You can say a lot of things about how haute and expensive San Francisco cuisine has become, but dammit we are still a burger-loving metropolis with a great many fine examples of the all-American hamburger. From the high-end, restaurant sort you'll find at Nopa and Spruce to the odes to gooey, greasy-spoon burgers you'll get at Pearl's and Double Decker, SF has the whole gamut of gut bombs to treat yourself with on Cheat Day.
For the sake of brevity and apples-to-apples comparisons, we're not counting veggie burgers or Impossible Burgers in this list — but there are plenty of those to be found, including at a number of the places named here.
Without further ado, here is your burger checklist for the 7 by 7.
4505 Burgers & BBQ
The "Best Damn Cheeseburger" at 4505 Burgers & BBQ is enough of a signature that 4505 Meats founder Ryan Farr added it to the business name we opened his flagship location on Divisadero in 2014. Farr uses juicy, grass-fed beef, gruyere cheese, and his own secret sauce, along with lettuce and onion (no tomato) to make this beauty, which remains a crave-worthy hit five years on. And now you can get one of these in Oakland's Laurel District, as 4505 has a new location over there with a big outdoor space.
705 Divisadero (at Grove)
Head to Hayes Valley on Wednesdays — and Wednesdays only — for the excellent burger at Biergarten, which each week gets a slightly different, always delicious topping. (The one pictured above is a simple version with aged cheddar, lettuce, onion, tomato, house pickles, and dijon-herb aioli.) You'll want to get in before the happy hour rush, if possible, as they sometimes sell out, but you won't be disappointed in this weekly treat — which sometimes gets announced on Biergarten's Instagram.
424 Octavia Street at Fell
Black Sands Brewery
They eschew the tomato on this "smashed" double-double cheeseburger, featuring American cheese, special sauce, shredded lettuce, and onion — modeled on In-N-Out's, of course. Black Sands may now be part of Fort Point, but the burger hasn't changed since SFist first canonized it a few years back. The price has gone up (it's $17 now, and was $12 back then), and it still comes with fine beer and/or cocktails from the bar.
701 Haight Street at Pierce
The newest entrant on this list, Blind Butcher in the Castro has filled a carnivorous niche in the neighborhood with its concise steakhouse menu. And the burger they're doing is one of the menu's stars, made with a half-pound of Wagyu beef, and topped with gruyere, tangy-sharp horseradish aioli, and bourbon caramelized onions. It's a messy, gooey hunk of deliciousness.
4058 18th Street near Hartford
Box Kitchen (at Tempest Bar)
A longtime favorite after-work hang in SoMa, the tried-and-true Tempest Bar, has attached to it a locally beloved food window whose burger has always been the star of the show. And this being San Francisco, this is no basic burger. It's made with Schmitz Ranch chuck and comes on a potato-pepper bun topped with white cheddar, arugula, spinach, tomato, crispy shallots rings, and a bacon shallot gastrique. Bacon or a fried egg are optional.
431 Natoma Street
This West Portal spot makes old-timey, very messy, 100% organic, grass-fed cheeseburgers that are dripping with melty American cheese. The double cheeseburger is the best-seller, but they also make a triple, and a very good veggie burger as well. And Calibur doesn't mess around with funny topping combos or variations — the burger is the burger, it always has caramelized onions, and you can have it with sauce or without. Also as a throwback, Calibur offers tallow fries — french fries fried in beef tallow, just like McDonald's used to make back in the day.
68 West Portal Avenue
To create their memorable, addictive Americana burger ($16.95), Causwells took a cue from fast food, and simply dressed up the ingredients a bit for the SF palate. You've got two juicy, dry-aged patties layered with American cheese, topped with "Causwells sauce" (in this case house-made Worcestershire mixed with house-made Thousand Island), with lacto-fermented pickles and crispy onions on a griddled bun. It's some drippy, delicious stuff. And for the vegetarian set, there's a falafel burger that's also great.
