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The Ultimate Guide to Bay Area Burger Chains

From local upstarts to new national players, a tour of the burger landscape.

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Visitors to San Francisco seeking a fast-food or fast-casual burger will find themselves with no end of options, as so many burger mini-chains have risen up of late that it can sometimes be hard to keep them straight. In order to help you tell your Farm Burger from your TrueBurger from your Umami Burger, here's our comprehensive guide to the 18 (and counting!) regional burger chains of the Bay Area. Some are big (In-N-Out), some are small but mighty (Pearl's), and some might end up becoming national names at their current rate of growth (Super Duper). Here's the skinny on what you can expect at each one.

Editor's note: We left out the big chains (McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Five Guys, The Counter), because you probably know about them already.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Barney's Gourmet Hamburgers

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Dating back to the late '70s, this Oakland-bred chain of burger joints was a pioneer in the fancy-burger movement, long before it became big business. Today, they have two SF and four East Bay locations, as well as a few L.A. outposts, all serving beef, chicken, turkey, salmon, and veggie burgers with a boggling array of topping combinations, like a blackened Cajun-style burger or teriyaki-glazed burger.

Big Mouth Burgers

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Founded in 1997, this trio of burger joints (in SF, San Mateo, and Millbrae) tend to fly under the radar these days, though their humanely-raised meat ethos and fresh-cut fries certainly put them in line with the other local chains. Like Barney's, their selection is wide and tends to encompass a '90s gourmet ethos, with salmon burgers, blue cheese burgers with pesto aioli, and even a falafel burger with tahini sauce. Bonus: Their shakes use locally-made Mitchell's ice cream.

Bistro Burger

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Downtown office workers have been relying on this four-location gourmet burger joint, which uses Niman Ranch beef, since 1993. Its menu definitely has the '90s vibe going on, with a pesto burger, Cuban burger, brie burger, and turkey, veggie, chicken, salmon, meatball, and mahi-mahi options.

Burger Bar

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Founded by SF's own Hubert Keller (of the late Fleur de Lys), Burger Bar now has three locations, in Macy's Union Square, Vegas, and Beijing. The mini-chain focuses on the upscale, with elaborate burgers topped with everything from foie gras to red wine shallot reduction, at prices that regularly break $20. There are also boozy shakes and floats: this is the only burger spot on this list with full liquor.

Burger Joint

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Though only one location of this homegrown mini-chain remains in SF, they're the primary burger purveyor at the San Francisco airport, so many visitors end up encountering them. BJ prides itself on a retro diner vibe and a petite menu, with Niman Ranch beef, chicken, veggie, and turkey options. Steak-fry enthusiasts tend to gravitate to BJ, which bucks the overall local preference for thin-cut fries.

Burgermeister

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Founded in 1999, this massive network of burger joints has become a Bay Area fixture, serving up all the upscale-classic toppings (bacon, avocado, sauteed mushrooms), as well as turkey and housemade vegan burgers. Wings, salads, and ribs (!?) round things out. And not only do they have garlic fries, they have garlic curly fries. And chili cheese curly fries.

Farm Burger

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Based in Atlanta, this 100% grass-fed mini chain made its entry into the West Coast market in Berkeley last year. It prides itself on locavore offerings with absurd levels of customization, with everything from pimento cheese to arugula as topping options. There are also chicken, pastured pork, and vegan burgers; chicken pot pie fritters; and Southern collard greens to be had.

Gott’s Roadside

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The artist formerly known as Taylor's Automatic Refresher got its start in Napa, where it has two locations, as well as a third in Palo Alto. Here in the city, its only location can be found at the Ferry Building, where tourists line up for cheeseburgers and fries on the front patio. But unlike some competitors, Gott's has an enormous non-burger menu, including tacos, kale salads, fish and chips, and the very popular ahi tuna burger with ginger wasabi mayo.

In-N-Out Burger

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Many East Coasters' first stop when they arrive in California is an outpost of this SoCal-based burger chain, which is only available in the Southwest. Though they're the closest on this list to a traditional McD's/Burger King model (with prices to match), they're also a step up, priding themselves on never freezing their beef and making their fries fresh on-site, rarities for big burger chains. SF only has one In-N-Out, in tourist-clogged Fisherman's Wharf, but there are quite a few in the greater Bay Area, mostly near highways. Oh, and if you've never been to an In-N-Out before, you should acquaint yourself with the secret menu before you go.

