17 of the Best Burger Joints in San Francisco
From classic cheeseburgers to indulgent masterpieces, these are the best burgers you’ll find in SF.
Now that summer’s practically here, we can’t think of anything better than spending every spare minute outside, whether it’s on a restaurant patio, a hike, or a fabulous rooftop bar. Another summertime staple? A good burger. There’s nothing quite like biting into a burger on a warm day, ideally served alongside a cold beer and fresh-cut fries.
And while you might think that a juicy beef patty tucked between a bun is simply that, in SF, you’ll find all kinds of takes on the classic: fancy burgers, smashburgers, even burgers on focaccia and baguette (gasp!). Whichever kind you’re in the mood for, this list has you covered.
Cole Valley Tavern
Cole Valley, a quaint little village in the middle of the city, often goes ignored when it comes to dining out (save for the ever-popular Zazie brunch), but as of last month, there’s a new reason to make it a destination. Cole Valley Tavern is very much a neighborhood spot, but the fantastic cocktails, comfort food-filled menu, and friendly employees make you feel like you’re part of the ‘hood, even if you had to take an Uber to get there. Obviously, you’re ordering the burger, a smashburger that comes with American cheese, caramelized onions, shredded lettuce, and Thousand Island dressing on a sesame bun. Make it an Impossible Burger for an extra $3.
How to order: Walk-ins only
An important but often under-appreciated component of a quality burger is the humble pickle. We tend to take it for granted—until someone makes us think about it in an entirely new way. That’s exactly what the chef at Automat (formerly at Lazy Bear) does with the perfectly tart and crunchy dill-pickled onions that top the Cheezy Buddy, a double smashburger with garlicky cheddar on a pillowy milk bun. Maybe it’s just us, but we crave dill pickled anything whenever we imbibe a little too much the night before, so it’s extra amazing that Automat starts serving its burger at 9 am every day (except Monday when it’s closed).
How to order: Walk-in during the day or reserve online for dinner.
Marlowe was closed for a solid two years, but as of March, the stylish bistro has reopened its doors with a refreshed look and menu, and the return of the beloved Marlowe burger. What makes it so popular? Well, there’s a little bit of lamb in the patty, which adds a bolder flavor, plus cheddar, bacon, shredded lettuce, and caramelized onions, but it’s the horseradish aioli that really sets it apart from competitors. Ask for extra, so your fries don’t feel left out.
How to order: Make a reservation on Tock.
Red's Java House
This classic SF establishment has been serving super affordable burgers with a side of sunshine and Bay Bridge views since 1955. The menu at Red’s is limited—it’s pretty much just burgers and hot dogs—but we’re not complaining because we would never order anything else. The burgers come on a sourdough roll with mustard, mayonnaise, pickles, and onions, and you can get a double for under $11.
How to order: Walk-ins only.
You might be hesitant to trust a burger at a bar that also serves really good tacos and burritos, but the Drive-In cheeseburger at Garaje will make you a believer. The burger is one-third pound of certified Angus, double American cheese, griddled onions, pickles, lettuce, tomato, Thousand Island, and ketchup, all on a toasted Acme bun. You can even make it a double if you’re extra hungry.
How to order: Walk-ins only.
The house-ground, grass-fed hamburger on grilled rosemary focaccia with aioli and pickles is not as well-known as Zuni’s famous roast chicken for two, but is just as delicious. The aioli and pickles perfectly complement the salty, fatty meat, and even though focaccia sounds like an inferior choice for a hamburger bun, it’s light and airy in a way that miraculously works. It’s not cheap—$20 for the burger, another $3 for cheese, and, if you want shoestring fries, another $9 on top of that. That’s over $30 for a cheeseburger and fries, but as a special occasion burger, it’s well worth it. You’ll just have to make sure you’re celebrating that special occasion at lunch because the burger isn’t on the dinner menu.
Mission Bowling Club
Even if you’re not in the mood to go bowling (is that a thing?), it’s still worth going to this upscale bowling alley and cocktail bar for its burger made with aged, granulated short rib and chuck seared in beef fat then topped with Monterey jack, caramelized onions, and caper aioli on an Acme bun. Order one for yourself because just like in bowling, you won’t want to split it.
4505 Burgers & BBQ
If you’re gonna call a burger “The Best Damn Grass-Fed Cheeseburger,” it’d better actually be the best damn grass-fed cheeseburger, which 4505’s truly is (or at least one of the best) thanks in large part to the perfectly grilled grass-fed patty, effortlessly meltable Gruyère, secret sauce, and a buttery, grilled sesame and scallion bun. We don’t want to tell you what to do, but you can make it a double for four more bucks, and it would be a shame to pass up on an opportunity like that, don’t you think? Know before you go: Parking isn’t exactly easy in this neighborhood, and 4505 is counter service with heated outside seating only.
