In the San Francisco Bay Area, the humble burger is morphed, riffed on, and pushed to creative and delicious new heights. Imagine dialed-in patties, from housemade plant-based ones to ultra-luxe Wagyu pucks, and all the accouterments inclusive of the standard (but pristine) lettuce, onion, and tomato and expanding to pineapples and cheese-filled mushrooms. Hungry yet?
The culinary standards are high, and options for ordering in are plentiful, which means figuring out which burger satisfies your current craving can be tough. Enter our tried-and-true list of the best burgers in San Francisco and the East Bay. You can try the beloved American staple elevated with local ingredients, Michelin-starred technique, and a global palate, be it Asian, Mexican, and beyond.
Chef Adam Rosenblum, formerly of Flour + Water, has fashioned one of the city’s most popular smash burgers at his Cow Hollow restaurant. The crispy-edged beef patty sits atop a bed of fresh lettuce and is seasoned with Causwells’ special sauce, melty American cheese (natch), and lacto-fermented pickles for a perfect bite.
For burger fiends, a visit to this Mission Bay spot is as important as a stop at In-N-Out. Get the classic one-third-pound cheeseburger on a toasted egg bun (pro tip: you can sub in a Diestel Family Ranch turkey burger or an Impossible patty). Then try every burger on the list.
The pillowy potato bread bun alone makes the Wes Smash Burger a top pick — but the special sauce, pickles, red onions, and oozy cheese make it a West Coast staple. No meal from this Mission District eatery is complete without the Deluxe Tots, covered in queso, onions, and bulgogi bacon.
This Bay Area chain, with outposts in Castro, Hayes Valley, and more, prides itself on using locally and humanely raised, organic, and never-frozen beef. And it shows: The buns are dwarfed by the generous meat portions; even the mini burger has a whole quarter-pound patty. Meat lovers should order the Super Burger, which has double the amount.
Once you sink your teeth into the lauded Spruce Burger, It’s easy to see how this Laurel Heights restaurant earned a Michelin star. Made with eight ounces of salt-and-peppered American Wagyu beef and served on an English muffin, the house specialty is perfect for fancy nights in.
Since 1955, this South Beach joint has put its distinctive stamp on the San Francisco burger scene, eschewing traditional buns for sourdough rolls and enforcing strict rules about toppings and condiments. Yes to mayo, yellow mustard, onions, pickles, and cheese; no to lettuce, tomato, and ketchup. Just go with it — this combination is what has kept happy customers coming back after almost 70 years.
The burgers at this Pacific Heights stop are fresh, fun, and pretty darn hefty. Take the French n’ Fries Burger stuffed with truffle-Parm fries, brie, avocado, caramelized onions, and greens. You’ve always wanted to do this, but Roam is the kind of place with the foresight to do it for you. Don’t skip the Vegan Bacon Cheeseburger, filled with a housemade veggie patty, plant-based bacon, and enough crunchy vegetables to pleasantly overwhelm meat eaters.
There is something for everyone at this Nob Hill restaurant: Mediterranean-leaning salads, Asian-inspired dishes, and of course, burgers. Let your belly lead with ordering; you might crave the Hickory Brisket & Burger, with housemade barbecue sauce and three types of meat (Niman Ranch beef patty, eye of round steak, and applewood-smoked bacon) or the Mushroom & Swiss Burger.
Lots of two-patty burgers settle for two thin ones, but not the aptly named Crazy Dave’s Double Cheeseburger at this casual Mexican restaurant in SoMa. It comes with two hefty six-ouncers and a smattering of barbecued onions, dill pickles, chopped lettuce, and tomatoes. There’s no better burger for the largest of appetites, assuming you can get your mouth around it.
There are many great options at this burger-centric spot in Laurel Heights, but the best might be the one that bears the restaurant’s name. It is seven ounces of grass-fed beef topped with a house barbecue sauce, cheddar, and the famous “Fool’s Gold” bacon, which is caked with brown sugar for an irresistibly salty-sweet touch.
