From tasting menus to food trucks, taquerias to farm-to-table restaurants, there’s no shortage of delicious, innovative food in San Francisco... which is great and all, but sometimes (most of the time), what we really want is just a damn good burger. Luckily, SF has plenty of those as well. Whether you’re looking for a fancy burger, a fast-food burger, a burger in a bar with killer cocktails, or a late-night burger that was once proclaimed to be one of the tastiest in the world, there’s something for everyone. Here are the 7x7’s best efforts:
Where Are the Best Burgers in SF? We Tried Them All to Find Out.
Almost two years ago, we told you that the Americana Burger at Causwells was "The Best Cheeseburger in SF That You’re Not Eating Yet." We sincerely hope you’ve since remedied that and have indulged in the burger that’s basically a way better version of any fast food burger you’ve ever had (yeah, including In-N-Out). If not, well, we're very disappointed in you, but you’re in luck, because it’s still on the menu and it’s as tasty as ever. Two well-charred patties, made from beef that's ground in-house every day, are topped with American cheese; lettuce; pickle; onion, all sandwiched in a sesame seed bun. Top the whole thing off with Causwells' secret sauce, which is a combo of house-made Worcestershire, house-made Thousand Island dressing, cayenne, and other, classified ingredients. While this burger'll run you $16, it's tasty enough to be worth it.
ABV’s $10 pimento cheeseburger is what dreams are made of, especially in a town where pimento anything is so hard to come by (SF is many things, but a bastion of good Southern food, it is not). The patty is flipped constantly, which gives it a perfect sear -- and keeps the fat from melting out -- and is served on a house-made bun that holds up well against the juicy burger. But the real hero here is the aforementioned tangy pimento cheese that's melted on top of the patty; it’s also made in-house, and is both nostalgic and elevated all at the same time. This is one of the smaller burgers on the list (it’s a 1/4lb patty), but that works on several levels: first, you don’t want to be too full to enjoy ABV’s awesome cocktails, and second, with a burger that’s more bar snack than entree, you can definitely get out of sharing.
This dimly lit basement lounge is so sexy that one would never guess there’s a bomb-ass burger on the menu, and yet: the $14.50 Burger du Nord, which is served with sharp cheddar, lettuce, pickles, and a secret sauce, plus a side of thick-cut fries, may just be the sexiest thing on the menu. It tastes even better late night, which is a thing at Café du Nord, where the kitchen stays open until 1am.
Chef Manfred Wrembel is straight-up killing it at Huxley, a tiny, 25-seat restaurant in the heart of the TL, but the thing to order is, of course, The Hux Deluxe, a 4oz burger with fried onion, ‘Merican Cheese, frisee, a bacon wheel (!), MSG aioli (!!!), all served on a house-made seeded onion dill bun. When the $17 burger comes out, it looks like there’s no way you’ll be able to fit your mouth around it to get that perfect burger bite, but the key is to squeeze it down and just go for it. And though a 4oz burger may sound small, it’s actually the perfect size because of the way it balances with all of the other ingredients. The burger is served with a knife sticking out of it, which makes you think it's intended to share. You can do that, but we warn you -- you might regret it.
You can get the famous Marlowe burger at Marlowe’s sister restaurants, The Cavalier and Park Tavern, but somehow, it always tastes just a little bit better when ordered at its original home in SoMa. The famous burger is perhaps almost too famous -- can a burger really continue to live up to that much hype? -- but the truth is, the Marlowe burger tastes just as good now as it did six years ago, thanks to its atypical blend of beef and lamb. The lamb adds a subtle, rich earthiness to the burger, which goes well with the char from the grill, and ensures the flavor of the patty comes through. The $16 burger comes with caramelized onions, cheddar, bacon, horseradish aioli, and shredded romaine, as well as a side of crispy fries. This is a legit juicy burger, which means you’ll need (and want) to eat it rather quickly, but we’re totally fine with that.
If you ask someone in San Francisco where to get the best burger, there’s a good chance you’ll be sent to Nopa and told to order the $17 wood grilled hamburger with pickled onions and French fries. The burger is made with grass-fed beef that’s been salted to perfection, and comes on a toasted bun. The simplicity is part of what makes this burger so good, and though we usually believe that the best way to experience a burger is to order it the way it’s described on the menu, adding cheddar gives this burger a little bite, which isn’t necessarily needed, but makes the whole thing taste that much better.
