Bacon Cheeseburger at Hodad's
If a big, sloppy burger stacked high with veggies, cheese, and a bacon "patty" served in a surf shack atmosphere with punk rock on the sound system is what you're craving, you're in the right place. Two words of advice: get your onions grilled (or nix them) and do not, under any circumstances, remove the burger "diaper". The bacon cheeseburgers are available in three sizes: mini ($5.75); single ($6.50); and double ($9.75, pictured). I think the mini has the best bread to meat ratio and you can save room for fries, onion rings, or a shake—all of which are excellent.
Cheeseburger with Traditional Garnish at Prepkitchen
Want a straight-forward burger made from a carefully calibrated blend of Black Angus chuck and shoulder (ground on site), smeared with house-made dijonnaise, topped with house-made pickles, and served on a house-made bun? Are you saying yes so I'll stop saying "house-made" so damn much? That's ok, as long as you add Prepkitchen's burger to your to-eat list. I like it with traditional garnish ($13) but you can also get it "WNL style", with bacon, caramelized onion, remoulade, Gruyère, and an egg, sunny side up.
Davanti Burger at Davanti Enoteca
There are a lot of elements at play on Davanti Enoteca's burger ($12) but everything is perfectly balanced, from the confit tomatoes and peppery arugula, to the bacon jam, aioli, and griddled cheese curds—something I'm shocked hasn't been copied by elsewhere.
Drugstore Burger at The Grill at Torrey Pines
The Grill's Drugstore-style burger is the ultimate old-school burger, prepared with obvious care. Mayo is made in house, the bun is steamed so it's soft and warm, and the extra-fatty beef patty is cooked precisely to order. One tip: since The Grill is located within the Torrey Pines Golf Course, you might not want to show up in purple high tops and jeans like I did (*facepalm*).
NINE-TEN Burger at NINE-TEN
NINE-TEN's burger will set you back $14 at full price (including cheese) but it's so worth it when you consider the effort that goes into it, from house-made buns, aioli, and pickles, to with some seriously top-notch veggies and expert grillmanship. During happy hour, (3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday to Friday) you can get one at the bar for half-price. Be sure to ask for a bowl of complimentary house-made potato chips (available by request).
Bruschetta Burger at Nicky Rottens
Don't write off this burger and beer bar in the Gaslamp Quarter as a tourist trap. It's one place I keep going back to... for the exact same burger. The Bruschetta Burger ($11.95), features a beef patty topped with mixed greens, parmesan cheese, and diced tomatoes sealed between two slices of provolone and finished with pesto aioli. The burger has gone up a few bucks since I first reviewed it, but considering it's large enough to share (and comes with a heap of fries) it's still a pretty great value. I'd spend the extra $2 to upgrade to sweet potato fries, served with maple syrup.
Shack Burger at Carnitas' Snack Shack
The Shack Burger ($9) features a crusty, charred beef patty smeared with bacon jam and aioli and draped with melted white cheddar. It's decadent and full-flavor, but even if you make happy snorting sounds while eating it, you still won't be the biggest pig at the restaurant (that honor goes to the giant porker perched on the roof).
Burger Royale with Cheese at BO-beau
BO-beau's Burger Royale with Cheese is a great pick when you want a burger upscale enough to mark an occasion, or are just hungering for something new. The beef is perked up with cayenne, fresh garlic, and shallots, griddled on a flattop, and topped with Gruyère, green peppercorn aioli, and thin slices of braised pork belly. On the side, you get a mountain of shoestring fries and the pièce de résistance—insanely delicious romeso aioli.
Brunch Burger at The Red Door
A burger topped with bacon, Hollandaise sauce, and a fried egg (along with all of the standard accoutrements) might not be something you eat often, but when it's this delicious, you owe it to yourself to splurge once in awhile. What was so amazing about the Red Door's brunch burger ($14) is despite being stacked so tall, it stays intact until the last bite.
Veggie Burger at Southpaw Social Club
The black bean burger at Southpaw Social Club isn't in my top 10 list by accident, this honor is 100 percent earned. It's spicy, slathered with guac and aioli, and not remotely good for you—only delicious.