Mom-and-pop burgers in Moorpark
All in the name
By JR Grant 01/16/2014
6593 Collins Drive, suite D-2
Until earlier this year some of the best hamburgers in Ventura County were in a shopping mall in Newbury Park. The eatery also had authentic and tasty gyros, and this small, family-owned and operated small dining area was a great hidden spot for fresh and noncommercial burgers and fries. When the lease expired, the Kalivas family decided to re-invent their popular storefront in a shining new upscale strip mall in Moorpark, just across the street from the entrance to the college.
Just as before either father Nick or sons Theo or Bill will be cooking your food to order, and it is usually mom Aphrodite who greets you at the register. In-the-know regulars venture over the hill from Newbury Park to order their burgers, each a quarter pound of choice ground beef, hand-formed and grilled to order. I like mine with the homemade Thousand Island dressing and fresh and crunchy onions; sometimes I’ll also order it with Swiss cheese. I don’t know where else in Ventura County one can find such a fresh tasting cheeseburger, cooked exactly to order for $3.45. For the utterly indulgent, the same burger can ordered with pastrami for $5.99.
Many burger combinations are available; honestly, the only other choice for me is the good old-fashioned patty melt: grilled onions, cheese and burger on rye bread, for $4.75. There is honest-to-goodness value in the food served here. Fries (ordered separately) are large and thickly sliced, as are the onion rings, and seem as close to homemade as one can usually find in a restaurant.
The other not-to-be-missed offering is the gyros (either chicken or beef). Very thinly sliced char-broiled meat layered on a delicious extra-thick and chewy pita, and topped with freshly chopped tomatoes, sliced onions, a tzatziki sauce with cucumbers, salt and pepper. For some people gyros seem to be an acquired taste, but Nick buys his products from top gyro supplier Kronos, and they are presented well, savory with just the right amount of filling.
I happened to be going by the other morning about 9:30 and decided to order the breakfast special. (It changes daily). Initially I was going to order the breakfast burrito: the one dish I most remembered from the Newbury Park store. Overfilled with bacon (or sausage) and eggs, and cheese (if you wish) this very filling breakfast item is available all day, and of all the breakfast burritos you’ve had, I’m sure the Burger Express creation will rate near the top of your list. My pancakes, bacon and eggs special was adequate (fresh, made-to-order and enjoyable to the palate) but I should have ordered silver-dollar-size pancakes and not-so-crispy bacon. One forgets everything at Burger Express is made to order, and the breakfast special certainly was that incredible value at $4.50. Nonetheless, next time it will certainly be the breakfast burrito.
For the vegetarians, Nick uses the original GardenBurger™ brand. (He met the creator of this product years ago and still hasn’t found any other vegetarian burger that grills as well and tastes as homemade.) This may be a small, mostly take away sort of establishment, but the owner will only use the best (and best-tasting) food products he can find.
Décor at Burger Express is clean and functional, certainly not fancy. Green leatherette seats on light wooden chairs, and light green/gray formica tabletops in this small space probably only seat about 28 people, but given its location next to the school, many orders are take-away, and the great value and very prompt cooking and service allow for a quick turnaround.
This restaurant harks back to the days of mom-and-pop diner restaurants and freshly prepared food served with a big smile and warm welcome. There are no gimmicks here, just a wholesome environment and familiar food you want to come back to every now and then.
Check out my food tasting tours at www.venturafoodtours.com where you’ll find information on our private tasting tours and upcoming events.