Mooyah Burgers

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Based in Plano, Texas, this fast-casual burger joint has made its first NorCal inroads in Walnut Creek and Morgan Hill, with a third location set for Los Gatos in the near future. Customizability is their main line, with a plethora of free veggie options and sauces for their beef, black bean, and turkey burgers. Fries are fresh-cut, and there are lots of shake mix-in options, like Reese's cups and cookie dough. The chain aims to have 20 locations in the Bay Area within the next few years.

Nation's Giant Hamburgers

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Founded in San Pablo in 1948, this East Bay institution now has 28 locations around the Bay Area and Sacramento. It's known for its massive, 3/4 pound burgers (meatless, chicken, and salmon options are available), but it's just as popular for its pies, of which there are usually around a dozen varieties available at any given time.

Pearl's Deluxe Burgers

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Now down to only one SF location, this old-school chain (which also has outposts in Marin) has a hardcore fan base for its classic, throwback-style burgers, served in a no-frills atmosphere at relatively reasonable prices. Local and organic are not buzzwords here, but you can get turkey, veggie, Wagyu and buffalo burgers, as well as wacky toppings like pesto. Be warned: it's cash-only.

Roam Artisan Burgers

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Unlike most of the other local burger chains, homegrown Roam is all about customization. At its two SF locations (a third is in Lafayette), you can choose from turkey, bison or elk burgers in addition to the standard beef and veggie, then dress them with the toppings of your choice, ranging from herb mayo to chipotle relish to caramelized onions. There are also salads, Straus shakes, and housemade sodas in flavors like caramelized pineapple or Meyer lemon.

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As the name suggests, this trio of burger joints (SF, Berkeley, and Palo Alto) is all about the mini-burgers. From the standard mini-burger to the spicy 3-Alarm to quirky variations like Meatball or balsamic-marinated portobello, mixing and matching is encouraged. They also pride themselves on a big craft beer selection, with over a dozen drafts at each location.

Smashburger

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Based in Denver, this burgeoning chain now boasts 300 locations, including outposts in SF, Emeryville, Mill Valley, and Novato. Its Angus burgers command a fairly high price point as far as chains go, with a special cooking method that involves "smashing" them on the grill so they cook in their own juices. They also offer four bun varieties (including gluten-free), a few unusual toppings (goat cheese, guacamole), and chicken and black-bean burgers. Haagen-Dazs is on shakes, and there are fried pickles and "veggie frites" (green beans and carrot strips) in addition to the standard fry/ring lineup.

Super Duper Burger

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With five locations in SF alone (and a sixth arriving shortly), this homegrown mini-chain from Adriano Paganini (Beretta, Delarosa, Lolinda) has become a local success story. The burger lineup is a simple one: beef burgers (regular or mini), a veggie burger, and a chicken sandwich. But the emphasis is on higher quality for the elevated prices, so you'll see Niman Ranch beef in the burgers, Straus milk in the shakes, and housemade pickles.

TrueBurger

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With two locations, this Oakland-born up-and-comer has one of the simplest menus in the burger biz: your options are beef or a cheese-stuffed portobello mushroom (or both together, if you're feeling wild). Hot dogs, fries, and coleslaw complete the menu, and there are shakes and beer for sipping.

Umami Burger

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A Southern California import, Umami now boasts two SF locations, as well as outposts in uptown Oakland and Palo Alto. The emphasis here is on more upscale burger creations, like the classic Umami, which boasts roasted tomato, shiitake mushrooms, and fried parmesan for an ultra-meaty flavor. There are also ahi tuna, turkey, veggie, and vegan options.

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Barney's Gourmet Hamburgers

Dating back to the late '70s, this Oakland-bred chain of burger joints was a pioneer in the fancy-burger movement, long before it became big business. Today, they have two SF and four East Bay locations, as well as a few L.A. outposts, all serving beef, chicken, turkey, salmon, and veggie burgers with a boggling array of topping combinations, like a blackened Cajun-style burger or teriyaki-glazed burger.

Big Mouth Burgers

Founded in 1997, this trio of burger joints (in SF, San Mateo, and Millbrae) tend to fly under the radar these days, though their humanely-raised meat ethos and fresh-cut fries certainly put them in line with the other local chains. Like Barney's, their selection is wide and tends to encompass a '90s gourmet ethos, with salmon burgers, blue cheese burgers with pesto aioli, and even a falafel burger with tahini sauce. Bonus: Their shakes use locally-made Mitchell's ice cream.

