Nopa: The Burger That Knocks It Out of the Ballpark

The search ended abruptly Friday night at Nopa.

nopa burger

It’s one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco, and my pal Matt and I decided to have a boy’s night out while the planets were aligned and we were both in town at the same time. Even before I saw a menu, I knew I wanted the burger and after a plate of incredibly tasty Padrón peppers (which, if you haven’t tried, you should hop on a plane to try right now—and that’s coming from someone that dislikes peppers, almost across-the-board) and a couple of Sidecars (Matt’s with rum, mine with Armagnac), my burger finally landed. And ho-boy, what a beauty*.


Even though I haven’t tasted every hamburger in town, or all that some of you recommended, I know from eating at Nopa a few times before that I wouldn’t be disappointed. And sure enough, everything from the warm, slightly-charred beef patty, bun toasted in each side, and the tangy pickled red onions, this was it.

And I thought I was over the whole “everything’s better with bacon!” mania, until I tasted the rashers of house-smoked bacon criss-crossing this beef patty, and decided that the game ain’t over for bacon. In fact, it’s going into overtime.

There is one more contender I’m looking forward to, waiting in the batter’s box, for later in the week. But as far as I’m concerned, the hamburger at Nopa is the grand slam.

Nopa
560 Divisadero Street
San Francisco, CA
(415) 864-8643

*Excusez-moi for the photo of the burger and fries, which doesn’t do them justice. I just got a new camera and am figuring out all those crazy dials and digital displays.


If you’re in San Francisco, tonight I’ll be at Omnivore Books for a booksigning and chat, from 6 to 7pm. Stop by!


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55 comments

  • Kairu
    September 28, 2009 12:12am

    I had dinner with my mother at Nopa a few weeks back (sardines, duck legs, pork chop). We sat upstairs, watching the action on the main floor, and all night my mom kept going, “Wow, the burger seems really popular!” as every other diner ordered one. It looked amazing, as did the roast chicken, and I desperately want to head back to try it. Next time I’m in San Francisco, I definitely will.

  • connie
    September 28, 2009 12:14am

    The Nopa burger is damn good, but I just came back from a place called The New Zealander in Alameda that has a burger called the Aucklander 3 AM White Lady Special. It comes with a slice of pineapple, ham, beet, white cheddar, garlic and a fried egg. It does not come with fries (you can sub it for the salad instead) but it’s really not necessary. It’s so wrong,yet so right.

  • September 28, 2009 12:18am

    Man, you’re really enjoying the US visit, aren’t you? :) Nice to hear. Make sure you drink lots of good coffee before you go back.

    Did you end up getting the Lumix camera? I have the bottom of the range and absolutely adore it. I love that you can push the ISO right up to get flash free photos and that you can adjust the white balance so the shots under fluoro lights aren’t blue or red.

    Did you know…that hamburgers here in Australia often have a slice of beetroot in them? :)

  • David
    September 28, 2009 12:18am

    connie: That reminds me of a place in vegan pizza place I used to go to in Santa Cruz (I think it was called “Right Livelihood”?) They had a cashew pizza with cashew “cheese”, and pineapple, that was oddly delicious. That burger sounds a tad more challenging, but after my vegan pizza confession, who am I to judge? ; )

  • michelle
    September 28, 2009 12:23am

    everything is housemade! even the bun. I’ve only been twice, but felt compelled to order the burger the second time, because it was *that* good. I dream about the juice running down ….

  • September 28, 2009 12:33am

    Gosh, I waited almost a year after NOPA opened to finally get there. And I live like 5 blocks away (Those darn pesky kids need some one to care for them at night. The nerve)

    Oh the burger did not disappoint…..

