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The SF Burger Topic


Kathy Kobata
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My husband and I got a kick to find the best burger - right now we're concentrating on San Francisco since that's usually the city we eat out most in. So far we have tried:

Zuni, Mo's, Clown Alley, Joe's Cable Car, Bill's Place, Ritz Carlton (they were not exactly on the recommended list, they just happened to be the only ones serving burgers at the time and around where we were). Any other recommendations?

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  • 2 months later...

I'm awfully fond of Original Joe's in the Tenderloin, where you will be greeted by the 80-plus year old owner. Lunch is best; they leave the meat out on the counter all day and it can get a little livery by dinner. Sit at the counter. They have an awesome ancient Lazzari-burning charcoal grill. When you order a burger, the cook will grab a big handful of meat out of the hotel pan-ful in front of him, grab another handful of chopped onions, and work the two handfuls together with his dogleg spatula. Warning: he will put it on the griddle instead of in the char-broiler if you don't ask. It comes on a big chunk of toasted, buttered French bread. It kicks ass.

Again, sit at the counter. They have a great old-fashioned line running the length of the restaurant. All the waiters wear these polyester tuxedos; most are ancient European men. If you go on Friday, you will see a magnificent and hilarious sight: an enormously tall and fat line cook making the special of the day, fried calamari. I'll post a detailed description of said cook if anyone wants me too. Enjoy.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Try the 21st Amendment (south of Market on -- I think -- 2nd) for good burgers and great beers too. Tower Burger, in the next strip center down from Tower Market on Portola, has no atmosphere, but serves Niman Ranch burgers for very reasonable prices. And I've always like Bullshead in West Portal, even though they have terrible fries.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Tonight I went to The Bell Tower (Pacific and Polk), which someone had mentioned had a good burger. I've eaten there a number of times -- I used to live a few blocks away. It's a strange place. The building is faux-Spanish? It's actually got a little bell tower facade. It's a good casual bar, and I used to stop in for dinner or a beer every so often. The food selection is odd. There's a bar menu with burgers, pulled pork sandwich, fish and chips, wings, etc. There's also an "upscale" menu, with fish on a bed of wilted . . . . loin of something with a . . . reduction. Etc. I give them kudos for trying to be more than bar food, but the problem is that they end up not doing anything particularly well. I think the upscale menu ends up providing better food, but I wish they would focus on one and get it right.

The burger was a disappointment:

I ordered it medium rare, with swiss cheese. The patty is, as you see, not big and dwarfed by the bun, which is not good. It was dry and had the consistency of hard foam. My first bite reminded me of those toaster pizza things -- Hot Pockets or something like that. The meat is kind of mushy, and it appeared to have been steamed more than grilled or broiled. It had a greyish color, not a good black char. Turn up the heat, folks. It was, of course, medium well. The cheese did not melt. The fries were a little mushy, but I don't mind that at all.

The pulled pork sandwich actually tasted much better:

It would have been great if there was more meat to battle with the dry, flavorless bun.

Pabst Blue Ribbon -- $2.50.

Edited by Jason Perlow (log)
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  • 3 months later...

Three months later . . . .

I found myself in the Haight this afternoon. I hate the Haight. But it does have the Pork Store Cafe.

The Pork Store Cafe used to be a butcher shop. Now, it's one of my favorite places in the Bay Area. It's actually got character. Usually I go for the breakfasts: The Pork Store Special: two pork chops, two egs, home fries. Or the chorizo scramble: diced chorizo, fried with onion and peppers, topped with two fried eggs. And they do a great sausage gravy for being in California.

Today I had the Pork Store Burger. 1/2 pound burger, thin, but wide. Fried onion, swiss cheese, LTO. I passed on the mushrooms. It was great. Really. The meat was medium (of course, is it possible to get a medium rare burger for under $20?), but the fried onions were amazing. They caught them in that perfect moment between sweated sweet and bitter burnt. The flavor was terrific. And the swiss cheese was a generous portion of tasty cheese, melted through. Home fries on the side are actually loose hash brown (i.e., shredded potato, not diced). Again, very well done. A good balance of crisp and soft potato, with none too raw and none too done. Coulda used more onion.

Kudos Pork People.

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What about Bill's on Clement Street? Is it still there? I spent my teenage years in the Bay Area, including living in the City for at least 5, and that was where we went. Had a family trip SF about 2 years ago and had great burgers at Bill's with hubby and the kids -- freshly ground beef, thick shakes. A cardiologists nightmare but delicious and classic.

So long and thanks for all the fish.
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Stone, I am saddened, deeply, by your critique of the Bell Tower burger. I would be the person that recommended same, and they generally do great service to their burgers. I know that they have had some changes in the kitchen of late,but their primary staff have been there for years. That the burger was small was even more disheartening, as it used to be 1/2 lb or more depending on the prep person. I feel personally responsible for your burger being less than you had hoped, and will have to now recommend you go to Burger Shack for beer and burger. Cheap, good, and a great view.

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I feel personally responsible for your burger being less than you had hoped, . . .

Don't take it too hard, I've been to the Bell Tower often. (I used to live a few blocks away.) I find that BT is a typical SF restaurant that is stuck between good cheap eats, and sub-par trendy food. A prime example of this is Rex's, down the road.

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  • 3 weeks later...

some possible burger contenders, not in any particular order

1. Zuni Cafe

2. Moe's (Grant Ave)

3. Fog City Diner

4. Red's Java House (gotta give it a nod and wink)

5. Joe Grinds his Own Chuck Daily....

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  • 3 weeks later...

I am pretty fond of the burger at Kelly's on 16th between Valencia and Guerrero. Honest burger, way above average, good flavor and moistness, decent price. Only open a year or less. The Bell Tower is just a strange place, I wouldn't order food there, vague recollection of being burned in the past.

