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The Lodge at Torrey Pines’ Drugstore Burger
The Drugstore Burger at The Lodge at Torrey Pines
Courtesy photo

20 Essential San Diego Burgers

The bun stops here

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The Drugstore Burger at The Lodge at Torrey Pines
| Courtesy photo

When it comes to burgers, everyone has an opinion. What’s better, a thick, juicy patty or a “smashed” patty with crispy edges? Is a sesame-topped, brioche, or egg bun superior? Do fancy restaurant burgers outrank inexpensive ones at casual places — or is it the other way around? And don’t overlook the ones from butcher shops where they know how to make a memorable burger.

This list of essential burgers includes everything from under-the-radar, under $10 selections to those with ingredients of such high quality that it proves that a burger can indeed be a very fine dish.

Is there a San Diego burger you can’t live without? Let us know in the comments.

Note: map points are not ranked.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Ty's Burger House

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515 Mission Ave
Oceanside, CA 92054
(760) 757-5890
Visit Website

Beef burgers aren’t the only stars at this Oceanside burger joint where the menu also features buffalo, elk, venison and lamb. But for those whose ideas conform to the beef-only burger, you can’t go wrong with the restaurant’s signature creations. Local favorites to consider include Bacon & Blue Cheese Burger, Jalapeno or the Bacon Mac & Cheese.

Loaded burger being held Ty’s Burger House/Facebook

2. Notorious Burgers

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6955 El Camino Real Suite 107
Carlsbad, CA 92009
(760) 431-2929
Visit Website

The name refers to the speakeasy atmosphere of the bar area. It could, however, also refer to this decadent burger sharing the same name as the restaurant. The beef patty is seared (or blackened) in spices and then is topped with a heaping helping of bleu cheese, arugula and bacon, then dressed with apricot-onion jam, balsamic reduction and lemon-sriracha aioli. It’s one of several fancy burgers on the menu, including those made with turkey, lamb, or an Impossible Burger patty.

The Blackened Blue Burger at Notorious Burgers
The Blackened Blue Burger at Notorious Burgers
Phaedra Cook

3. The Grill at The Lodge at Torrey Pines

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11480 N Torrey Pines Rd
La Jolla, CA
(858) 453-4420
Visit Website

Easily one of San Diego’s most classic burgers, The Grill at Torrey Pines’ Drugstore Burger is a slice of Americana. A nostalgic ode to Midwest lunch counters of years gone by, the simple-yet-perfect burger consists of Niman Ranch chuck, housemade mayo, and perfectly crisp fries. An industry favorite, it’s also available at the hotel bar and by request at The Lodge at Torrey Pine’s fine dining restaurant, A.R. Valentien.

The Lodge at Torrey Pines’ Drugstore Burger Courtesy photo

4. Nine-Ten Restaurant and Bar

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910 Prospect St
La Jolla, CA
(858) 964-5400
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Known best for exquisite fine dining dishes, those in the know are hip to the fact that La Jolla’s Nine-Ten Restaurant and Bar also serves a top-notch burger. The half-pound patty, made of grass-fed beef, is served on a brioche bun with sides of pickled veggies and perfectly fried fries, which can also be truffle-ized for a few bucks more.

nine-ten burger Nine-Ten Restaurant/Facebook

5. STP Bar-N-Grill

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5487 Clairemont Mesa Blvd
San Diego, CA 92117
(858) 430-6911
Visit Website

This Clairemont burger place offers hefty burgers using premium Angus beef. It’s not for the faint-of-appetite. Patties for most of the burgers weigh in at half pound but it’s the host of other ingredients that will do you in like the Burnout. Featuring a patty topped with American cheese, bacon, fried egg, lettuce, tomato and served with fries, it’s a burger that will leave the most ardent fan satisfied.

Loaded burger with egg topping on plate STP Bar-N-Grill/Facebook

6. Rocky's Crown Pub

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3786 Ingraham St
San Diego, CA
(858) 273-9140
Visit Website

Known as the best burger in town to many San Diegans, little about no-frills, cash-only Rocky’s Crown Pub has changed over the years except that it’s become a bit more crowded due to its high-flying reputation. Proving that beauty often lies in simplicity, eaters can order a perfectly greasy third- or half-pound burger with lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese and absolutely nothing else.

Seeded burger with pickles on top

7. The Hills Local Pub

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8758 La Mesa Blvd
La Mesa, CA 91942
(619) 741-7166
Visit Website

This La Mesa pub is small but its big, beefy half-pound burgers are getting a reputation among those in the know. Choose from six varieties including The Bouffant served with a sunny-side up egg on a croissant bun or the Pepperjack Mac with elbow noodles and spicy queso. The house-named burger is a solid entry with all burger basics including grilled onions and spicy chipotle sauce.

