barbeque cheeseburger with a heart.

Hopdoddy is the place where you can take your food snob girl friend or your seven-year-old nephew. It is where fast casual foods, such as burgers, are elevated to Fashion Island’s fine dining standards. In a nationwide Food & Wine magazine readers’ poll, Hopdoddy garnered the title of a fan favorite burger. With families queuing up for tables and no vacant seats at the bar, it seems that this burger joint already made a few OC fans.

Hopdoddy (949) 640-2337 :: Hopdoddy.com