2346 Chestnut Street
This tiny dive underneath a Days Inn motor lodge in Hayes Valley is a no-frills throwback, and it delivers on flavor at a bargain price. The burgers are juicy, made with Niman Ranch beef, and the signature Double Decker ($13, pictured) comes with two kinds of cheese — one slice of Swiss and one slice of cheddar. And as humble as this place is, it's endured for over a decade, and last year they opened a second location in the Mission, on 24th.
465 Grove Street & 2956 24th Street
Served only on the lunch menu at this Embarcadero haunt with a view, Epic's bacon-cheddar "steakhouse burger" lives up to its moniker. It's made with a house blend of ground steak that tastes richer and beefier than just about any other burger on this list. And at $18 it isn't even the priciest.
369 The Embarcadero
The restaurant-style burger at the restaurant formerly known as Fog City Diner excels in its simplicity. It's topped with sharp cheddar, garlic aioli, lettuce, and onion, and it's served on a fluffy poppy-seed bun. It is perfectly delicious and juicy, and the fries are reliably great here as well.
1300 Battery Street at the Embarcadero
Another very humble, basic, American burger (which here comes in a few varieties) can be found at this St. Helena-born, Ferry Building spot, where people flock day after day to get their fix of the best fast-food-like burger this side of In-N-Out. In addition to a basic American-cheese-secret-sauce burger, you can opt for the Western Bacon Blue Ring, which comes topped with a fat onion ring, bacon, pickles, red onion, and blue cheese.
What began as an "off-menu" item at this reliably great, wine-centric Mission bistro is now a well known, clearly announced option upon arrival — though it's true that it still does not appear on the printed menu. The delicious, red-wine-friendly masterpiece is made with mildly stinky Epoisses cheese mixed into the patty (with no cheese on top). It's an incredibly juicy, uniquely flavorful burger that tastes redolently of cheese, and you will be back for more once you've tried it.
2500 Folsom Street
The bacon cheeseburger at this Castro sports bar is possibly the best in the neighborhood, and is consistently flavorful and incredibly juicy. It's served on a pillowy, toasted brioche bun, and comes with gruyere, onion jam, and aioli, unless otherwise specified. Suffice it to say it is one of the ultimate hangover meals in the 'hood.
2247 Market Street between Noe and Sanchez
Chef Jennifer Puccio's signature Marlowe Burger — now available at Marlowe's SoMa flagship, Cow Marlowe in Cow Hollow, as well as Park Tavern and The Cavalier — is an institution unto itself these days. It's made with a blend of beef and lamb for extra flavor, and while Michael Bauer isn't at the Chronicle anymore to sing its praises, it remains a go-to burger for many in this metropolis.
500 Brannan Street & 3154 Fillmore Street
It's one of those "why aren't more people doing this?" situations: The secret to Maven's delicious and uniquely spiced burger ($17) is a few dashes of Angostura bitters, which goes right into the meat. The bottle actually says it's great with meat, but those bitters are typically always trapped on the booze shelf. Anyway, it's one of the tastiest bets in town, topped with Muenster cheese and house pickles, and it's been a hit since this place opened in 2012.
598 Haight Street at Steiner
Mission Bowling Club
The burger at the Mission's only bowling alley features a granulated beef patty technique that chefs Danny Bowien and Anthony Myint developed back in their Mission Street Food days. Cooked in a shallow pool of beef tallow to form a perfect crust, the patty is then topped with smoked Monterey Jack cheese, heirloom tomato, honey gem lettuce, and miso dijonaise, all within a bun that's been toasted to perfection.