Notable for being one of Anthony Bourdain’s top burger joints in all the world, this cozy hole-in-the-wall North Beach spot has a double cheeseburger that has withstood the test of time. Cooks spread shredded lettuce into mayo on the bottom of the bun, an almost bygone method, which cements this burger as an icon.
Four ounces of beef, crispy bacon, pepper jack cheese, and a chipotle-laced sauce — this is the El Jefe Burger, found at this casual burger counter in Richmond. We highly suggest getting a side of lumpia, Filipino-style vegetarian egg rolls, which rival fries as a burger side.
The Marlowe Burger is 100-percent beef, and we mention that only because there’s been some confusion. Years ago, as one critic sang this SoMa burger’s praises, he erroneously claimed in his review that it was partially made with lamb. Despite the mistake — or maybe because of it — Marlowe’s bacon-and-cheddar burger with caramelized onions and horseradish aioli has attained a cult status among diners.
You’ll be tempted by the amazing barbecue options at this Nopa spot, but you’re here for the Single Best Damn Grass Fed Cheeseburger. Imagine this: exceptionally tender beef patties crowned with gruyere, lettuce, onion, and secret sauce, all served on a buttered sesame bun. Word to the wise: Ask for it cooked medium-rare.
The Loco Moco deconstructed burger is unlike any other on this list. This Hawaii-style restaurant prepares it like you would find it on the islands: a pair of beef patties smothered in gravy and topped with two fried eggs. And in lieu of the bun, it comes with hot white rice. For extra Hawaiian flair, order a side of mac salad.
This family-run restaurant in Lower Nob Hill is beloved for all of its generous burgers, but we love the Bula Burger, which is proof of the “deluxe” in the name: a thick beef patty stacked with bacon, jack cheese, and a one-two saucy punch of mayo and spicy pineapple barbecue sauce, all on a heavily seeded bun.
This Mission Dolores spot is a small paradise for craft beer lovers, but real ones know it’s also home to an unrivaled lamb burger, which comes with a tahini-dill labneh, pickled onions, mint, and tomato on a kaiser roll. If lamb isn’t for you, the all-beef Monk’s Burger with gruyere and aioli is a close runner-up.
Come to this Lower Haight cafe for the locally driven brunch and stay for the French Burger. The special thing about this burger is the bun, a satisfying sourdough roll, which is the foundation for the half-pound, American cheese-topped beef patty. Pair with the super-fresh pear salad studded with walnuts, dried cranberries, and blue cheese.
This West Portal burger shop, which uses only organic, grass-fed beef, breaks a glass ceiling that should’ve been broken long ago: three burger patties. The Triple Burger is a skyscraper of nearly a pound of beef, yellow onions, lettuce, tomato, and drizzles of house sauce. Now this is culinary innovation.
The New York City-based chain — now thankfully in Cow Hollow — has so many options, but one burger in particular stands out. The Shack Stack is a mashup of the two most popular items: the Shack Burger with the ‘Shroom Burger. The first is the iconic cheeseburger, and the other is a deep-fried, cheese-filled portobello mushroom. Together, they make one unstoppable burger.
You might want to stretch out your jaw before taking a bite of this Oceanview takeout spot’s cheeseburger. This hearty, no-frills delight is a tower of juicy beef patty, American cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and Big Baba sauce, a testament to something being more than the sum of its parts.
Calling all vegans: This plant-based joint in Haight-Ashbury has everything you want and more. There’s a long list of meatless options (including soy patties covered in creamy mushrooms or with avocado and beetroot), but the Haight ’n’ Salsa burger is exclusive to San Francisco (the other VeganBurg location is in Singapore). It’s full of flavor: a grilled plant-protein patty topped with caramelized jalapenos, cilantro, and pico de gallo. This burger wows even non-vegans.
This North Beach spot churns out a classic burger that oozes with nostalgia. Grass-fed beef patties are loaded up with lettuce, tomato, onion, and a secret sauce and grounded on a simple sesame bun. It’s technically the only traditional burger on the menu, but you can add cheese, top it with “the works,” or make it a double.
