Sunday, June 18, 2006

TK Burger - Costa Mesa

The past few weeks have been eventful in my alternate life as a food blogger. First, I met up with people I had only previously interacted with via blogger comment pages and e-mails. At Blacksheep Bistro in Tustin, Joy and Christian of OC Mexican Restaurants, Omar of Squeeze OC's OC in the OC, and I got together after a flurry of e-mails and converged to feast on Spanish tapas.

A second outing brought us together again at one of my favorite restaurants, Honda-Ya, where I acted as the de-facto culinary guide for my dining companions, eventhough my only qualification for this honor was just that I had eaten there a lot. We had a blast as we scarfed up some familiar dishes and tried out some new ones like chicken cartilage yakitori and roasted ginko nuts.

And had I not been caught up with work (first business travel and then, more recently, a nighttime teleconference with our office overseas), I would've joined Eat, Drink and Be Merry and other LA Food Bloggers at two restaurant dinners which he hosted. (I am crossing my fingers that if there's a third one, my work won't conflict.)

Then, last week, on a sunny Southern California lunch hour, I met up with Seth Chadwick -- who writes the awesome food blog, Feasting in Phoenix -- while he was visiting my neck of the woods. Although this wasn't Seth's first time in Orange County, I thought I'd pick a quintessentially unique to OC joint for our meet up.

The Kind Burger at Huntington Beach, or "TK Burger" for short, is one of those homegrown greasy spoons us locals love. And because it's located right on PCH, overlooking the beach and the Pacific Ocean, it's a perfect place to take out-of-town visitors.

The joint is so postcard pretty it's no wonder TK is frequently featured in travel magazines and books. The New York Times Travel Section calls it an "eclective dive" with "The O.C.'s best burger". It rightly deserves to be perennially listed as a must for Surf City grubbing under the California sun. It's been one of my all time OC faves.

But since our time budget was too short for Huntington Beach, I proposed we try the TK Burger in Costa Mesa instead. Seth's flight would be landing at John Wayne at around lunch time, and my office was just a few blocks away.

With our rallying point set, I grabbed my Sony Cyber-shot at five till noon and headed out to Bristol St. and Baker.

This outpost of TK is at the former site of Costa Mesa Super Burgers, a mom and pop which, in its heyday, served pretty tight burgers of its own. When TK Burger took over, the cashier's counter was pushed back a few feet into the kitchen, the walls were repainted robin's egg blue, and TK's signature umbrellas replaced those gaudy orange eyesores the previous owners never bothered to change.

Ever since the transformation, the place is always packed. The parking lot, on that lunch hour of my visit, was at capacity. But luckily two cars left as I arrived. One of those recently vacated parking spaces was immediately taken up by a Ford Taurus with Texas plates.

"That's a rental," I thought. "That's gotta be Seth."

My guess was confirmed as he got out of his vehicle and I, mine. We were both carrying cameras -- and only a food blogger would lug a camera to lunch. He identified me just as quickly as I him, and we shook hands heartily, like we had known each other for years.

With our stomachs growling, and our camera batteries charged, we headed in. After we'd placed our orders, Seth stopped me as I took out cash and said he'd be treating me for lunch. I resisted, but Seth's happy persistence, and his instructions to the cashier not to accept my money, left me no other choice but to concede. (You may have won this time Mr. Chadwick, but the next one's on me!)

We took a seat under the shade of those wide umbrellas as we ate our lunch alfresco, traded Chowhound stories, and talked about how we ever got into this crazy food blogging thing.

Seth started on his lunch of a Ribeye Sandwich, which consisted of a thin, grilled slab of beef steak that protruded out of one end of the round bun like a big sloppy tongue. Thick slices of green bell pepper and lettuce were also added to the mix. Seth told me it wasn't bad, but I could tell immediately he wasn't overly impressed.

But I was much more disappointed at my Burger than Seth was of his sandwich. Eventhough the face of the burger was singed and scorched, like Wile E. Coyote after an ACME TNT explosion, all the components were present -- the potato starch bun, the lettuce, tomato, red onion, mayo, pickle, and Thousand Island -- but this was not the beef patty I remember having at the TK's at Huntington Beach.

