The Best Burgers in Orange County

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The Cut- Photo by Priscilla Iezzi

When we listed our favorite burgers in 2010, we championed the new chef-driven beauty at Haven Gastropub, the gourmet design‑your‑own options at 25 Degrees, and the PB&J wonder at Slater’s 50/50.

Today, the chef burger is king, design‑your‑owns are yawners, and edgy ingredients are the norm at millennial magnets such as GD Bro Burger, which offers a Korean barbecue poutine medley on a raspberry bun.

So how to rank the nearly 100 burgers we tasted this time around? First, if any aspect of the meaty morsel wasn’t excellent—out of the running! Second, we asked ourselves: Would we order it again in an O.C. minute?

Illustrations by Amber Day

CHEF-DRIVEN BURGER
HamburguesaStar chef Amar Santana has a gift for wowing palates, elevating Vaca’s lunch burger to Spanish sighs, with crispy chorizo, slow-roasted tomatoes, and smoked paprika aioli, all intent on glorifying 8 ounces of fresh Prime beef bursting out of a glossy brioche bun. We say . $16 695 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, 714-463-6060, vacarestaurant.com

Gruyere Burger | Much closer than Belgium and blessedly authentic, Brussels Bistro over-delivers with a hefty endeavor by chef Thomas Crijns. Sparely dressed on a square ciabatta bun, Crijns’ burger allows the 10 ounces of beef and nutty melted Gruyere to dominate. Includes two sauces and the peerless frites praised on Page 123. $16 222 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach, 949-376-7955, brusselsbistro.com

The Haven Burger | Since Haven Gastropub opened in 2009, this powerhouse burger has been adored by fans and revered by fellow chefs for the juiciness of his three-cut grind, the richness of creamy Saint Agur bleu cheese, and the impressive balance thanks to pickled red onions, roasted red peppers, arugula, and a properly proportioned brioche bun. $14 190 S. Glassell St., Orange, 714-221-0680, havengastropub.com

Provenance Burger |This house burger from chef-owner Cathy Pavlos of Provenance is a flavor boss, complete with virtuoso fries (see Page 123). Four premium beef cuts make up the hefty patty. Caramelized onions, heirloom tomatoes, Fiscalini cheddar, and glistening rashers of thick bacon finish the job, though you will resort to a fork, eventually—especially if adding a $2.50 fried egg. $17.50 2531 Eastbluff Drive, Newport Beach, 949-718-0477, provenanceoc.com

Westside Burger | The window for enjoying Outpost Kitchen’s meticulous, lunch-only creation is narrow at this industrial-park daytime diner, but wedging the burger into your week gets you an open-face marvel starring a brilliant Electric City pork-beef patty, fig chutney, pickled fennel, and a runny farm egg in lieu of a top bun. $14 1792 Monrovia Ave., Costa Mesa, 949-873-5123, outpostkitchen.com

Drive Thru Burger | Social wisely upholds the savory integrity of its Drive Thru Burger by not messing with what has worked since day one—two marbled 4-ounce Akaushi beef patties, premium American cheese, house-made pickles, and garlic aioli on a brioche bun toasted with marrow butter. Upgrading with bacon marmalade is essential. Fried egg, optional. $15 512 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, 949-642-2425, socialcostamesa.com

SideDoor Burger | A culinary team of three chefs and a crew of veteran line cooks finesses the legacy burger at SideDoor. Elegant simplicity rules ingredients that love each other: ground chuck grilled to suit, sharp white cheddar, bacon, and a griddled sesame bun brushed with Russian dressing. So big, you’ll need a third hand for dipping the sizzling hot fries into the rich aioli. $17 3801 E. Coast Highway, Corona del Mar, 949-717-4322, sidedoorcdm.com

 

Illustrations by Amber Day

BURGER ARE THEIR THING
Smokey | At his Burger Parlor, chef-owner Joseph Mahon hand-forms patties from 6.2 ounces of Nebraska beef and cooks them to order. Despite the befuddling weight designation, Smokey’s mix of fried onions, smokehouse bacon, Wisconsin cheddar, and roasted tomatoes tastes American retro. Every ingredient declares its independence, yet all pull together for the common good. $10.45 204 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, 714-441-2003; 149 N. Glassell St., Orange, 714-602-8220, burgerparlor.com

Jalapeno Cream Cheese Burger | Poche Burger & Kitchen is a sleeper find with laudable cocktails and crafty burgers by chef-owner Hooman Mofidi. A half-pound of Black Angus beef gets fruity heat from the crisp jalapeno slices, and the melting silky cream cheese makes for an extra-juicy patty. Critical meat-to-bun ratio is refined by slicing off the brioche bun’s top-knot, then toasting the bared surface. Genius. Golden fries included. $12.25 2727 Via Cascadita, San Clemente, 949-492-1135, pbk78.com