Burger topped with elbow noodles The Hills Local Pub/Facebook

8. The Friendly

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4592 30th St
San Diego, CA 92116
(619) 892-7840

At first glance, The Friendly, located on the outskirts of University Heights, looks like an unassuming pizza place. Even the menu taped to the door doesn’t show any burgers. However, walk inside and check out the chalkboard for San Diego’s best burger bargains. For a mere $6, the Dirty Flat Top Cheeseburger features two patties smashed so hard on the grill that the seared edges turn remarkably crispy. Then a slice of good ol’ American cheese is applied and is so well-melted that it practically merges with the patty. The buns get equal time on the on the flattop so the overall result is a heavenly contrast in textures. Also check out The Friendly Tavern on University, an outpost of the main spot for a duplicate menu sans pizza options.

The Dirty Flat Top Cheeseburger and the Hamburgers at The Friendly Phaedra Cook

9. The Wise Ox Butcher & Eatery

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2855 El Cajon Blvd Suite 1
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 564-8976
Visit Website

Order from this butcher and know you’re getting quality burgers where beef is the star. The daily menu selection features two burgers: a double cheeseburger featuring two ground chuck patties thousand island dressing, lettuce and pickle. Then there’s the dry-aged burger where the meat truly shines and is accompanied by house cured bacon, havarti, mayo, mustard and dill pickles.

10. Cardellino

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4033 Goldfinch St
San Diego, CA 92103
(619) 600-5311
Visit Website

The Cardi burger has more than good looks and you’ll find it on Cardellino’s brunch and happy hour menu although it’s sometimes featured on special holiday menus. TRG crack sauce, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, plus two kinds of onions — pickled and fried — crown this burger that comes housed in a house-baked bun.

Hamburger in seed bun Cardellino/Facebook

11. Crazee Burger

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3993 30th St
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 282-6044
Visit Website

Crazee Burger is best known for its exotic wild game burgers with toppings to match, such as elk with port wine and currant jelly reduction and wild boar with red wine-poached pears, mushrooms, bacon, cream and plum jelly. But the more approachable burgers made with fresh black Angus meat shouldn’t be overlooked, especially by first-time visitors like their signature creation.

Chubby Charlie at Crazee Burger
Chubby Charlie at Crazee Burger
Phaedra Cook

12. Hodad's

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5010 Newport Ave
San Diego, CA 92107
(619) 224-4623
Visit Website

Byron and Virginia Hardin established Hodad’s in Ocean Beach as a burger stand in 1973. These days, there are two full-fledged restaurant locations operated by their grandchildren. Hodad’s is probably the most famous name in San Diego burgers, thanks in part to national recognition by the likes of Food Network and CNN. The burgers are huge; a double bacon cheeseburger ordered “all the way” is half a foot tall and more than a meal for two. Get the best of two worlds and order “frings” — a mix of both the onion rings and wonderful fries with battered exteriors and interiors almost as tender as mashed potatoes.

Double bacon cheeseburger at Hodad’s
Double bacon cheeseburger at Hodad’s
Phaedra Cook

13. Starlite

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3175 India St
San Diego, CA
(619) 358-9766
Visit Website

Starlite’s signature burger shines right alongside its well-loved cocktails. A half-pound Brandt beef patty is slathered in melted gruyere and caramelized onions. Is your burger feeling a bit naked? Tack on Nueske’s Bacon for $2.50 more.

Big burger on seeded bun Starlite/Facebook

14. Juniper & Ivy

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2228 Kettner Blvd
San Diego, CA
(858) 481-3666
Visit Website

A riff on California’s favorite animal-style burger, Juniper & Ivy’s In-n-Haute burger is still an off-menu delicacy. It’s made with chuck, brisket, rib meat and dry-aged fat from Marin Sun Farms and cooked with mustard. This burger eschews cheese, instead displaying its flavor power simply and elegantly with grilled onions, burger sauce, bread and butter pickles and a side of thrice-cooked fries. The burger available in limited quantities every day.

juniper and ivy burger CeCe Canton

15. Waterfront Bar & Grill

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2044 Kettner Blvd
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 232-9656
Visit Website

One of San Diego’s oldest watering holes serves a burger that’ll supplement any beer on the menu locals burger aficionados come to for. It’s a generous third pound burger with two slices of American cheese on a seeded bun but it’s the pile of grilled onions that adds the punch of flavor.

