San Diego

12 of the Best Burger Joints in San Diego

Get your burger fix.

San Diego’s culinary scene has pretty much been dominated by our universal love for tacos, burritos, tortas and all things south of the border—and with good reason. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that California was still part of Mexico, and those roots do run deep. But in recent years, a growing number of restaurants, from diners and coffee shops to fast casual and fine dining, have come to realize that for some of us, diving into a big, juicy burger is an itch we just have to scratch, and often.

Whether you prefer your burger classic-style, embellished simply with fresh lettuce, tomato and onion, or you love unusual and over-the-top garnishes, we’ve done the (delicious) work of seeking out the best burgers San Diego has to offer.

The Balboa Bar & Grill
Photo courtesy of The Balboa Bar and Grill

A collective cheer went up from burger lovers across San Diego when The Balboa Bar and Grill reopened in April, after owner Tom Logsdon had announced its permanent shuttering in July 2020. Thanks to an unexpected proposal from his landlord, it’s back, bigger and better than ever. The namesake Balboa burger is always a solid choice, seared on a flat top and piled with fresh lettuce, tomato, onion, a garlic aioli smear, and gooey melted American cheese, all tucked into a freshly baked bolillo bun that’s robust enough to capture all the succulent juices without dissolving halfway through. Add a finely crafted cocktail, sit back, and enjoy one of life’s perfect moments.

The Friendly
Photo courtesy of The Friendly

The Friendly

University Heights

First of all, it’s a pizza shop, but don’t let that stop you—ever since The Friendly opened three years ago it’s been a favorite for its Dirty Flat Top burger. Order a slice or two (the correct choice here is pepperoni) along with your burgers; it’ll be up and piping hot for you to munch on while you watch the flat top magic happen. Two smashed patties, all crispy edges and juicy pink middles, get layered with melted American cheese, softly caramelized onions and a swipe of garlic aioli in a buttered, griddled squishy white bun. It’s not pretty, but it’s one of the best damn burgers you’ll ever eat. By the way, don’t bother asking for fries, ketchup, pickles, or other accoutrements; you can find those, sans the pizza, at their second location, The Friendly Tavern, in North Park.

Madison

University Heights

The Burger from neighborhood eatery Madison on Park is made with Angus beef, seared and slipped into a brioche bun. But things get more exciting from there with the addition of sharp aged white cheddar, pickled shallots and jalapeno-bacon sauce, served with waffle fries and house-made pickles. Vegetarians can sub a flavor-packed chipotle black bean patty at no extra charge.

Available for Reservations

Fernside

South Park

The namesake Fernside burger layers two smashed burgers, charred on the outside and juicy pink inside, layered with gooey American cheese, shredded iceberg, house-made pickles and a dollop of Fernside sauce in a buttery grilled bun. Pair it with crispy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside salt and pepper waffle fries and a boozy, refreshing slushee or a double craft cocktail—we like the Cobra Clutch for smoky mezcal/tequila sipping or a heady Spanish-style gin and tonic with Junipero gin, elderflower, and Becherovka.

Juniper & Ivy
Photo courtesy of Juniper & Ivy

Juniper & Ivy

Little Italy

Juniper and Ivy’s not-so-secret secret menu burger, the In-N-Haute, is Culinary Director Anthony Wells’ homage to In-N-Out’s Double Double. Only a dozen or so of the coveted burgers are available each day, and they sell out fast. What’s all the fuss about? Two Flannery Beef patties, dry-aged 28 days, grilled medium rare, topped with local onions that are sous vide with mustard until tender and then tossed on the grill, pickles made in-house with local cucumbers and a flavor bomb “animal” sauce. Fries (made using an involved, two day process) and house made kimchi ketchup come alongside. Did we mention they sell out fast?

Available for Reservations
Ranch 45
Photo by Haley Hill, courtesy of Ranch 45

Ranch 45

Solana Beach

Ranch 45 uses all natural Brandt Beef, your choice of smoked cheddar, gruyere, or blue cheese, and fresh butter lettuce, heirloom tomato, and Bermuda onion on a soft brioche bun for their classic, craveable Brandt Burger. It comes with a generous portion of crispy fries and a tangy house-made pickle, and is available for both lunch and dinner.

Available for Delivery/Takeout

J-FAT’s Famous Cheeseburger is as down-home as it gets. A plump, sizzling patty, oozing melted cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion, and Thousand Island dressing on a warm, toasty bun, with a big pile of hot fries alongside (the upgrade to parm-garlic fries is totally worth the extra charge), or go for a crunchy coleslaw or Caesar sidecar. The tavern does a fine job with plant-based burgers too—the Beyond Meat Burger tops the perfectly grilled patty with cheddar, spinach, avocado, and mayo.

The Classic Cheeseburger at 619 Spirits, San Diego’s first urban distillery, sports a half-pound patty, smothered in your choice of Swiss or cheddar cheese, LTO, pickles, and 619 secret sauce on brioche. Enjoy it with to-go cocktails, one of 619’s award-winning, handcrafted vodkas for just $19, or a 619 vodka slushie for just $5.

The sign may say “carnitas” but this local favorite hits high marks with burgers, too. Their tasty Blue Collar Burger, a thick patty of lean ground chuck seared to perfection and topped with oozey American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and their special sauce, all on a brioche bun. Dress it up with bacon or a fried egg, and wash it down with a growler of margaritas (prickly pear!). 

Hodad's

Multiple locations

Head to Hodad’s for their wonderfully satisfying bacon cheeseburger, available in mini, single, and double versions. It comes with all the requisite toppings—we recommend Blue Jay style, slathered in blue cheese sauce and softly grilled onions instead of raw ones. Add a side of frings (onion rings and fries) and a milkshake and indulge in one of San Diego’s most beloved burgers.

The Grill at Torrey Pines
Photo courtesy of The Grill at Torrey Pines

While the surroundings may be as fancy as all get-out, the Drugstore Hamburger is a stripped down, essentials only burger. Don’t let that put you off, though. A full seven ounces of Niman Ranch ground beef, classic LTO, pickle, and mayo toppings and a grilled sesame seed bun make this the burger you loved as a kid, elevated just right for the grownup you. Classic ingredients, perfectly executed.

Available for Reservations

Raglan Public House

Ocean Beach 

Juicy house-ground lamb is the star of this burger, surrounded by an assortment of garnishes that, at first glance, sound crazy. Crumbled bleu cheese, mint jelly, tomato chutney, garlic aioli, and pickled beets—it shouldn't work, but trust us, it does. If that’s not stuffed enough, you can add a sunny-side-up egg for a slight upcharge. Instead of the standard fries, get the sweet potato version, the blue cheese topping provides a clever savory contrast.

Mary Beth Abate is a San Diego-based freelance writer by way of Chicago and Los Angeles. Her hobbies include yoga, pickling and fermenting stuff, reading cookbooks and drinking fabulous gin. Keep up with her experiments @MaryBeth_Abate.
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