Just about every menu has a version of America’s favorite food, because we demand it of restaurants from haute to humble. There are burgers topped with fried eggs, kimchi, stinky cheese and tapenades. There are fat burgers, thin burgers, juicy burgers, dry burgers and burgers we don’t even know how to categorize.
We’ve tasted dozens of contenders throughout Sonoma County. And we’ve chosen seven favorite bun-patty-bun combinations along with more humble “regular joe” burgers, wacky burgers and even meatless burgers. It was a tough job. You’re welcome.
BEST OF THE BEST: Tilted Burger, Wishbone, Petaluma, $18
Mop-topped Highland Scottish beef raised on chef Miriam Donaldson’s Petaluma ranch is the key ingredient in this must-try Sonoma County burger. Wishbone’s beefy treat includes bacon, cheddar, caramelized onions, mayo and pickles between homemade brioche buns. Comes with fries. A simpler version is served during their daily brunch, featuring just red onion, mayo and mustard ($15). 841 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma, 707-763-2663, wishbonepetaluma.com
BEST OF THE BEST: Shroomaluma, Slamburger, Petaluma, $10.50
Maurice Mikel has spent years trying to create the perfect hamburger. Call it something of an obsession for the Jordanian immigrant, who recently opened Petaluma’s Slamburger. Featuring big flavors influenced by the aromatic herbs and spices of his homeland, these are burgers with some serious bite. Our fave, however, is the fungusladen ’Shroomaluma with Cremini mushrooms, lettuce, Swiss cheese, peach barbecue sauce, tomato and house pickles. Don’t miss the Slam Fries ($5), a hearty serving smothered with garlic aioli, red onions and a fried egg. 5 Petaluma Blvd. S., Petaluma, 707-658-1845, theslamburger.com.
BEST OF THE BEST: Not So Mini Burger, Stark's, Santa Rosa, $6
Happy hours are legendary at this Railroad Square steakhouse, and not just for the drink specials. This quarter-pounder is made with prime Angus beef topped with fontina cheese, caramelized onions and truffle aioli. The Stark Standard ($15) is a heartier half-pounder with smoked bacon, peppercorn salsa verde and Cambozola ($15), but add-ons include onion rings, a truffled sunny-side-up egg and steak sauce. And if you really want to gild the lily, you can ask for seared foie gras. 521 Adams St., Santa Rosa, 707-546-5100, starkrestaurants.com
BEST OF THE BEST: Boon Burger, Boon Eat + Drink, Guerneville, $16
This luxe grass-fed burger wows with Fiscalini white Cheddar, arugula and pickled onions on brioche bread — served, natch, with truffled French fries and aioli. We couldn’t not include it, for fear of serious burger-fan repercussions: It’s that well-loved. 16248 Main St., Guerneville, 707-869-0780, eatatboon.com.
BEST OF THE BEST: Tim's Burger, Backyard Restaurant, Forestville, $14.50
Chef Daniel Kedan and his wife, Marianna Gardenhire, couldn’t have opened their restaurant in 2012 without the help of Marianna’s dad, Tim. There was a catch, however, to his free labor: He required a daily mocha and a cheeseburger. The couple has improved upon his simple request by zhooshing it up with grass-fed beef, homemade kimchi, a sunny-side-up egg, homemade aioli, pickled onions, locally made cheese and a brioche bun. A favorite West County burger. Bacon optional, onion rings on the side required. 6566 Front St., Forestville, 707-820-8445, backyardforestville.com.
BEST OF THE BEST: Ultimate Burger, Catelli's, Geyserville, $17.50
It's about simply prepared food with prime ingredients," says co-owner and celebrity chef Domenica Catelli. Her Wine Country burger is a house-ground mix of Kobe beef frisket and sirloin that's best eaten silkily rare and with a minimum of condiments. Required pairing: Truffle fries with chili, Parmesan lemon zest and truffle oil. 21047 Geyserville Ave, Geyserville, 707-857-3471, mycatellis.com.
BEST OF THE BEST: Twisted Horn Ranch Burger, Estero Cafe, Valley Ford, $13
Beef from grass-fed Longhorn cattle in nearby Bloomfield is the secret ingredient in this third-pound burger. Like everything else here, the ingredients are obsessively local, so chances are you've driven past the farms where much of your meal has come from. What we love best? A side of fries cooked in pork lard. 14450 Highway 1, Valley Ford, 707-876-3333, facebook.com/esterocafe.