16. The Balboa

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1863 Fifth Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 955-8525
Visit Website

After a closure during 2020 as a result of the pandemic, this Bankers Hill locale is up and running again with an updated cocktail menu and a return of some truly memorable burgers including the Original Balboa burger. Bigger appetites should opt for The Centennial, a double beef, double bacon creation. Also visit Balboa South for your burger fix.

17. Davanti Enoteca

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1655 India St
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 237-9606
Visit Website

Davanti Enoteca is only in two cities: Chicago and San Diego. Interestingly, this Italian restaurant, which has a location in Little Italy and another in Del Mar, is widely acclaimed for its burger. The appeal is obvious. There’s a “patty” of cheese curds seared to a crunchy golden brown on top of the beef patty. Davanti ups the ante with bacon jam, roasted tomatoes and arugula. The burger comes with roasted garlic aioli and a generous helping of Parmesan fries on the side.

Davanti Burger at Davanti Enoteca
The Davanti Burger at Davanti Enoteca in Little Italy
Chuck Cook Photography

18. MishMash

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1805 Newton Ave
San Diego, CA 92113
(619) 955-8544
Visit Website

MishMash in Barrio Logan specializes in a number of fusion dishes, like teriyaki pork belly, cuban sandwiches and snapper wontons, but diners should not ignore its special burger list. The decadent Clinton Burger, in particular, is a half-pound of beef stuffed with goat cheese and topped with an over easy egg, bacon, mozzarella and crunchy onions. All burgers can come with house cut fries or Brussels sprouts, as well as additional toppings such as pancetta or avocado.

19. Hayes Burger

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2060 Logan Ave Ste. A
San Diego, CA 92113
(619) 539-7175
Visit Website

Simplicity is where it’s at when it comes to the burger sold at this Barrio Logan joint. The menu is as simple as the burger offerings with only four menu options: burger, cheeseburger, double cheeseburger and veggie burger. With comparisons to In-N-Out the only difference is Hayes uses local ingredients making for a spectacular burger.

Char, grilled hamburger Hayes Burger/Facebook

20. Swagyu Chop Shop & Burger - Imperial Beach

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1002 Palm Ave
Imperial Beach, CA 91932
(833) 277-4040
Visit Website

This butcher shop puts out a mighty good burger incorporating imported Waygu from around the world. Head into the Imperial Beach and Pacific Beach locations for taste of Chef Steve Brown’s creation where the smash burger is served until 7 p.m.

Burger in front of burger shop Swagyu Chop Shop & Burger/Facebook

1. Ty's Burger House

515 Mission Ave, Oceanside, CA 92054
Loaded burger being held Ty’s Burger House/Facebook

Beef burgers aren’t the only stars at this Oceanside burger joint where the menu also features buffalo, elk, venison and lamb. But for those whose ideas conform to the beef-only burger, you can’t go wrong with the restaurant’s signature creations. Local favorites to consider include Bacon & Blue Cheese Burger, Jalapeno or the Bacon Mac & Cheese.

515 Mission Ave
Oceanside, CA 92054

2. Notorious Burgers

6955 El Camino Real Suite 107, Carlsbad, CA 92009
The Blackened Blue Burger at Notorious Burgers
The Blackened Blue Burger at Notorious Burgers
Phaedra Cook

The name refers to the speakeasy atmosphere of the bar area. It could, however, also refer to this decadent burger sharing the same name as the restaurant. The beef patty is seared (or blackened) in spices and then is topped with a heaping helping of bleu cheese, arugula and bacon, then dressed with apricot-onion jam, balsamic reduction and lemon-sriracha aioli. It’s one of several fancy burgers on the menu, including those made with turkey, lamb, or an Impossible Burger patty.

6955 El Camino Real Suite 107
Carlsbad, CA 92009

3. The Grill at The Lodge at Torrey Pines

11480 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla, CA
The Lodge at Torrey Pines’ Drugstore Burger Courtesy photo

Easily one of San Diego’s most classic burgers, The Grill at Torrey Pines’ Drugstore Burger is a slice of Americana. A nostalgic ode to Midwest lunch counters of years gone by, the simple-yet-perfect burger consists of Niman Ranch chuck, housemade mayo, and perfectly crisp fries. An industry favorite, it’s also available at the hotel bar and by request at The Lodge at Torrey Pine’s fine dining restaurant, A.R. Valentien.

