Last week, McDonald’s dropped its cult-favorite McRib sandwich nationwide for the first time since 2012, which means we’re likely in for a solid month’s worth of hype over the fast food behemoth’s most elusive creation. One observer called the barbecue sauce–slathered pseudo pork rib “our fast food nation’s finest exercise in artificial scarcity.”
Never had the pleasure? You could, of course, head over to your nearest McDonald’s — or, if you’re in the Bay Area, you could pay a visit to the popular East Bay burger pop-up Smish Smash, where chef Vic Donado has been offering his own souped-up version, on and off, since earlier this summer. His “Mk’Rib” ($12) consists of two crispy pork-and-bacon burger patties topped with housemade barbecue sauce, pickles, raw onions, and cheese, all served up on a classic Martin’s potato bun.
For Donado, who along with partner Amy Han currently operates Smish Smash out of Neptune’s in Alameda, the Mk’Rib is a loving homage to the McDonald’s sandwiches he grew up eating — to this day, he and his sister still have duffel bags filled with all the toys they collected from years of Happy Meals. “To this day, I still get a craving for McDonald’s,” Donado says. “I don’t think it’ll ever go away.”
When he started the pop-up back in May, Donado wanted, first and foremost, to serve food that he himself liked to eat. And he says he remembers always getting excited whenever the McRib would show up on the menu at McDonald’s every few years. Why not create his own version so that customers could get their fix all the time?
Of course, the chef, who’s known for outlandish burger creations inspired by everything from Filipino longanisa to Vietnamese pho dac biet — added his own wrinkles to the sandwich. Smish Smash specializes in smash-style burgers and, in fact, serves what is arguably the Bay Area’s most extreme version of the style — the thinnest, crispiest burger patties. And the Mk’Rib is essentially a smash burger whose flavors and toppings are drawn from the original McRib.
Instead of trying to make the meat look like a pork rib, as McDonald’s does, Donado smashes two pork patties that are cut with a healthy amount of bacon — just ground pork shoulder alone gets too dry with the smash technique, Donado says. As with any good smash burger, the patties get nice and crunchy at its edges, and then he glazes them with a McRib-inspired barbecue sauce. In addition to the standard toppings of pickles and raw onions, he also adds a couple of slices of white American cheese (“just because I love cheese”) and some chopped chives (to make it a little bit fancy).
The Mk’Rib will be available as a special at Smish Smash’s Alameda pop-up this Friday and Saturday — and, perhaps if the demand is there, on an occasional (or even more-than-occasional) basis moving forward. Known for its long lines, the pop-up has just launched an online preordering system. Otherwise, the best bet is to show up early.
Donado says support for the pop-up since it started in the spring has been “amazing”: “I’m going to push the boundaries of what I can do, and what people think is possible with burgers.”
Smish Smash currently pops up at Neptune’s (630 Central Avenue) Thursday through Saturday, 5:30–8:30 p.m., and Sundays 5:30–8 p.m. Same-day preordering starts at noon each day.