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Where are the best burgers in Santa Cruz?

There's a burger for everyone in Surf City

found in: food , guides , top 5 , grass fed , gluten free , vegetarian , burgers share
Hero burger and fries santa cruz

Don't look now, but there is a formidable burger culture growing alongside the craft breweries and coffee roasters in Santa Cruz—with quality produce and local grass-fed beef readily available, top-flight burgers all over town. Whether you're looking for something on-the-cheap, a burger in a donut bun or something without any meat at all, you can kill any burger craving in Santa Cruz.

Affordable burgers

The best burger value in town is the Cowells at the Surfrider Cafe. Not just affordable, this burger is made with Black Angus natural beef and offers both skinny and wedge cut fries as an option. Your angus can also go gluten-free with a housemade bun.

If you want something a bit faster, Betty Burgers has you covered with locations all over town and high quality, natural meat on the cheap. You can get just about any kind of burger you'd ever want and pair it up with shoestring or sweet potato fries. Betty will also wrap it up in lettuce or put in a gluten-free bun, but gluten sensitive beware, the shoestring fries are not gluten-free.

Looking for something different? Check out the Moco Loco from Pono—two grass fed patties, topped with two eggs and covered with gravy over rice with mac salad on the side.

Gourmet burgers

New American cuisine is becoming the trend in the cloth napkin dining category, which offers restaurants the opportunity to charge $15 for a burger, which occasionally is worth it. Assembly and Gabriella are popular choices offering great grass-fed burgers. West End Tap & Kitchen offers a solid hand-ground burger and some of the best fries around, but the patty is mixed with chopped bacon which, while tasty, leads to the inevitable chewy bites.

Vegetarian burgers

Just because you don't eat meat doesn't mean you are left cold at the salad bar—Saturn Café, Rosie McCann's and Surf City Sandwich offer tasty vegetarian options with all of the fixin's.

My favorite burgers in Santa Cruz

  1. You probably didn't expect an Irish pub to top this list, but the 1/2 pound grass-fed burger with killer fries (or a side salad you'll actually want to eat) from Rosie McCann's is the most satisfying burger in Santa Cruz. The only thing that makes this burger better is the variety of toppings you can add—I recommend the bacon and avocado. Rosie's also has the most-like-a-real-bun gluten-free option.

  2. If you haven't experienced Surf City Sandwich, which opened in 2015, just go. Today. There you'll find an entire board of incredible sandwiches along with a burger-of-the-week. The homemade potato chips are so good you don't even need fries, but you do need to try out the tots, which are epic. Surf City also offers gluten free bread options for all of their sandwiches.

  3. Laili's lamb burger will elevate your game by going international (Afghani to be exact)—with an inspired side salad and roasted potatoes on the side, this isn't just a great burger, it is one of the best meals in town.

  4. The Spicy Muchacho from East Side Eatery is the only dressed-up burger on the list—covered in guacamole, bacon and jalapeño slices, this burger is unstoppable. As a bonus, East Side has some of the best fries in town and offers a gluten-free bun option.

  5. A couple of out-of-towners worth traveling to are Cremer House in Felton and Whale City Bakery in Davenport. The Cremer House is firing on all cylinders and you would be hard pressed to get better food anywhere. Likewise, if you drive (or ride your bike) up Highway 1 to Davenport you will be rewarded at Whale City with a handcrafted burger made with just-up-the-road grass-fed beef and a solid plate of hand-cut fries (or upgrade to some epic onion rings).

Did I miss your favorite? Drop me a line or better yet, invite me to lunch: josh at santacruzdaily dot com.