Disclaimer #1: As all matters of taste, burgers are a subjective business. My priorities are as follows:

  1. Meat should be sourced with an eye toward sustainability.
  2. Burgers should be cooked consistently to temperature.
  3. They should not be too tricked out; classic condiments and presentations are best.

Disclaimer #2: I’ve spent the last month checking out the most highly regarded burgers in Berkeley and Oakland (16 spots), and I’ve narrowed these down to nine. I’ve just heard of three places I didn’t try (that sound like potential winners) and three new places that are soon headed our way. It’s time to stop the madness and publish this current list, which will certainly evolve.

If I’ve missed your favorite, please share in the comments.

Without further ado, here are my top picks, in alphabetical order:

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You’ve heard about their famous bloody Mary with bacon; Chop Bar’s burger is of the same high caliber. House-ground Preferred Meats chuck is cooked to a perfect medium rare and served on an Acme Kaiser roll with bacon, avocado, sliced heirloom tomatoes, and aioli. (Cheese and grilled onions are optional.) It comes with an arugula salad; I suggest also ordering a side of the jo-jos, crispy potato wedges with chimichurri. There’s a nice wine list that includes Roederer Brut, a sparkling wine that pairs well with a juicy burger. The space is indoor-outdoor rustic, and the servers are chatty and welcoming.

Chop Bar
247 4th St., #111, Oakland [map]
Ph: (510) 834-2467
Hours: Mon-Thu 8am-10pm; Sat 9am-11pm; Sun 9am-10pm
Facebook: Chop Bar
Twitter: @ChopBar
Price Range: $$ (Entrees $11-$17, Burger $13)

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Handlebar, the latest burger joint to hit the Berkeley scene, is a fabulous one of the artisanal variety, but served in a bar setting, so all the better (casual excellence). Roland Robles, of Fivetenburger food-truck notoriety, has gone brick-and-mortar with serious bartenders, a menu of hangover cures (including a “pig in a blanket,” which is a pancake-battered sausage) and a $14 burger that is worth every penny. Think grass-fed, dry-aged beef, cooked rare, served on a homemade bun with the simplest of fixin’s: pickles, tomatoes, red onion, and butter lettuce. It comes with lightly truffled tater tots.

Handlebar
984 University Ave., Berkeley [map]
Ph: (510) 984-2125
Hours: Mon 11am-11pm; Tue-Fri 5-11pm; Sat-Sun 11am-11pm
Facebook: Handlebar
Twitter: @fivetenburger
Price Range: $$ (Entrees $11-$17, Burger $14)

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Though MUA is a full-service restaurant and bar, the dishes we tried—other than the burger—were underwhelming. But the burger is worth the trip. Chuck is coarsely ground in-house and seared, served on a toasted white bun that is thin enough to allow the meat to take center stage. Accompaniments are the standard lettuce, tomato, and red onion, with a homemade aioli twist, and the whole package arrives with a huge steak knife wedged through the middle, the better for sharing. The space is a beautiful 6,500-square-foot artist-designed loft, owned by Hisuk Dong, reminiscent of something you might find in Amsterdam or Copenhagen.

MUA
2442a Webster St., Oakland [map]
Ph: (510) 228-1100
Hours: Mon-Thu 11:30am-3pm and 5:30-11pm; Fri-Sat 5:30-midnight; Sun 5-10pm
Facebook: Mua Oakland
Twitter: @MUAOakland
Price Range: $$ (Entrees $11-$17, Burger $15)

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Known primarily as a great local breakfast spot, 900 Grayson, which looks like someone’s little house on the corner, is also a West Berkeley burger destination. Chef Nick Spelletich uses beef from Golden Gate Meats, Acme buns, local Smokehouse bacon, and tops the whole shebang with batter-fried onion rings. Given the latter, it’s best to ask for a side salad instead of the fries.

900 Grayson
900 Grayson St., Berkeley [map]
Ph: (510) 704-9900
Hours: Mon-Fri 8-10:45am and 11:30am-3pm; Sat 8am-2:30pm
Facebook: 900 Grayson
Price Range: $$ (Entrees $11-$17, Burger $12)

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The thorough goodness of Phil’s Sliders was a revelation to me. The restaurant, mixed in with a bunch of cheap college dives on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, looks like just another fast-food joint, but it’s not. These burgers are made with care, with Marin Sun beef, griddled to medium-rare and served on cute little sesame-seed buns with just iceberg lettuce (the right choice, as it is crunchy and unobtrusive in terms of flavor) and a secret sauce akin to Russian dressing. The “famous tots” are a work of art, perfect rectangular cubes fried to a decadent crisp.