3176 17th Street at South Van Ness
Nopa's relatively highbrow, wood-grilled offering in the burger category still packs them in. For $19 expect a lean but formidable grass-fed patty grilled over wood, topped with house-pickled onions, homemade ketchup, and set beside some of the better fries in town. Lushes are advised to keep the Nopa burger in mind as a late(r) night option: The kitchen keeps cooking and the bar keeps pouring those drinks until 1 a.m. – Caleb Pershan
Pearl's Deluxe Burgers
Pearl's owner Sylvia Park (whose nickname is Sly) created the Spicy Sly burger on her menu as an ode to her two favorite cuisines, Mexican and Korean. It's mostly South of the Border in its flavors, with a spicy sauce made from habanero and ground pumpkin seeds, and it's topped with peppers, onions, and mayo. Pearl's features a bunch of other fun burger combos, too, including a Kobe burger with basil pesto, and the Bula, with bacon, Jack cheese, mayo, and spicy pineapple barbecue sauce. They're all drippingly good, and star chef-approved.
708 Post Street
After Causwells chef/partner Adam Rosenblum realized that the American burger on their restaurant menu was a major hit, they launched a separate restaurant for it which is now serving theater crowds on mid-Market, smack between the Golden Gate and Warfield theaters. The burgers are all made with antibiotic-free Five Dot Ranch beef, on custom buns from Petits Pains bakery, and they taste the way a burger should — topped with special sauce, and a lot like In-N-Out, but actually better.
998 Market Street
This booze palace at the edge of the Tenderloin is a great celebration or date spot, and while the food menu remains pretty concise and comfort-focused, the burger is a stellar achievement. Opening chef Jason Wittek went bold with the cheese on this one when The Saratoga debuted in 2016, topping it with house-made slaw, pickles, and ultra-funky Taleggio cheese. It's a generously sized double, too, for $16, and a cheese choice that pays off in creating a standout in a great burger town.
1000 Larkin Street at Post
Notably the only Michelin-starred spot on this list, Spruce has long been known for its upscale take on the humble burger — made with a proprietary blend from Bassian Farms of brisket, short rib and sirloin, and served simply on a house-made English muffin, with lettuce, tomato, and pickled onion on the side, for $21. This is where to go to enjoy a burger at the bar (it's actually only available at the bar, or at brunch) with a glass of fine Bordeaux, along with some excellent fries, and if you're feeling extra in need of a treat, you can add truffles, Taleggio, or seared foie gras.
3640 Sacramento Street
San Francisco's own answer to Shake Shack makes a greasier burger than Shake Shack, but it's nonetheless a crave-worthy one, especially in SF's many colder months. It's made with vegetarian-fed Brandt Farms beef, and the french fries here are especially good. Most people opt for the "super" which is two 4-oz. patties, but you can always get the "mini" with just a single patty if you're not craving that much beef. And you can count on consistency between Super Duper's eight city locations, three in the East Bay, two in Marin, and one at SFO's Terminal 3.
Since it opened in 2010, Wayfare Tavern has featured a Tyler Florence-created "Tavern Burger" topped with Marin County brie, smoked bacon, and red onion marmalade that remains a consistent draw. It's made with an always juicy and rich proprietary beef blend, and it's a favorite among the FiDi, expense-account lunch set (and pricier even than Spruce's at $22).
558 Sacramento Street
Wesburger 'N' More
Chef Wes Rowe's Mission burger joint does a brisk business with both in-house dining and delivery these days, and the consistently delicious burgers are the reason. Rowe uses well seasoned ground brisket, and while the All American comes with standard American cheese, lettuce, and tomato, you can get wild with the legit spicy Hot Wes, which comes topped with fried onions, queso, and jalapenos.
2240 Mission Street
Mostly when people rave about Zuni it's about the signature wood-oven-roasted chicken. But a classic on the lunch and brunch menu for decades has been the burger, which late chef-owner Judy Rodgers perfected in her own signature style. Her secret was salt-curing sliced beef chuck overnight before grinding it — a recipe she shared with Food & Wine and others — then charcoal-grilling the finished patties, or searing them on cast iron. The Zuni version is still served, as she had it, on sliced focaccia, and topped with aioli, house zucchini pickles and pickled onion. Ordering it, of course, also requires a plate of Zuni's famed crispy shoestring fries.
1658 Market Street