I arrived at Doc Brown’s in western San José’s Sabana Sur lured by the promise of the best burger in town.
I’d heard that this was the go-to lunch place for sportsbook employees and that the week it opened, the line was out the door.
Maybe walking into a restaurant with high expectations isn’t the best idea; I know whenever I go to a movie after reading favorable reviews, I’m always critical on the way out. But that wasn’t the case at Doc Brown’s.
My husband and I wandered in on a Friday evening, just before closing time, and had the place to ourselves.
We pointed to three or four plates on an overhead menu board and sat down at a table next to the open storefront. Our plates arrived in front of us in minutes.
I had what Susana Durán at the cash register called the “favorite”: The Ball Game, a grilled burger with barbecue sauce, smoked bacon and cheese, laid on a bed of fried onion straws. My husband ordered The Italian, a beef patty combined with a thick piece of melted mozzarella cheese and a sun-dried tomato tapenade (both ¢3,995/$7.50).
These weren’t just any burgers; they seemed to have come straight out of a gourmet cookbook. When I took a bite, the combination of the dressing and spices lit up my taste buds and had them begging for another mouthful.
To complement the main focus of our visit here – the burgers – we ordered the Tico Tropical Salad (¢2,995/$5.60) and a tomato-based soup (¢1,295/2.40).
While Doc’s pitches itself as a burger place, it was that salad that had me talking later. I can’t say I’m a big fan of heart of palm or mixed greens, and I couldn’t really imagine them going very well with mango or an orange-cumin vinaigrette; but the combination of seemingly mismatched ingredients had me shoveling it into my mouth. It even tasted good a day later, and not many salads do.
Doc Brown’s, which has been open only a few months, was started by two former San José sportsbook employees, one with experience in the kitchen and the other with a background in management.
Disenchanted and bored with their jobs back in the United States, Costa Rican Milenna Perea and husband Tommy Percell had a dream of returning to Costa Rica and opening a restaurant.
“We lived off beans and ramen for two years and saved every penny we made,” Perea said. Last spring, they were ready to move back.
They knew there was a market for North American food in La Sabana, with the dozens of call centers and online gaming companies in the area. And while Perea, who went to culinary school, had dreams of a Caribbean-Spanish fusion restaurant, a burger joint made sense.
They opened in October with the plan of selling 50 burgers a day. But the first week saw them selling close to 125 a day. The grill was constantly full, and ingredients were always on the verge of running out.
“We thought it was the honeymoon period,” said Percell, 28. “But we still haven’t gotten over it.”
Jake Slater, who works for a call center in the neighborhood, tries to make it to Doc Brown’s at least once a day.
“I’ve been working here for 11 years, and we’ve been waiting for a place like this,” said Slater, who lives in Tres Ríos, east of the capital. “If you’re looking for a burger that reminds you of the burgers back home, this is the place.”
Perea said she gets her garlic, herb and sesame seed buns from Mundo del Pan bakery in the western suburb of Escazú, which sells exclusively to her, and that the ingredients are the freshest she can find.
The opportunity to experiment in the kitchen is the reason she’s fallen in love with her new job.
“The kitchen is like a playground for me,” said the 30–year-old. “I get to play with different combinations and experiment with all kinds of foods.”
Percell said it’s the people who make the place special. “You get the best half-hour of everyone’s day,” he said. “That’s the best part for me.”
The couple has dreams of opening another restaurant or sports bar and starting a family, but, for now, they are focused on serving up the best burgers in town.
Location: Sabana Sur, 25 m south of ampm store
Hours: Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Phone: 2291-5875, 8879-1256