The burger at Zeitgiest on Valencia near 14th is really good and huge--I couldn't finish it. It didn't look great so I didn't order it at first, but it was a nice surprise --a real burger -- cooked on the outdoor charcol grill. and you can sample the awesome beer menu (I like the Racer 5). The ribs are good too, after 5 only.

Joe's is OK, so's Moe's.

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  • 1 month later...

Getting off work at 10:30 in SF leaves few options for food. So last night, as I cruised up 16th street at 11 p.m., seeing all the restaurants closing their doors, I settled on the aforementioned Kellys.

The good and the bad:

Good: A very well accesorised burger.

Being in a rather self-indulgent phase (I deserve it), I ordered a bacon swiss burger with fried onion and onion rings. Mmmm, greasy.

Kelly's does a good job with the toppings. A generous portion of flavorful swiss cheese, melted over a healthy layer of bacon (crisp, but not dry or burnt). The fried onions were a hit. Freshly sauteed, they still developed a bit of sweetness and still had snap. (A little more cooking would have helped.)

The bun was fresh and firm, lightly toasted. The whole shebang was served with a little cup of mayo, tomato, ice berg lettuce, and real sliced pickles (not those sweet flourescent green things).

The rings were frozen, but still good. These had more of a cornmeal-type crust than a thick batter, which I don't enjoy as much. But they were still good rings.

The bad: Well, the burger. It was thin. They asked how I wanted it -- medium rare -- but it was still well-done. Not even close. It wasn't too dry, and had some good flavor. But still, too thin to rank in the "special" burger category.

And the place is too new and pretty. Lot's of colors.

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Zuni burger is definitely a classic. I also love burgers at Home in the Castro. Nieman Ranch beef, juicy tomatoes, a bun that doesn't crumble in your hands, and great shoe-string fries.

Edited by pim (log)

chez pim

not an arbiter of taste

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  • 2 months later...

Having only lived in the area a few months, I'm surprised no one has mentioned Barney's. Right after the move, I was advised to try a Barney's and I was rather impressed with the choice of toppings as well as the amazing Turkish Coffee Shake. Can't attest, necessarily, to the quality of the meat. It was juicy and thick but I can't tell you if it Niman or anything special.

I like 'em...

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Having only lived in the area a few months, I'm surprised no one has mentioned Barney's. Right after the move, I was advised to try a Barney's and I was rather impressed with the choice of toppings as well as the amazing Turkish Coffee Shake. Can't attest, necessarily, to the quality of the meat. It was juicy and thick but I can't tell you if it Niman or anything special.

I think no-one has mentioned Barneys because Barneys burgers aren't very good :blink::shock::blink:

The best burger I've had at barneys was drowned in bbq sauce. They do make good shakes though - and their curly frys are pretty good also. Your better off going up the road a few blocks and getting some beef from ver brugga and making your burgers at home.

In summary: coffee milkshake - yes, burgers - no.

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I like Burgermeister. I've only been to the branch in the Castro, but the original branch is in Cole Valley. They pretty much do just burgers, and are quite good at it:

Burgermeister

138 Church St

San Francisco, CA 94114

Phone: (415) 437-2874

I thought Kelly's, which is mentioned above, was also pretty good, though I like Burgermeister better. Another small SF chain to try is Burger Joint. They use Niman Ranch for their beef, but I think it's a notch below Kelly's. Moe's in North Beach is a classic, but I have not been back there in years.

I think no-one has mentioned Barneys because Barneys burgers aren't very good

I don't think Barney's is all that bad, as long as you stick to the basic choices. I think I had just a plain cheeseburger with a side of curly fries, and it was decent.

Zuni's burger, which is widely mentioned in any talk of SF burgers, is a nice dish, but it's not really a traditional burger because of the focaccia bun and the shoestring fries. So I would not really put it up with the other burgers mentioned in this thread.

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Haven't had a burger for years, except for pure expediency, but I think the best burgers I ever had were at the long gone Mike's Pool Hall: a long ovoid rectangular slab served on a real sourdough French roll, which was griddle-toasted and slathered with butter. Grilled onions on top, and peperoncini of the side. The US Restaruant, in its original incarnation, attempted something similar, but never got it right.

Only fellow sexagenarians will know what I'm talking about.

Edited by Gary Soup (log)
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I like Burgermeister's burgers, and they have good fries too. Don't bother with the coleslaw, though -- pretty boring.

I, too, haven't been to Bullshead in quite a while, but they were good a few years ago at least. Not great fries.

Tower Burger, in the strip center on Portola just down from Tower Market, has zero atmosphere, but very good and relatively inexpensive burgers (a couple of dollars cheaper than either Bullshead or Burgermeister). Nieman Ranch beef, good selection of toppings, pretty good fries.

I had a great burger at the 21st Amendment, with the added attraction of the server trying to talk a customer out of ordering her burger well done.

I'd heard great things about Big Mouth on 24th at about Valencia, so I gave them a try a few months ago. Good condiments, great cheese, but they won't cook burgers less than medium. Too bad, because at medium rare, it would have been great. At medium, it was only okay.

I've had a couple of mediocre burgers at Barney's, so I can't see what the raves are about.

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For burgers on baguette with really good thin french fries, I like"

Cafe for All Seasons on West Portal

Original Joe's in downtown SF

Joe's of Westlake in Daly City

For really good burgers (I like them medium rare) on soft buns, I like the following:

Lakeside Cafe in the Lakeside Village strip of Ocean Ave. in SF -- lots of variations -- good thick fries

Tower Burger on Portola in SF -- Niman Ranch beef, good onion rings, decent fries

JoAnn's on El Camino in SSF

Joe's Cable Car on Mission in SF -- lousy side dishes, though

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