It was thin and bone dry, with no flavor to speak of. Its juices seemed to have been pressed out of the meat, as if an overzealous cook wanted to speed up the cooking process.

I told Seth that this burger was a shadow of the one I had had before at the original TK's. But there was the other possibility; the Huntington TK's served the same burger, but it was just made delicious by the view of the beach and ocean.

You know how they say a lowly hot dog eaten at the Grand Canyon tastes like a filet mignon? I began to wonder if this was a case in point. Was our view of the less than inspiring Bristol Street traffic really exposing the true nature of TK's burgers? Had it always been this bad? Was I just blinded by the glimmer of the sea water and intoxicated by the ocean breeze?

In a small way, I hoped not. But then the fries were uninspiring too. Something was missing and a bit off with the potatoes. It wasn't until later that I realized what it was. The Huntington Beach TK Burger amped up their fries with a dusting of seasoned salt. These weren't salted at all.

This realization proved a little comforting to me, although it's still sad that this Costa Mesa outlet was marring the good name of its much admired forebear.

Looking at Seth's order of onion rings confirmed this fact further. Just from the sight of those thick, mealy things I could tell that they were overbreaded. Seth dunked them into a cup of Thousand Island but finished little more than half of the batch.

Mediocre food notwithstanding, it was great to meet Seth. And I can't wait to read his post on the lunch!

T K Burger
(714) 662-2572
2966 Bristol St
Costa Mesa, CA 92626


At 1:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have tried both TK Burgers and I must agree that the Huntington Beach one is tastier. It's not just the environment and atmosphere, but there is a definite difference in quality..

At 2:53 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

Sorry about the crummy food. But the great thing is that you got to meet another blogger, which is always exciting. Maybe we'll see you next time we are in O.C. ^_^

At 7:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


GREAT write up. It was awesome finally meeting you.

I don't think your review was overly harsh (per your comments on my blog). The meal really was disappointing.

I was struck by how uninspired it all was. It certainly couldn't have been from things sitting around as turnover of food at TK must be astounding judging from the number of customers.

I do think it is an issue of not being the mothership. Things get let go and not run as tight as the base operation.

I guess we will have to try it again. And, yes, you can pay next time.... at Mastro's. :o)

At 5:15 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


That's good to know. Phew. Well, I think I may take a trip out there soon just to make sure that Costa Mesa's TK is just a fluke. Also one other thing, the one at HB calls themselves "TK Burger", this one in CM is "TK Burgers"...singular vs. plural. Good vs. bad.


Drop me a line when you come around this way!


It looks like from the comments from this post and the Chowhound post you made this morning that we chose the wrong TK Burger. What a relief! As for Mastro's, first I'll have to see if my supervisors at Interpol will sign off on the expense report! ;-P


I've heard about the cashiers, but alas they weren't there this visit. They must have gotten better gigs at Hooters!

The Bill,

Not sure about the one on Newport Pier. My field of vision is pretty narrow when it comes to burgers. Fatburger, or TK's in HB. And oh yeah, the occasional In'N Out and Happy Hour at McCormick's and Schmicks!

Still, I wonder where the other 2 TK's branches rank in deliciousness.

At 11:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my Elmo - That bun looks like charcoal.....the whole meal ooks rather pathetic.

At 9:58 AM, Blogger Eddie Lin said...

It's really great reading about two different perspectives of the same restaurant. It's especially interesting to see the two different sets of photos. It seems Feasting in Phoenix enjoyed his experience more than you did.

The Rashomon effect in a dining experience is totally evident when a bunch of foodbloggers get together, like we have for the past couple of months, and then posts about the experience. Quite fascinating, the differences and preferences.

At 12:54 PM, Blogger BoLA said...

Hot dogs compared to filet mignon? Too funny! Anyhow, I hope that you'll be able to come out and play with the LA crowd soon!!! =)

At 12:16 AM, Blogger Passionate Eater said...

