5 Must-Try Burgers in San Francisco 2012

by Abel Lin

The argument of “best burger” is relative. There isn’t really the best way to make a burger, there are just bad ways to go about it. And there will always be the local denizen joints that we’ve all come to love; Ganim’s, Sam’s, or Roam Artisan Burgers come to mind. I’m sure I’m forgetting all the other neighborhood bombs in San Francisco.

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In my search for the burger, I’ve actually come to learn more about myself. And I hope the list that I humbly present to you may find culinary revelations in each of these masterpieces.*

Honorable Mention: Truffle Burger at Umami Burger. Marina. 

Despite the fact that it’s a chain not from San Francisco, I am personally a fan. It’s technically located in our city so I’m allowed to blog about it. Actually, screw you, I can write whatever I want.

The place secretes the vision of serving you an awesome burger. Despite the raves for their flagship Umami Burger, I believe their best candidate has been the Truffle Burger all along. A 6-ounce patty that’s always done medium rare topped with a mild truffle-infused cheese and glaze, and nothing else allows their master “secret” Umami sauce shine through. The simple trappings of the Truffle allow the beef to come through. As LA Burger describes it:

There’s no lettuce, tomato or anything else to get in the way of experiencing the fifth taste sensation of umami found in truffles – their rich, earthy, full-bodied deliciousness.

I think the house-made ice cream sandwich was the final nail in the coffin. Crowd pleasers, believe.

5. Burger at Fish & Farm. Civic Center/Tenderloin. 

To be honest, this burger would’ve been so much higher on the list if not for the fact a) the spokeswoman for this establishment abhors this burger (she said it brought in and I quote, “a lower class of patrons”), and b) the service has been its greatest flaw.

Strangely, its pedigree is not “gourmet” if you really break it down. It’s probably one of the “wettest” burgers on this list. 7×7 notes:

The Niman beef is not ground in-house and the grilled Acme brioche bun becomes one with an umami-tastic “secret sauce”— spiked with fresh green peppercorns and heady with horseradish—dripping down the sides. The lily is gilded with grilled onions, housemade pickles, melted Cabot cheddar and a steak knife thrust, rather thrillingly, into the center.

Conclusion: come for the “Farm” and not so much for the “Fish” and you’ll be in great hands. I tearfully await the day they remove this beauty from the menu. In the meantime, bring extra napkins. The Seven Years of Plenty just showed up early.

4. Classic Burger at the Street. Nob Hill.

Medium rare with fire roast onions, gruyere cheese with kennebec fries. Do this, and you can’t go wrong. Street has built itself an impressive following of hip patrons, bringing out the louder version of Nob Hill. It’s a local favorite, and considering the kitchen set up this is an even more impressive feat than captured on film.

The gruyere cheese wasn’t overwhelming the burger despite its thickness seeping into the patty, and the onions played a pivoting supporting actor in bring everything together. Truth be told, this burger is my litmus test for all burgers I’ve eaten..and will eat. It’s a good cut above the diner-esque burger, but not super fancy where we get caught up in its sourced, organic DNA.

Definitely a great scene grab of Nob Hill and the transitional state of Polk Street. My unique, ace burger.

3. “Le Grande” Burger at Wayfare Tavern. FiDi. 

Out of all the burgers on this list, it has a lot going on between those buns. A generous disc of roasted onion, the six ounces grass-fed beef that uses a proprietary grind for the basis of its unique flavor, smoky thick-cut bacon, subdued by the rich and mellow tones of the Mt. Tam Brie…oh wait, there’s also a Petaluma egg on top it all.

Amazingly, it never overwhelms the beef, but everything overwhelms your senses. Its girth, the bacon strips lazily sticking out from the sides, and the generous cone of fries sprinkled with parsley flakes in a metal cup with the bed of vegetables fight for your attention as you pass in and out of the different layers of Le Grande.

At a cool $19 (plus $2 more for the egg), it’s the most expensive burger on this list. Disregard this note, and spare no expense.

To boot, this place is a first-class gastropub with delightful cocktails, the detail and final details of this burger craft displays its pedigree. Exceptional.

2. Hamburger at 4505 Meats. 1 Ferry Building. 

Ryan Farr, you beautiful bastard. He uses custom ground grassfed aged beef, cooked perfectly, bastes the homemade Parmesan-scallion sesame seed bun in butter, and in the summer finishes it with a slice of heirloom tomato, Gruyere cheese with secret sauce. I got the egg because who wouldn’t? It’s small, but fits my belly perfectly. They even shot porn with it.

If they had a sit-down version of this, it’d be fighting with the #1 spot right now. However, the experience of taking in the Bay and the bustle of the Farmer’s Market is a human story of its own.

Pound-for-pound, one of the best burgers I’ve had.

1.  Burger and Kennebec potato fries at the bar at Spruce. Laurel Heights.

Frankly, if I played for the NFL, I’d eat at Spruce every week. It’s baller, but the bar burger is an anomaly that equates to possibly heaven manna. Serious Eats breaks it down:

The Spruce burger’s bun is a buttered English muffin that is made in-house. Since it’s on the thin side, the overall effect is not overly bready. The meat is from Niman Ranch and is ground on site. The burger is served plain or with cheese and is accompanied by a complex herbed aioli with capers, house-made zucchini pickles, tomatoes, and lettuce. You also get delicious fries that are fried in duck fat.

Whiskey tango foxtrot ponies. And the venue, service, everything falls into place for you when you eat here. It’s the pinnacle of the modern experience of eating high-class burgers.

Check out this list, try ‘em out, and we’ll keep talking.


*I’ve tried 29 places in alphabetical order: 4505 Meats, Bill’s Place, Bistro Burger, Bistro Gambrinus, Bistro SF, Bix, Buckshot, Custom Burger, Dark Horse Inn, Fish & Farm, Hall of Flame Burgers, In-N-Out, It’s Tops Coffee, Ganim’s Place, Gott’s Roadside, Magnolia Cafe, Mission Beach Cafe, Mo’s Grill, Nopa, Pearl’s Deluxe, Roam Artisan, Sam’s, Serpentine, Spork, Spruce, Street, Super Duper, Umami Burger, and Wayfare Tavern.