Phil’s Sliders
2024 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley [map]
Ph: (510) 845-5060
Hours: Daily 11am-9pm
Facebook: Phil’s Sliders
Twitter: @phils_sliders
Price Range: $ (Entrees under $10, Sliders $2.75 )

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When we walked in to TrueBurger, my wife immediately said, “This should be a drive-in,” which makes sense given the efficient assembly line of cooks systematically getting properly cooked burgers on to trays (a la In-N-Out) or tables. We noticed right away that the coarse-ground meat wasn’t flattened by the grilling process, and then identified why. The meat gets handed to the griller in the shape of a ball, and is only gently pressed down to be cooked; this process has a nice effect on the final burger, served in a white paper bag with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and a mildly garlicky aioli. At $5.25 a pop, this burger has the best value-to-quality ratio on the list.

TrueBurger
146 Grand Ave., Oakland [map]
Ph: (510) 208-5678
Hours: Mon 11am-3pm; Tue-Sat 11am-9:30pm; Sun noon-7pm
Facebook: Trueburger
Twitter: @Trueburger
Price Range: $ (Entrees under $10, Burger $5.25)

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I don’t usually go for chains, but this L.A.-based company has got it going on in the burger department. Umami‘s specialty is truffle-laced burgers; while they taste good, it’s not the kind of thing I’d choose on a regular basis. Their “original” is nearly too overwrought for me, but who can resist a “frico” (parmesan crisp) in any context? And the meat is always cooked to perfection. Big draws here are the fat onion rings and the pickle plate.

Umami Burger
2100 Franklin St., #2190, Oakland [map]
Ph: (510) 899-8626
Hours: Sun-Thu 11am-10pm; Fri-Sat 11am-11pm
Facebook: Umami Burger, Oakland
Twitter: @umamiburger
Price Range: $$ (Entrees $11-$17, Burger $12)

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I have a fondness for Victory Burger, attached, literally and metaphorically, to Actual Café, because it is consistently delicious, low-key, and friendly. I always have to debate between the burger—made with Five Dot Ranch beef (grass-fed, grain-finished) on an Acme Kaiser roll with lettuce and onion and the chicken banh mi (with homemade pickles and chicken-skin mayo). While they are both excellent choices, the burger takes the edge, if for no other reason than the homemade ketchup. And it goes better with the obligatory Strauss vanilla milkshake. The fries, cut in-house and cooked in rice bran oil, are as good as fries get.

Victory Burger
1099 Alcatraz Ave., Oakland [map]
Ph: (510) 653-8322
Hours: Mon-Fri 11:30am-9pm; Sat 11am-9pm; Sun 11am-8pm
Facebook: Victory Burger
Twitter: @victoryburger
Price Range: $ (Entrees under $10, Burger $8.50)

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Wood Tavern is one of Oakland’s longest-standing fine-dining restaurants, which makes it even more lovely that they serve a burger. It’s made with tried and true Niman Ranch beef on an Acme baguette (despite the round patty on a rectangular “bun,” it works), and more homemade shoestring fries than two people can rightly eat. Another plus is the excellent (if pricey) wine list.

Wood Tavern
6317 College Ave., Oakland [map]
Ph: (510) 654-4607
Hours: Mon-Thu 11:30am-10pm; Fri-Sat 11:30am-10pm; Sun 11:30am-9pm
Facebook: The Wood Tavern Restaurant
Price Range: $$-$$$ (Entrees $11-$24, Burger $13)

Bay Area Bites Guide to 9 Favorite East Bay Burgers (Berkeley & Oakland) 27 August,2015Kim Westerman

  • Jens Emil Ravn Nielsen

    Val’s in Hayward

    • Kim Westerman

      Thanks, Jens. I don’t know this place!

      • Jens Emil Ravn Nielsen

        It is the real deal. It has been around for a couple generations and benefits from the age. If you are ever looking for a pure American burger, this is the place. Plus, the shakes are great.

  • Tom Carpenter

    If not already on your list, Grand Tavern (Grand Ave. Oakland)

    • Kim Westerman

      Thanks, Tom. I’ll check it out!

  • Wendy Kaufman

    Meal Ticket has by far, the best.

    • Kim Westerman

      Wendy, I haven’t tried it, but I will. Thanks for the rec!

  • Aron Quiter

    your disclaimers denote your claim that these are the “best burgers” you’re looking for the most mediocre healthy burger…

    • Vodeeodoe

      I can’t even believe it’s on the list. If I was gonna go to a fine dining restaurant, I would not order a burger. Seriously, that restaurant is expensive!