I really enjoy hearing how food bloggers have been meeting up! I actually met up with Diet Chili Cheese Fries (or Rick James) recently, and I actually had a similar experience. We met to a place close to my work, and there something very unfortunate occurred, but unlike your experience, it wasn't with the food--nothing was open! To make matters worse, I was 30 mins late...

I'd love to meet with you too, I know that I would really enjoy talking to you in person. It sounds like it was very satisfying to meet Seth too. Hopefully, when we meet though, I won't make you wait! :(

At 9:09 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I would've excused the charcoal if the burger was any good. But because it wasn't, the sooty bun was just adding insult to injury.


Rashomon! What a perfect analogy!


Me too. Cross fingers. Things have been really crazy at work.


Oh no. Well, that just depresses me. I guess I will try the 19th street TK and hope for the best.

The Bill,

Thanks. I also did a search and found the website. Actually, Seth Chadwick had it on his review.


When you're in OC, just name the time and place!

At 12:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh bummer! But at least you had good company :) What a disppointment, though, when you're expecting something good :P Better luck next time, and now I know I need not try the TK Costa Mes--thanks for taking the bullet for us.

At 2:53 PM, Blogger Ron Oda said...

hey elmo,

whats up?

its hard to find a really good burger in the OC... they just don't measure up to L.A. burgers

best burger i ever had was at Pie N Burger in Pasadena, liked it better than FatBurger or Apple Pan although its pretty comparable... anyways, if you're out that way go check it out for sure

At 11:23 PM, Blogger ChristianZ said...

I went to the TK Burgers on PCH right after it opened, maybe even the day it opened. Nobody really knew about them yet so it was just me and the workers and we were kicking back talking about all sorts of stuff while I was eating my yummy hamburger.

At 10:06 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Sure! I'm up for a meet-up. Sign me up and let me know.


Definitely a bummer. But I guess the consolation is that now I have an excuse to go to HB more often.

Rick James,

Pie N Burger eh? Man, I've heard of that place so many times, but I thought it was in LA. But I'm in Pasadena from time to time. I'll definitely have to check it out now.


I hear that they get people from Ventura Counties and beyond coming down to that shack on PCH. Prime location and prime eats!

At 6:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've eaten at the TK Burger in Costa Mesa twice. I am probably the least pickiest eater, so I enjoyed their burgers. The meat was cooked perfectly and the lettuce was crunch and the bun wasn't over soggy...Anyways, that was awhile ago. Nowadays if I need a burger, I just go to the In N Out by UCI since it's no more than 5 minutes away from my house. In fact, when I came home from college for Christmas break, I probably ate In N Out 10 times and I was only back for about 2 weeks. Another simple, but decent burger joint is EZ Take out in Costa Mesa on 17th street. Very similar to In N Out except they have a grilled chicken sandwich on their menu which In N Out does not as well as chicken tenders or something along that line.

At 5:03 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I've seen that EZ Burger but never stopped by. It looked like an In-N-Out knockoff and I just assumed that it wasn't as good. I'll have to check it out now.

At 12:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My husband took me to lunch there once. I agree that it's not the best burger by far... Really enjoying your blog. I don't know anything about blogs but, I have tried at least half of your reviewed restaurants and agree with you 100%. Do you live in Northpark?

At 12:17 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Hey thanks for posting a comment and saying nice things! HAHA! Anyway, yes I do live in Northpark. Are we neighbors?

At 3:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to work at that TK! You should have said something to Jim (owner) he would've made sure you got a free meal or something. The reason the food is better at HB is because Enrique cooks better. The cooks at Costa Mesa suck and are even rude to customers all the time. Sorry you had a bad experience!!

At 3:31 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Actually, Jim Kalatschan wrote me a nice e-mail after he read my review and saw those pictures. He vowed that he's going to improve quality. And I am definitely going to give the CM branch another chance soon.

At 8:45 PM, Blogger Katrina said...

what did you think of blacksheep bistro?


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