El Cap is a St. Pete landmark. It’s charming. But will my third time visiting be the charm? El Cap survived COVID-19 shutdowns. It’s survived the invasion of fancy “gourmet burger” joints and chains from around the country. To still be in business for over 50 years takes something special. I just haven’t found what that special is.
I know. I know. Hate me all you want. I’m sorry. I just don’t get it. Today was my third visit to El Cap and I was really hoping third time would be the charm. It wasn’t. So many Q105 listeners have told me it’s their favorite burger spot. It’s been a fixture in St. Petersburg since the ’60s. So what is it? How has this place thrived? I would point you to Engine No. 9 for a great burger in St. Pete. Even the burgers at Portillo’s are far better to me. And Portillo’s is more known for Chicago staples like Italian Beef and hot dogs. My first two visits El Cap were forgettable. So much so that I don’t really even remember what I didn’t like about their burgers. I just remembered being underwhelmed after having so much anticipation. I love visiting local mom and pop restaurants. El Cap has faced so much competition from the big corporate chains, it’s a miracle they are still around. So I just want to be a fan so badly.
This 3rd visit was no different. I went with a bacon cheeseburger with french fries. The order came to $10 and change before the tip. They almost charged me $16 because they still handwrite the order slips and the cashier had a hard time reading the handwriting of my waitress. It’s adorable they’re so old-fashioned that they don’t use modern software – but it almost cost me an extra $6. I hated having to point it out. The staff is friendly, loud and completely stressed. The diner environment is a nice throwback, but I’m sorry – I’ve tried 3 times now. I just don’t taste the magic.