Much like Beverly Hills, 90210 paved the way for Melrose Place, The Americana Burger at Causwells was such a success, the only real option was to open a spinoff fast-food restaurant focused solely on burgers. Enter Popsons, possibly the best burger joint in all of SF. Every single one of their burgers is out-of-this-world good, but the one to order is the cheeseburger. And yes, it’s imperative that you make it a double ($8.70); the thin patties are smashed on the griddle to form a savory crust, and once you add American cheese, pickles, shredded lettuce, sliced onions, and the secret sauce, a single patty can get a little lost in the crowd. That being said, a single is still damn good, so if you insist on counting calories, you’ll still be happy beyond words with your burger. Oh, and it’s worth noting: even though this is basically a fast-food restaurant, you can still order wine and beer. Yay.
Though he was a little inebriated when he said it, Anthony Bourdain once proclaimed the burger at Sam’s to be one of the top three in the world. And though that may be a slight exaggeration, it’s definitely one of the top 10 in SF... top five if you’d had a lot to drink, and it’s 2am. Though beloved owner Mike Shawa sadly passed away this summer, his family continues to run this SF late night institution, and the $9 double cheeseburger with everything continues to be a burger every San Franciscan needs to eat.
Once upon a time, a photographer decided to enter the SF Burger Brawl with his riff on a Jack in the Box burger called "The Hot Mess." Rowe’s version, a 6oz patty topped with queso, onion rings, and pickled jalapeños, dubbed the Hot Wes, took home the top prize. For a long time, the only place to get it was at Rowe’s weekly pop-up, but citizens of SF can rejoice: now the Hot Wes (and more!) is available at Rowe’s very own retro-diner-style restaurant in the Mission. And while you can’t go wrong with his original creation, the burger most people get is The All-American (a 6oz patty with lettuce, tomato, onion, special sauce, and American cheese). However, the burger you really want to order is The Okie ($11), a 6oz patty cooked over a bed of onions with mustard, pickles, and American cheese. Add bacon... you won’t regret it. (You'll never regret adding bacon.)
This $17 grass-fed burger is ground in-house, and comes on grilled rosemary focaccia with aioli and Zuni pickles. And while a burger on rosemary focaccia may not sound like the kind of burger that should make a Thrillist list of Best Burgers, you’ll just have to trust; 20 plus years ago, it was one of the first "fancy" burgers you could find in the city, and it’s stayed on the menu ever since for good reason. Though it's even better if you add blue cheese ($2), which makes it a pricey indulgence -- especially since shoestring fries will cost you another six bucks. Oh, and it’s only available at lunch or late night... which perhaps adds just a touch of mystique to the proceedings.
The folks at 4505 Burgers may have been getting slightly ahead of themselves when they named the burger "Best Damn Grass Fed Cheeseburger," but even though it may not exactly be the "best," it's still a legit tasty burger that deserves a spot on this list. A 1/4lb patty topped with lettuce, onion, Gruyere, and a secret sauce, served on a buttery, griddled sesame, and scallion bun. It sounds like a ton of competing flavors, but they work perfectly together; each bite is better than the next. A single will cost you $10, and a double is $14. We usually advocate for a double, but in this case, a single and a side of fries will probably get the job done.
Sign up here for our daily San Francisco email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun SF has to offer.
Daisy Barringer is a freelance writer in San Francisco. This was pretty much the best article she’s researched in all of 2016. Tell her your favorite burgers in the city on Twitter @daisy.
1. CauswellsChestnut Street, San Francisco
2. ABV3174 16th St, San Francisco
3. Cafe Du Nord2174 Market St, San Francisco
4. Huxley848 Geary St, San Francisco
5. Marlowe500 Brannan St, San Francisco
6. Nopa560 Divisadero St, San Francisco
7. Popsons330 Townsend St, San Francisco
8. Sam's618 Broadway St, San Francisco
9. WesBurger 'n' More2240 Mission St, San Francisco
10. Zuni Cafe1658 Market St, San Francisco
11. 4505 Burgers & BBQ705 Divisadero, San Francisco
This casual bistro from Alvin Garcia (Delarosa, Lolinda, Don Pisto's) and Tom Patella (California Wine Merchant) boasts classic American fare, like a deviled egg trio and pork belly confit, but the real star of the show is the the American Burger. The two patties have dry-aged fat in the mix, and are topped with American cheese, secret sauce (it's a mixture of Thousand Island and Worcestershire), and pickles. If that burger isn't enough to get you to the Marina, though, plan your meal around a visit to the Presidio Theater, which is located next door.