11480 N Torrey Pines Rd
La Jolla, CA

4. Nine-Ten Restaurant and Bar

910 Prospect St, La Jolla, CA
nine-ten burger Nine-Ten Restaurant/Facebook

Known best for exquisite fine dining dishes, those in the know are hip to the fact that La Jolla’s Nine-Ten Restaurant and Bar also serves a top-notch burger. The half-pound patty, made of grass-fed beef, is served on a brioche bun with sides of pickled veggies and perfectly fried fries, which can also be truffle-ized for a few bucks more.

910 Prospect St
La Jolla, CA

5. STP Bar-N-Grill

5487 Clairemont Mesa Blvd, San Diego, CA 92117
Loaded burger with egg topping on plate STP Bar-N-Grill/Facebook

This Clairemont burger place offers hefty burgers using premium Angus beef. It’s not for the faint-of-appetite. Patties for most of the burgers weigh in at half pound but it’s the host of other ingredients that will do you in like the Burnout. Featuring a patty topped with American cheese, bacon, fried egg, lettuce, tomato and served with fries, it’s a burger that will leave the most ardent fan satisfied.

5487 Clairemont Mesa Blvd
San Diego, CA 92117

6. Rocky's Crown Pub

3786 Ingraham St, San Diego, CA
Seeded burger with pickles on top

Known as the best burger in town to many San Diegans, little about no-frills, cash-only Rocky’s Crown Pub has changed over the years except that it’s become a bit more crowded due to its high-flying reputation. Proving that beauty often lies in simplicity, eaters can order a perfectly greasy third- or half-pound burger with lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese and absolutely nothing else.

3786 Ingraham St
San Diego, CA

7. The Hills Local Pub

8758 La Mesa Blvd, La Mesa, CA 91942
Burger topped with elbow noodles The Hills Local Pub/Facebook

This La Mesa pub is small but its big, beefy half-pound burgers are getting a reputation among those in the know. Choose from six varieties including The Bouffant served with a sunny-side up egg on a croissant bun or the Pepperjack Mac with elbow noodles and spicy queso. The house-named burger is a solid entry with all burger basics including grilled onions and spicy chipotle sauce.

8758 La Mesa Blvd
La Mesa, CA 91942

8. The Friendly

4592 30th St, San Diego, CA 92116
The Dirty Flat Top Cheeseburger and the Hamburgers at The Friendly Phaedra Cook

At first glance, The Friendly, located on the outskirts of University Heights, looks like an unassuming pizza place. Even the menu taped to the door doesn’t show any burgers. However, walk inside and check out the chalkboard for San Diego’s best burger bargains. For a mere $6, the Dirty Flat Top Cheeseburger features two patties smashed so hard on the grill that the seared edges turn remarkably crispy. Then a slice of good ol’ American cheese is applied and is so well-melted that it practically merges with the patty. The buns get equal time on the on the flattop so the overall result is a heavenly contrast in textures. Also check out The Friendly Tavern on University, an outpost of the main spot for a duplicate menu sans pizza options.

4592 30th St
San Diego, CA 92116

9. The Wise Ox Butcher & Eatery

2855 El Cajon Blvd Suite 1, San Diego, CA 92104

Order from this butcher and know you’re getting quality burgers where beef is the star. The daily menu selection features two burgers: a double cheeseburger featuring two ground chuck patties thousand island dressing, lettuce and pickle. Then there’s the dry-aged burger where the meat truly shines and is accompanied by house cured bacon, havarti, mayo, mustard and dill pickles.

2855 El Cajon Blvd Suite 1
San Diego, CA 92104

10. Cardellino

4033 Goldfinch St, San Diego, CA 92103
Hamburger in seed bun Cardellino/Facebook

The Cardi burger has more than good looks and you’ll find it on Cardellino’s brunch and happy hour menu although it’s sometimes featured on special holiday menus. TRG crack sauce, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, plus two kinds of onions — pickled and fried — crown this burger that comes housed in a house-baked bun.

4033 Goldfinch St
San Diego, CA 92103

11. Crazee Burger

3993 30th St, San Diego, CA 92104
Chubby Charlie at Crazee Burger
Chubby Charlie at Crazee Burger
Phaedra Cook

Crazee Burger is best known for its exotic wild game burgers with toppings to match, such as elk with port wine and currant jelly reduction and wild boar with red wine-poached pears, mushrooms, bacon, cream and plum jelly. But the more approachable burgers made with fresh black Angus meat shouldn’t be overlooked, especially by first-time visitors like their signature creation.

