I’m a big foodie (and a food snob) but I have to admit, I LOVE a lot of fast food joints. I grew up on McDonald’s and it was such a treat for me because my parents only cooked Korean food at home. Being able to bite into anything outside of the usual home cooking was something I looked forward to but now, I miss everything about home cooked food that I no longer have today. Regardless of being deprived of homemade Korean food and my love for crap fast food, I still know a GOOD burger when I bite into one. I wanted to drive all around San Diego to taste and write about all the best burgers.
Everyone has different taste and I think we all like specific dishes based on various preferences. My favorite burgers are based on buns, then overall flavor then sauces (aioli or boujie jams) and juiciness. I eat my steaks rare but would prefer my burgers medium because I don’t like blood soaked buns. I think a good burger can be DAMN juicy without dripping blood. I also like when my burgers are well balanced and equally proportionate. People who like heavy meaty things will definitely not love my opinions! Lol!
Have a look at my list below and let me know what you think! This list is not in order of favorites and you’ll have to read through what I liked about each.
1. The Balboa
This is one of my top favorite burgers and an easy go to for me… just look at it! It’s the perfect thickness, exceptionally juicy, well-rounded, equally proportioned with toppings and the sauce is “ONE HUNNIT!”.
Make sure to get the garlic fries on the side. This will spice up your life and makes for the best first date breath EVER!
2. The Friendly
Sometimes, the simple things in life win your heart. There are two locations but the original only carries this ONE flat top burger and some pizzas. You canNOT customize the burger and you have to take it as is. To the picky eaters out there, please f*ck off. Take it as is and you won’t regret it! This burger is $5 so the price is a damn winner in itself. It’s also so juicy that I struggled taking this photo but I had SO many people like and repost (some without my permission or tagging me..) this because everyone loved a good simple burger.
Swagyu is extremely tough for me to write about because it gives me mixed vibes. I really enjoyed it the first time I went but the second time was really disappointing. I went to the same location in PB so I’m not sure what changed in the short period of time but I’ll break down my experience…
The first time I bit into my Swagyu burger, my eyes rolled back from the flavor and quality of meat. I felt like I’ve never had anything like this and the meat melted in my mouth. I wasn’t a fan of the nitro potatoes because I’d rather fries or tots but it seems popular enough… I wanted some lettuce or tomatoes because I love balance in my burgers but I was happy with this overall.
I was dreaming about this burger and went back with some foodie girlfriends. I’m not sure why but the burger just didn’t have that same effect on me. It was filled with more cartilage pieces that didn’t really melt in my mouth and it felt more dry. I also got to try the bao buns and didn’t think it went well with the thick pieces of wagyu either. I think it’s best separate but that’s just my opinion..
I heard mixed reviews from my followers as well so please let me know what you think about this one for sure!
4. Hamburger Hut
This is a newer burger joint in the heart of Encinitas. The chef recommended a double which I typically don’t like because again… I like balance in my burgers BUT it was PERFECT!
To start, the buns are King Hawaiian rolls so that’s a winner in itself. The patties are made with a wagyu blend that’s perfectly crispy on the edges and juicy in the center. The double is the perfect size for me where I don’t feel stuffed and disgusted with myself but happily full.
5. Rocky’s Crown Pub
When you ask any San Diegan “where is the best burger in San Diego?”, the response is always split between The Balboa and Rocky’s. I’m not sure why others choose one over the other because it’s a tough call but I’ll tell you how this one is different from the others. First, take a second to look at this beauty…
I think Rocky’s is pretty high up there on my list because it seems like a good old fashioned burger that’s simple and delicious. There is no gimmicky fancy sauce and it feels like a normal burger you’ll BBQ at your own 4th of July party. You know the ingredients are trustworthy and good quality.
The two cons (not a problem for me personally but worth noting): 1. It’s cash only and nobody ever has cash. There is an ATM but I wouldn’t want to pay a $3 service fee to get cash for a burger. Make sure to go prepared and you’ll be fine. 2. It’s a pub so everyone in your party has to be 21+. I’m definitely not hanging with children under 20, but I saw this group have to leave because one lady brought her little baby.
THE HYPE IS NOT REAL!!!
I’m not sure what to say other than that. It’s not bad but it’s not that good to wait in that OB line or be featured on TV. I really don’t get the buzz…
7. Burger Lounge
I thought Burger Lounge was this big bad chain but it’s only in California and actually originated from San Diego. Burger Lounge is one of the first in the grass-fed burger game and made with organic ingredients. This chain also promotes sustainability and I thought it was worth writing about to highlight these efforts.
The burger itself is delicious. I think it’s a well-balanced burger that feels like top quality. If quality is up your alley, Burger Lounge has some convenient locations for you.
