The Huffington Post’s recent proclamation that “The Country’s Best Burger Comes From A Chain You’ve Probably Never Heard Of” set off yet another round of passionate debate. Feverish discussion about whose pound of flesh (or half pound if you will) offers up the ultimate cheeseburger experience is nothing new. We looooove our burgers, and deciding which one is best is practically a national pastime. Which is appropriate since burgers are practically our national dish.
In honor of National Cheeseburger Day on September 18, we’re taking a crack at creating the de facto list of the best cheeseburgers California has to offer. But take note that we’re not numbering it in the traditional way. Cheeseburgers are about spreading joy, and we’ve heard just about enough screaming over meat and cheese. No matter if you go straight-up corner burger joint or trendy gastropub, slather them in secret sauce or load them up with gourmet toppings, at the end of the day, they’re all No. 1 to us.
To be fair, the Huffington Post’s piece naming The Habit Burger Grill was taken from Consumer Reports and the Consumer Reports survey was actually a study of the Best fast food burgers, not the best burgers period. That notwithstanding, it is a mighty tasty burger. Not to mention the best onion rings we’ve had in a long time.
Locations throughout California, Arizona, Utah, and coming soon to New Jersey
2. Umami Burger
It’s hard to create any list of best burgers today and not include the very popular Umami Burger. Here, the only legit argument is over what to put on top (the beer-cheddar cheese, smoked salt-onion strings, bacon lardon of the “Manly,” the shiitake mushroom, roasted tomato, caramelized onions, house ketchup of the “Umami,” or the impossibly rich and impossibly irresistible “Truffle”). Our answer: Come with two other people, order one of each, and split ‘em.
Locations throughout California
Food & Wine magazine voted Healdsburg’s HBG Bar & Grill burger one of the 25 Best Burgers in the U.S., and it’s not hard to see why. If the menu description (“freshly ground all natural Angus beef on a toasted Costeaux Bakery sourdough bun, Sonoma Brinery gourmet pickles and roasted garlic Aioli on the side) doesn’t get you, the taste definitely will.
Because you can never have enough bacon, there is Slater’s 50/50. The 50/50 burger has pepper jack, a sunny-side-up egg, avocado mash, and chipotle adobo mayo on a brioche bun. But wait? What about the bacon? Yeah, it’s in the actual patty. the 50/50 refers to the mix of 50 percent beef and 50 percent bacon, and this is one of three 50/50 burgers on their menu worth splurging on.
Location in L.A County, Orange County, and San Diego
A great indicator that you’ve got a burger winner on your menu: Guy Fieri shows up with a “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” camera crew to talk about it, film it, and devour it. They’re not alone in the devouring area. The Squeeze Inn is a favorite spot of burger lovers looking for a little something extra—namely, a big mass of cheese that gets steam fried on the grill, forming what CBS calls “its signature bubbling cheese skirt.” You’re gonna get sloppy. But it’ll be so worth it.
Locations throughout Sacramento and Central/Northern California
It’s hard to decide which has produced more heated conversation: the gourmet burger itself or the fact that Father’s Office owner/chef Sang Yoon does not allow any alterations or substitutions to his menu. If you love dry-aged beef, arugula, and blue cheese—and you don’t need ketchup to achieve maximum burger satisfaction—you’ll love the “Office Burger” and understand what all the fuss is about. Just don’t ask for American cheese instead.
Santa Monica and Los Angeles
Beaumont’s “Le Beast!” burger may leave you speechless, and not just because you’ll have a half-pound of wild boar, elk, bison, cambozola cheese, smoked chili marmalade, beer-battered onion rings, and pretzel bun shoved into your mouth (and dripping down your face). Be prepared to pay nearly $20 for this creation, and to come back again and again and again.
For a juicy, salty, gloriously messy mess of a burger, it doesn’t get much better than Fatburger. This old school hamburger joint started in 1952 and not much has changed over the years (thankfully). The burger comes in S (1/4 lb) up to XXXL (a whopping 24 ounces), but trust us and get a decent size burger without going overboard so you have room for a cup of their meaty, cheesy, delicious chili.
Locations throughout California and the United States
Among the tasty smoked meats here in this San Francisco barbecue spot is a burger people have been lining up for since the only place you could get it was the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market (now serving out of their own restaurant at Divisadero and Grove). Come for the dry-aged, grass-fed beef topped with Gruyere and a secret sauce that’s a twist on thousand island. Leave full and happy.
10. Wayfare Tavern
The “put a fried egg on it!” craze may have waned, but here’s hoping it never disappears as an option atop the gooey, gorgeously prepared “Wayfare Burger Le Grand” at Wayfare Tavern. Proprietor Tyler Florence serves up a refined grass-fed beef mix with Marin County brie, roasted onions, smoked bacon, and an optional sunny-side-up Petaluma egg, all on a brioche bun, but don’t be surprised if you still find yourself licking your fingers.
Which California cheeseburgers are your favorite?