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Best Burgers in North County San Diego (2018 Master List)

best burger in san diego north county

It’s coming! Fall approacheth and with it, comfort food season. That may mean tomato soup and mac and cheese for some of you, but for a lot of us, it’s burgers. Thing is, outside of In-N-Out, it’s not always easy to find a fresh, delicious burger. The kind that has char on the edges, soaks the toasted bun with juiciness (but doesn’t make it soggy) and takes you straight to meat heaven. Luckily, North County is full of great burgers, if you know where to look.

Below are some top picks…

P.S. We didn’t list In-N-Out because it’s a given. We also noted where the best burger was veggie!

best burger in san diego north county coastal

(Del Mar to Oceanside)

1. Bistro West

This informally elegant Carlsbad hang-out attached to the West Inn & Suites features good old-fashioned American comfort food. That means burgers are well represented on the menu and include build-your-own burger options made with Kobe beef, bison, or turkey, a choice of cheeses and toppings. You can choose your bun too, with options like brioche, whole wheat and gluten-free. Sun-dried tomato truffle aioli comes with the burgers, which are all naturally made with top-quality meats. Perhaps the Bistro Burger will please you? It comes with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and swiss cheese.

2. Pure Burger (Best Veggie)

In addition to the traditional meaty burgers, you get two meatless choices at Pure Burger – veggie or vegan. Both come with savory veggies, but just one comes with cheese. Which one? It’s a test!

3. Notorious Burger

This Carlsbad eatery with a 1920s speakeasy theme features build-your-own burgers with several meat (turkey, lamb, grass-fed beef) and topping options. If you’re a spicy food aficionado, try the Capone Burger with habanero jack cheese, crispy onions, fried egg, avocado, and sriracha – and balance out all the meat with some fried cauliflower in buffalo sauce.

Wash your entree down with a local beer. Or a malt – the ice cream kind. And please for the love of all side dishes everywhere, don’t forget a serving of salt and vinegar fries or truffled tots.

4. Burger Lounge

Burger Lounge is home to the “original grass-fed burger” and winner of the 2013 San Diego Magazine Reader Poll in the Best Burger category. This award-winning burger restaurant puts a tasty gourmet grass-fed spin on the All-American classic hamburger. That option would include a choice of organic cheese, grilled or fresh onion, lettuce, tomato, and house Thousand Island dressing.

If you’ve traveled to any one of San Diego’s many trendy enclave neighborhoods, you’ve most likely come across a Burger Lounge. Burger Lounge is not only known for their gourmet grass-fed burgers, but also for their eco-conscious business practices.

5. Zel’s Del Mar (Best Veggie)

If you’re a veggie burger lover, these words will thrill your stomach: quinoa veggie burger with black beans, jalapeños, roasted red peppers, and chipotle aioli. You know what would be even better? Adding a fried egg on top. This stuff just writes itself.

6. Craftsman Tavern

Craftsman serves half-pound beefy beauties in tasty varieties like the Wisconsin with beer cheese fondue and smoked bacon, and the Prohibition with smoked bacon (natch), moonshine jalapenos, and chipotle aioli. If you want a burger, but not the grains, Craftsman offers all its burgers with a choice of gluten-free bun.

7. Encinitas Ale House

This pride of Encinitas serves amazing 1/2-pound Angus burgers on housemade buns in a variety of flavors. Try the Santana with poblano peppers, avocado, caramelized onions, pepper jack cheese and ancho mayo. If you’re into wild game burgers, Encinitas Ale House serves a rotating variety including alligator, buffalo, and pheasant. Get it all a side of fries and you’re never coming home.

8. Solace and the Moonlight Lounge (Best Veggie)

Just read this aloud for a minute: quinoa-hazelnut burger with aged white cheddar and lemon-thyme aioli. Might sound fancy, but it’s fancy amazing. And if you don’t get a starter of warm cheddar and chive biscuits with smoked tomato jam, you’re dead inside.

9. Chiefs Burgers and Brew

The Bleu Cheese Burger cures any hangover. That’s a purely anecdotal statement, but proven true time and time again. Every one of Chiefs’ burgers rule though. Choose from the Jalapeno Jack, Hula, Western, and more. All come on either a brioche, white, or wheat bun and with a side of fries.

10. Pillbox Tavern & Grill

Guess what Pillbox does Monday nights? It hosts Burger Monday when you can get a burger and beer for 12 bucks! Guess what else? The Pillbox Burger rules. Think Angus beef served with cheese, tavern sauce, lettuce, tomato, and onion on a brioche bun. The veggie burger rocks your tongue too with its black bean patty, muenster cheese, basil goat cheese hummus, spinach/arugula mix, fajita veggies, grilled portabello mushroom, avocado, and sun-dried tomato pesto. There’s a lot going on there, but it’s all good.

11. Ty’s Burger House

Locally owned and operated Ty’s sits just off Mission near the Oceanside Pier. Serving perfectly grilled burgers of every persuasion perched confidently on a lightly toasted bun, Ty’s is a local’s favorite. If you want to mix up your burger palate, order yourself a wild game burger with choices including venison, buffalo, and wild boar. Like any proper burger spot, Ty’s also has beer on the menu, hand-battered onion rings, and chili cheese fries. Hang out on the enclosed back patio, savor your burger and suds, and let the kids run around in a post-meal stupor.