8. Queenstown Public House and/or Queenstown Bistro
I’m not sure if there is a difference between the two locations menu-wise but they have different slightly different names…
I think there is a little New Zealand flare to this place and it’s good but I wouldn’t put it at the top of my list. Here’s why…
The buns are just okkk… it’s just a basic bun. The patties are made with good quality meat but not that juicy in my opinion. I’ve tried the regular beef, lamb patty, and the yellow fin ahi. I liked all of them but wouldn’t find myself craving it so much I dream about it. It wouldn’t even come to the top of my mind for burger recommendations based on price you pay for a burger that’s just ok BUT I would suggest this spot to people in Little Italy for MEAT PIES and happy hour.
I will add though… I LOVE horseradish and I love their sauce because of that. That’s all (:
Bunz with a Z is in a prime location in the heart of Hotel Circle/Mission Valley. It’s located inside a Days Inn by Wyndham and will most likely get a lot of traffic when tourism is back in full swing after Covid.
Despite the name, the bun was not my favorite. It was soft, which I like but looked undercooked and pale even though it wasn’t.
I got the South of the Border which has jalapeño ranch. I love RANCH and I LOVE a good spice so I was like say no more and gimme gimme.
Obviously, the first thing I noticed was my pale burger bun but it was beautiful and well proportioned so I gave it a go. The patty was just ok too. Nothing special about it but I’m happy with my jalapeño ranch.
Overall, I think it’s a good, convenient and decently priced burger if you’re looking for a diner vibe.
10. Ranch 45
Brandt. Beef. Burger.
That is all.
For reals though, I’m not going to lie, the first time I went, I thought MEH. I went back and the bun had changed to my favorite kind. The first time, it was one of those regular tough whatever buns. I was obviously way happier with my second visit and that’s the photo I’m sticking with.
You can tell the quality of the patty is just top notch. Being a butcher shop, they’re known for their meats and this burger showcases that.
I think everything outside of this burger has been really good as well. It’s located in Solana Beach/Del Mar close to the fairgrounds. I would have made this a regular spot if I found it before we went remote and I found a new remote position.
This is one of the cutest trendiest brunch spots/bar located in University Heights. I love the decor and everything they have is exactly how I envision my future restaurant looking like. I’m obsessed with everything I see here from the table vase + dried flowers and even the colors on the wall.
I’ve been here several times but never thought to get the burger. When friends found out I was doing a burger blog, they recommended it and spoke highly of it.
I really like the burger here. It’s a good burger but is it anything special? TBH, no. IF I were here and not feeling brunch food (which I often don’t because I don’t love egg yolk), I’d be happy with my burger choice but it’s not somewhere I would go just for the burgers.
I would highly recommend the Queen of Crowns. This cocktail is delicious but also, the experience that comes with it is neat.
Ok this place has so much potential and is in an amazing location overlooking the water BUT… and this is a BIG BUT… this is THE WORST F*CKIN BURGER I HAVE EVER HAD EVER EVER EVER!
What in the actual f*ck?
The burger is $28 which is a reasonable price purely based off location alone and what I assume are going to be quality ingredients but MAKE IT F*CKIN GOOD IF IT’S $28!!! PLEASE!
The seeded bun wasn’t even quality bread. It was dry AF.
I also personally hate boujie ketchup. If you’re serving boujie ketchup, it better be mind blowing. This tasted like bland blended tomatoes.
Here is where they failed big time… the PATTY SUCKS HAIRY BALLS. I got it medium and it came out pretty bloody looking. The patty looked juicy AF initially but it was just a weird consistency and texture. I saw someone else post the same weird disgusting throw up looking patty that fell apart on Yelp and complain about it so I don’t think this was an off day. I think this is legitimately how they make it and I really want them to pay me for my valet which is only partially validated along with this burger, gas and my time. I really don’t understand how they made such a soggy crumbly mess of a disgusting thing but I am beyond upset that I was even bothered with this.
The tomato was the best thing and they didn’t even make that. The ketchup they made with these delicious tomatoes were a fail.
ARGH… storms out with angry face!
13. The Neighborhood
Located in the heart of East Village, the Neighborhood is known as the cool spot with a great selection of beers and cocktails, however, they also have one of the best burgers (IMHO) too! Hint hint… this is one of my top fave burgers (;
I would also check out The Noble Experiment, the speakeasy, after you devour this sexy burg! Speakeasies are IN!!!
I’m actually a HUGE fan of Sam the Cooking Guy! I had the pleasure of meeting him a couple years back because I had a friend who worked for him and he’s such a fantastic guy!
Samburgers has two very HOT locations in the Little Italy Food Hall and Seaport Village.
