Burger of the Day: The Real Hamburgers of Orange County

Burger of the Day. Photo by Federico Medina

My brother-in-law recently invited family members to join him at a neighborhood bar billed as serving great hamburgers. Now I loves me some cheeseburger just as much as the next girl, but such an invitation is nothing to get excited about. That’s because we all have our favorite burgers (and burger spots), and no amount of competition for your burger dollar is going to change your mind. 

Well, guess what? My special with double patties, double cheese, barbecue sauce and a mound of bacon was among the best I’ve ever tasted. At the very least, it gave me thoughts of cheating on my favorite burger/burger spot. Sorry, animalized In-N-Out!

Photo by Federico Medina

That’s the point of OC Weekly’s inaugural Burger Issue. We don’t necessarily want to replace your pride and joy, but isn’t it at least worth investigating the other burgers out there? Among those listed here are traditional faves from the likes of Cassidy’s and TK Burgers. There are also build-your-own classics at the Riders Club Cafe and Shwack Beach Grill, as well as mixes of the traditional with the fortified at BurntZilla and Native Son Alehouse. We further mix things up with the Gold Foil at Lola Gaspar, the green chile cheeseburger at Panxa Cocina, the Royale With Cheese at Burger Parlor, and the Cilantro Caprese at Wild Goose Tavern. Vegan delights are highlighted from Veggie Grill, Freesoulcaffé and Umami Burger, the latter of which also hawks unique takes that include a truffle burger. 

Truffles? My, how fancy. Look out, animalized In-N-Out! (Matt Coker)

Panxa Cocina’s green chile cheeseburger in all its glory. Photo by Gabriel San Román

In the great burger war between California and Texas, an enchanting offering from a state in the middle often gets lost in the fray. New Mexico is the proud home of Blake’s Lotaburger, a chain that boasts a green chile cheeseburger that easily beats In-N-Out’s and Whataburger’s inferior offerings. Alas, there’s not one Lotaburger in California. But Long Beach’s Panxa Cocina blesses us with New Mexican fare, including its take on Lotaburger’s proud tradition. Panxa’s green chile burger is compact yet burly. The fluffy bun is branded with a “P” for Panxa, but it could also mean picoso—a warning that it’s spicy, as if the Hatch chile chunks sliding down the sides atop melted white queso Oaxaca aren’t already foreboding enough. But don’t be miedoso, lest you miss out on something sabroso! The Hatch’s heat definitely makes itself known at first bite, and while it will induce a round of sniffles, it’s ultimately bearable. Every morsel from then on is dominated by a thick charbroiled patty prepared to preference. Lettuce, tomatoes and pickled onions round out the rest. This beefy beast comes with a companion side of fries dusted with a delightful mix of cotija cheese, black pepper, salt and paprika. All together, it’s the perfect blend of heat and heft. (Gabriel San Román) 3937 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 433-7999; panxacocina.com.

TK Burgers: Simply delicious. (OC Weekly archives)

TK Burgers exemplifies the “less is more” theory of greatness. It’s a simple, inexpensive hamburger with simple, inexpensive ingredients: lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions, secret sauce and a bun. The patty is thin, but it’s grilled so well it tastes akin to one from a family cookout when you were 10. The bun is soft, but it doesn’t get soggy. And this is a surfer’s burger: easy to eat on the go, but still delicious and filling. Those in Southern California who do the In-N-Out vs. Five Guys thing nearly always forget TK (there are five locations in OC, after all), which is dumb because TK Burgers is an order of magnitude better than either chain. (Anthony Pignataro) 2966 Bristol Ave., Costa Mesa, (714) 662-2572; also at 110 Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach, (714) 960-3238; 24902 Chrisanta Dr., Mission Viejo, (949) 588-7200; 2119 W. Balboa Blvd., Newport Beach, (949) 673-3438; and 2212 S. Lyon St., Santa Ana, (714) 545-5100; www.tkburgers.com.

