Caliburger: Bringing California taste to Vancouver

caliburger vancouver review
Caliburger Vancouver on Thurlow and Robson

In the last couple years, it seems like the humble hamburger is experiencing a sort of revival in Vancouver. Nowadays, the hamburger is not just your standard basic found on every bar and Western style restaurant menu; it's gone positively gourmet with chefs inserting new twists on the standard ingredients. As far as I can tell, if you're going to try freshen up your basic burger you can go one of two ways: either you go crazy unique with wacky ingredients and fusions, or you pay homage to the burgers of yore and try to make the absolute pinnacle of the classic that lives in everyone's memories.

Vancouver's most recent entry into the hamburger revival, Caliburger, chose to go that latter path it seems. Starting off in, of course, California, Caliburger seeks to evoke the classic burger joints of California's surf towns. Their slogan "California, land of dreams - and also really great hamburgers" also serves to emphasize that easy-breezy, all-American appeal. If you've ever been to Fat Burger, or In-N-Out, then you'll find Caliburger to feel very familiar.

Vancouver is only the second Caliburger location to open in Canada (the other being in Waterloo) so burger lovers everywhere were all a-buzz with the opening, which was the other month. I missed the opening event, but Caliburger's PR was kind enough to give me some free passes to visit on my own time, which I did the other weekend for the Celebration of Light fireworks finale.

caliburger vancouver review
Our order: 3 combos plus a single cheeseburger

I really loved the laid back, Cali-style feel of the restaurant. Interestingly, Caliburger also serves some really cool cold brew coffee, which I didn't try this time, but which looked very refreshing. That may just be a Vancouver addition as I don't see it mentioned on the main Caliburger website.

In terms of menu options, you've got your standard hamburger, cheeseburger and chicken burger, as well as a vegetarian mushroom option. The chicken burgers come in two versions: Cali chicken, which is made with a lemon-herb marinade and avocado mayonnaise; and Chipotle BBQ, which swaps the mayo for a smoky BBQ sauce. The beef burgers come in single and double-patty renditions and all the burgers come with your standard onion, tomatoes, pickles and lettuce. As well, you can even opt out of your standard bun and go for a lettuce wrap instead.

In terms of sides there are just fries, as well as alcoholic and non-alcoholic milkshakes (I really wanted to try an alcoholic milkshake with bourbon, but sadly was too full after!).

Caliburger cali fries
Cali-style fries - not the most photogenic, but trust me, they're delish!

The unique twist of eating at Caliburger comes when you ask for anything to be made "Cali-style." For the burgers, this means extra pickles and Caliburger's own special sauce, and for the fries it means fried onions and more Cali-sauce, which seems to be a less tangy version of Thousand Island dressing, with lots of melted cheese.

As odd as the sauce sounds, it was actually pretty tasty and I'd recommend getting everything made that way. Mr. Artist and I opted for the cheeseburger, while our friends got the double patty hamburger and the Cali chicken burger with a lettuce wrap. We all got our items Cali-style.

I love pickles, so I really liked having all the extra pickles in my burger, but other than that this burger was pretty meh for me. The Caliburger patties are super thin, like McDonalds thin, and even though everything is made fresh to order, the meat still tasted super bland. Also, the burgers were surprisingly small, with the exception of the double patty one. Now, we were still super full after consuming our burgers and fries, but for almost $15 after tax for a single combo, I felt a teeny bit shafted. Thank you Caliburger for enforcing portion control on me I guess! As for my friend who had the chicken lettuce wrap, she also felt it wasn't very flavourful and that her chicken was a bit dry.

caliburger vancouver
Cali chicken burger with a lettuce bun and the cheeseburger

On the plus side though, the fries were crispy and getting them Cali-style was definitely a good choice. As well, the restaurant had this fun pop machine where you could get all these different fruit mixes of Coke, like orange-Coke, or raspberry-Coke or even lemon-Coke! I recommend the raspberry, which is sweet, but not overly so.

caliburger vancouver review
Mr. Artist at the pop machine - so many choices!

Overall, while I found the ambiance of Caliburger pretty cool, I don't think I'd go back as the burgers didn't live up to the high prices. I'd rather get a reliable Teen Burger at A&W and if I do feel like splurging, I'd go for Five Guys instead. Don't take my word as gospel though - it was a super busy night being fireworks and maybe things were a little rushed, so try it out yourself and for sure get the Cali-style fries!

Have you tried Caliburger? What is your go-to burger joint?

* While I was provided passes to visit Caliburger, all opinions are my own.

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