Between the big chains (In-n-Out), the LA chains (Umami Burger), regional chains (TK's Burgers, Slater's 50/50), the standards (Memphis Cafe), the gourmet (Mick's Karma Bar) and all the other usual suspects (Rider's Club, Playground, Haven, Burger Parlor, Peter's Gourmade Grill, ARC, etc.), Orange County is one of the best places in America for hamburgers. You can probably eat a steamed ham a day for a month, and not find a single dud in your choices.
But with National Hamburger Day on May 28—a far-more legitimate holiday than Cinco de Drinko, IMHO—let us not tell you about the most famous burgers in OC but rather the most underrated. These are the choices that are absolutely delicious but can never crack Top 10 lists because they're not as hip, as accessible, don't have as savvy a social-media team as the big boys—but can stand proudly against them. And on any given National Hamburger Day, they're perfect.
TAPS Burger at TAPS Fish House and Brewery
TAPS is underrated as any restaurant in general—its cocktail program is always strong, their chefs always create new and interesting entrees, and the Irvine location has a secret room that plays like a sportsman's lodge, all wood and TVs and desmadre. Maybe because its sister restaurant the Catch has that crazy 25-pound burger, but the namesake TAPS Burger never gets any love even though it's big, tasty, and nearly perfect: Sharp AF cheddar, raw red onion, a juicy tomato and luscious chuck. I just wish it was also available for dinner, because sometimes you'd rather want three big burgers instead of one porterhouse, you know? Find your nearest TAPS at www.tapsfishhouse.com
The Sputnik at Rick's Atomic Cafe
Yes, it's vegan; no, we're not insane; yes, we know what we're talking about; no, you can't have our job. Better yet, let's both shut up and visit one of OC's ultimate underground gems, a place Rick LeBlanc has operated out of a Costa Mesa industrial park for years with little press besides ours. His vegan burger's patty is lentils, cashews, and leeks, and is as savory as a cow and far healthier. If you can't go complete vegan, he'll top you off with cheese of your choice, but go vegan—where do you think you are? Amarillo? 3100 Airway Ave., Costa Mesa, (714) 825-0570; ricksatomiccafe.com
Fresno Fig Burger at Eureka!
Let our former clubs editor, Kristine Hoang, regale you:
A burger with fig marmalade? La di daah (pinky's up, my friends). The most impressive thing about the fresno fig burger is its cohesive marriage of different flavors: tangy goat cheese and mustard, sweet fig marmalade, and savory beef and bacon. From afar the whole burger looks like some avant-garde experiment gone wrong, but its ability to elicit surprise in each bite is what gets it 10+ points from us.
Classic HUBurger at The Hub Costa Mesa
It's easy to ignore the Hub as you get stuck in traffic on Newport Boulevard on the way to the beach, but the Hub brings it: They won our Bloody Mary contest, and their food is more than just feedbag cuisine. Consider the Classic HUBurger: Much like TK's, it's a seemingly simple thing enlivened by a secret sauce that's somewhere between Thousand Island and ranch and all-awesome. Hell, I'm surprised the Pink Kitty hasn't licensed it yet for one of their sexytime classes...HA! 1749 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 356-5544; www.thehubcm.com
If coastal OC has TK's, South County has A's Burgers. This two-post chain is ballsy enough to operate right around the corner from In-n-Out in San Juan Capistrano, and its Dana Point place has fueled many a surfer before they head down to San Clemente. Classic diner burger: fast, sumptuous, slightly over-charred but nevertheless an obsession. 34344 Pacific Coast Hwy., Dana Point, (949) 496-4460; 28698 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 364-2099; www.asburgersrestaurant.com
Burgers at The Habit
Speaking of chains, let's give a quick shout-out to an invader. The Habit comes from Santa Barbara, and started popping up in OC last decade. And it's only spread because its burgers are that great, whether it's the ahi version, their seasonal Hatch chile burger, or just a standard charburger. Regardless of choice, all feature stellar buns, thick patties, and veggies with actual crunch. You might cry "Chain! Chain!", but bruh: In-in-Out is hella bigger, so give The Habit some love. Find your nearest habit at www.habitburger.com
$5 Queso Fundido Burger at Lola Gaspar
From our previous review:
The sesame seed bun is really soft, the beef is lean and juicy, (as long as you remember to order medium or medium rare) and the queso fundido that they make fresh everyday is ridiculously tasty. The actual blend of cheeses used to make the fundido varies, but it's usually cheddar, pepper-jack, and around four other types, blended withground-up chorizo swirled into a spicy, almost-sauce. Then it's slathered all over the burger and oozes out as the boat makes its way to your table. Make sure to eat it right away, before the cheese begins to solidify—but if that happens, you can always just peel and eat it right off the paper.
211 W. Second St., Santa Ana, (714) 972-1172; lolagaspar.com
Burger Specials at C4 Deli
Sometimes, their burgers will feature a giant slab of fried chicken; other times, it's heavy on the jalapeños; other times, it's just straightforward. Doesn't matter: if you see a burger as the special of the day at C4 Deli, you order it. Now, if only they can make a Frito pie burger...BOOM. 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 263-1555; www.c4deli.com
Teriyaki Burger at Fuji's Famous
Fuji's Famous Burgers has delighted Huntington Beach eaters for decades, and its somewhat-new Fountain Valley location has introduced it to a new generation. When in Fuji's, go with the teriyaki burger: Japanese-American perfection on a way not seen since MOS II. 15885 Gothard St., Huntington Beach, (714) 891-6066; also at 17870 Newhope St., Ste. 103, Fountain Valley, (714) 437-1570; fujisfamous.com
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Cheeseburger at Grinderz
The newest kid on this burger block, Josh put it best:
The patty itself is a solid mix of the greasy mess from your favorite diner and a well-seasoned version of a classic fast-food burger. It's reminiscent of a burger from a summer cookout on the Penninsula, except the staff is way nicer than the people you're forced to live next to.
Enjoy! 7561 Center Ave., #53, Huntington Beach, (714) 895-2800; 488 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 873-5310; www.grinderzhb.com