    • Vodeeodoe

      Lastly, what are some of Oakland’s longest standing fine dining restaurants? I only know of Chez Panisse, which I think is in Berkeley and that’s about it. There are tons of fine dining places that have sprung up from the Chez Panisse graduates. I love city history and tradition, so I’d love some insight.

  • alberta

    You missed Grato Deli; swear, best burger I have had in ages http://www.gratodeli.com

  • daveBB

    Why the hippie qualifications for your burger? Go to Z Cafe. Excellent $10 burger. Authentic ‘diverse’ crowd for you PC nuts. and wait, what is that, a $4.95 Maker’s Whisky bev? Stop getting ripped off Oakland.

    • Kim Westerman

      Dave, I haven’t tried Z Cafe’s burger, but I’ll put it on my list, which is growing by the day. Sustainability is a priority for me, and it’s not just a hippie thing. Take a look at recent beef recalls, all from factory-farmed meat: http://www.foodsafety.gov/recalls/recent/

  • daveBB

    Rule #1 is elitist. Best flavor wins.

  • Wow. Can’t believe you missed Sidebar. I’ve had every burger on this list. They have the best burger in Oakland. No contest.

    • Kim Westerman

      Thanks, Jared. I used to agree, but my last forays to Sidebar haven’t been so wonderful. Maybe just bad timing.

  • smithmm

    Trueburger is truly the best value for a quality burger.

  • Jaiko

    I think the photos show you like a lot of bread with your burger. We’re more about the meat. Haven’t liked any of the burgers in Oakland, although Mockingbird’s slider plate is well executed: salted before cooking, with a soft old-fashioned bun that doesn’t fall apart. Otherwise: Vault 164/San Mateo is our gold standard, with French Garden/Sebastopol runner-up. Spice Monkey in Oakland does a great lamb burger, tho, with strong-flavored New Zealand lamb. When it comes to burgers, cost is no object. A lousy burger, or one suffocated by too much bread, isn’t worth any price.

  • Martin Godfrey

    I’ve had a handful of these burgers and the #1 fav for me is 900 Grayson! It’s just so perfect. Would have liked to have seen Cafe Rouge in Berkeley on the list…

  • Garrett Iván Colón

    Triple Rock Brewery in Berkley has a great burger, as well.

  • Clare Liu-Caoili

    Scolaris in Alameda and Stella Nonna in Berkeley (they make their own buns)

  • pjackson

    Why is Park Burger (located on Park Blvd. in the Glennview neighborhood) not on this list…? Someone please tell me why…

  • Bryan Miller

    apologies to the aficionados here, i disagree with several of these recommendations. for my money, the best burger in the east bay is at Eureka. it’s a sports bar that’s super loud but it has a great daily happy hour. their Napa Burger kills half of these burgers and is a reasonable price. at happy hour you can even get a craft brewed ale for $3, too.
    also, i’m not being payed to say this.

  • justinpennell

    I am a burger master. If there were a golden burger, I would likely worship it. I would rather go on a burger safari, than an actual safari. I may in fact have a burger in place of where my brain should reside. It is the holy grail of all things. The burger. And for these simple reasons I am left shocked (and awed) that the one of the greatest burgers I have had the chance of being in the same room with, was not included in this list. And for that reason I am left to make two assumptions. 1) The author has never heard of ‘Sidebar’ in Oakland. 2) The author is clinically insane.

  • Vodeeodoe

    If Chop bar didn’t have Kaiser buns, I’d agree with you. The burgers are so juicy, the bun falls apart in less than 3 minutes. Saying that the burger is the only thing you liked on Mua’s menu…? Are you gonna say that Tommy’s Joint, Cable Car Joe’s (does that still even exist?) or some other SF place are better? Good burgers are easy to come by, everywhere. Glad you put the 510 Burger guys on your list.

  • Clockwork Buddha

    Grazzy Burger – it has the added bonus of being connected to the outstanding Albany Taproom.

  • I call BULLSHIT, the BEST burger is LUKAS, Oakland…

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Author

Kim Westerman

Kim Westerman has been writing about food and wine for most of her adult life. Originally from North Carolina, she moved to Berkeley in 2006 to pursue the California dream, which, it turns out, is all it’s cracked up to be. She’s a farmers' market junkie, a lover of all things tomato, and Champagne-obsessed. She loves to cook with her kids, eight and three, and she makes frequent pilgrimages to International Boulevard in search of her next favorite Mexican dish. She spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about food and wine pairing, often starting with the wine and working backwards when planning menus. She is a Level I Sommelier and a Licensed Q-Grader. Her work has appeared in KQED's Bay Area Bites, Forbes.com, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Tasting Table, Fodor’s Travel Guides, and lots of other publications. You can follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram @throughtraveler.

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