Burger Wars! Wildwood vrs. Cafe Castagna

With all the hamburger controversy that has been going on, I thought I would give my .02 cents. Over at ExtraMSG’s site, he has been going through and reviewing many Portland area burgers. It is very thorough, you can read it here: ExtraMSG.com. He likes the Wildwood burger, and since I stopped going to the restaurant a few years ago when I think it took a downturn, I went back to check it out. Those of you who have not read my take on burgers before, you might want to check out the Cafe Castagna review.
The interesting thing is how passionate people are about hamburgers and fries. Everything from the bun, to the grind, to the condiments all play differing roles to people. Like wine, in the end it all comes down to personal taste.

I really wanted to like the Wildwood burger, but have to say I was sorely disappointed. Maybe I just went on the wrong day. I have to agree, the beef here is great. As far as shape of the patty and quality of cooking, this is the best in town. It comes nicely grilled and has a nice smoky flavor. Unfortunately, they completely lost my vote on the condiments.

First of all, the bottom of the house-made bun is slathered with a thick layer of pesto, which in my opinion competes with the meat as the dominating flavor. In addition, the pesto soaked through the bun which fell apart when I picked it up. The burger comes with some shredded lettuce, cooked onions, and aioli. Personally, I don’t like the onions cooked, but prefer them raw with a nice bite. On top of that, I am a purist – no aioli on the bun please, put it in a dish on the side so I can add it if I want. The slice of cheese on top was nice and thick, better then the cheddar at Castagna. Finally, no pickles? Ack! Though they have zucchini dill pickles on other sandwiches, they are noticeably absent here.

For me this burger falls short because the choices as to what should be on the burger are limited to cheese or bacon. One of the reasons everyone liked Foothill broiler so much is because you built your own from the condiment bar. Café Castagna comes with everything on the side, you just add what you want. The addition of the pesto changed it from a hamburger to some gourmet imitation – though I think it would be good on a ground lamb version, this didn’t thrill me at all, and I didn’t like the soggy bun. The fries on the side were a bit oily and I prefer mine crisp, but they were okay and had a nice flavor. I kept thinking, if they put this meat and cheese on a Cafe Castagna burger, the heavens would open. The burger was similar in price to the Castagna @ $12.50 during lunch.

I am going to give Wildwood a few tries for dinner over the next few weeks. It used to be one of my favorite places, as a matter of fact some of the most memorable meals I’ve had in Portland were there. That was years ago and I haven’t been recently. I’ll do a full review when I’ve eaten dinner there enough times to comment. In the meantime, I’m buckling my seatbelt and adding extra hairgel. Everyone feel free to jump me on this one.

Update: I went to Castagna tonight just to make sure the burger was still good. It was. The Cafe Castagna review has been updated slightly with a few new menu items. That is two burgers, with fries in 4 hours. Urp.

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. Marshall Manning says

    I thought the Bluehour happy hour burger was good (much better than their pizza, which was really mediocre), but not up to the level of Wildwood, nor anywhere near Castagna, which is my favorite. For $6 it was a good deal, but wasn’t on quite the same level quality-wise.


  2. stu says

    I suggest Higgins burger, I think it is the best burger in town. I have tried both Cafe Castagna and Wildwood and I keep coming back to Higgins. The Wildwood was too greasy, tasty but greasy. Castagna was also good but it didn’t have the flavor of Higgins. Besides the flavor, I think the texture of the is also key. And I do like the bun at Higgins better also(made at Grand Central bakery).

    The other night I tried the burger at Lauro on Division, it was good, but no Higgins. They did have really good fries though. That would be my only complaint about Higgins is no fries. The Belgium beer selection makes up for it though.

  3. Anonymous says

    I live in the Bay Area and spend a fair amount of time in Portland. I’ve NEVER had a better burger than Castagna’s, anywhere, anytime. I try to get there whenever I’m up. Big, wonderful flavor, well-balanced in the condiment department, good bun… They gotta do something about those teeny weeny expensive cocktails though. I love the pear ginger, but what a price!

  4. PDXFoodDude says

    At the moment, it is Cafe Castagna. It isn’t perfect – like I said, put wildwood meat on the castagna burger and I’d be thrilled, but it is darn good.

  5. tha-krza says

    I will have to give it a shot; the photos of the castagna burger and fries definitely look fantastic. Any others that are “must haves”?

  6. PDXFoodDude says

    I would throw that question to MSG. He has had more burgers in this area then I have. Hopefully he will post the second part of his review soon and give us more ideas. I’ll be interested to see where else he goes.