  • Sarah
    September 28, 2009 12:50am

    Bacon is meat candy :-)

  • September 28, 2009 1:35am

    This post makes me so hungry for a hamburger! It is difficult to find a good old fashioned hamburger here in Japan. They aren’t bad, they just aren’t quite the same as the one it looks like you enjoyed here. *Yum*

  • Sarah
    September 28, 2009 2:00am

    For Tokyo Terrace, in case you haven’t tried it yet…

    I am not a fan of most chain restaurants. And the idea of eating at one while traveling seems like a wasted food experience for sure. But, while I was in Tokyo for an extended stay I found myself most satisfied, as far as burgers were concerned, at Johnny Rockets. Sometimes an American girl just needs a cheeseburger bad! They serve a classic yummy American burger w/ great fries, Heinz ketchup from a glass bottle, and thick delicious freshly made chocolate shakes. This was three years ago, so I don’t know if the Ropongi location is still in business. It’s worth checking out before caving and sadly heading over to one of the many dreaded Golden Arches ;-)

  • September 28, 2009 2:10am

    I love the baseball metaphors. Take that, Paris!!!

  • Susan
    September 28, 2009 4:36am

    I’m glad you finally found the burger that does it for you! For me, on a bacon burger, a barrel cured dill pickle spear and little scoop of cole slaw (on the burger) finishes it off perfectly!

  • amy
    September 28, 2009 5:19am

    david,

    i love your blog, have been lurking daily for months now, and could not help but finally comment because i, too, am an american living in paris (for about 3 years now).

    never – ever – in the states did i ever really crave a burger. but since being here, i need at least one cheeseburger per month to feel sane. but…it is an often-disappointing search here in a culinary capital.

    so this is just a note of total solidarity and thrill that you found one (even in sf) that hits the spot !!

    thanks for your amazing work and this blog…
    -amy

  • Jessica
    September 28, 2009 5:59am

    Oh, thanks for the shout-out to “pimientos de Padron”, or at least that’s what they call them in Galicia, the only place I’ve encountered them so far…and there they’re everywhere. I was skeptical at first, but it only took me one or two peppers to become firmly and irrevocably addicted. If they have a similar pull on you, David, Galicia’s a lot closer to Paris than San Francisco (and cheaper too, I imagine) next time you have a hankering!

  • September 28, 2009 7:50am

    Now that is a burger I would adore. Plus there are really great pickled onions (of the less is more cooking school). Do please continue to enjoy eating so you can share from SF. Then I can continue to hoard ideas for my almost 2 months away Summer.

    It is such a pleasure to visit here. Sincere thanks, dear David for your many foodie adventures for our sakes (LOL of course, dear David)

  • September 28, 2009 8:26am

    Padron Peppers. We always order them at Cafe Baba Re Ba when we are in Vegas. Served with coarse salt, they make for a perfect appetizer.

  • Lorna
    September 28, 2009 9:33am

    As desert guru and a bacon fan, what are your thoughts on bacon desserts?

  • September 28, 2009 9:34am

    This is good to know! I tried going to Nopa about a month ago but there was a 90 minute wait so we went somewhere else. It looks like it would have been worth the wait! Next time…

  • david
    September 28, 2009 10:47am

    Celia: Don’t worry…I’m drinking lots of coffee here in San Francisco. May have to buy another suitcase to bring more back!

    And yes, I did get the Lumix LX3. I need to play around with it some more because I know it has a lot of features. Especially the ability to shoot in low light, which is the main reason I bought it.

    Lorna: I think used in certain situations, anything can go almost anywhere. I’ve had vegetable-based ice creams that were really good, but I’ve also had certain things (like cumin-spiced chocolate), that was icky. I did make Candied Bacon Ice Cream and it was pretty tasty, although I’m still a big fan of plain ol’ chocolate ; )

    arugulove: Yes, next time reserve well in advance. It’s totally worth it…one of my favorite restaurants in the world.

    GF & Jessica: The funny thing is, I don’t really like peppers. And those are really good! Wish I could find some in Paris, although I might just sneak some back…if there’s any room left in my suitcase after my trip to Costco! (I bought about 10 giant bags of pecans…)

  • September 28, 2009 1:55pm

    I’ve never been to Nopa, but if it’s the place I think it is (Richie from LineCook?) then I’m not at all surprised that the burger was near perfection.