Even if you’re one of those San Franciscans who look down their noses at the Marina, a trip to Causwells for the Americana burger is well-worth putting those feelings aside for a couple of hours. The smash-style burger tastes like a sophisticated take on In-N-Out’s Double Double, but with way better ingredients and way more deliciousness. The double patties are mixed with dry-aged fat and covered in American cheese and then topped with lettuce, onion, lacto-fermented pickles, and a secret sauce (a combination of house-made Worcestershire, house-made Thousand Island dressing, and other proprietary stuff), all on a seeded bun. You can add accouterments like avocado, bacon, and a fried egg, but you really don’t need any of it; this burger is perfect just the way it is.
Gott's Roadside in the Ferry Building does a juicy double cheeseburger exactly the way a juicy double cheeseburger should be done—nothing too flashy, just one-third pound Niman Ranch Angus beef patties cooked medium well with American cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and secret sauce, all on a toasted egg bun. (Or in a lettuce wrap or a gluten-free bun if you prefer.) Gott’s also has a bunch of other tasty burgers with extravagant toppings, like the California burger that comes with a fried egg, Cowgirl Creamery’s Wagon Wheel cheese, Zoe’s bacon, arugula, balsamic onions, and mayo, and the Kimchi burger with a fried egg, kimchi, American cheese, Zoe's bacon, and spicy gochujang mayo, but the classic double is the one we go back to time and time again. (Not eating meat? Gott’s also has a veggie burger and Impossible Burger patties.) Gott’s is counter service and has tables inside and out.
The burger at this Cow Hollow institution is a little “controversial” for some because it comes on a baguette, but it's precisely that ingenious move that makes this one of the best in SF. It comes with butter lettuce, butter pickles, and onions, and we suggest adding cheddar to complete your masterpiece. Enjoy it indoors or in one of the three heated parklets, and since you’re there, why not add on one of SF’s best espresso martinis to fully embrace the Marina-adjacent life?
When you have a hankering for a late-night burger, there’s nowhere better to appease it than this go-to SF staple that serves 29,000 of them a year. We’re still easing back into the old definition of “late night,” so the popular spot is currently open until 10 pm Tuesday through Thursday and 11 pm Friday and Saturday. Still, that’s plenty of time to have a few drinks and then enjoy the burger made with Five Dot Ranch chuck that’s ground daily and then grilled over a wood fire and served with melted cheddar, lettuce, and pickled red onions on a house-made brioche bun.
Anthony Bourdain called the double cheeseburger at Sam’s one of the three best burgers in the world. To be fair, he’d been vigorously imbibing beforehand, but if you’re at Sam’s, there’s a good chance you’ve been doing the same. There’s nothing gourmet about this affordable (for SF) burger; the magic is that it’s “just” a classic burger topped with American cheese, mayonnaise, mustard, lettuce, tomato, and onions on a sesame bun. It consistently hits the spot no matter the time of day, but it becomes life-changing after midnight—which is good since it’s one of your only dining options at that time.
WesBurger 'n' More
Once upon a time, a photographer named Wes Rowe decided that he would stop making his popular burgers just for friends and start offering them to all of San Francisco at a monthly pop-up. He won first place at the SF Burger Brawl not long after, which led to a weekly pop-up. Fast forward to now, and he has his own counter service spot in the Mission where people can feast on his burgers seven days a week. All of the burgers (“’n’ more”) at WesBurger are worthy of debate, but the champion is the original smash burger with mustard, pickles, ketchup, onion, and American cheese. The smash burger patties are only three ounces, so needless to say, you’ll want to make it a double.
It used to be thought that $22 was an outrageous price for a burger, but then along came the Spruce Burger, made with a blend of brisket, sirloin, and short rib that’s ground in-house every day, and topped with pickled red onion, pickled zucchini, tomato, and a caper remoulade, and suddenly $22 felt completely reasonable. The thing that really sets this burger apart from all of the others is the bun: a buttered English muffin made in-house that provides just the right bread to burger ratio. Oh, and the fries (which come with the burger, as they should for $22) are fried in duck fat and oh so very damn good. FYI: This burger is only on the bar menu at dinner, but you can still order it even if you’re having your meal in the swanky dining room.
There’s nothing better than grabbing a seat at the bar of this cozy spot and ordering an Old Fashioned and the Tavern Burger, a decadent combination of Flannery beef, Hobbs thick-cut bacon, American cheese, chipotle aioli, lettuce, onions, and pickles, served with shoestring fries. There is also an Impossible burger, which is very similar except for no beef or bacon.
Super Duper Burgers
People in California love to sing the praises of In-N-Out, but if we’re opting for a fast food burger, we actually prefer Super Duper’s slightly fancier version made with organic, locally sourced, humanely raised ingredients, including vegetarian-fed beef with an 80 to 20 protein to fat blend. It’s just a lot better, specifically, the Super Burger made with two very juicy four-ounce patties and topped with lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, and a secret sauce. Add cheddar cheese because a burger is always better when it’s a cheeseburger. And if you’re dining in, add a spiked milkshake to your order because … well, does it really require a reason?