One Tasty (and Expensive) Cafeteria Burger

Since February 15, the upscale restaurant Mason’s is no longer on the corner of 15th and L Streets in Sacramento. Cafeteria 15L—a casual, but stylish, eatery serving comfort foods like meatloaf, fried chicken, salads, and sandwiches–is now on that corner. Owners Alan, Curtis, and Mason Wong, who also own the adjacent Ma Jong’s Asian Diner, must have felt they would fare better with a more casual restaurant in these tough economic times.

I have been waiting to check out Cafeteria 15L, but the location is far enough away from my office that the traveling time on foot seriously cuts into my lunch break. Scooting is prohibitive since Cafeteria 15L is closed for lunch on the weekends. Though the Wong Brothers have traded in their foie gras for meatloaf the décor of Cafeteria 15L is still smart but in a casual way, and this was reflected in the menu’s prices.

Like in most restaurants that charge $2.75 for a Coke, the person who took my order asked me how I wanted my burger. This always seemed strange to me. While I like my steaks medium to medium rare depending on the reputation of the restaurant, I never want to see pink in a burger, and gag whenever I think of it. (See, I told you!) Ideally, I prefer a slightly charred burger, though I never ask for this for fear I may end up with a hockey puck. The bill came to over $16 for a burger, fries, and an iced tea. Considering the digs, it is not such an outlandish price, but one that will reduce the frequency of subsequent visits. The dollar increase in price between the lunch and dinner hamburger with nothing to justify the one-buck hike may prohibit me from going to Cafeteria 15L for dinner unless my wife is paying.

Pricing aside, the food is exceptionally good. The handcrafted burger appeared to be about 1/2 lb with fresh lettuce two generous slices of fresh tomato, pickles, a raw red onion slice, and Thousand Island dressing served on a toasted French bun. I ordered cheddar cheese on my burger for 95 cents extra, but Cafeteria15L also offers Swiss, goat, and bleu cheese. I hope to return to try the Cafeteria Burger with bleu cheese and possibly the goat cheese, too. Other extras are bacon and mushrooms for $1.95 each. I try to imagine ordering cheese, bacon, and mushrooms on a Cafeteria Burger: that is nearly $4 more out of your wallet. I hope the mushrooms are sautéed.

The burger comes with excellent shoestring fries served with the burger in a deep aluminum pan. The ketchup is served in a side dish, but you will not need it for either the burger or fries. The burger is very moist and flavorful; and the red onion and thick, fresh tomato slices give the Cafeteria Burger its distinctive taste. The shoestring fries are crispy if perhaps a little too salty, though I like it that way.

One last thing about Cafeteria 15L: facing the L Street side of Cafeteria 15L and on the property is The Park. This is a sandwich shop with a walk-up counter and only a few tables and chairs in front, but plenty of seating in the comfortable and spacious patio behind The Park. The patio, that joins Cafeteria 15L patrons with The Park customers, sported a stage. When I was there, recording artist Ryan Star was performing. The Park is a fast-food operation. Besides sandwiches, it sells salads, soft drinks, coffee, tea, and espresso drinks. The Park also sells hot dogs, and the “BURGERdog.” That is why I am here the following day. The BURGERdog is a small grilled hamburger rolled into a bun-shaped figure and stuffed with pickle relish and diced onions. The BURGERdog is served on a hotdog bun. In the end, it tastes more like a dog than a burger. Compared to its specialty sandwiches or the Nathan hotdogs, the BURGERdog is a curious novelty at best.

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