With its delicate flavor, yet meaty texture, ahi tuna is a contradiction. Though this ingredient is a restaurant staple, it is at its absolute best when left barely touched by its preparer. The introduction of bolder ingredients to the modest fish can overwhelm it. Instead, ahi tuna effortlessly holds its own.
The virtues of ahi tuna have been celebrated; the only thing left to debate is which of two Valley joints makes the most ah-inducing ahi tuna burger.
See also: Burger Summer
In This Corner: Chelsea's Kitchen
The Setting: Before the ahi tuna burger battle could commence, it was a battle for a parking space at Chelsea's Kitchen for lunch on a packed weekday. When you finally secure a spot in the valet-ridden lot, your reward is entrance to an airy and inviting restaurant. The comforts are subtle: Deep leather booths invite you to stay a while and the fresh scent of an oversized flower bouquet -- Chelsea's trademark dining room centerpiece -- wafts throughout.
The Good: Despite the unconventional use of ahi tuna, the No. 1 Ahi Tuna Burger at Chelsea's Kitchen is not trying to be anything but a solid burger. The ahi tuna is ground in-house and formed into a palm-sized patty with a juicy, save-for-the-last-bite center. The generous fan of fresh avocado sitting atop this burger gave each bite a pleasantly creamy component while the light slather of spicy mayo added an unobtrusive but lingering heat. Oftentimes the bun can become a forgotten side note of a burger, but not so for Chelsea's sesame seed bun. Given a good toast, the bun was spongy with a light crunch and buttery flavor.
The Bad: One of the most endearing elements of ahi tuna is its striking ruby red color, so it was a pity the ahi tuna in this burger was ground and formed into a markedly less flattering, pale brown patty. Though the tuna is ground in-house, it seems an unnecessary extra step that didn't do justice to the beauty of a seared ahi tuna steak. Another casualty of the ground patty was the thinner edges, which were less juicy after cooking than the center.
In This Corner: Hopdoddy Burger Bar
The Setting: Austin-based Hopdoddy Burger Bar is a prime example of casual fast food served in a sit down format. In a very streamlined manner, wait staff assign seats at the door before directing guests to place their order at the counter. Large windows brighten the large, industrial style space and bright green and red accents do well to stoke an appetite already fired up by the sight of skyscraping burgers constantly leaving the kitchen.
The Good: The sushi grade ahi tuna steak used on the Ahi Tuna Burger at Hopdoddy Burger Bar was everything and then some. More than just pleasing to the eye, the ahi tuna steak was well portioned and consistently moist. Hopdoddy jumped on the sushi flavor profile for this burger with its toppings. Nori chips gave a satisfying crunch while teriyaki sauce added a mellow sweetness. Honey wasabi hit the nostrils in that burns-so-good way only wasabi can achieve and a pickled ginger garnish gave yet another layer of flavor to this truly gourmet burger. Side note: Do yourself a favor and get an order of Parmesan truffle fries.
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The Bad: Near the final bites of this burger, the bun could no longer contend with the juice from the ahi tuna and began to fall apart. It's a good thing Hopdoddy uses aluminum trays as plates to ensure no tasty bit was left behind, despite the faulty bun.
The Winner: When stacked up against Hopdoddy Burger Bar's Ahi Tuna Burger, the No.1 Ahi Tuna Burger at Chelsea's Kitchen could not live up to its name despite a valiant effort.