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Best Burgers in the Bay?

I was just in a debate with a friend - the topic: hamburgers. Not the $25 foie gras stuffed kind, the real burger. The one that drips down your hands because the chef/griddle cook isn't afraid to serve it medium rare.

The debate was between Vals in Hayward/Castro Valley and Phyllis' in San Rafael.

What are other great burger places in the Bay Area - recommendations? We're going to do a tour to resolve our dispute.

Also - opinions anyone? What is the importance of the bun in burger satisfaction? One of us said it was all about the meat and the condiments; the other one of believes that the most important part of the burger (after the perfectly cooked meat) is the bun.


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  1. IMHO, VAL's all the way.....very consistent, flashback to the 50's, always crowded after all these years, right on the border btwn hayward/cv easy access from I-580, if only they took reservations, and credit cards, oh, and they need to be open 7 days a week, currently closed on mondays. parking always sucks too.

    4 Replies
    1. re: someyoungguyy

      The only subjects as contentious are hot dogs, BBQ and bread. Here are a few relatively recent posts and Search can find you many more.

      1. re: wolfe

        You forgot burritos...then the Mission burrito debate starts.

      2. re: someyoungguyy

        Are you saying they are now open Sundays?

      3. At the bottom of Redwood Road in Oakland (below Merrit College) is a shopping center and I think the place is called Sparky's. Not huge but a tasty burger, nice charbroiled taste with nice red onion, lettuce, and tomato. Great burger and excellent double blanched from scratch crispy french fries.

        2 Replies
        1. re: rcspott

          Ooooh, good tip. What style are the fries: skinny, medium or thick?

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            medium, depending on who is cooking they may be slightly underdone, if you see fries coming out a little pale and want more color, just ask.

        2. Slow Club in SF makes a delicious burger with carmelized onions - all quality ingredients.

          1. OK, since you got specific ...

            Phyllis' is a place I want to like but just don't. Some previous Phyllis' discussions link in these place records

            What is it you like about Phyllis'? Have you tried the burger at all locations? How do they compare?

            I haven't tried Val's yet but there was a good post recently that was linked in this place record.

            My own personal classic burger favorite is Bullshead in SF ... juicy classic burger. I don't remember the condiments but it is all about the meat here.

            If you are into condiments there's Kirk's in Palo Alto and Clark's in Sunnyvale which have big condiment bars. Both burgers are char-grilled, a major plus in my book.

            My last visit to Kirk's didn't live up to my memories of it. However, IMO, it is better than Phyllis's

            So in the South Bay, Clark's remains my gold standard for the classic char-grilled burger with condiments

            I recently had a nice basic burger at Bear Naked Burger. Not a place I'd go out of my way for but above average in the Bay Area. Warning ... it comes on a ciabatta bun ... but it just works. They also cook it nicely to order. It comes with a small green salad ... ask for the dressing on the side.

            Someone whose food opinion I respect really like's Al's Big Burger in El Cerrito a lot.

            Part of the reason was someone he called 'burger guy' who in his opinion was a master at grilling the burger. Burger guy opened his own place in Richmond called Pup Hut (well, Pup Hut was there a while, but he bought it)

            I can't say if it is frou-frou or not, but I am intrigued by the burgers on the menu at the newly opened Stark's Steakhouse in Santa Rosa. Your condiment loving friend might like this. Some of the 20 extra condiments are frou-frou, but the burger sounds classic, so you could ignore those.

            I posted your question about the condiment/bun issue on the General Board where you might get a broader discussion and hopefully a resolution to the question.

            Anyway, the burger tour sounds like fun. Hope you report back on your results.

            1. Best burger I've had recently was at Cafe Rouge in Berkeley. If you order medium rare, that's what you get. Juicy. Really beefy taste, maybe they used some trimmings from dry-aged. Great bun (better than they used to have). Beef, bun, salt, perfect.

              I used to love Oola's burger but on my last visit it was just OK.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Oh yes, agreed. My two favorite bugers are Cafe Rouge and Slow Club.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  I went back to Oola again last week and the burger was as good as ever. I think they just overcooked the meat the previous time.

                2. I really like the quality of meat and the grind on Café Rouge's burger, but for a I-can't-believe-I-drank-that-much-last-night morning, it's Big Al's in Albany all the way. Been going there since high school (we'd actually often ditch to go there). Small, unassuming old school burger place. Thick milkshakes (they even have peanut butter milkshakes which I haven't seen anywhere else in the immediate area), juicy burger with nicely toasted bun, and as someone else noted in another post, the fries are commercial, but they go from frozen to fried right in front of you. Seems to close relatively early (8-ish?).

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: adrienne156

                    Hours for Big Al's from Place record link in my previous post ...
                    Closed Sunday Mon-Sat 9:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m.

