7 healthy burgers in the San Francisco area

A handful of Bay Area chefs are reinventing fast food. Here's where you — low-carb dieters and vegetarians included — can find a quick, healthy meal
Jan Newberry

Where to find great burgers in and around San Francisco:

NORTH BAY

Weezy’s Grass Fed Shed 

“Slow food faster” is the motto at this charming San Rafael roadside shack, opened last fall.

  • What’s the beef? 1/8-pound Shed Burgers made with Prather Ranch beef.
  • Have it your way If your taste in burgers goes beyond the basics, pick a variation—the Contiki, say, with pine­apple and teriyaki sauce, or the White Trash, with American cheese, Thousand Island dressing, and iceberg lettuce.
  • On the side In addition to standard fries, Weezy’s serves a sweet potato version. Want both? Order a mixed fry combo.
  • Sweet finish Straus organic soft-serve ice cream. $; 621 Del Ganado Rd., San Rafael; 415/479-7433.

SAN FRANCISCO

Super Duper Burger 

This cute reinvention of an old-fashioned diner in the Castro may look like it’s all about the style, but Adriano Paganini, who also runs Starbelly and Beretta in San Francisco, is serious about his burgers.

  • What’s the beef? Thin patties of Niman Ranch beef. Order a double if that’s too thin for you.
  • On the side Grab a sharp, house-cured pickle spear at the condiment stand.
  • Sweet finish Straus soft-serve ice cream topped with housemade chocolate chip cookies and bacon. $; 2304 Market St., S.F.; 415/558-8123.

4505 Meats 

Ryan Farr once headed up the kitchen in a Michelin-starred restaurant, but ​he gave that up for a farmers’ market stand that promotes the love of hot dogs and what he—and ​a whole lot of other people—calls the Best Damn Cheeseburger.

  • What’s the beef? Every month, Farr buys a whole grass-fed steer from Magruder Grass-Fed Meats and dry ages the beef. His 1/4-pound patties are a blend of different cuts such as neck, short rib, and sirloin, depending on what Farr thinks is at its best.
  • A better bun Farr bakes his own, topped with sesame seeds, seasoned with scallions, and loaded with butter.
  • The big cheese A slice of dry jack from Sonoma’s Vella Cheese Company. $; Thu and Sat at Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, S.F.

Roam Artisan Burgers 

Who says a burger has to be made from beef? At this new spot, you can also get turkey, bison, or a housemade veggie version.

  • Back to the beef When they ask if you’d like your burger pink, say yes. The 100% grass-fed beef patties from Pacific Pastures are low in fat and turn tough quickly if cooked past medium-rare.
  • On the side Can’t decide between the russet fries, sweet potato fries, or zucchini onion haystack? Go for the Fry-Fecta and get all three.
  • Drink up With wines on tap, microbrews, sodas sweetened with agave, and milkshakes topped with brûléed marshmallows, this ​is no place to go thirsty. $$; 1785 Union St., S.F.; 415/440-7626.

EAST BAY

Flame Gourmet Burgers 

It’s easy to miss this un-­assuming storefront on Elmwood’s busy College Avenue, but that would be a shame. As the name says, these burgers are cooked over an open flame, which gives them an unmistakable smoke-kissed flavor.

  • What’s the beef? Grass-fed beef from cattle raised on local ranches.
  • For the vegetarians Ten variations of tofu and garden burgers, including one with sautéed spinach and feta cheese and a mushroom burger that features a giant portabella topped with fried onions.
  • And for the carbophobes Skip the bun and order the Burger Bowl. Your patty will arrive on a bed of romaine
  • or, if you prefer, a mix of spring lettuces. $; 2985 College Ave., Berkeley; 510/666-8500.

Trueburger 

Greg Eng and Jason Low cooked at some of San Francisco’s best-known restaurants, including Jardinière, Absinthe, and Delfina, but turns out what they really wanted to do was sell a great burger at an affordable price. And that’s exactly what they’ve accomplished at their spiffy Oakland diner.

  • What’s the beef? Angus beef ground fresh in the kitchen each morning.
  • A better bun A lightly toasted challah bun custom-baked at Berkeley’s Bread Workshop.
  • Secret sauce Their own aioli gives these burgers a gentle garlic kick.
  • Sweet finish Go old-school all the way and order a milkshake with mix-ins like marshmallows, caramel sauce, and peanut butter. $; closed Sun; 146 Grand Ave., Oakland; 510/208-5678.

SOUTH BAY

SliderBarCafe 

Earlier this year, a burger bar with a thing for healthy food elbowed its way into Palo Alto’s restaurant row. In the sleek, narrow space, mix-and-match platters of fist-size sliders come out fast and furious to the beat of the thumping music.

  • What’s the beef? Organic and hormone-free, of course. It’s Niman Ranch in the ​Classic, Masami Ranch in ​the Kobe Beef slider. We like ’em both.
  • Not really the beef type? Pick a veggie, chicken, or lamb slider instead.
  • Sip or swill With 18 wines on tap, you can pair a half-glass with each slider in your trio if you feel like it. $; 324 University Ave., Palo Alto; 650/322-7300. 

Jan Newberry is the food editor at San Francisco magazine.