Ladies and gentlemen, we respectfully present for your consideration, the top five finishers in our exhaustive competition to find the best burger in the bay area. It was a hard fight for these top spots, some places narrowly edging out others by mere fractions of a point, but we expected this burger race to be a tight one. While these five are clearly the cream of the crop in the burger game, they should be cautious not to rest on their chargrilled laurels, as any of the other burgers we sampled, with a few tweaks, could easily unseat their higher ranked peers. So stay on your toes boys, because you never know when The Four Coursemen will return for a rematch!
And now…on to the results!
5. Mermaid Tavern
J: I just want to mention how I was chastised harshly when I immediately started spreading healthy amounts of the delicious garlic harissa sauce on the wonderfully toasted bun. In any event, Mermaid Tavern delivered a solid burger, well composed with fresh ingredients and a perfectly cooked patty. I loved the choice of spinach instead of iceberg, Unfortunately the Welsh cheddar hiding beneath the egg was so salty I could hardly taste the locally sourced Providence Farms meat. A small nit but a nit nonetheless.
K: The Coup de Gras burger is pretty darn coup de great. Plus, I love fried egg and chorizo on a burger so it got a special place in my heart. This is another homer burger for me, but there is a reason for that. It’s a fantastic burger.
L: I think I may have scored this lower than my compatriots for a few reasons. First, it wasn’t the end all be all “deathblow” the title implies. It may have been if the chorizo element had been perfect and the sauce, which was supposed to shellac the inside of the bun, was more present. Speaking of the bun, it’s hard to see from the background, but on the menu it says pretzel bun and we didn’t get that. Maybe the score would have been higher if we got a sweet malty bun instead. One thing that should be noted is the use of local beef from Providence farm. Putting a perfectly grilled half pound puck of Providence cattle on top of anything is never a bad idea.
4. Tampa Tap Room
J: I was surprised by this one. Tampa Tap Room is your typical sports bar type joint where you expect to get everyday bar fare, onion rings, curly fries etc. When this monster arrived I was smug in my confidence, thinking I’d seen this burger a million times before. TTR, I owe you my apologies, this tower of meat and veg was absolutely delicious. The bleu cheese sauce was tamed with a little sour cream or mayo or something because the normal salt overload was absent. It was a good thing too because the nice crisp strips of bacon filled that role nicely. A buttered, toasted bun wrangled this circus long enough to steal a messy bite into the tender beef, juicy and pink, just like we asked. That iceberg though… the flavors were great, but I just can’t abide the iceberg. The fact that these guys reached #4 despite that vile green is a testament to this sandwich.
K: Blackened Bleu burger. Not something I would ever order, but that is what they recommended. I was impressed. There were a ton of flavors covering the burger, but the burger still stood out in its own right. Nothing fancy here at all. Just a good tasty burger.
L: This might have been the only place on the list where no judge had any prior experience. All we knew was that it had won multiple awards from outside sources, which was enough to be curious about what was going on inside. Tucked inside an ancient strip mall, where my grandma used to take me to race slot cars as a kid, lies one of the best hamburger hubs in town. If El Cap does the classic diner style burger to perfection, I think the Tap Room has done the pub style burger fraternity proud with its blackening seasoning flavor profile encompassing the burger, counterbalanced with creamy, garlicky housemade blue cheese sauce. Not to be left out was the perfectly crisped bacon strips that made their way into the thick of things. I think Iceberg lettuce played an important supporting role here, unlike my crew who hate the stuff in any amount. Also, take a look at the rest of the menu. With fried boudin balls and blue crab beignets, it’s pretty enticing to say the least.
3. Cigar City Brewpub
J: They say to save the best for last. Well we had one of the best right off the bat as CCB delivered a top notch sandwich yet again. The chef had a blast creating this burger, and it shows. Sweet plantains and aromatic onion sofrito brought a tang that was sorely missing from many of these burgers. They cooked ours a tad on the rare side, but luckily for them, that gained them points in my book. The patty was slightly over salted for my taste, but the toppings and subtly sweet bun were enough to sway me.
K: The grass fed burger from CCB is one of my regular burgers. I eat it all the time, so that should tell you something. It’s the jam. Plantains and sofrito, roasted garlic aioli-oh yes. Plus, the only one that we ate that used purely local beef. That’s a big deal.