El Capitan | The Stand is arguably the county’s friendliest burger whisperer. Crave-worthy choices abound, but this messy standout manages to layer a grilled-to-order fresh beef patty with fall-apart short rib meat, onions, peppers, chunky guacamole, and vibrant chimichurri while somehow allowing all elements to shine. Craft beer is available, too. If there’s a line, glance to the right and watch the crew hand-form the chuck-brisket patties. $11.75 5633 Alton Parkway, Irvine, 949-262-9090; 1332 Bison Ave., Newport Beach, 949-873-5332, thestandlink.com

Terlingua | Texas-born Hopdoddy Burger Bar names this chili cheeseburger for a Rio Grande ghost town—population 58—but there’s nothing forlorn about the compact bundle of Angus beef, Tillamook cheddar, chili con carne (that means no beans, y’all), crunchy Fritos, and raw white onion. House-baked buns and hand-cut Kennebec fries, to boot. $9.50 3030 El Camino Real, Tustin, 714-505-2337; 311 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach, 949-640-2337, hopDoddy.com

Grand Cut | Irvine’s burger-crafter, The Cut, gained food-truck fame via its Original burger. At its new shop, go first-class with the Grand Cut, a splurge that pays off with gourmet fixings that include supple roast Duroc pork, bacon jam, and a glorious cloak of Comte-Havarti fondue—in addition to the juicy Angus chuck-brisket patty that’s already a cut above. $16 3831 Alton Parkway, Irvine, 949-333-3434, thecuthcb.com

 

STEAKHOUSE BURGERS
Flash Burger | This meaty tribute to Selanne Steak Tavern co-owner and Ducks legend Teemu “The Flash” Selanne dominates its competition. An impeccably grilled 8 ounces of Snake River Kobe sirloin bursts with beefy flavor. Executive chef Josh Severson showcases it on a fresh pretzel bun spread with baconaise, judiciously adding only sizzled onions and peppery fresh arugula. The restaurant’s exquisite, slender truffle-Parm fries are included. $16 1464 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, 949-715-9881, selannesteaktavern.com

Gorgonzola Black Truffle Wagyu Burger | Capital Grille offers five burgers, but this half-pound beauty rises above the others, flaunting a compound butter of black truffle and creamy gorgonzola cheese that syncs beautifully with the eggy bun, balsamic-tinged onions, and medium-grind Wagyu, cooked to your fancy. Lettuce and pickles on the side let you build to suit, and exemplary truffle fries, finger-size and crunchy-edged, supply unforgettable support for this diva. $20 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, 714-432-1140, thecapitalgrille.com

The Ranch Steakburger | Like much of chef Michael Rossi’s menu, this luscious winner glorifies the craveable nature of skillfully prepared beef. The Ranch’s entry, which you’ll find on the bar menu, showcases a proprietary grind with four cuts of beef. Cooked medium-rare, its savory juices meld with the straightforward trio of farmhouse cheddar, retro secret sauce, and a supple potato bun. Piping-hot herb fries and pampering service included. $16 1025 E. Ball Road, Anaheim, 714-817-4200, theranch.com

 

Illustrations by Amber Day

DELIGHTS FOR $10 OR LESS
White Truffle Burger | It doesn’t have white truffles on it, and the portobello mushrooms are more accurately criminis or baby bellas. But the White Truffle Burger at G Burger gets its umami on. The high-rise bun arrives askew to showcase crisscrossed slices of roasted red bell pepper; below are the grilled criminis, juicy Angus patty, tasty asiago cheese, garlic aioli, and pungent white truffle oil. $9.50 Fountain Valley, La Habra, and Irvine locations, gburger.com

The Burger | Besides stellar burgers, The Riders Club cafe has oodles of character. The borderline ramshackle room blocks from the beach screens classic Warner Bros. cartoons. “Slow fast food” translates to ground-in-house, flavorful chuck cooked as requested and juicy with an ideal char, plus lettuce, pickle, onions, and a secret-sauce garlic aioli on a challah bun. Burgers come with house-brined beets and kettle chips—surprisingly ideal complements. $8.75 1701 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente, 949-388-3758, ridersclubcafe.com

Kolossal Burger | At a penny under $10, this imposing construct at The Krave Kobe Burger Grill stacks two nicely charred American Wagyu beef patties, caramelized onions, beefsteak tomato slices, garlic aioli, and a beauteous bed of green-leaf lettuce atop an egg-light brioche bun. The single-patty Krave burger ($6.99) plus hand-cut Kennebec fries with habanero ketchup or sweet potato fries with marshmallow sauce ($2.99) also comes in at less than $10. 21133 Newport Coast Drive, Newport Coast, 949-719-7770, kravekobeburger.com

