On the northeast side of the U.S. Grant in downtown San Diego, there is today a multi-level parking structure for hotel guests. Prior to 1970 on that spot, there was an older parking structure which also housed the U.S. Grant’s Rendezvous, the Wonder Bar.
The restaurant opened in 1933 just after Prohibition ended, and was one of the first in San Diego to legally serve ‘giant’ 12-ounce glasses of ice cold beer to the city’s thirsty residents and travelers (at 10 cents each). Built at a cost of $10,000, The Wonder Bar catered to everyone. The soda fountain served Fenn’s ice cream. A counter for the men served beer. Tables and booths for the ladies. And buttermilk for the embittered temperance crowd.
‘Hamburger Size,’ is a classic cafe recipe from The Rendezvous in 1948. Hamburger patty over a scoop of the Grant’s chili, topped with strips of melted cheddar, and served with a cheese roll.
This dish originated at Thomas M. DeForest’s Los Angeles restaurant Ptomaine Tommy’s in the 1920s and is named after the size of the ladle he used. When ordering chili alone, you received ‘chili size.’ When ordering with a hamburger, you got a smaller ladle, ‘hamburger size.’ It soon became a popular comfort food served primarily in cafes throughout the country. Today the recipe has evolved to our familiar chili burger.
The Rendezvous’ Hamburger “Size”
Recipe for hamburger patty on chili with cheese, from The Rendevous Restaurant, U.S. Grant Hotel, San Diego, California, 1948.
1/4 stick butter
1 lb ground beef
1/2 cup diced onion
1 can chili con carne
4 slices cheddar cheese
An easy one! Mix half of the diced onion with the ground beef, and form into two large patties. Salt and pepper to taste.
Heat up the chili in a medium saucepan.
Melt the butter in a hot skillet and fry the burgers. When done to your liking, remove and drain on paper towels.
Ladle the chili in two oven-safe bowls and top with the burgers. Put two slices cheese on top, and garnish with olive slices if you’d like. Heat in an oven or microwave until the cheese melts. (Optional: Top with the remaining diced onions.)
Makes 2 servings.
Citation: Martin S. Lindsay. ‘Recipe: The U.S. Grant Rendezvous’ Hamburger Size.’ Classic San Diego: tasty bites from the history of America’s finest city. Web. <https://classicsandiego.com/2016/06/recipe-us-grant-rendezvous-hamburger-size/>
“Hotel to open ‘Wonder Bar’ Friday,” San Diego Evening-Tribune, 5 Apr 1933.
Rendezvous grand opening advertisement, San Diego Evening-Tribune, 7 Apr 1933.