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The Best Burger Joint in San Diego is Not In-N-Out.

The Best Burger Joint in San Diego is Not In-N-Out.

Chef Spotlight, Homepage Featured, Must-Read Features, San Diego

Royale 1.0, Royale was born from the desperation of a 9 to 5 job and, quite literally, assembling some scrap metal on a trailer axil.

Meet Jordan Brownwood, an environmental policy worker-turned-food-truck-slinger-turned-farmer-now-restaurateur (it would be remiss not to mention his college stint as a first mate on a sailboat in San Diego somewhere in here). Along with his wife, Mariah Brownwood, the two have honed in on one hell of a burger joint with some stellar produce policies.

“This guy literally made thirty grand selling sausages at South by Southwest from this teeny little food trailer in one week!”

Jordan recounts his inspiration to open up a food truck after quitting his job in environmental policy while living in Austin, Texas. In between, he was helping a good friend out at a metalwork and carpentry shop. “I went in and just looked around at all this scrap metal. So, we built this tiny food cart…”

Jordan kept it simple: sliders. Awesome sliders with gruyere cheese and caramelized onions; you know, the good stuff. Within weeks, the “Royale With Cheese” food truck was making its way around festivals, weddings, and other gatherings all over Austin. Not long after, Jordan was approached by the owner of Shangri-La in Austin with the offer to set up permanently in their beer garden. Together, the Brownwoods operated Royale With Cheese out of Shangri-La for a year before deciding to return to their hometown, San Diego.

“We’ve always talked about how great it would be if we could just get some land outside of San Diego,” Mariah reflects. It was a seed that was planted heavily thanks to Jordan’s twin brother, Jacob, who worked on a sustainable farm. While their return to San Diego was not prompted by the yen to own a farm, the Brownwoods ended up purchasing farmland before they even purchased an apartment.

“We heard about this working farm for sale while we were still crashing on our parents’ couch,” Jordan chuckles. “So, we saw it and put in an offer. It happened super quick.”

This was back in 2014.

“Our goal was just to have a small organic farm that we could also use as an event space,” Jordan explains. “We didn’t really have a super specific vision. But the idea was very natural for us. We grew up with fruit trees and vegetable gardens in our backyards and kept up vegetable gardens in all our apartments.”

Thanks to Mariah’s savvy marketing and communications know-how, the Brownwoods began establishing themselves among San Diego’s hospitality industry. Soon, they were supplying to restaurants and craft cocktail bars (“We grow a lot of citrus”).

Royale 2.0

About six months into growing the farm and its hyper-local community, the Brownwoods were approached by Park & Rec—a local bar in San Diego’s University Heights—that had heard of their Royale With Cheese success in Austin and wanted to replicate it.

“They gave us a two-week deadline to get the entire business together. We said no at first because that just didn’t seem doable. But, then we slept on it and, in the morning, I called him back and said yes.”

Royale With Cheese 2.0 became a hit, this time with a food-service window that supplied cheeseburgers, grilled cheeses, and tater tots.

“The costs to run that starter getting higher and higher,” Jordan continues. “We were at the point where we may as well have started running the business from a place of our own.”

And so, another business seed was planted with one major difference—why not utilize high quality ingredients from the farm instead of purchasing ingredients at Restaurant Depot?

“The hardest part about running a farm is the selling,” Jordan emphasizes. “It’s nice to be able to be your own customer…you’re really easy to please and there’s less marketing to do.”

Royale 3.0

With the evolution of Royale With Cheese 3.0, the Brownwoods made some adjustments. “We cut ‘With Cheese’ and just kept Royale. It sounded more grown up but with enough of a reference to the original.”

Knowing that San Diego is a town that loves its cocktails, the Brownwoods put heavy emphasis on a superior craft cocktail program utilizing ingredients from their farm.

“We take this part really seriously. We’re pretty involved with the bar scene here so we’ll have guest bartenders come in and about sixty other bartenders will attend.”

The menu, too, received an upgrade. More comfort, diner-style food using the best local ingredients. Far from being ‘hoity-toity’, the Brownwoodskeep things down to earth. As their menu says, “We make most things in-house but we also don’t shy away from using things we don’t make like American cheese and ketchup.”

While Jordan has never had culinary training, he runs the kitchen program and designs the menu.

Rather than employing an executive chef for a burger place, Jordan tinkers with original recipes with input from his chef-friends in San Diego. Diners aren’t complaining. It’s hard to find fault with the OG classics like the Royale with Cheese and tater tots or newer additions like the Fried Chicken Sandwich. Whether accompanied by a draft beer, a glass of wine, or a house cocktail, it all works.

With the perfect comfort meets craft menu, strong local ties, and a partnership that benefits from marriage (“We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses really well. We don’t need to communicate a lot to know what needs to get done”), Royale seems to have hit on the perfect formula for success.

But that’s not necessarily the case.

“Our location is our biggest obstacle,”

Jordan admits. You won’t find Royale on the downtown strip and residential neighborhood of Ocean Beach. Instead, it’s tucked away from most of the foot traffic. “Bringing locals in without foot traffic is hard.”

But once locals come in, they keep coming back.

Despite not even being open for a full year, the Brownwoods are already scouting for a more central location for their second restaurant.


4204 Voltaire St, San Diego, CA 92107

Open Monday-Thursday from 4pm-11pm; Friday from 4pm-1am; Saturday from 10am-1am; Sunday from 10am-11pm

IG: @royale_sd

1 Comment

  1. Keystone Cheese
    September 22, 2019 at 10:07 am

    I had no idea about this. Pretty interesting subject for sure though.

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