3993 30th St
San Diego, CA 92104

12. Hodad's

5010 Newport Ave, San Diego, CA 92107
Double bacon cheeseburger at Hodad’s
Double bacon cheeseburger at Hodad’s
Phaedra Cook

Byron and Virginia Hardin established Hodad’s in Ocean Beach as a burger stand in 1973. These days, there are two full-fledged restaurant locations operated by their grandchildren. Hodad’s is probably the most famous name in San Diego burgers, thanks in part to national recognition by the likes of Food Network and CNN. The burgers are huge; a double bacon cheeseburger ordered “all the way” is half a foot tall and more than a meal for two. Get the best of two worlds and order “frings” — a mix of both the onion rings and wonderful fries with battered exteriors and interiors almost as tender as mashed potatoes.

5010 Newport Ave
San Diego, CA 92107

13. Starlite

3175 India St, San Diego, CA
Big burger on seeded bun Starlite/Facebook

Starlite’s signature burger shines right alongside its well-loved cocktails. A half-pound Brandt beef patty is slathered in melted gruyere and caramelized onions. Is your burger feeling a bit naked? Tack on Nueske’s Bacon for $2.50 more.

3175 India St
San Diego, CA

14. Juniper & Ivy

2228 Kettner Blvd, San Diego, CA
juniper and ivy burger CeCe Canton

A riff on California’s favorite animal-style burger, Juniper & Ivy’s In-n-Haute burger is still an off-menu delicacy. It’s made with chuck, brisket, rib meat and dry-aged fat from Marin Sun Farms and cooked with mustard. This burger eschews cheese, instead displaying its flavor power simply and elegantly with grilled onions, burger sauce, bread and butter pickles and a side of thrice-cooked fries. The burger available in limited quantities every day.

2228 Kettner Blvd
San Diego, CA

15. Waterfront Bar & Grill

2044 Kettner Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101

One of San Diego’s oldest watering holes serves a burger that’ll supplement any beer on the menu locals burger aficionados come to for. It’s a generous third pound burger with two slices of American cheese on a seeded bun but it’s the pile of grilled onions that adds the punch of flavor.

2044 Kettner Blvd
San Diego, CA 92101

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16. The Balboa

1863 Fifth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101

After a closure during 2020 as a result of the pandemic, this Bankers Hill locale is up and running again with an updated cocktail menu and a return of some truly memorable burgers including the Original Balboa burger. Bigger appetites should opt for The Centennial, a double beef, double bacon creation. Also visit Balboa South for your burger fix.

1863 Fifth Ave
San Diego, CA 92101

17. Davanti Enoteca

1655 India St, San Diego, CA 92101
Davanti Burger at Davanti Enoteca
The Davanti Burger at Davanti Enoteca in Little Italy
Chuck Cook Photography

Davanti Enoteca is only in two cities: Chicago and San Diego. Interestingly, this Italian restaurant, which has a location in Little Italy and another in Del Mar, is widely acclaimed for its burger. The appeal is obvious. There’s a “patty” of cheese curds seared to a crunchy golden brown on top of the beef patty. Davanti ups the ante with bacon jam, roasted tomatoes and arugula. The burger comes with roasted garlic aioli and a generous helping of Parmesan fries on the side.

1655 India St
San Diego, CA 92101

18. MishMash

1805 Newton Ave, San Diego, CA 92113

MishMash in Barrio Logan specializes in a number of fusion dishes, like teriyaki pork belly, cuban sandwiches and snapper wontons, but diners should not ignore its special burger list. The decadent Clinton Burger, in particular, is a half-pound of beef stuffed with goat cheese and topped with an over easy egg, bacon, mozzarella and crunchy onions. All burgers can come with house cut fries or Brussels sprouts, as well as additional toppings such as pancetta or avocado.

1805 Newton Ave
San Diego, CA 92113

19. Hayes Burger

2060 Logan Ave Ste. A, San Diego, CA 92113
Char, grilled hamburger Hayes Burger/Facebook

Simplicity is where it’s at when it comes to the burger sold at this Barrio Logan joint. The menu is as simple as the burger offerings with only four menu options: burger, cheeseburger, double cheeseburger and veggie burger. With comparisons to In-N-Out the only difference is Hayes uses local ingredients making for a spectacular burger.

2060 Logan Ave Ste. A
San Diego, CA 92113

20. Swagyu Chop Shop & Burger - Imperial Beach

1002 Palm Ave, Imperial Beach, CA 91932
Burger in front of burger shop Swagyu Chop Shop & Burger/Facebook

This butcher shop puts out a mighty good burger incorporating imported Waygu from around the world. Head into the Imperial Beach and Pacific Beach locations for taste of Chef Steve Brown’s creation where the smash burger is served until 7 p.m.

1002 Palm Ave
Imperial Beach, CA 91932

Related Maps