SFBA: Burgers

This is the first of a series of topics about specific, commonly-available dishes in the Bay Area. I’m starting them because I tried searching for generic topics and couldn’t find any, just inline mentions of burgers in various other topics. This should make searching easier.

Meal Ticket, on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley, is a long-time favorite of mine. They grind their meat every morning, and the default temperature on the hand-shaped burgers is medium rare. It’s served on Acme rolls, either a plain burger bun or a Kaiser with poppy seeds. No fries, but a decent enough potato salad, or home fries for an extra charge. Nice patio, too. Cash/check only.

I haven’t eaten a good burger lately so I don’t have datapoints to add, but I do have a question: has anyone tried the burger at the 1* Village Pub? I have been wondering about that one for a few years and still haven’t had a chance to go.

We have two rules for burgers: 1) the patty MUST cover the bun. No exceptions. We want meat, not bread. 2) prefer the meat be presalted. Salting before or worse, after, doesn’t work as well. Try it at home yourself and you’ll see.

I do not claim these burgers are the best ever. Even if you love burgers, they aren’t really a destination food unless you’ve got an urge going. You want a good burger to be nearby wherever you’re going to be, so ours are mostly within easy drive of our home, or in places we are running errands.

Gold Standard: Vault 164/SMateo. An otherwise 2-star restaurant, but the burger with Gruyere is very fine. They use a good mix of cuts, cook it properly and TRIM THE BREAD. Top, bottom, and sides! It’s a sturdy brioche, toasted. Only caveat: we don’t often make it to the SBay, so it’s been at least 2 yrs since we had it last. YMMV.

Joshu-Ya/Berkeley: Kobe beef sliders are an amazing mix of cuts. I don’t normally like sliders but these were terrific. Rich beefy flavor.

Bo’s/Albany (formerly Bistro 1491): We make an exception to the pre-salting rule for Bo’s: all chef Bo’s food is low-salt, but his burger mix is good enough to make up for it. Sadly, he’s dropped the green chile burger which was the best of his offerings. It’s a Boomer diner, very quiet and uncrowded weekdays lunch or dinner. Don’t go for brunch, it’s the only time it’s crowded and breakfast is okay but not exceptional. If you’re with someone who doesn’t like burgers, his BBQ ribs starter is pretty amazing as well.

La Calaca Loca/Oakland: Their Mexicana burger rocks, big time. Big 8-oz patty, a dollop of guacamole, melted cheese, pickled jalapenos, and the best burger bun ever - a true telera roll. LCL focuses on better quality, less on quantity; exactly what we like to see (and eat).

The value winner: Flipside Burgers/Oakland. A cheerful, fast/casual place, who will do anything you want, any way you want. 8-oz patty is standard and quite tasty. They offer pretty much every permutation of burger one could want, as well as different types of fries.

Variations thereof:
Flippers/Oakland. Has gone up and down, but they make one - and only one - burger very, very well. It’s a beef patty, topped with good feta cheese and a pile of wilted baby spinach leaves. The three ingredients are in perfect proportion to one another and the combination just really works. My spouse, who would normally never order such a burger, took one bite of mine and agreed it was amazing, far better than the type he had ordered. They offer a lot of different burgers, but this is the only one that’s worth the visit.

Spice Monkey/Oakland: The best lamb burger around. Gamy and fab for lamb lovers. However, the menu has changed and now it rotates on and off. Check the menu on the web to see if it’s around for the week.

1400 Bar and Grill/Alameda: The best Reuben nearby us and one of the top three in the EBay, they also make an excellent lamb burger, topped with feta. There’s a regular burger, but that lamb burger brings us back.

Khyber Pass/Dublin: The Chapli Kabob isn’t what you’d expect. It’s two thin beef patties, smashed and fried into delicious crusty crispness. Seasoned well but not oversalted, served with rice and flatbread. Get the Mast e Khiar, spiced yogurt dip, to spoon over all. Yum!


Thanks for the tip on Bo’s. I’ve had their excellent lunch “bowls”–your choice of a protein, veggie and grain (rice, quinoa, etc) for $8.75.

Are the sliders at Joshu-Ya a regular offering? I don’t see it on the online menus.

  1. the patty MUST cover the bun. No exceptions. We want meat, not bread.

Agreed, but I would add that the bread itself should still be good. In a metropolitan area where you can get hamburger buns from Acme there is no excuse for a crappy hamburger bun.

The sliders at Joshu-Ya are a regular on the dinner menu, we haven’t gone for lunch.

there is no excuse for a crappy hamburger bun.>>

Yeah, in the SFBA there is no excuse for bad bread from any restaurant, of any type, LOL! But what we object to are the mile-high domed buns that are just too frickin’ much bread for any size patty. If I’m just eating good bread I want it with cultured butter, St. Andre and hopefully Dean & Deluca’s goose mousse!

When Mockingbird/Oakland reopens - they have been remodeling a new space on 13th St. downtown but should open by the end of March - we will revisit (after things settle down, we like to wait a few months) to see what’s changed/stayed the same. M had a very nice burger - not fancy or humonguous, but just a well-balanced, nicely crafted burger on a soft milk bun. Very “old time diner style” - it was delightful. Hope they bring it back on their new menu.

—>2) prefer the meat be presalted. Salting before or worse, after, doesn’t work as well.

There is actually a pretty elaborate test performed on the effects of a burger at different stages of salting. The test backs up your rule. There are a lot of burger places that don’t salt until after grilling, to get rid of the sausage effect.


Pompette just opened on Fourth Street in Berkeley, and for a few days they served a burger that was said to be like the one at Rouge, the previous restaurant at the site. But a few days later, they took it off the menu. A friend asked why, and they replied that it was too complicated–people wanted them cooked in too many ways.