Two Orange County food trucks, the Burnt Truck and Dogzilla, collaborated to combine hotdogs and sliders. The resulting union led to a brick and mortar in Irvine called BurntZilla that sells a variety of tasty sliders, including a classic cheeseburger, fried cheese and buttermilk fried chicken. But the cheeseburger slider is what you want: a mini hamburger patty served with grilled onions and avocado sauce on a Hawaiian sweet roll. For those with larger appetites, BurntZilla also sells full-sized burgers, such as the large Western (a one-third-pound patty with smoked Cheddar, a house barbecue sauce, bacon and onion strings) and the Cross Over, which includes a fried egg, bacon, Tapatío aioli and guacamole. (Nikki Nelsen) 14413 Culver Dr., Irvine, (949) 392-5995; www.burntzilla.com. 

Coming in hot at Lola Gaspar. Photo by Cynthia Rebolledo

This SanTana eatery doesn’t mess around when it comes to comida and fútbol. Lola Gaspar is one of the best spots in Orange County in which to catch matches year-round, regularly screening its beloved Barça for fans to enjoy. We recommend you belly up to the bar and celebrate the Gold Cup win with a Gold Foil Burger. What makes the burger here so special is its sheer simplicity: An Electric City Butcher patty comes slightly charred and topped with American cheese singles, griddled onions and a drippy, rich, house-made fry sauce. It’s the perfect victory burger, best enjoyed with a side of fries and mezcal. (Cynthia Rebolledo) 211 W. Second St., Santa Ana, (714) 972-1172;

The Royale With Cheese at Burger Parlor. Photo by Shannon Aguiar

Notorious for delectably thick, house-made ice cream milkshakes and tasty beef patties, Burger Parlor knocks it out of the park with its Royale With Cheese Burger. Each bite is accompanied by crunchy smoked bacon, warm fontina cheese, crispy caramelized onions, arugula and truffle aioli. It’s all topped with a fried egg and a freshly baked bun. The menu acknowledges a number of alternative food requirements and offers options such as lettuce buns, vegan patties and burger salads. (Shannon Aguiar) 204 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 441-2003; also at 149 N. Glassell St., Orange, (714) 602-8220; www.burgerparlor.com. 

A special creation from the Riders Club Cafe. Photo by Haley Chi-Sing

Taking the classic burger to a whole new level, the Riders Club Cafe lets customers create their ultimate dream burger. Guests choose from four patty options (ground beef, veggie, chicken or portabello mushroom), then pick from six different cheeses (Cheddar, Muenster, Swiss, goat-cheese spread, blue and havarti) and five additional toppings (bacon, grilled mushrooms, roasted chile peppers, avocado and egg). No matter what you choose, each burger is served on a beautiful challah bun with lettuce, pickles, grilled or raw onions, and a house spread. Depending on your mood, you can ask for kettle chips or house pickled beets to compliment your own signature burger. (Haley Chi-Sing) 1701 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente, (949) 388-3758; www.ridersclubcafe.com.

Wild Goose Tavern’s Cilantro Caprese Burger. Photo by Mercedes Del Real

In our 2018 Best Of issue, the Wild Goose Tavern was rightfully dubbed Best Dive Bar because of its wide beer selection, cocktails and food, with a menu that stretches from salads to sausages. But it’s the burgers that keep us coming back—especially the Cilantro Caprese Burger. This hearty sandwich comes slathered in garlic aioli and a cilantro chimichurri that zings. It’s topped with oven-blistered tomatoes and a large square of fried mozzarella that lays across the patty, drooping just slightly as the soft outer breading tries to contain the gooey cheese. And to soak up the fallen juices that ooze out of the burger after every bite, you’ll need a side of fries or fried pickles. You won’t want to waste a single drop. (Mercedes Del Real) 436 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 722-9453; goosebar.com.

