San Francisco wears its health badge proudly. We have enough kale salads, organic juice places, and pilates reformer machines to serve a city twenty times our size. But that doesn’t mean that’s all we do - SF is also a great burger town.
From double-deckers served in greasy paper bags to patties made from organic, free-range, multilingual cows who spent their final moments gazing at the Pacific Ocean, SF is home to many excellent burgers. We’ve scoured this city (i.e. eaten our weight in meat sandwiches) looking for the real standouts, so you won’t ever waste your time on a mediocre burger again. Here are our favorite places in San Francisco to get a burger.
We’ve nicknamed this the “Tom Cruise of burgers,” not only because it’s a lot smaller than you think it’d be in real life, but because everything on Nopa’s menu is fantastic and against the rest of the food, this burger still has ridiculous star power. If you walk in late night and sit at the bar, you’ll hear the bartender joke that it’s Burger Hour, the time of night when that’s all anyone really wants to eat, but we’d come here for this anytime.
Sometimes you want two things at once. Causwells’ brunch burger is the ideal vehicle for having your eggs and bacon while eating a burger too. The combination of the perfectly-fried egg, crispy-but-not-burnt bacon, high-quality meat, and super-melted cheese is incredible.
There are a lot of good reasons to go to Wesburger - from the mac-and-cheese with onions and cheese sauce that tastes like a better version of what comes out of the blue box; to tater tots with queso, caramelized onions, bulgogi bacon, and special sauce; to the super spicy Nashville-style hot chicken sandwich. But those are all secondary to the burgers. Our go-to is the Hot Wes with thin, crispy fried onions, pickled jalapenos, and queso.
Mixing bitters into a burger patty sounds like a gimmick, but if that’s why this thing tastes so good, we’re all for it. The muenster is nice and melty, there’s a layer of housemade pickles at the bottom, and they always cook the patty just how you asked for it. If you come in during Happy Hour (weekdays from 5:30-6:30pm and 10:30-11:30pm), you get a free Old Fashioned with your burger, which is basically like bribing a kid to eat an ice cream cone.
The charcuterie and cheese boards here are great to have over a few cocktails, but if you actually want a full meal, get ABV’s The F*cking Burger. The patty is more on the red side and it comes with secret sauce, two slices of white American cheddar, razor-thin pickles, and red onion on a toasted poppy seed bun and a side of spicy chips. It’s cut in half so you can share with your date, which is why you’re probably in this bar, and unlike a lot of bar burgers, this one isn’t sloppy so you can eat it without feeling like the person sitting next to you should be embarrassed.
We don’t know why, but this is what we imagine burgers were like in the ’70s. It’s a wider, flatter burger with lettuce, onion, gruyere, and special sauce on a griddled sesame seed and scallion bun. While we doubt that too many people were springing for fancy cheese on their burgers during the Carter administration, this flying saucer of meat is still somehow a trip back in time. If you want, you can get a second patty, bacon, and an egg added, but that would also limit your motion for the rest of the day to flailing around on your couch. If you’re already on your sofa though, these burgers travel well so delivery is a good option.
The burger at Zuni comes with pickled onions, aioli, lettuce, and sweet housemade pickles on rosemary focaccia and nothing else. Left alone, this burger is already so good that we don’t even think of it as a burger as much as the answer to the meaning of life, but if you add cheddar cheese and a thick slice of heirloom tomato, it’s somehow even better. Make sure to order extra aioli to dip your haybale of fries into and whatever drink best helps you contemplate the nature of existence and your own mortality - in our case, a gin martini - while you wait for the burger’s arrival.
Spruce is a white tablecloth kind of place, but their bar is much more low-key, and it’s also the only place you can get their phenomenal brunch burger. An English muffin as a bun normally isn’t our first choice, but Spruce gets away with it because the patty is massive and the beef is super high-quality. Toppings (the standard lettuce, tomato, pickled onions, and mayo) come on the side so you can dress your burger as you see fit.
There’s only one burger on the menu at Monsieur Benjamin, but it’s more than enough. The burger comes “fully dressed,” and we can assume they mean dressed in flavor - this is one of the best burger patties you’ll find. But the onions and cheese it comes with are pretty great too.
When the cheese on the burger is melted to a liquid state and covers the whole thing, it’s a good sign the people making it know what they’re doing. The double cheeseburger at Popsons involves American cheese, two thin-ish patties, a soft and toasty bun, pickles, lettuce, and sauce. The fries are a little hit or miss, but the burger is excellent.
Roam has every type of burger you could possibly want, but the French & Fries with a bison patty is our personal favorite. The meat is the perfect balance of lean and fat, and avocado, gruyere, and truffle fries are all sandwiched between the sesame bun. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
This is the burger that studied abroad in Paris and came back to the US wearing a beret. It’s served on a baguette, which definitely feels weird at first. But that baguette-as-bun move also results in something that tastes like a grilled cheese melted around a burger, which is as good as it sounds.
Kitchen Story’s New England Burger is the ideal hangover burger. And is also frankly ridiculous. It involves a maple syrup patty and brown sugar-dusted bacon, and is topped with cheddar that will instill a profound sense of respect and admiration for the many gifts Vermont has bestowed upon us.
This is the burger you want to eat on the days when it’s hot enough for time to stand still. There’s nothing crazy going on with Red’s burger, except that it comes on a chewy sourdough roll, but it’s well done and simple enough to merit going out of your way for. If you have a lazy afternoon with nothing to do, sitting on the back patio at Red’s eating one of these with a cold beer and some fries is as close to a perfect day as we can imagine.
Gott’s is a great burger spot when you’re in the mood for fast food, but don’t want to sacrifice taste or quality. The California Burger has a fried egg, Swiss cheese, mayo, and bacon that is on the correct side of crisp. Go when you’re near the Ferry Building.
The only appropriate beverage to consume with a burger is beer (except for maybe a milkshake). Any place with 200 beers to choose from needs to serve a burger, and the one at Monk’s Kettle is awesome. The onion jam and gruyere make it feel a little fancier than your normal meat sandwich, and it’s never overcooked. Hop salt fries come with it and have taught us that hop salt fries should be served everywhere.
Something about a simple toasted bun takes this burger into the stratosphere. Aside from that, it comes with two patties, cheese, and their own special sauce, as well as the option of a salad that you’re going to laugh at to get some of their McDonald’s-style fries instead. This place is owned by Fort Point now, so most of the beers here are brewed somewhere else, but if you ask, they’ll pour you one of their own on tap.
When you’re eating here at 1:45am after a long night out, you’ll think this is the best burger in the world. And you won’t be far off. There’s nothing insane going on at Sam’s, it’s just a simple burger loaded with shredded lettuce, cheese, onion, tomato, ketchup, mustard, nostalgia, and a few other things. But sitting at the counter and eating a burger here in the middle of the night is one of the happier half hours you can spend in SF.
While it’s slightly confusing that a mezcal bar serves both a cheese plate and a burger, we’re not complaining because Mezcalito does a stellar job with all of it. Juicy is the only appropriate word to describe this creation of meat, gouda, and caramelized onions. We’re also strong supporters of the potato bun, which is the only potato-adjacent item here - in perhaps the only indication that this is nominally a Mexican place, there are no fries on the menu.
The In-N-Out burger needs no explanation as to what it is. It’s what anyone who visits you from out of state will want to eat at some point during their trip, and who are you to deny them a Double-Double animal style with well-done fries? We love this place, and will always roll out of bed on a Sunday and wonder if trekking to Pier 39 for this cheap wonder of the world is worth the effort. It usually is.