I haven’t confirmed this, but if I do ask them about it I’ll point them to Surly Table across the street and suggest they get one of those newfangled instant-read thermometers.

Down the street, Zut! still has a good burger, but it’s expensive at $17 (I think). The Pompette burger was also $17.


I’ve been digging Wesburger N More lately. They grind their own brisket and the 6 ounce patty is perfect weight for searing while still being on the rare side of medium rare. Nice beefy flavor, kind of granular, not too tightly packed, very saIty and messy, two napkins to get through one. I like the Hot Wes with queso and pickled jalapenos ($11). Their collard greens are really good, slightly sweet from tomato and carrots but with some background heat. I don’t usually like tater tots as much as French fries but these remain crunchy even when they cool down. Very good tight beer selection. Daughter likes the root beer on tap. The “kid burger” ($7) is a double cheese burger about as big as the regular burger.

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Had a really good burger at Black Sands Brewery in the Lower Haight, SF. It’s a double burger with two thinnish griddled patties, shredded lettuce, tomato, melty processed American cheese, and a thousand island like sauce ($12). Also added a fried egg (+$2.00), bacon (+$2.50) and fries (+$3.50). Was kind of like a fancier more expensive double double from In-N-Out. Substantial in size and a bit messy to eat. The egg yolk dripped everywhere. I used some of the fries to soak up the yolk and juices that leaked out. Fries were thin cut and tasted like McDonalds.


I went to Black Sands this weekend. Double patty that they managed to cook medium rare despite the thin patties which was nice, but I would have liked a little more sear to make the overall burger less mushy. Not as intensely beefy/salty as Wesburger but good - I’d get it again. Special sauce made it kind of like an elevated big mac. The menu says “fast food fries” and indeed they were not trying to be clever - we sat at the counter and watched them open a big plastic bag of frozen fries, McDonalds style.

Beer was great, I had a couple saisons, one barrel aged and one not. They must make really small batches because 2 types ran out during the course of my meal.

The real star though was the garlic noodles with Dungeness crab - so good and bold and simple, plenty of crab and garlic.

As an aside, the Bay Area has a ton of good burgers but there are just 10 posts here? Surely everybody can’t just be eating kale salad and avocado toast


I celebrated the Fourth with a burger at Zut! on, yes, Fourth Street in Berkeley. I’ve enjoyed their burgers before, but this time the patty was a little too thin to allow the nicely browned outside and a medium-rare interior. It ended up being between medium and well-done. Fries were decent enough. Given the $16 price, I’ll continue to go to other local places where the price hovers around $10–Meal Ticket, Grazzy Burger, even Farmburger and Al’s Big Burger.

In other news, a branch of the Habit Burger chain is opening in the new shopping center in Albany, near Sprouts market and University Village.

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I had a good burger at Monsieur Benjamin in Hayes Valley, SF. Its $19 and comes with fries and a pickle spear. It’s simply constructed with a large patty, cooked medium rare as requested, and very juicy. There was a pool of grease on my plate after a few bites. Had some sautéed onions, butter lettuce, mayo, and a slice of cheese (gruyere?). Also had a few raw onions on the side if you wanted to add them. Fries were shoestring and well fried but maybe could have used a little more salt.


Farm Burger for me today (Berkeley). I can’t understand how they can consistently screw up french fries. This batch had fries that ranged from soggy to almost burnt. I snuck in some Sir Kensington ketchup; they used to have it but switched to Heinz.
The burger was fine.

Pompette on Fourth in Berkeley has burgers on the lunch menu again. I guess enough people pestered them about it. At $18, I’ll pass, though.

For everyday burgers I think Mo’s (North Beach ONLY) is hard to beat . OTOH Both Le Garage and F3 in Sausalito are great. All 3 places will cook to spec and both have real french fries from actual spuds. Le Garage and F3 also offer aioli.

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Oh man! I forgot about MO’s. Delicious!!

Had a new fuckin burger at ABV in the Mission, SF. I believe its name comes from the fact that there was a chef change a couple years or so ago - the previous burger on the prior chef’s menu was a pimiento burger that I didn’t get to try, so I can’t compare. Comes on a poppyseed roll, with pickles, onions, a couple slices of white cheddar cheese, a Thousand Island like sauce, shredded lettuce. Good burger, a bit on the salty side due to the sauce, which was fine for me. Cooked pink in the middle, good beefy patty that could have been a little more seared on the outside. Conveniently sliced in half for easy picture taking. Cheese could have maybe been a little more melted. Pickles were nice and crunchy. A bag of chips that I think were house made came on the side, fresh and crispy.

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I had the burger at Bo’s Bistro in Albany today. For their tenth anniversary, they have a few dishes marked down to $10, and today the burger was one of them.

It was excellent in flavor and texture, and very juicy. At 8 oz, it was too big, but the leftovers will make a good dinner.

The sale will end any day now.

If I ever have a pre-show dinner at Monsieur Benjamin again, I’ll get the burger. I find the place sterile and the food soul-less in general.

Had a solid burger from Bandit on Geary near Leavenworth in the Tenderloin, a newish tiny hole in the wall restaurant with two counter seats and a couple more seats against the wall. I asked the man at the counter what his favorite burger was and he said either the cheeseburger with bacon or the Bad Mofo burger, which is a cheeseburger with bacon and grilled onions. I had the Bad Mofo burger ($13). Nice brioche bun. Melty muenster cheese, aioli, a thick slice of tomato, grilled onions and butter lettuce. The patty, which is made of American Wagyu beef, was medium rare and beefy. Could have used a touch more salt perhaps. Didn’t taste aged. The best part of the burger was the bacon, and I can see why he recommended a burger with it. Thickly sliced, smoky, with lots of flavor. Fries ($3) were pretty good - freshly fried and medium cut.

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