                    As far as burger joints, Al's is pretty good though not my favorite ... though they do a fine job, as you mentioned with frozen to fried items. They actually have some decent fried clam strips. There are other interesting milkshake flavors in addition to the peanut butter.

                    1. re: rworange

                      I read in your post above that Bullshead is your favorite. I guess I should mention that I usually go for frou-frou burgers like Gregoire's blue cheese patty and the like, but tend to stay local (Berkeley/Albany/El Cerrito/Emeryville/Pinole) for every day things like burgers and Big Al's is local for me. But still, especially in that price range, I can't think of a better burger in the area.

                      1. re: rworange

                        Also, what's your take on the burgers at Red Onion in Pinole? I had one for the first time the other day and remember a lot of lettuce, but good fries.

                        1. re: adrienne156

                          I'd put Red Onion as slightly better than Nation's, but about that class. Same as the Great American Burger Company in Point Richmond.

                          Big Al's and Pup Hut are a class above.

                          Yeah, I like the Gregoire burger a whole lot too. Just didn't mention it because it is only on the menu infrequently and straddles the border on frou-frou.

                          1. re: rworange

                            Interesting. I tend to agree, but a lot of people really love Red Onion. Wasn't sure if it was just me.

                            As for the the Gregoire burger... Any burger that has chopped nuts on it would probably be frou-frou to me. I just tend to go for them more if I'm going to some place that isn't a burger joint.

                          2. re: adrienne156

                            Ever been to the Red Onion in EC?

                            1. re: kc72

                              I was brought one once by a friend who swears by them and as I remember, it was bigger than the one at the Pinole location. Different owners, right? It was definitely juicy, but it didn't really stand out to me. Are you one of their faithful followers?

                              1. re: adrienne156

                                Not a faithful follower, have driven by it many times over the years, but haven't tried.

                                Pretty sure the 2 have different owners. The EC owner was killed last yr some time, IIRC.

                                1. re: kc72

                                  Yes, they all have different owners. I haven't tried the EC one since it closed a year or so back and then re-opened with a new owner. They seem to have a little more business these days.

                      2. The place is called The Counter. You get to choose all your toppings yourself and you can have your beef cooked any way you want. They also have turkey and veggie burgers. It's a burger place that's even got a full bar!

                        The Counter
                        369 California Avenue, Palo Alto, CA

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: prestaurant

                          That's a branch of a fast-growing national chain based in Los Angeles.


                        2. I’m preferential to the Nugget at the Grubstake on Pine & Polk. Fried egg on top of a burger; don’t know why it’s so good but it is.

                          1. you gotta go to taylor's refresher in the ferry building!! plus try the garlic fries (skinny fries) - they add a little cilantro which is just perfect combo with the garlic.


                            it is gourmet fast food restaurant but they make everything fresh fresh. i love the fact that alot of the buns are egg buns.

                            sweet potato fries are good too. love the blue cheese burger, my fiance loves the western bacon burger. can't go wrong with the plain or cheese burgers too. plus they serve wine and beer.

                            i personally didn't like the counter at all - it's several steps up from mcdonald's for sure but seemed a bit too cookie cutter/chain like - albeit a more upscale chain

                            ETA : kirk's steakburger in the south bay is also one that comes up as a place to go but i thought it was just OK. they have great steak fries though and if you want alot of meat, it will definitely fit that bill

                            and lets not forget good ole in-n-out burger - basic but GOOD! i'd rather have an in-and-out burger any day over the counter or kirk's

                            1. Val's, to be sure, but I shold point out they aren't really IN the Bay. Wouldn't they be rather water-logged were that true?



                              1. The absolute best burger I have ever had in my life was about three weeks ago at Maritime East. A cheeseburger with Neuske’s bacon and avocado and shoestring onion rings, loaded onto the ideal bun–soft but substantial enough to withstand the burger and all its juices without disintegrating, perfectly toasted, and just the right flavor to complement the burger. Which, did I mention, was cooked perfectly medium rare. The burger also came with fries (onion rings AND fries, oh heaven).

                                I'm still thinking about it.

                                Seriously. Single best burger ever.

                                Maritime East
                                2826 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, CA

                                1. What about Zuni? I've never had the burger there, but I've heard by many that its indeed the BEST.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: chemchef

                                    Zuni's burger is great, to my taste maybe second only to Cafe Rouge's.

                                    My only problem with both places is that when I go there planning to order a burger, I usually get tempted by other things on the menu and end up spending 5-10 times as much on a blowout meal.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      I know! That's why I hesitate to go to those places! Its like, "how can I go there and just order a burger (even though I know it will be great)?"

                                      1. re: chemchef

                                        We did that just a week ago. Went to Zuni 10ish craving burgers, ended up going for the chicken, and since that takes an hour we drank our first bottle of wine and had to order a second.

                                        Not that I'm complaining.