  • September 28, 2009 2:57pm

    While the bacon and beef are certainly alluring, it’s the picture of that toasted bun that has me drooling. Nopa will be on my list the next time I am in SF.

  • September 28, 2009 3:08pm

    That burger looks amazing and my mouth is now watering. Except when I look at your tweet and how badly you want to eat cottage cheese. I’m not a fan.

  • September 28, 2009 3:17pm

    Hello
    Off -topic…I need to ask you what you recommend I do with some kiwi fruit I have in my fridge…actually wanted to send you an e-mail, but searched up and down and could not find any email address, so I leave this question as a comment.
    Thank you for any suggestion you might have.

  • Dawn in CA
    September 28, 2009 4:12pm

    Hi David – it was a pleasure to meet you at BlogHerFood09! You were swamped everywhere you went – no surprise – but still somehow managed to be very gracious and sweet. Thanks again for tipping me off to the tweet from Alanna. I am so happy I was able to buy her extra ticket! What a great event, and the perfect way for me to kick-start my blog… which I hope to have up and running before the new year. :)

    I’m curious whether my earlier comment planted the sidecar seed in your head, or if it was just coincidence. They are so tasty, aren’t they?

  • September 28, 2009 5:19pm

    i’m kind of obsessed with those padron peppers. Las Ramblas in the Mission makes a great version – and Cesar in the East Bay serves them as well. I love their crackly, salty, oily goodness.

    ta ta,
    c

  • September 28, 2009 5:33pm

    They are from Northern Spain, you should be able to get them a Paris, Non?

    http://www.padronpeppers.com/

  • September 28, 2009 6:33pm

    Wow David you eat a lot of burgers on ur american tour. Make sure you eat ur vegetables too! haha great appetizing shots, make me hungry at the other side of the globe…Melbourne. here we have gourmet burgers called “Grill’d”, do check them out when ur in Melbourne!!!

  • David
    September 28, 2009 6:42pm

    GF: Oddly, you’d think that was the case. But I can’t imagine finding anything like those peppers in Paris. Perhaps in the south, closer to Spain?

    Lady Macaron: If corn tortillas count as a vegetable, then yes…I am eating my vegetables.

    Dawn: Am not sure who planted the idea of a Sidecar in my brain. But if it was you—thanks!

  • Ginger
    September 28, 2009 8:25pm

    David…what is the green burger sauce?

  • September 28, 2009 8:56pm

    SO going there in November when I am in San Francisco….

  • Luana
    September 28, 2009 10:05pm

    Yep, that looks like one terrific burger.

  • Ellen Rigsby
    September 28, 2009 11:11pm

    David, you probably have enough burgers on your plate, but in case you don’t, the best burger in the east bay is at 900 Grayson. The patties are cooked precisely to order and served with bacon and a few shoestring fried onions. I generally don’t eat beef, but I sure do when I’m there.

  • Kiri Mah
    September 28, 2009 11:41pm

    Hi David- I just saw you tonight at Omnivore Books- I was too shy at the time, but I wanted to invite you to breakfast at Pizzaiolo if you have any more time on the east bay before you go. I’m the pastry chef…we’ve become wierdly popular for our old-fashioned donuts, and we also serve delicious Blue Bottle espresso, turnovers, and croissants (on Friday and Saturday mornings). Thanks, Kiri
    P.S. My friends just keep requesting your candied bacon ice cream-I’ve made it 3 times this month!

  • susan in ca :)
    September 28, 2009 11:44pm

    wish you were making your way down to socal for a book signing. are you hitting any good bakeries up there? tartine, arizmendi???

  • Mary
    September 29, 2009 12:20am

    David – Thanks for the hilarious talk tonite – loved your stories – and for signing all our books. Btw: for great Korean BBQ, Nate Appleman recommends: Wooden Charcoal Barbecue House (415.751.6336, 4611 Geary Blvd.) —and it’s open ’til 3 a.m. daily.

    ps. Hope you take Pizzaiolo up on the breakfast offer – they rock!

