If there's any list of these "Best Of Best Of Best Of" items that's likely to engender bitter debate, it's this one. Burgers inspire more debate than any other food we write about, mostly because everyone in Orange County, even those with wooden palates, know what makes a good burger. Some people think the new upscale burgers are ripoffs; some people think fast food is evil.
We had to limit this to ten, which means some worthy contenders got left off--so let's give them love in the comment section!
10. Pee Wee's
It's meant to be a throwback, but Pee Wee's is today's Orange County distilled in a single eatery; their bánh mì burger is a long, thin patty that looks like a kabob, stuffed into a French roll and dressed exactly like a bánh mì, with chiles, cilantro, do chua and mayonnaise. 5942 E. Edinger Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 846-3100; peeweesfamous.com.
9. Riders Club Cafe
San Clementeans can keep a secret; the Riders Club is off most burger lovers' radars, but not for long. While it's a pretty standard burger, the addition of roasted pasillas and a fried egg--beg for over easy--makes for some of the best eats in the 949, and at $7.95, it's the lowest price point for fancy burgers. 1701 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente, (949) 388-3758; ridersclubcafe.com.
Sure, it's a huge chain, but its corporate office is right here in Irvine, and no list of top burgers could possibly exist without the burger that inspired jealousy even in jaded New Yorkers. Artisanal? No. Fancy? No. But good? Oh, yeah. Somewhere south of a million locations throughout OC; in-n-out.com.
7. Original Mike's
We don't talk about the vintage-style building on the corner of First and Main very often, but they've got a good rendition of the standard American cheeseburger, thick and juicy and just salty enough. Just avoid the weird cole slaw and get more fries instead. 100 S. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 550-7764; originalmikes.com.
6. TK Burger
Orange County's real homegrown fast-food burger place, with stereotypically OC locations like PCH in Huntington Beach and 19th Street in Costa Mesa, where the booths are covered over with surf and skate stickers and band advertisements--and the combo is cheap and great. 110 Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach, (714) 960-3238; also at 2119 W. Balboa Blvd., Newport Beach, (949) 673-3438; 2966 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 662-2572; 615 19th St., Costa Mesa, (714) 548-2858; 24902 Chrisanta Dr., Mission Viejo, (949) 588-7200; 5701 E. Santa Ana Cyn. Rd. #P, Anaheim, (714) 282-7400. tkburgers.com;
5. Haven Gastropub
The first of the gastropubs to open, Haven's burger is of the arugula-and-roasted-pepper variety, salty and resolutely medium-rare. Paired with a glass from their well-curated beer list, it's a nice meal in Old Town Orange. 190 S. Glassell St., Orange, (714) 221-0680; havengastropub.com.
4. Slater's 50/50
OC's homegrown answer to the Counter allows you to create your own burger from a long list of crazy ingredients, but the best burger isn't even the famed 50/50 half-beef-half-bacon patty; it's the Peanut Butter and Jellousy with an all-beef patty cooked medium-rare. 6362 E. Santa Ana Cyn. Rd., Anaheim, (714) 685-1103; also at 8082 Adams Ave., Huntington Beach; 714-594-5730; slaters5050.com..
Jason Quinn is obsessive with his burgers in a way that few people could imagine. Whole cuts of beef? Please, that's old hat; Quinn cuts it by hand and grinds it multiple times. Whatever the mystical magic in the kitchen (including a medium-rare-only rule), what comes out is greasy and awesome. 220 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana, (714) 560-4444; playgrounddtsa.com.
2. Peter's Gourmade Grill
Peter Stavros opened Peter's Gourmade Grill in a gas station in an unlovely part of Tustin, and the people came in droves--so much so that he had to move, and in the process doubled his number of locations. Stay happy there, Peter's lovers. 14311 Newport Ave., Tustin, (714) 599-3866; also at 600 E. Bay Ave. #A7, Newport Beach, (949)675-8500. gourmadegrill.com.
1. Burger Parlor
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Former Bastide chef Joseph Mahon came home to Fullerton to open a pop-up burger joint in the Rialto Cafe; his amazing steamed hams, which rotate through the menu, have created so much love that the shop is moving around the corner to take up full-time digs on Harbor Blvd. 108 W. Wilshire Ave., Fullerton, (714) 525-5111; burgerparlor.com.