I thought Fiveten Burger proprietor Roland Robles might be insulted when I compared his French fries to McDonald's. But he was pleased.
"That's the idea," Robles said. "Can you think of a better French fry? Those are the best in the world."
I wouldn't personally go that far, but I would have to be a total food snob to deny that Mickey D's fries are pretty tasty, and in fact are kind of a standard: fries that are better than McDonald's are often referred to exactly like that.
Robles fries his in garlic oil, which I couldn't taste the effect of, and the key is that he leaves them in long enough so they get crispy; failure to do this is what brings down In-N-Out Burger's fries.
It feels odd to write about fast-food chains when reviewing a food truck. But with Fiveten Burger, the comparison is inevitable.
Fiveten's raison d'être is its burger, which is styled on fast food. The "loaded" version ($6.75) comes with cheese (American, Swiss or cheddar), pickles, red onion, tomato, ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard -- in other words, pretty much what you can get at most chains.
I splurged on the version made with grassfed beef ($8.75), which was otherwise identical. Golden Gate Meats grinds the beef to Robles' specifications for both, which for the grassfed means including higher fat content because grassfed beef tends to be very lean. North Beach Baking makes the buns.
I did, however, have a nagging doubt about two things. First, the inconvenience of tracking down a food truck to get something that Burger Joint does at least as well. That, and paying $8.75 -- or $6.75 -- for it. I've got nothing against an expensive burger; I love the $28 black truffle cheeseburger at Bix. But for my trouble and the money, I don't want Mickey D's; I want something better.
That said, if Fiveten Burger were to pull up unexpectedly outside my office, which is in a bit of a food desert, I'd much more happily plunk down the cash, especially for those garlic oil fries ($2.50).
And in fact, Robles loves bringing his burgers to people. The native Texan moved here as a jazz drummer and worked in restaurants around his gigs (his band, Z'Amico, plays regularly at Bec's Tavern in Berkeley). One food job he had was at Bar Johnny in Nob Hill, where the burger was the most popular thing on the menu.
"When the owner sold the restaurant, I decided to start a food truck," Robles said. He bought an old-style taco coach and barely renovated it; look closely and you can see the front panels that used to hold hot sauce, drinks, etc.
Fiveten Burger (the name reflects the East Bay area code) sells a few other items: a cheesesteak ($8), sausage sandwich ($7.50), chicken breast sandwich ($8), pastrami ($8.50) and two grilled cheeses, one with Swiss, tomato and truffle oil ($6), and the other, an American cheese bargain because it comes with fries ($7).
The portion of fries was generous; I couldn't finish half of them, so I gifted them to a couple visiting from LA who were enjoying garlic noodles from another truck. When I walked away they were no longer paying attention to the noodles. So yeah, the fries are that good. Time to re-evaluate Mickey D's.