Imagine the best parts of fast food — the speed, the consistency — but with homespun personality, and you’ve got this Haight-Ashbury counter. The house burger is pure comfort food: two patties on a soft bun with lettuce, tomato, pickles, cheese, and a housemade sauce.
While the Theater District outpost of this mini-chain is best known for its burgers and grilled cheese sandwiches, the thing to order is the patty melt, which is essentially a burger disguised as a grilled cheese sandwich. A third of a pound of marbled Angus and Wagyu beef is seared and coated in caramelized red onions, melted Swiss and provolone cheese, and a tangy mustard. It’s a must-order.
As far as truffle burgers go, the one at this Mission District hang is all your umami dreams and more. It's made with an expertly griddled patty heaped with sauteed mushrooms, aioli, caramelized onions, and a mouthwatering truffled cheese. You may want to order two.
Neither burger height, nor portion size, will disappoint customers of this Emeryville eatery. Only here can you find Wagyu beef patties adorned with beer-battered onion rings (The Sheriff), grilled pineapple (The Hidden), or honey-cured bacon, tater tots, and jalapenos (The Sunday Morning). Slip in a karaage chicken burger for a full-on feast.
You already know what grade we’d give this inventive burger spot in Oakland. Just try the namesake A+ Burger: a certified Angus beef patty, shellacked with salty-sweet Jack Daniel’s honey-bourbon glaze and topped with bacon, cheese — and, for another unique twist, fried eggplant.
Consider the Moroccan Burger of this Berkeley burger slinger either a culinary anomaly or the start of a new burger trend. Marinated in cumin and za’atar, the beef patty is griddled then covered in diced peppers, sauteed tomatoes, and fontina. Add the hand-cut skinny fries for good measure.
This Oakland burger joint prides itself on simplicity. Five-ounce patties are seared “diner style” and served on a fluffy egg bun with lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, and a smear of garlicky mayo. These are simple burgers done right, but not well-done — medium is the way to go.
You’ll find an array of excellent burgers at this Oakland spot, some with Korean and Latin influences. Case in point: the Mexi Cali Burger with jalapenos, avocado, onions, and pepper jack cheese and drizzled with a housemade aioli. Two tips: It’s spicy (know thyself) and messy (have several napkins at the ready).
This Oakland bistro is also a butcher shop specializing in antibiotic- and hormone-free beef that is slaughtered humanely. So, naturally, its burgers are top notch. One favorite is the C&H Cheeseburger: two four-ounce patties, bread and butter pickles, caramelized onion jam, pickle-laden mayo, and pimento cheese, all on a brioche bun.
Best known for modern dining and cocktails, this neighborhood restaurant in Oakland cranks out an exceptional burger with just the right amount of surprise. Think six-ounce, Niman Ranch ground chuck patties layered with pickled onions, cucumbers, and chipotle Thousand Island dressing on a toasted bun.
You can expect comfort on another level at this Oakland spot. That translates to hand-cut fries, colorful milkshakes, multiple vegetarian burgers, as well as meaty ones with grass-fed organic beef. But you won’t see The Duke coming — with Boar’s Head bacon, cheddar, barbecue sauce, and a scandalous layer of fried shallots that's about as thick as the rest of the sandwich.
You’re doing it wrong if you don’t order the namesake ingredient on your burger from this Mexican restaurant in Pinole. It punches up La Hamburguesa, which comes with spicy chorizo, cheddar, sour cream, and a fried egg on top of a one-third-pound Angus chuck patty.
Sure, the burgers at this Rodeo restaurant are big, but you can go even bigger, thanks to the ample add-ons available. Throw on avocado, bacon, jalapenos, mushrooms, even an extra patty to your cheeseburger. Or try the double cheeseburger to take the work out of ordering — you’re in good hands.
This burger is for onion lovers. At this Oakland spot, the half-pound patty is topped with lettuce, white cheddar, homemade sauce, and a smattering of sweet grilled onions that rival the beef patty itself. Portal doesn’t like to make a big deal out of it, but we do.
