I'm treading into dangerous territory: trying to name the best burger in San Diego is like trying to name the best taco or pizza. It's purely subjective. And when it comes to hamburgers, you will never come to a consensus. So instead, I'm going to list some of the burger joints around town that are generally acknowledged to consistently serve tasty - and mostly affordable - hamburgers. And we're talking about locally owned establishments, so you won't see places like In-N-Out, Five Guys Burgers, and Smashburger on this list. And if you have a favorite to tout, by all means drop me a note.
Irreverent. Laid-back. And famous. That just about sums up Hodad's, where they boast "Under 99 gazillion sold." The Ocean Beach location has always been a favorite of locals for years, but it became a national destination when CNN and Food Network a few years back featured Hodad's and its monstrous burgers as some of the best in the country. Guy Fieri called the burgers "ridiculous" on his popular "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" TV show. And the rest is burger history. Hodad's recently opened up a second location downtown, hoping to bring its OB vibe with it. Will popularity and fame spoil Hodad's? Time will tell. Until then, open wide and enjoy.
If you want a great burger with a local pub atmosphere head over to Rocky’s Crown Pub. The only items on the menu are burgers and fries (choice of 1/3 lb or 1/2 lb burgers) with or without cheese (American or Swiss). All burgers are made to order and can take up to 40 minutes during busy periods. People swear by Rocky's burgers, and if you like straightforward burgers served up with cold beer, then this is your place.
The Waterfront claims to be San Diego's oldest tavern, and those who frequent the bar in Little Italy have long sworn this place serves up San Diego's best hamburger. The Waterfront Bacon and Whammy burgers are favorites, but it's the divey atmosphere that makes their burgers taste even better. Well, that and the cold beer and cocktails they serve up.
I don't know what it is, but there's something about the burgers at Johnny B's that make them taste so good. Maybe it's the fact that they are cooked right in front of you on a small flat top behind the bar. This unpretentious brew pub in La Mesa has a devoted clientele that swears by these straightforward hamburgers - no gluttonous quadruple decker concoctions offered up here. Just a comfy joint where people drop in more for a burger and maybe a brew than a brew and maybe a burger.
Station Tavern in South Park is a really cool neighborhood burger joint and tavern. The burger choices are but a handful, but they're tasty. They're also proud of their veggie burgers, if that's your thing. The building was designed by local San Diego architect Lloyd Russell, and won the San Diego Architectural Foundations Grand Orchid Award in 2010, for it’s “flawless” use of space, sustainability, and preservation of San Diego history. The site was originally a trolley easement and station for San Diego’s No.2 line from 1929 to 1948. The old trolley line cut diagonally across the parcel of land, which was incorporated into the design and theme of the restaurant.
Beef N' Bun Whistle Stop is another old-school burger drive-thru. Going here is experiencing what drive-thru burgers were before they became "fast-food" and the domain of the global chains. It's been a mainstay in the Fletcher Hills area of El Cajon, and the regulars who frequent the place swear by the burgers, but even more by the milkshakes, especially the peanut butter shake. Nothing fancy, just unpretentious burgers and shakes served up the way your parents (or grandparents) did the drive-thru.
I really like the sleek, local Burger Lounge. Burger Lounge grew out of the idea that a hamburger should not only taste great, it should also utilize healthy ingredients produced in a sustainable environment. The beef comes from one farm, grown by a small company where the animals are well treated and never spend time in a corporate "feed-lot". Their diet consists of tall green grass from beautiful Kansas prairie land. This is what nature intended cows to eat and nothing more. No hormones, no antibiotics, no grain, no corn. And that's why the burgers taste so good and maybe even a bit different than what you're used to.
Tioli's Crazee Burger in North Park is the other local bruger joint lucky enough to be featured on Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives (the other beign Hodad's). Guy Fieri thinks the burgers here are "money" and Crazee Burger serves up 30 different kinds including, get this, gator, ostrich, venison, wild boar, and kangaroo. Yup. So if you're up for an adventurous burger, this is the place to hit.
OK, most people wouldn't have Charley's Famous Burgers on their list because they probably have no idea it exists. It's one of those places you stumble upon and try and like. But the next time you go for a burger, you don't think of it until you pass it by again. Charley's is an old-school drive-thru, and they serve up nostalgia with some pretty good cheap burgers. You don't see a lot of drive-thru indie burger joints anymore with fast food chains on every block. And Charley's has been in Lemon Grove forever - so that says something, doesn't it?
Nicky Rottens is a sports bar in the Gaslmap Quarter. The burgers at Nicky Rottens are hand-pressed burgers made from Grade A cornfed Midwestern beef, and they use only fresh organic vegetables, sliced fresh each day. The sauces are made in-house every morning, to ensure that you receive the most robust, fresh taste possible. Nicky Rottens also has an Ultimate Burger Challenge for those feeling up for some "Man vs. Food" action with a 2.5 pound monster burger. Finish it in an hour and you get a special place of honor on their wall. So, there. The gauntlet has been thrown down.
Owners Bruce and Jose had dreamed of Boomerangs Gourmet Burger Joint for years and their dreams became a reality when they opened up this burger joint in Clairemont. It's a neighborhood place that serves up 100% Angus beef build-you-own burger with an overwhelming array of topping choices. You basically choose your protein (including buffalo and lamb) and then pick and choose whatever toppings you want.
This locally owned burger joint has three locations (Alpine, El Cajon and Chula Vista) and, sure, it does the typical '50s decor thing, but it also does some hefty burgers, too. Fred's has a two poud Monster Burger in case you're especially hungry, and they pride themselves on those straight up burgers and milkshakes. And customers swear by the crinkle cut fries. What else do you need?