L: Yet another top 3 performance for CCB. They continue to care most about the product that they put out there, with food being no exception. With a wonderful 70/30 beef to fat ratio, the Providence beef is a brilliant opus to the composition of Cuban inspired condiments, being that of sofrito, sweet plantains and a garlicky aioli. The Brewpub’s grass fed Burger was our first of the tour, setting the lofty table for all other burgers to live up too. Almost everything was done just so. The only drawback was the meat was slightly over salted. Everything else was faultless. We didn’t even downgrade the score for lack of cheese. It was not necessary with the amount of quality condiments that were placed inside.
2. Boca Kitchen Bar Market
J: Something went wrong here, because I scored this burger way lower than I feel I should have. Thankfully Logan and Kurt offset my mistake to keep this fantastic specimen on the podium. Thinking back, I didn’t have a single negative comment for Boca’s offering. Super juicy, smoky bacon, nice fresh lettuce and an awesome sweet relish aioli reminiscent of In n’ Out. If you asked me which burger I’d like to have on a regular basis, this is it.
K: I like Boca, but can’t say I had high hopes for this burger. Color me wrong. This is a burger that was cooked perfectly, seasoned just right, and oh that smokiness. Plus all of its accompaniments were so spot on. Best use of mushrooms in a burger in many a year and amazing bacon.
L: This was my stand alone favorite. It’s exactly what I want in a burger. I think the perfect balance of classic and current methods used to compose this work of art was what really grabbed my attention. Looking at the photo and reminiscing about the flavors my adoration is confirmed by the fantastic stacking of ingredients. I think with any sandwich as it is in life, the ratio between meat/toppings and bread can make or destroy ones destiny. The 5 keys were, toasty buttery bread, excellent mid-rare meat, an awesome In-n-Out style special sauce to accent the fresh veg, bacon that is cured in a way that makes it takes like ribs, and pan-roasted mushrooms to heighten ones sense of meatiness. I will now dream further about this masterpiece.
1. Z Grille
J: If you go to Z Grille to order their foie gras steak burger, just pony up and get it Z Style alright? That means pork belly and a fried egg. If you’re a real pro, you’ll have them go heavy on the foie with two slabs. Zack doesn’t mess around, so you’re going to get an experience on a bun. It’s truly a truly decadent burger, the kind that makes the table shut their yaps for a second and enjoy the moment. Can you eat it everyday? No, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat yourself to one a few times a year. My only qualm is with the pork belly. It was a touch dry when it should be juicy like a saturated sponge. A line of meat and a line of nearly rendered fat, so tender you barely have to add any pressure, that’s what I’m looking for. Maybe it stayed on the flat top a touch too long, maybe the piece we got was a little lean. In any case, it was the tiniest chink in the immaculate armor that is Zack’s foie gras steak burger. The majestic victor of our Hamburgeddon!
K: Some people like their burgers pure and simple. I am one of those people…typically. I’d kick a simple burger out of bed in a heartbeat for this burger. I love the Z Grille foie burger. It is decadence at its finest. Ground rib-eye and brisket. Seared foie. Perfect bacon. Bliss.
L: Zack called his shot on this one and like the majesty of Babe Ruth himself, pointed to each of our tummies and knocked it right out of the park. To win this competition one would have to wow all four judges. Any indiscretion as proof in the results, would lead to an immediate downgrade. I think out of all the burgers we sampled on this fateful afternoon, Z Grille’s foie gras steak burger done Z Style with crispy pork belly, a fried egg and an additional lobe of foie gras is something that health wise, should only be consumed in ones dreams. This is not an everyday kind of burger. Unless of course you’re Albert Finney and use duck fat in place of Chapstick. One can dispute the fact that so many excessive things take away from the burger. I can’t really quarrel with that because in actuality every single person is entitled to regard any burger as their personal favorite. The four course men of the Apocalypse Cow just happen to be four guys that really love stuff like house ground ribeye/brisket blends, Neuske’s bacon, fried farm eggs, roasted tomatoes, grilled onions, crispy pork belly, brioche buns and a couple tenders of seared foie gras. If you don’t like all that stuff well maybe you’d rather hail seitan.