Among the more unusual entrees that Pasadena eateries are offering this week as part of the city’s favorite cheeseburger contest: a cheeseburger with chorizo sauce and a sunny-side-up egg named in honor of Mars rover Curiosity. And even a California sushi roll made to taste like a cheeseburger.

Paul Little, chief executive of the city’s Chamber of Commerce, cooked up the contest last year as part of California Restaurant Month. He chose cheeseburgers after learning that Pasadena lays claim to creating the first documented cheeseburger. (Who knew?) It was at a roadside stand called the Rite Spot way back in 1926.

About two dozen restaurants participated last year and more than 600 people cast votes across more than a dozen categories, including favorite lunch counter burger, favorite beer and burger, and favorite white tablecloth burger.

This year, 40 restaurants have signed on, including King’s Row Gastropub in Pasadena’s Old Town, which created the Mars Rover Curiosity Burger. Chef Sundeep Vohra was so inspired by last summer’s Mars landing of the rover – built at the nearby Jet Propulsion Laboratory – that he designed a commemorative cheeseburger. The gastropub has also become a hangout for some JPL employees.

“The burger is made from 21-day aged rib eye, with chorizo sauce to give it that red look and hot taste, and a sunny-side-up egg that resembles the sun,” said James Willis, the eatery’s general manager.

Meanwhile, at Noir Food and Wine just off the Lake Avenue corridor, General Manager Jim Sebastian described his restaurant’s cheeseburger entry as more on the high-end side, with carmelized onions, remoulade sauce and Emmental cheese from Switzerland.

Michael Osborn, owner of Pie ’N Burger on California Boulevard, will participate with his offering of a combination of a cheeseburger and side dish for $10.95, about $1.50 off the normal price.

“We’re famous for our burgers year-round, so we’re not planning anything special,” he said.

The most unusual entry is not really a burger at all. At Japon Bistro, a sushi house on Colorado Boulevard, owner Clarence “Koji” Wong will offer a California roll with cream cheese inside, fried in tempura batter and topped with eel sauce to give it a meaty taste.

“I’ve tried it and it does taste a little like a cheeseburger,” Wong said.

– Howard Fine

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