Bistro Burger

Downtown office workers have been relying on this four-location gourmet burger joint, which uses Niman Ranch beef, since 1993. Its menu definitely has the '90s vibe going on, with a pesto burger, Cuban burger, brie burger, and turkey, veggie, chicken, salmon, meatball, and mahi-mahi options.

Burger Bar

Founded by SF's own Hubert Keller (of the late Fleur de Lys), Burger Bar now has three locations, in Macy's Union Square, Vegas, and Beijing. The mini-chain focuses on the upscale, with elaborate burgers topped with everything from foie gras to red wine shallot reduction, at prices that regularly break $20. There are also boozy shakes and floats: this is the only burger spot on this list with full liquor.

Burger Joint

Though only one location of this homegrown mini-chain remains in SF, they're the primary burger purveyor at the San Francisco airport, so many visitors end up encountering them. BJ prides itself on a retro diner vibe and a petite menu, with Niman Ranch beef, chicken, veggie, and turkey options. Steak-fry enthusiasts tend to gravitate to BJ, which bucks the overall local preference for thin-cut fries.

Burgermeister

Founded in 1999, this massive network of burger joints has become a Bay Area fixture, serving up all the upscale-classic toppings (bacon, avocado, sauteed mushrooms), as well as turkey and housemade vegan burgers. Wings, salads, and ribs (!?) round things out. And not only do they have garlic fries, they have garlic curly fries. And chili cheese curly fries.

Farm Burger

Based in Atlanta, this 100% grass-fed mini chain made its entry into the West Coast market in Berkeley last year. It prides itself on locavore offerings with absurd levels of customization, with everything from pimento cheese to arugula as topping options. There are also chicken, pastured pork, and vegan burgers; chicken pot pie fritters; and Southern collard greens to be had.

Gott’s Roadside

The artist formerly known as Taylor's Automatic Refresher got its start in Napa, where it has two locations, as well as a third in Palo Alto. Here in the city, its only location can be found at the Ferry Building, where tourists line up for cheeseburgers and fries on the front patio. But unlike some competitors, Gott's has an enormous non-burger menu, including tacos, kale salads, fish and chips, and the very popular ahi tuna burger with ginger wasabi mayo.

In-N-Out Burger

Many East Coasters' first stop when they arrive in California is an outpost of this SoCal-based burger chain, which is only available in the Southwest. Though they're the closest on this list to a traditional McD's/Burger King model (with prices to match), they're also a step up, priding themselves on never freezing their beef and making their fries fresh on-site, rarities for big burger chains. SF only has one In-N-Out, in tourist-clogged Fisherman's Wharf, but there are quite a few in the greater Bay Area, mostly near highways. Oh, and if you've never been to an In-N-Out before, you should acquaint yourself with the secret menu before you go.

Mooyah Burgers

Based in Plano, Texas, this fast-casual burger joint has made its first NorCal inroads in Walnut Creek and Morgan Hill, with a third location set for Los Gatos in the near future. Customizability is their main line, with a plethora of free veggie options and sauces for their beef, black bean, and turkey burgers. Fries are fresh-cut, and there are lots of shake mix-in options, like Reese's cups and cookie dough. The chain aims to have 20 locations in the Bay Area within the next few years.

Nation's Giant Hamburgers

Founded in San Pablo in 1948, this East Bay institution now has 28 locations around the Bay Area and Sacramento. It's known for its massive, 3/4 pound burgers (meatless, chicken, and salmon options are available), but it's just as popular for its pies, of which there are usually around a dozen varieties available at any given time.

Pearl's Deluxe Burgers

Now down to only one SF location, this old-school chain (which also has outposts in Marin) has a hardcore fan base for its classic, throwback-style burgers, served in a no-frills atmosphere at relatively reasonable prices. Local and organic are not buzzwords here, but you can get turkey, veggie, Wagyu and buffalo burgers, as well as wacky toppings like pesto. Be warned: it's cash-only.

Roam Artisan Burgers

Unlike most of the other local burger chains, homegrown Roam is all about customization. At its two SF locations (a third is in Lafayette), you can choose from turkey, bison or elk burgers in addition to the standard beef and veggie, then dress them with the toppings of your choice, ranging from herb mayo to chipotle relish to caramelized onions. There are also salads, Straus shakes, and housemade sodas in flavors like caramelized pineapple or Meyer lemon.

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