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Better Burgers

If youíre accustomed to dining on organic and sustainably raised meats and poultry accompanied by local fresh-picked produce and drinking California wines but still long for an inexpensive and unpretentious burger now and again, Pickles is sure to be your kind of place. While quality burger joints are nothing new, the reasonable prices, attention to detail, and cozy interior set Pickles apart from the rest of the pack.

Pickles is located in the former Clown Alley location straddling Jackson Square and the financial district. Serving burgers quickly and inexpensively are about the only things Pickles has in common with its precursor. Gone are the garish colors and carnival theme. The interior features diner-style booths decorated in upscale, earthy tones with only one vintage clown painting (and youíll have to search to find it).

Service is as it should be, friendly and unassuming. Get your burger at the counter during the day or enjoy table service at night. Start with the super creamy deviled eggs, lightly seasoned with harissa and garnished with crispy yam chips. Donít miss the beer-battered sweet red onion rings and fried brussels sprouts ($5.50), toasty on the outside and tender on the inside, dusted in herbs and Grana Padano cheese.

If nibbling is your idea of the perfect meal, convince your dining companions to share an order of the sliders ($10). It comes with three mini burgers and a choice of salad or fries; the plump mini burgers are served cooked to order, with caramelized cipollini onions. Itís one of the best versions weíve had anywhere. For larger appetites, or those wanting to really get their burger on, the five-ounce Clown Burger ($6) fits the bill. It comes with thin, crispy house fries or a salad and top-notch garnishes each chosen with care -- red onion, little gem lettuce, ripe tomato and house-made pickle chips. We think the bun is a little thick and should be hollowed out slightly, but will happily take the crusty crunch over a mushy bun.

For those not interested in burgers, there are several options. At night, the menu includes dishes such as spaghetti and meatballs, grilled pork chop and applesauce, and chicken piccata. Available day or night, we particularly enjoyed the grilled shrimp po'boy ($11), which is loaded with juicy Laughing Bird Caribbean shrimp, a red cabbage slaw, lemon, and tons of bacon served on a firm hot dog roll. Another over-the-top choice that delivers is the Chicago dog ($5.50), a Prather Ranch hot dog with dill pickle chips, tomatoes, red onions, cheddar cheese, and pickled peppers.

The menu offers a range of 10 sparkling, red and white wines, mostly from California, and all but one are less than $30 a bottle. Beers on tap include Fat Tire, Sierra Nevada, and Stella Artois. In the bottle, choose domestic brews or imported beers such as Hoegaaden or Bohemia.

Dessert is limited to frozen custard served in various sundaes. The custard itself is rich and creamy and will satisfy East Coast transplants longing for a taste of home, even though not all the toppings work. Bananas and Nutella are fine, but warm Guittard chocolate sauce melts the already soft custard into a soupy mush, and whole pistachios garnishing the sundaes are too intense, overpowering the subtle vanilla custard.

Overall, Pickles is a solid, casual staple that takes you from lunch during the work week to dinner and even into the wee hours on a weekend night -- prime time for juicy burgers, hot dogs and onion rings.

Financial District
Reservations Essential? No.