  • corey
    September 29, 2009 12:38am

    Glad to hear you had a good time and enjoyed our epic burger. I’m a sous-chef at NOPA and its always nice to hear good things about the restaurant and our food. I’m big fan of your blog and cookbooks. Cheers.

  • richard
    September 29, 2009 4:43am

    this burger looks amazing! where can you find as a good a burger in Paris? Have yet to find one that comes close to this.

  • Alec Lobrano
    September 29, 2009 7:07am

    Scoop in the rue Saint Honore does a pretty good burger in Paris, but David’s NOPA burger has me swooning here in the 9th arrondissement on a pretty Indian summer day at noon.

    And bacon! David, if you brought home as much Neiman Ranch applewood smoked bacon as you can carry, you’d be my true hero. Glad you’re enjoying your trip. xoA

  • September 29, 2009 8:17am

    Huh. I AM surprised.

    If not in Rungis, all hope is lost.

  • Valerie
    September 29, 2009 10:47am

    Thanks for the address, I’ll travel to SF in a few weeks and I LOVE good hamburgers !

  • Kate
    September 29, 2009 10:59am

    Sadly, Right Livelihood in Santa Cruz has closed it’s doors, even in this organic vegan mecca part of the world they could not endure the economy. Glad you gave it a try – I never did, I’d rather have that burger from Nopa!

    Come visit Santa Cruz again, try La Posta, or Soif, or Avanti’s, you’ll be pleased!

  • September 29, 2009 11:09am

    I’m a sucker for a good burger and this looks like it might be right up there on that chart.
    If I ever make it to San Fransisco (I’m from Ontario), I will definitely hit up Nopa with my faraway foodie (www.farawayfoodies.wordpress.com), Geoff.
    Thanks for an awesome post!

  • Nancy
    September 29, 2009 11:29am

    Hi David,

    So glad to hear the book tour is going well stateside but I must admit to being jealous of all the others who got to hear you speak. I read the The Sweet Life in Paris just before heading over to Paris for the first time and laughed the whole way through it. In fact, I just got back from my honeymoon and was there during the book signing. You should have seen my husband Jeff and I running around the Left Bank trying to find you! It was hilarious, but after an hour of trying to get directions from parisians with raised eyebrows, we gave up and went to Grom.

    Our iphone strangely kept leading us to a dead end. The five glorious days we were there before moving on to the next country were filled with visits to yours and Clotilde’s recommendations and not a single one fell short! There were the magical and life changing moments at Da Rosa, where the owner appeared and smiled at us while we moaned at the incredible stuff they were feeding us and we even stopped in to have hot chocolate at Patisserie Viennoise.

    The ladies there were so sweet and yes, a bus almost hit me! The best “David” moment we experienced, however, was at the Bastille market. We couldn’t help but load up with fresh produce, gaze at the amazing selection from the fish mongers (we are from the midwest so we never get to see incredible fresh fish at home) and when I spotted Catherine, the chicken lady, I ran right over to get my own “crap”! She was completely charming and funny so I was smitten when she smiled at me as I watched her work the chicken on the racks. She was busy with another customer and when I turned to look at the him, I do believe it was Romain! At least that is the name she called him! OK, we also admit to stalking your Flickr stream to see if it looked like him.

    It was disappointing not to catch your signing in time but we fell in love with Paris and will be back for sure. By then, I’m sure you will have found more treasures to share with those of us wishing to visit. Thank you for your great work on this blog. It has been inspiring for me as I search for my voice in the world of blogging and brightens our day!

