For Bay Area residents who regularly make the trip up Interstate 80 to Sacramento or Lake Tahoe, Vacaville is often a good option to stop off for a quick fast food lunch, get gas or kill some time at the sprawling outlet mall. Other than that, there really isn’t much to do or see for the average tourist in the bedroom community that sits between San Francisco and Sacramento. I was driving home from an assignment in Sacramento and thought I would stop in Vacaville for a burger. The only problem was that I was having a hard time finding a place that wasn’t a chain. They have them all, In-n-out, McWendyinthebox, Five Guys, Nations…well, you get the idea. I was only able to find two independently owned burger places, Burger City and The Good Heifer. I had heard about Good Heifer from a friend so I decided to give them a try. Besides, it’s a burger place named after a cow, it has to be good, right?
Mardi Pearson opened up the Good Heifer five years ago in what used to be a seedy bar called Grumpy’s located in an aging strip mall on Merchant Street. The place was dark, dismal and apparently there was a lot of illegal activity going on there before Mardi came in and cleaned the place up. She took the dark paint off the front window, got rid of the pool table and turned it into a place where families could come for a good honest meal. The questionable clientele has since moved on and there are no more drug deals in the corner. Although, she did keep the beer taps and a cool vintage Hamm’s beer sign that has a cascading waterfall.
The long narrow room is still pretty dark but festive with beer signs, portraits of John Wayne and farm-themed art covering the walls. There are, of course, cows all over the room. Cow lights, cow paintings, cow cartoons, cow photos. One wall is painted like a classic red barn that has windows that offer a view into the small kitchen. The hospitality is warm and nearly everyone who came in was on a first name basis with Mardi.
Burgers are the main focus at the Heifer, but there are also a variety of sandwiches to choose from. The bacon cheeseburger ($7.50 includes fries) caught my eye. I chose fries as my side, but a long list of free sides are available for you to choose from – potato salad, chips, onion rings, salad or soup. There is a fairly good list of tap and bottled beers to choose from as well as a few wine options. I wish it had been later in the day, I think a tall frosty beer would have really hit the spot. I was jealous of the two guys sitting at the long bar who were enjoying pints of brown ale.
Delivered by the cook, the bacon cheeseburger arrived at my table on an oval plate that was loaded with fries. The burger came pre-assembled on a lightly toasted sesame seed bun with a little bit of mayo and mustard. The patty was preformed and was completely covered with good amount of drippy cheddar cheese. Two strips of bacon were wedged between the cheese and bun. I added pickles to the mix, leaving off the supplied pale iceberg lettuce and onion. It was a decent size burger, I’d say somewhere between a quarter and a third pound.
The most noticeable thing on the first bite was the lack of juice. The griddled meat was cooked close to well done but still moist, just not juicy. It had a dusting of spice that gave it a little kick without killing the flavor of the beef. Bacon often upstages meat on thin patty burgers, but this bacon wasn’t anything special and blended right in with everything else. It wasn’t super crispy, nor was it rubbery, just right in the middle. The bun had the appearance of being big and bready, but compressed down reasonably well and did have to work very hard to sop up copious amounts of juice because there wasn’t any. From the freezer fries were pretty tasty and were better than expected.
The concept of The Good Heifer is one that I can thoroughly appreciate. Burgers, beer and wine is a winning combination in my book – if it is executed properly. My burger was well intentioned but missed the mark on a few things. While the meat tasted fresh and was seasoned well, it didn’t have much beefy flavor. With a name like The Good Heifer, I had expected that more attention would be paid to the beef used for their burgers. Not that this burger was bad, it just didn’t stand out. That said, I think there is room for improvement here and is a place that is a good alternative in a town that is almost entirely made up of fast food and chain restaurants.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5
The Good Heifer
829 Merchant Street
Vacaville, CA 95688
Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday & Friday 11:00AM – 9:00PM
Wednesday 2:00PM – 9:00PM
Saturday 12:00PM – 9:00PM