12. Flying Pig Pub & Kitchen

It’s a toss-up. The salt and vinegar fries or the chuck burger with blue cheese, arugula, whole grain mustard aioli, and caramelized onions? Oh, wait. Right. We’re talking burgers and lucky for us, the fries come on the side. Both it is. Flying Pig lives in two locations – Oceanside and Vista, so burger it up at one or the other. The Vista pub also has a pork burger with a housemade garlic and marjoram patty, sharp cheddar, salami, watercress, and dijonaise.

13. Pamplemousse Grille

Amazing French Continental cuisine, elegant dining room, extensive wine list, exquisite service –and a great burger? Those things may not seem to go together, but oh how they do. Sure, the burger is $24, but sometimes a splurge is really worth it. This is one of those times.

14. Red Rooster Bar & Grill

Don’t let the dive bar persona fool you – Red Rooster makes one heck of a hamburger. Grab a seat by the fire pit, pop open your craft brew, and order the Rooster Burger with grilled onions, melted cheese, green chilis and all the fixins. The meat’s charred over an open flame, in perfect dive-bar style. Be sure to bring cash because the Red Rooster doesn’t take credit cards. Even so, you won’t need a ton of cash, especially if you go for the Thursday Night special, which includes a pitcher of domestic beer and a cheeseburger for 12 bucks.

best burger in san diego north county inland

(Rancho Bernardo to Escondido)

15. The Wooden Spoon

This artisanal comfort food hot spot opened in February 2014 and has already been awarded best new restaurant in 2015 by San Diego Magazine. Small, cozy, and full of home cooking goodness, The Wooden Spoon serves perfectly seasoned burgers on cutting boards accompanied by fries on cast iron trays. Most food is locally sourced and made from scratch, including the condiments. But enough about that here’s what you should have pronto: The Spoon Burger with arugula, bacon-onion jam, smoked blue cheese and tomato aioli. Patrons also enjoy poutine, a nice beer selection (or wine), and the Spoon’s famous Butterscotch Pot du Creme – the house specialty spiked with sea salt ganache. If you’d rather go old school, The Wooden Spoon is happy to bring you homemade cookies and a jar of organic milk.

16. Farmer Boys

Originally opened by five farmer brothers, Farmer Boys now boasts several locations throughout California. Like the others, the Escondido shops serve “natural” burgers, which are made with fresh, never frozen, hormone- and antibiotic-free USDA pure beef patties. You can taste the difference. Try the Farmer’s Burger for a tasty and sublime introduction to Farmer Boys.

17. Mama Kat’s Restaurant & Pie Shop

Located in a small San Marcos plaza and known mainly for its excellent and filling breakfasts, Mama Kat’s nonetheless serves up an amazing burger. If you want to mix it up, try the Chubby Chicken – a burger topped with chili, cheddar cheese, and a fried chicken strip. Add some homemade potato chips – or fries if you’re a purist. Mama Kat’s comes complete with a longtime locals’ hangout vibe and friendly atmosphere, and its down-home American cuisine is comfort food at its finest. And there’s pie!

18. Oink & Moo

Oink & Moo does its hamburger thing out of an artsy, colorful cottage owned by two Fallbrook locals and done up in a western theme. All its beef burgers are chuck steak ground by hand and blended with brisket. Speaking of which, if you’re a burger lover, don’t start with the bacon-wrapped macaroni and cheese fritters because you want to stay starving for what’s coming next. Choose from all-American basics like the peanut butter and jelly burger with bacon or go a little more exotic with the rotating wild-side specials that might feature llama, wild boar, duck, or venison burgers. Add some bling with local beers on tap, frings (waffle fries and onion rings), and homemade lemonade. The only downside is Oink & Moo is closed Monday and Tuesday, and open just for dinner Wednesday through Sunday from 4:30 to 9 PM (or until 8:30 PM Sundays).

19. Nessy Burgers

Opened in 1989, Nessy enjoys the kind of adulation reserved for only the finest roadside diners. Serving specially spiced and closely guarded formulations of chuck and sirloin beef blends ground fresh every day, Nessy Burgers also features homemade secret sauces to wow your mouth. It all comes with fresh and soft sesame seed buns with a variety of side (go with the chili cheese fries).

20. Slater’s 50/50 (Best Veggie)

We all know that the 50/50 refers to burgers made of 50% bacon and 50% beef, right? Well, forget all that! No seriously, wipe it from your mind. Because Slater’s also makes a righteous veggie burger named Eat Your Veggies that are topped with avocado, cucumber, and garlic aioli. If you’re eating cheese, put the smoked gouda on top. Almost as good as bacon, right? That was a test. We told you to forget about the bacon!

21. Grub

Grub serves 13 types of burgers, including chickpea, salmon, and turkey. You’ll forget all that though with one bite of the Mac ‘N Cheeseburger, which comes with mac and cheese, sliced bacon, and cheese sauce. Just do it. You can detox in the morning.

22. Tom’s (Best Veggie)

In a hurry and need something relatively healthy quickly? Hit up Tom’s drive-through in Vista and order its version of a veggie burger. It’s simple, and like something you’d make at home, but that’s the beauty. There’s something about it that’s endearing and comforting – must be the Thousand Island dressing. If they have the tomato soup on tap? Get that too. It’s a perfect veggie burger dip.

Your Turn…

There’s a burger for every mouth. Where do you go to satisfy your burger craving?

Debbie Anderson: Debbie is a freelance writer and editor who’s been blogging at San Diego Momma since 2007. Debbie's been featured in Writer's Digest, the San Diego Reader, and San Diego Magazine, and was named Top 25 blog by Red Tricycle, nominated for an InfluenceSD "Best in Lifestyle" blog award, and appeared on NBC, Fox, and The CW Network as a blogger spokesperson. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or at Google+.