Burger Chain Beats out Local Favorites

Fiona Deane-Grundman, Staff Writer

As a long-time Bay Area resident and burger connoisseur, it’s been a goal of mine to locate the best local burger joint. I have developed a specific taste for the perfect combination of juicy patty, melted cheese, crisp, warm bun, fresh lettuce, and of course a sizzling, salty french fry.

I have a singular and defined appreciation for the flavorful combination these ingredients become when put together in that first bite.  Of course, it isn’t an easy task to pick a single supreme burger, considering the sheer number of quality burger restaurants within the area. In fact, it’s quite difficult with so many choices in and around Lafayette, Moraga, Orinda, Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco.

I toiled dutifully in the recent months, convincing my reluctant mother to drive me to different restaurants, sometimes twice a week, and my waistline and wallet suffered accordingly. However, I’ve come up with an official master list of the most scrumptious hamburger restaurants available in a twenty mile radius.

7. Hubcaps

Conveniently located in downtown Walnut Creek, Hubcaps Diner is a hub of ambience and variety in the theater district. With traditional 50’s decor, complete with black and white checkered tiles, a shiny red seated counter and a wall of classic Fender guitars, it couldn’t have a more pleasant atmosphere. Servers are generally polite, efficient, and attentive. The menu consists of much traditional American fare, including ice cream, BLTs, and obviously burgers, which are delivered to your table pronto. While the restaurant itself is a favorite of mine, the burger is mediocre at best, with not enough specialty toppings. The fact is, I don’t usually order a burger at Hubcaps because it suffers in contrast to the more appetizing options on the menu. Hubcaps restaurant is a classic neighborhood treat but its burger warrants 2 stars at best.

6. Nation’s Giant Hamburgers

Nation’s, in Campolindo’s backyard, is a perennial favorite of students, parents, and most Lamorinda residents. However, the opening of another neighborhood burger contender, Roam Artisan Burgers, knocks Nation’s down the totem pole. Nation’s is charming and I can never turn down its tasty, filling burger, which, true to its title, is giant. It can go a little overboard on the onions but is still scrumptious and won’t break the bank. However, during the busy 5 to 7pm dinner slot, it can be a hassle to wait up to 20 minutes while tempting, warm aromas waft in from the kitchen. While Nation’s remains a staple, it simply won’t match its artisan contenders. It gets 2.5 stars.

5. The Counter

The Counter, a casual sit-down located across from the Lesher Center in downtown Walnut Creek, boasts on the “concept” section of its pretentious website, “We’re on a mission to challenge the way people think about burgers.” As expected, dining at The Counter is an inventive experience. Patrons can design their own burger, complete with toppings such as roasted garlic aioli, tangy Thousand Island dressing, organic mixed greens, sun-dried tomatoes, quinoa and other exotic choices. Unfortunately, the starting price for a burger is $9.50, and with a pricing system much like an airline service, additional toppings such as avocado and bacon are $1.50 each. While The Counter, a worldwide chain, offers a quality burger that is customized for every individual diner, the price is far too high for the product and therefore deserves only 3 stars.

4. The Habit Burger Grill

The Habit, located near the movie theater in Walnut Creek, is a fast and casual stop that delivers a classic “charburger” with mayonnaise, pickle, fresh tomato, lettuce and caramelized onions on a toasted bun. The Habit’s tried and true burger, no funny business, is tasty enough to make visiting this restaurant a “habit.” The scrumptious fries and thick shakes, of which I am partial to chocolate, are an added bonus, and best of all, the Habit’s delicious combo is completely affordable. You’ll be out the door in under five minutes and it offers shaded outdoor seating to escape the packed interior. The Habit offers Walnut Creek’s best burger, no questions asked. 3.5 stars

3. Roam Artisan Burger

In recent months, a surge of “artisan” style restaurants and businesses, the kind you’d expect to find in Rockridge or Berkeley, have opened up in Lafayette, including Smitten and my personal favorite, Roam Artisan Burgers. Roam offers an environmentally friendly burger: it’s made with “mindful” ingredients and free-range beef. But don’t waste your time wondering how a meal can be “mindful”; just devour Roam’s scrumptious cheeseburger, with sizzling bacon. Roam offers many choices besides the traditional beef hamburger, including the Bison burger, the Tejano, and the Pacific Blue. Roam, which isn’t complete without salty, crispy french fries and a creative soda (ginger lime? prickly pear?), is somewhat expensive on a high-school budget, but the locality makes it worth the visit. The interior is ruggedly charming and you can catch the game while you wait for your food. Roam is a great choice for a Saturday night with your family, and its tasty burger warrants 4 stars.

2. Super Duper Burger

Whenever I’m around the Yerba Buena center in San Francisco, I ignore the many choices available in Westfield Mall and walk a few blocks to Super Duper Burger. With several SF locations, Super Duper could be considered a chain but it retains that comfortable, neighborhood vibe that makes it so popular. Super Duper, in the San Francisco spirit, attracts all kinds of people, who flock to its fantastic hamburger, complete with the freshest lettuce and tomato, a flavorful Thousand Island sauce, and a warm toasted bun. It isn’t complete without a cold, refreshing Coca Cola. Somehow, Super Duper is different than all its Bay Area contenders. Is it the fresh house-made pickles? The delightful garlic fries? Whatever the secret ingredient is, Super Duper is worth a 45 minute drive and even better in between shopping and sightseeing. Surprisingly affordable, Super Duper is open until 10 pm, after most restaurants in the area close. The jammin’ background tunes add to the overall vintage ambiance of the place. You can’t leave Super Super without a wide smile. As I was devouring my burger, I turned to my mom and said, “Democracy is pretty great, but my favorite part about America is burgers.” Freedom and equality are admittedly important, but the perfect burger is a true American virtue. 5 stars.

1. In-N-Out Burger

Believe the hype. In-N-Out Burger is everything you want in a burger. A testament to my devotion is that once, at 9 o’clock on a Sunday in Lafayette, I persuaded my mom to drive me to San Ramon, almost twenty minutes away, in order to get the classic cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate shake. My heart speeds up when I think about In-N-Out’s perfectly warm, fluffy bun, crunchy onions, melted cheese, flavorful patty, fresh lettuce, crisp tomatoes, and of course, unique “special sauce”. Some may say this is my body’s reaction to the large amounts of sodium and cholesterol I’ve been ingesting of late, but I think not. I have more affection for the In-N-Out cheeseburger than I ever had for any boy. There are few things in this world that can claim to be perfect. Kittens, Disneyland, and In-N-Out are all contenders. I consider myself blessed to live this close to In-N-Out. Thanks In-N-Out, for always being there. 5 stars.