  7. ExtraMSG says

    When I had the burger, the bun didn’t get soggy, despite the burger itself being the most juicy of any I’ve had. I thought it held up to the pesto because the flavor of the meat was so assertive. If it was Castagna’s burger, it would have overwhelmed it, probably. Like I’ve said at several other places, though, at this point, it’s getting to be just a matter of personal preference. There are some objective quibbles (eg, Castagna’s burger, despite being the same price — well, 50 cents cheaper — than Wildwood’s has less beef), but more or less it comes down to what you like because the buns, meat, and everything are all top notch.

    Bluehour’s might be a good combo for you, but I know you’re down on them since Carey wrote “the letter”. Ken’s is indeed an excellent burger. I wish he did fries. It’s a much better value than Cafe Castagna’s down the road and very similar. They even have similar pickles and similar buns.

    On pickles: if you’re a pickle lover, no one beats Higgins. Again, though, no fries!

  8. PDXFoodDude says

    I haven’t tried the Bluehour burger for a long time. I may hate their politics, and the other rumors from his staff bother me, but I’ll still try the food now and then. I’ll have to swing by there this month.

  9. ExtraMSG says

    It’s only $6 at happy hour. Although it wasn’t actually on the happy hour menu last time I went, but I asked for it and they gave it to me for the happy hour price.

  10. ExtraMSG says

    Bluehour’s burger was smokier than Castagna’s, which I appreciate. Their fries were crispier than Wildwood’s. They had pickled veggies on the side (but not pickled cucumbers), plus sun-dried tomatoes, which I thought really kicked up the flavors. It was like getting really good ketchup and tomatoes at the same time. The bun is a little boring — just plain — for an upscale place, but it was very nicely toasted and wasn’t overly mushy.

  11. tha-krza says

    I really have enjoyed some of the burgers and fries (or salad at times!) at Lovely Hula Hands. It is very juicy, they’ll cook to order appropriately (give you medium rare when you request rather than just cook to well regardless) and I love the carmelized onions.

    If you wanna make your own, Viande makes these awesome bleu cheese stuffed burgers that slay!

  12. ExtraMSG says

    Lauro’s bun is pretty poor quality. It just totally dissolves. The meat is really crumbly, too. Just falls apart. Not good fries. I found it rather dissapointing.

    Hula Hands, interestingly, is the only place so far that didn’t ask me how I wanted it cooked. That may have just been a lapse. (I haven’t found a place yet among these “bistro burger” providers that hasn’t cooked to order.) Crappy bun. Too mushy. Poorly balanced flavors. I like the onions, too, but they’re totally overwhelmed by the dijon and blue cheese. (Hula Hands in general has a problem with balancing flavors.) Decent fries, though.

    Higgins is good, but rather unique. Their meat is really smoothly ground and the seasoning reminds me of something Lebanese. Nice pickles, but no fries!

  13. PDXFoodDude says

    I had Mother’s Bistro burger today and wasn’t impressed, though the fries suprised me.. they were good! I’ve heard good things about the burger at SlowBar. Has anyone had one there?

  14. John says

    I think the Lovely’s burger holds up well. I have always been asked how I wanted it done. The bun is delicious and holds up well if it is brought out to the table pronto. I do not order blue cheese nor add mustard since it would clash with their sauce.

    I also think Mint does a great burger. Does anyone else? And they have half price bottles of wine on Mondays.

    Slowbar does a nice burger too. I would group it with the City’s top burgers along with Lovely’s, Mint, Castagna and Huber’s.

  15. Jill-O says

    I really like Cafe Castagna’s burger a lot, too. I just wish they would have it come with cheese and bacon and charge $12 for it already, instead of making the customer buy add-ons. I think it is $13 with the cheese and bacon, so if they charged everyone $12 (and folks decided not to have one, the other, or both) they would come out ahead in the long run and not look cheap about it! ;o)

    I also really like Carlyle’s burger (only served on the bar menu, and only $5.50 at happy hour – though it is a bit smaller…and an order of duck fat fries will cost you an extra $1.95 – soooo worth it, though), the burger at Ken’s Place, and the burger at Simpatica’s Sunday Brunch even though it is a bit salty (no fries, though).

  16. Food Dude says

    Jill-O: Try the sliders at Ten-01. Last time I had them, they were better than Castagna. Ten-01 bar, that is. I think they were only about $9.00

  17. says

    I just had the sliders at ten-01 about a week ago. They were pretty good but not as memorable as they seem to be for you. I still pine for the gotham tavern burger on that big english muffin. That was the best burger in town.

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