I think the appeal with him is that he comes up with recipes that are easy for the everyday person to be able to whip up and I love everything I tried from him. The only thing is, I wouldn’t put his burgers at the top of my list. I loved it but it’s not something that just lands in my top five. No shit talking here… just as simple as “there are better ones”.
I will add… get those damn beans. GOT DAMN ISSA GOOD!
15. Upper East
Everyone is all about the WAGYU beef but if you have REAL wagyu, you’ll be able to tell the fake ones apart instantly. Upper East has a deal on their wagyu burgers every Wednesday’s and it’s still expensive with this deal in my opinion. I also don’t think the wagyu was real or the patty was fully made with 100% wagyu beef.
I will note that I LOVED whatever cheese was on this burger. The cheese is what made it juicy and delicious!!!
Westerly is another super cute spot in Point Loma. I went here for brunch not expecting to get a burger but they were out of the ingredients for the bowl I wanted and so I ended up getting it in the end. I was quite sick of burgers by this time but I didn’t regret it one bit. The burger was delicious! Not my top 3 but damn good!
P.S. I wanna live here! LOL!
17. Burger Flex
Burger Flex is located in the Barrio Food Hub, which I have mixed feelings about. It seems cool but you go into a small “lobby” and order your food. I’m not sure what else they have. There’s a guy there that will not let you take any photos or videos inside and he was watching me like a hawk. I felt so uncomfortable so I didn’t really “explore”.
The burger was decent but I wouldn’t drive this far for one. It’s like a 28 minute drive for me…
18. The Lodge at Torrey Pines
I don’t golf so I’m not over here often but a friend recommended this drugstore burger and raved about it so here I am…
How perfect is this?
I would get this with the blue cheese because it adds the oomph you need in your life.
Again, super delicious but not my top 3.
I love this spot in La Jolla and have been here for special dinners a couple times but never had the burger. I LOVE the food here but the burger was just ok to me. I wouldn’t go here and pay this kind of money for the burger. It’s not bad or nasty… just not worth it for me.
Also, the bun was one of those tougher hard buns ):
I love this spot! I love it because of the unique tikka masala fries and assortment of unique flavors to the normal classic burgers/fries. I think it’s pretty up there in terms of rankings but still not my top 3.
…but for reals though, look at how amazing these fries look! The burger also looks so perfect and beautiful.
Twist is located in a hot spot near North Park and Hillcrest. I would highly recommend a visit even though it’s not my top 3!
Another new spot in Barrio Logan. This one is good but another one that isn’t worth the drive for me.
I think this spot had the wrong approach to the burger game. They totally jacked the In n Out vibe and it’s good but you cannot recreate a California classic and have it more expensive. It’s totally a copycat of In n Out with the animal style fries, etc. You know how I feel about copycats…
I can just drive down the street to In n Out and spend less money.
Again, GOOD but come on…
22. The Roxy
This burger was beautiful but a total miss for me. The burger reminded me of Swagyu round 2. It was full of cartilage and dry.
I wouldn’t get it again but I did enjoy my Paloma a LOT.
23. Kairoa Brewing Co
This burger was delicious. It was juicy and there was a yummy sauce just the way I like it. My biggest issue with this place and the burger was that they gave me a different top and bottom bun. Can you see it?!?! I picked it up and tried to angle it so it’s not as weird looking but it was weird to receive it like this. How does this even happen?
I like this brewery and the sour I had… just fix your burger bun issue please.
24. San Diego Burger Co.
This place is located in Seaport Village so I definitely don’t think they’ll have a problem with traffic (when tourism picks back up after Covid), but there is nothing super special about it.
I love the onion rings here a lot and they have an assortment of sides as you can see from the photo. The burger is good… it’s just nothing mind blowing for me to drive to Seaport Village for.
Side note: good job snagging the name!
25. Mission Avenue
Ok… this is the last one on my list and it’s a good one!
I LOVE the Hokkaido milk bread they use for the buns. This added a unique flare to a classic burger. The burger itself was delicious but another one that wouldn’t make my top 3 despite my infatuation with their buns.
I don’t have very many burger recommendations in the North County area but if you’re up in Oceanside, this is a good one to try.
Rankings from the [Self-Proclaimed] Burger Queen
Sorry this list is so long and it’s been quite a read. I was trying to rate the top 3 out of about 5 places but when people found out I was doing this burger blog, I KEPT getting new ones tossed at me to add to my list.
Now with that said, the moment we’ve all been waiting for… the rankings!
- Hamburger Hut
- The Neighborhood
I am so sick of burgers but knew I had to deliver so I really hope you enjoyed the Battle of the Burgers list! Cheers to all the burgers of 2021!