Though ABV is more than just a great whiskey bar, its whiskey menu isn't to be forgotten. You’ll find a surprising and thorough list of rare Scotches, Japanese whiskies, bourbons, ryes, and cask-strength bottles. Its bar snacks are definitely worth writing home about too, and -- it should be mentioned -- it serves an impressive brunch on the weekends. Win!
What happens when you take an over 100-year-old concert venue in Duboce Triangle, revamp it, and invite James Beard nominee Thomas McNaughton (the guy behind Flour + Water and Central Kitchen) to do the cooking and the Trick Dog guys to shake the cocktails? You get Café Du Nord, an absolutely killer new-but-old restaurant-cum-music-venue. The burger here is a juicy, messy-in-the-right-kind-of-way revamping of the classic, with gloriously melty sharp cheddar, lettuce, pickles, and secret sauce, and you can order it until 1am every night. Enjoy it in the Viking Room, a restaurant tucked away in the back, or at the bar while listening to live music and sipping a seriously good cocktail, and if you stay late, you can snag half price Champagne and oysters when the clock strikes midnight.
Designed to be a small neighborhood restaurant, Huxley is worth traveling to, even if the Tenderloin isn't where you usually think to go for dinner. Saison's former owner and Bar Agricole's former sous chef serves up a simple, rustic menu they describe as "new American bistro-style," which includes courses like wild mushroom risotto, eggplant soup, and gourmet brunch toast that's bound to have made the rounds on your social media feed already. The restaurant only has 25 seats (10 of which are at the bar), so reservations are recommended.
Marlowe has been a favorite for locals since 2010, so you’ll undoubtedly want to make a reservation before making your way over, as it would be a shame to miss out on their much-celebrated burger, topped with caramelized onions, horseradish aioli, cheddar, and bacon. The burger, while amazing, is far from the whole show. Reminiscent of a southern country kitchen, Marlowe diners love their warm open faced deviled egg sandwich, rock shrimp roll, and crispy fried chicken sandwich.
Nopa is a San Francisco institution that does everything really, really well. It's the best brunch in Western Addition and one of the best in the whole city. Its burger is perfect with pickled onions and French fries, especially when eaten at the bar. It's a one-stop-shop for a date, a birthday dinner, or dinner with your parents. Plus, the kitchen is open until 1 AM for a full dinner. Yeah, this place wins at everything.
Popsons Burgers on Townsend has attracted a lot of comparisons to the most esteemed names in the burger business and they repeatedly seem to stand firmly on their own. With a simple menu in a minimally industrial space, Popsons grills up thin, crisp patties on fluffy, but stable buns served in a white paper baggie. Options include basic, chili cheeseburgers, and blue cheese and bacon burgers with a side of naked, seasoned, or chili cheese fries. Beer, wine, and milkshakes round out the Popsons experience into one very happy meal.
This Bourdain-approved burger (and pizza) hole-in-the-wall has been keeping San Francisco fed on the cheap since 1956 (often well after midnight). If you've had a long night in Chinatown there are few better decisions than spending $8.99 on a beautifully simple old-school cheeseburger, a pile of fries, and a Coke.
After selling his burgers at a series of successful pop-ups, Wes Rowe opened this Mission diner so San Franciscans could get his sensational meat-and-bread creations every day. WesBurger sells crave-worthy all-brisket burgers and fried chicken sandwiches, plus tater tots and other delights from the American fried food canon. The atmosphere is '70s roadhouse, complete with a faux rock wall and a soul music jukebox.
A culinary talisman for over thirty years, Zuni Cafe on the ever-bustling Market Street continues to serve New American cuisine with French and Italian influences. With a menu that changes daily, the element of surprise is never lost -- all while using the freshest, most sustainable ingredients.
An offshoot of the original 4505 Meats, this burger and 'cue shack is one for the Divis books. This butcher-owned and operated spot takes meat and barbecue seriously, with loaded platters of pulled pork, smoked ribs, and hot sausage, and quarter-pound grass-fed burgers. No matter if your main is in the form of a sandwich or platter, don't overlook the fixin's -- the fried mac & cheese with a hot dog inside is an insanely delicious creation.