Going Beyond Meat at the Veggie Grill. Photo courtesy Veggie Grill

The Veggie Grill offers a Beyond Meat patty that tastes almost like the real thing—dripping with fake vegan “blood” and all. The Beyond Burger is topped with a tangy special sauce, vegan cheese, sweet grilled onions, tomatoes, lettuce and a sesame-seed bun. Even though beyond meat can taste “too real” for some animal-free eaters, it’s a great alternative to those soggy veggie patties available at most places. (NN) 13786 Jamboree Rd., Irvine, (714) 669-3037; also at 732 Spectrum Center, Irvine, (949) 727-9900; 27321 La Paz Rd., Laguna Niguel, (949) 362-9649; and 6451 Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 430-4986; www.veggiegrill.com.

Classic and locally sourced at Native Son Alehouse. Photo by Aimee Murillo

A craft beer bar isn’t necessarily the first place we’d run to for an amazing burger, yet Native Son Alehouse’s Santa Ana Burger is more delicious than the sum of its (minimal) parts. It’s simple yet so classic. Supported by a pillowy brioche bun is a grass-fed beef patty from Fourth Street Market’s Electric City Butcher; locally grown lettuce, tomatoes and onions; Muenster cheese; and a house-made spread akin to Thousand Island dressing. The brioche, Muenster and that spread combine for an unexpected sweetness we love. Scaled down to a humble size, it’s reminiscent of the burgers you’d encounter at a drive-in movie or neighborhood barbecue, yet it packs a wallop of flavor with every bite. While it won’t overshadow the numerous libations on tap, the Santa Ana Burger stands on its own as a hearty companion and an excellent tribute to its namesake city. (Aimee Murillo) 305 E. Fourth St., Ste. 200, Santa Ana, (714) 204-0337; nativesonale.com.

Though this much-beloved Dana Point hot spot offers five burger options, it has truly mastered the classic with its Shwack burger. The cult favorite comes with lettuce, tomato, red onions, its signature Shwack sauce and a fresh-baked bun. One can’t go wrong with this burger, but if you’re in the mood for something different, there’s Big Al’s Bacon Burger, Low Tide Turkey Burger, Good Vibes Veggie Burger and Groundswell Ahi Tuna Burger. (HCS) 24502 Del Prado Ave., Dana Point, (949) 218-2731; theshwack.com. 

Mmmm . . . Umami. Photo by Shannon Aguiar

Umami Burger is the go-to stop if you are looking for a fast, but still high-quality gourmet burger. The chain is widely known for its Impossible Burgers (made with the infamous vegan meat), of which you can choose from four options. But our hands-down favorite is the Impossible Trufflemaker, which features truffle aioli, truffle cheese and truffle glaze—It will definitely get you hooked on the Impossible. (Janelle Ash) 338 S. Anaheim Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 991-8626; also at 2981 Bristol St., Ste. B-2, Costa Mesa, (714) 957-8626; and 527 Spectrum Dr., Irvine, (949) 396-1830; www.umamiburger.com. 

A dive-bar treasure at Cassidy’s. Photo by Anthony Pignataro

It’s not that the burger shouldn’t be so juicy and hulking and delicious, but rather that the Cassidy’s burger shouldn’t exist at all. This dive on the Newport peninsula is at times rough and seedy, yet at other times quiet and . . . seedy. It has a tiny grill—not even room for a fryer—yet somehow sells the best burger in Newport Beach for just $8.50. Sure, you can get it with cheese for 50 cents more, if you like that kinda thing. But there’s something refreshing, even cleansing about devouring a straight half-pound beef patty topped with just lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions, mustard and a few generous squirts of spicy Pepper Plant sauce. The bun is soft, and the lower half will become soggy with beef juice after just a few moments. But the meat is perfectly seasoned and beautifully grilled. This burger won’t just satisfy your hunger; it will also give you hope. (AP) 2603 Newport Blvd., Newport Beach, (949) 675-8949.