Even meat eaters can’t deny the utter satisfaction of the 100-percent meatless burgers churned out of this Berkeley counter. The proof is in the Steakhouse Burger: a Beyond Meat patty blanketed with caramelized onions, horseradish aioli, and crumbled blue cheese.
Transport yourself to the backyard burger bashes of yesteryear with just one chomp into the aptly named Nostalgia burger. At this casual spot in Emeryville, the sweet, sweet past tastes like fresh butter lettuce, tomato, onions, and American cheese nestled on a juicy and well-sauced patty on an Acme bun.
This Concord restaurant is awfully cheery for a cemetery-themed place — there are loaded tater tots, shakes and mimosas, and even funnel cake fries! But the real joy lies in the culinary care put into each dish, especially the burgers. Take the Jalapeño Pepperjack Burger, stacked on a pretzel bun along with a patty cooked to your preferred temp and the works (lettuce, tomato, and melted cheese), or the Diablo B, a burger that has grilled cheeses in place of buns.
Diners are expected — even encouraged — to eye this Hayward grill’s specialty Monster Burger with some skepticism. Reading the description on the menu will make you do a double take: It has three Angus beef patties, each weighing a third of a pound, and it comes topped with avocado, cheese, and bacon, if you please. Might be a good idea to share this one with a friend.
There’s really only one place in the Bay Area to experience American comfort food with Pakistani flavors, and that’s YeeShaans Grubb in Fremont. The DesYee burger looks like a standard burger — lettuce, tomato, and cheese on a soft bun — but the beef patty is infused with a masala mix that you'll wish were standard in every burger blend. All burgers here are halal — and fantastic.
This Northern California chain, with its signature mom-and-pop charm, is still going strong after 70 years. Also known for its homemade pies, this spot shells out a satisfying burger: Each patty, one-third-pound of pure beef, is topped with crisp lettuce, onions, and tomatoes. It’s deceptively simple, but there’s no better place to get a vintage-style burger.
Two things to know when you’re ordering from this Albany counter: All burgers are made with locally sourced, pasture-raised beef and grilled to medium. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, it's time to choose your player. If you’re on the hungrier side, try the Outlaw, which is loaded with bacon, barbecue sauce, cheese, and grilled red onions.
The Persian Burger Sandwich may look like a sub, but take one bite and you’ll immediately know it belongs in the distinguished burger category. This Berkeley spot relies on halal lamb, which it grounds, seasons, and forms into a long strip to griddle and present on a lengthy sesame bun.
While Judy’s is known for its craveable Chinese food, the burger at this Oakland spot is an experience. It’s generous — you can see the extra wide patty peeking out from beneath the bun — and classically styled with lettuce, tomato, onions, cheese, ketchup, mayo, and mustard. Sometimes there is no greater joy than a no-frills hamburger.
Since 1951, this Berkeley restaurant has been serving iconic fast food: malted milkshakes, hot dogs, and burgers of all kinds (looking at you, chili cheeseburger). Thankfully, the Smokehouse has made some updates after 70-plus years in the burger business: There are Impossible patties for vegetarian burger fiends and Oatly-based milkshakes for lactose-intolerant shake lovers.
The folks at this Berkeley institution claim to have sparked the gourmet hamburger movement when they opened in 1978. The best evidence of this might be the Pesto burger, slathered with a creamy garlic-basil pesto sauce and melted jack cheese and served on a fresh baguette.
This Oakland drinkery is known for its discerning beer collection, but the half-pound beef patties sourced from Five Dot Ranch, the renowned all-natural California beef institution, prove that the burgers here are hardly an afterthought. Exhibit A: the Retro Burger with bacon, onions, gooey American cheese, and Cato’s own secret sauce.
Burgers may not scream “breakfast” to you, but wait until you sink your teeth into one from this Oakland spot. The Western Burger comes with smoked bacon, onion rings, and a zesty barbecue sauce that drips over the sides of its brioche bun — and it beats a cup of coffee to kickstart your day.
Courtesy of The Melt
Smokehouse by Judy Doherty Photography
Sidebar by Anna Wick
Super Duper Burgers by Cynthia Linh