Western Cheeseburger | Burnt Crumbs touts hand-crafted, gourmet sandwiches, and its burgers are Prime examples—literally. The Western Cheeseburger presents its luscious Prime chuck-brisket-short rib patty with applewood-smoked bacon, smoked cheddar cheese, deftly crisped onion rings, and a subtly tangy barbecue sauce on a pillowy Parker roll. Splurge—for an extra three bucks—and add the blazing hot, hand-cut, skin-on fries with really garlicky aioli. $9.75 21058 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach, 714-374-0777; 8549 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine, 949-502-5998; burntcrumbs.com

Karma Burger | The Karma Burger at Mick’s Karma Bar, in a labyrinthine business park, is a throwback—a patty, American cheese, lettuce, onion, and tomato—but the particulars make it a classic among classics: Angus sirloin ground in-house; flat-top, firm, and deeply satisfying bun; and a secret sauce laced with red-pepper flakes. $6 2010 Main St., Irvine, 949-851-6316, mickskarmabar.com

 

Illustrations by Amber Day

RESORT BURGER
Watertable Burger | Special occasion? Consider this wonder at Hyatt Regency’s Watertable. The brioche bun’s grilled bottom is as tasty as its top. Arugula, frisée, and tomato jam support a generous Wagyu patty capped with spiced, off-the-charts-tender lamb-belly confit. A deliriously decadent cascade of smoked goat cheddar fondue takes the creation over the top. Every bite is a celebration. Killer fries come with jalapeno-cilantro buttermilk dipping sauce. $25 21500 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach, 714-845-4776, watertablehb.com

Dry-Aged Burger | The Loft at Montage Laguna Beach looks out onto endless ocean views. Lofty perches deserve lofty burgers, and this one—with its coarse-ground, rosy-hued-rare, dry-aged New York strip steak—delivers. House-made pickle rounds, cheddar cheese, thousand-island dressing, leaf lettuce, tomatoes, raw onions, and a superb locally made brioche bun can’t steal the meat’s thunder. Hefty hand-cut fries or squiggly sweet-potato fries come with malt-vinegar aioli. Price includes impeccable service. $26 30801 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, 949-715-6080, montagehotels.com

Beef Burger | Pelican Hill Resort’s Coliseum Pool & Grill overlooks a large, circular pool, one of the county’s most beautiful. The modestly named burger and thick, house-made chips echo the pool’s shape with eerie precision, and the fastidiously tailored, grass-fed-Angus patty and bun align perfectly. Arugula and garlic aioli amp flavors, caramelized onions bring sweet and savory balance. Every spectacularly juicy bite bursts with sensuous goodness. The price includes elysian vistas. $14 22701 S. Pelican Hill Road, Newport Coast, 855-315-8214, coliseumnb.com

Shishito Burger | Beachy chic Tanner’s at Paséa Hotel & Spa takes a road less traveled and wins big—and proves that peppers mix better than metaphors. A hefty half-pound of coarse-ground chuck arrives on a potato bun and a bed of slightly charred napa cabbage, topped with aged white cheddar, thick-sliced shishito peppers, and serrano aioli. Juices gush. Flavors explode. Long fries have a beguiling crispy-thin veneer. $17 21080 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach, 714-698-6130, tannershb.com

 

HALL OF FAME
Arc Burger | The burger at Arc is a charter member of the mile-high club, one of those eye-popping Instagram darlings impossible to eat in-hand. Storied for the sheer quality of its decadent ingredients, it consists of a 1-pound, wood-fired patty that’s a mix of ribeye, short rib, lardons, and duck fat, topped with a choice of cheese (such as Roquefort Société), heirloom tomatoes, shaved onion, pickled red Fresno chile, dressed baby red oak lettuce, and garlic aioli on a cornmeal-dusted potato roll. Often imitated, absolutely-for-sure never duplicated. $24 3321 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa, 949-500-5561, arcrestaurant.com

Umami Burger |The first burger-crafter to exploit the “fifth flavor,” Umami Burger generates profound savoriness using ingredients such as soy, mushrooms, kombu, and miso, amplified by toppings offered on the original $13 namesake burger: Parmesan frico, shiitake mushrooms, roasted tomato, caramelized onion, and corn-syrup-free ketchup. Add a 6-ounce patty of coarsely ground beef seared on a plancha and trap it all in a Portuguese-style bun for maximum wow. We also fancy the $14 Manly Burger, stoked with beer-cheddar cheese, bacon lardons, and smoked-salt onion strings. Locations in Anaheim, Costa Mesa, and Irvine, umami.com

“A” Burger | You won’t find it on the dinner menu at A Restaurant, but chef Jon Blackford’s killer Niman Ranch chuck burger is a happy hour dream with its half-pound patty under your choice of blue or cheddar. We like cheddar better, with thick bacon, arugula, and a buttered brioche bun. A mini-basket of twice-fried fries rides shotgun. No wonder the kitchen sends out more than a dozen each night. The not-so-secret burger sells for $20 in the dining room. $14 3334 W. Coast Highway, Newport Beach, 949-650-6505, arestaurantnb.com

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