Freesoulcaffé has spice. Photo by Jackson Guilfoil

For as much of an oxymoron as it sounds, vegan burger-eaters have a multitude of joints to satisfy their herbivorian itch, many of them mentioned above. But the list is not complete without Freesoulcaffé in Tustin. Among the four plant-based options it sells is the Hatch burger. With vegan jalapeño cheese, Sriracha aioli and a Hatch chile relish, this burger pleases anyone who prefers theirs with a hint of spice. The patty itself has a chewy, moist texture and a smoky flavor befitting the whopping $14 price tag. Though it’s not as spicy as its name suggests, the Hatch burger is definitely more flavorful than many other vegan burgers available. That said, spicy food enthusiasts should consider bringing their own bottle of hot sauce. (Jackson Guilfoil) 191 E. Main St., Ste. 1B, Tustin, (714) 371-0976; www.freesoulcaffe.com.

24 Replies to “Burger of the Day: The Real Hamburgers of Orange County”

  1. Try any burger at The Cut in Irvine. Truly unbelievably good. There are not enough superlatives to describe them.

  2. I gotta say this list is missing two specifically amazing offerings of the burger du’ ham in the OC area. The Shroom Burger at Fleenor’s on Fourth in Downtown Santa Ana is a dream of savory goodness with each bite!! It’s so good that no other Mushroom burger anywhere can compare.

    Equal to the challenge is The Wall Cheese Burger at The Wall in the Orange Plaza. Simple classic cheese burger that actually would outrank the classic In-n-Out cheeseburger by a 1,000 in a taste comparison test. I highly suggest giving these two burgers a try and judge for yourself. For me….. I gotta say after finishing either of these great burgers I am truly a fat kid happy!

  3. You should try Tower 48, on PCH, Newport Beach. The cheeseburger with the jalapenos is UNBELIEVABLY DELICIOUS!!

  4. You gotta try Peter’s Gourmade’s burgers in Tustin. They have come a long way from their Valero gas station start but the burgers are still amazing.

  5. Rose’s Cafe and Bakery and Gary’s Deli on PCH in Corona Del Mar are impressive. Then you can walk off some of those calorie and go to the beach!

  6. Good burgers don’t need “toppings” or “extras.” Comparing a “Green Chile Burger” to In-N-Out? Get real.

  7. Missed American Grub in Old Town Tustin
    Noone makes a burger better then them
    The Angus patties are so rich and flavorful and the varieties are to die for

  8. Portillo’s (not to be confused with Porto’s) in Buena Park located in the mall parking lot, has the best hamburgers I’ve ever eaten. Hands down!!!! Honestly can’t believe it’s not on this list. If you haven’t tried them you’re missing out on deliciousness. Just some food for thought.

  9. Biggies Burgers in San Clemente. Great Burgers! I got the King Burger meal. The hamburger patty is a half pound =8 oz. Almost the size of a personal pizza. It’s huge, the biggest single hamburger patty I’ve ever seen! I got the steak fries. They were excellent. Although, after you eat the burger you barely have room to eat the fries. The burger alone is a meal in and of itself! Highly recommend this place. You won’t leave hungry, that’s for sure!

  10. Why are you mentioning burger joints that are not in Orange County ONLY, this is the OC Weekly and it’s not in Long Beach or LA it’s in Orange County California, so drop the other cities and FOCUS on Orange County.

    1. LA Weekly does a piss poor job of covering Long Beach. As a LB resident, I’m happy that the OC weekly is here to pick up their slack. Calm down.

  11. Dennis didn’t read the entire article. There isn’t a single spot that is in Long Beach or LA on the list.

  12. GBurger in La Habra deserves some love. The city that gave us OC’s first Krispy Kreme in the late 90s has given us something else.

    Truly excellent burgers.

  13. try Bunz Burgerz on Center next to Vans in H B (across the street from Costco at bella terra) they just opened a new store on newport blvd near Lido

  14. 50 years ago Americans were looking in awe at the Moon shot. Now ‘Americans’ are wowed by chimichurri on a slab of ground up cow.

    1. I take it you are pointing up the progress that has been made? We once thought that loan was made of cheese and that the cow jumped over the moon. Now we know that hamburger is made from cows and the cheese is on the burger.

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