  • Gloria
    September 29, 2009 12:12pm

    Cher David–what a super time we had last night at Omnivore here is San Fran.
    You are so charming and fun–I would just love to cook with you.
    We visit Paris frequently–love the place like crazy–but when we hit the shores of the USofA–I just got to have me some spice! I have been known to hit a Taco Bell at Kennedy with the Hot as Hell plastic envelop of sauce (now, you got to admit, that has desperation written all over it).
    We live three blocks from NOPA and agree with you–this is one fine establishment.
    But on top of the great food, the people are absolutely the most welcoming and caring staff you are likely to find in today’s restaurant world (well, one exception is Bistro l’Ardoise on Noe). There is a reason there is a 90 minute wait. These people deserve all the success they have achieved.
    Am now subscribed to your newsletter–so will keep up more closely with the David Goings On movement.
    Amities
    Gloria

  • September 29, 2009 12:19pm

    No fair to make me crave hamburgers just after I’ve left Berkeley for Paris. At least the one at Nopa doesn’t have those wonderful turmeric pickle chips.

    I haven’t yet tried Scoop, but it can’t be as good as California burgers. Oh well, I’ll have to make do with the foie gras sandwich sold out at the Ham Foire at Chatou.

    By the way, I was in a 7th arrondissement NY-style café the other day where they had the chutzpah to charge 25 Euros for a “cheeseburger”! No sale…

    As long as you’re in the Bay Area, try to get out to Bakesale Betty’s in Oakland for the fried chicken salad or sandwich. And don’t miss Charlie Hallowell’s Pizzaiola up the block.

    Shelli

  • Art
    September 29, 2009 12:39pm

    Hey David,

    It’s Art, your former next door neighbor from Diamond Heights. We were going to stop by Omnivore to say “hi” but couldn’t make it out there in time. Our family and friends continue to enjoy your amazing books and fabulous recipes. Next time we see you, we’ve got several more books for you to autograph!

    Cheers!

    Art

  • suzanne
    September 29, 2009 1:06pm

    If you are still in SF and not over the burger cravings yet, Prather Ranch sets up a grill at the Tuesday Ferry Building farmer’s market and makes a really good one. For the side of fries, while your burger is on the grill, go next door to get the sweet potato fries from Taylor’s Automatic Refresher, ordered “extra crispy.”

  • September 29, 2009 1:35pm

    Art; Glad things are ok in the old neighborhood. I miss it! (Well, except for the fog…)

  • Audrey in Oregon
    September 29, 2009 3:46pm

    David,

    The burger looks great, but my pet peeve again….it looks like frozen potatoes used for the fries. Why would they go to the trouble to make their own bacon and then use frozen potatoes instead of fresh fries???!!! Mon Dieu!

  • Vivian
    September 29, 2009 4:26pm

    Hmmm, like Ginger, I also wondered about the “green sauce”. Some kind of pesto mayo for the fries perhaps?

  • Dawn in CA
    September 29, 2009 7:06pm

    Vivian & Ginger – I believe the green sauce is basil aioli. Check out Nopa’s menu, follow the link in David’s post.

  • amy
    September 30, 2009 2:58am

    Gotta know, did you get a new lens? Or a new camera altogether? Love the pics of the of the “Nopalito & Contigo” photos and can see the almost cartoon colors that it adds to a photo. Just curious as to what you are using.

  • amy
    September 30, 2009 3:03am

    I saw you got a new camera on the burger post, just wanted more info as to what. The answer is… Yes, I know I’m redundant. I drink (too much) while I comment.

  • Rachel
    September 30, 2009 3:21am

    Fantastic burger! How I wished we have such burger in my country.

  • September 30, 2009 11:17am

    amy: I’m using my new Lumix LX3 camera. I’m still trying to figure out all those dials and devices on it, but it’s small and compact, so it’s easy enough to slip into my pocket.

    You can find more in my post, My Food Photography Gear.

  • October 23, 2009 9:34am

    New camera or not, that is one fine looking burger. As for the padron peppers, if your readers don’t want to fly out to San Francisco, they can come to Boston! Toro in Boston’s South End also has padron peppers on the menu, and they are fantastic!