CLASSIC BURGERS: Edk Burger, El Dorado Hotel and Kitchen, Sonoma, $14
This beefy behemoth of a burger is about as simple as it gets, but it’s worth checking out, especially if you can sit outside on the patio while contemplating its angus awesomeness, $14 (extra for cheese or bacon). 405 First St. W., Sonoma, 707-9963030, eldoradosonoma.com.
CLASSIC BURGERS: Reel Burger, The Reel Fish Shop & Grill, Sonoma, $14
Though seafood is a specialty at this new Sonoma dining spot, don’t overlook their burger. The basket ($14) includes a hearty Sonoma Mountain beef, Havarti cheese and bacon marmalade burger with their signature fries. 401 Grove St., Sonoma, 707-343-0044, thereelfishshop.com.
CLASSIC BURGERS: Hbg Burger, Healdsburg Bar & Grill, Healdsburg, $10.50
Co-owned by “Top Chef Masters” star Douglas Keane, the understated HBG elevates simple diner food to Michelin standards, most notably their freshly ground Angus beef patty with Sonoma Brinery pickles, Costeaux Bakery buns and garlic aioli on the side. All the burgers are cooked medium unless otherwise requested, and at $10.50 they’re something of a steal in Beverly Healdsburg. 245 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-433-3333, healdsburgbarandgrill.com.
CLASSIC BURGERS: Double Cheeseburger, Pullman Kitchen, Santa Rosa, $15
We love this beefy double stack, with the addition of bacon. Juicy, moist and solidly built, it’s a high-end ode to the In-N-Out classic. What takes this one over the top? California-style poutine ordered on the side: crispy fries with chicken gravy, Parmesan and plenty of pepper. 205 Fifth St., Santa Rosa, 707-5454300, thepullmankitchensr.com.
CLASSIC BURGERS: The Burger, Jackson’s Bar and Oven, Santa Rosa, $14
Perfectly cooked and always flavorful, Jackson’s burger is a solid go-to, just as good plain as it is tarted up with Point Reyes Blue, caramelized onions, jalapeños and mushrooms. Maybe it’s also because chef Josh Silvers takes his French fries so very, very seriously that we consistently find ourselves at the Jackson's table. Or is that just the lemon aioli talking? 135 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-5456900, jacksonsbarandoven.com.
CLASSIC BURGERS: Cheeseburger, Piner Cafe, Santa Rosa, $9.85
There are at least 16 burger variations on the menu at this casual diner, from simple cheeseburgers to an open-faced chili burger. The former owner of Sequoia burger knows her beef, and fans of these old-school burgers know Piner’s are some of the very best. 975 Piner Road, Santa Rosa, 707-575-0165, pinercafe.com.
CLASSIC BURGERS: Sequoia Burger, Sequoia Burger, Sebastopol, $5.75
This divey walk-up shack has been around as long as anyone can remember, and their burgers have been pretty much the same as long as anyone can remember. Thin patties made to order, ridiculously huge portions of fries and onion rings, straight-up sesame seed buns, and real-deal shakes. Picnic tables outside. 1382 Gravenstein Highway S., Sebastopol, 707-829-7543, sequoiaburger.com.
CLASSIC BURGERS: Smash Burger, The Wurst Restaurant, Healdsburg, $8.75
Though they’re passionate about sausage, Wurst’s burgers always get top billing in Healdsburg. Our favorite, however, is the exceedingly simple half-pounder with grilled onions, sharp Cheddar, pickles and a slather of lemon pepper tarragon sauce. Fries come separately but are required eating, as is the restaurant’s frozen custard. 22 Matheson St., Healdsburg, 707-395-0214, wurstrestaurant.com.
CLASSIC BURGERS: Ozzie's Ultimate Burger, Ozzie’s Grill, Santa Rosa, $11.95
A kitchen sink of a meal with two patties, bacon, pepper jack and Cheddar cheeses, jalapeños, avocado and onions — all on a sesame seed bun. You know you’re in the presence of an epic burger when your hungry teenager gives up in defeat halfway through. Clue two: You can’t open your mouth wide enough to stuff in the doublepatty behemoth before you. This no-frills burger spot is a favorite of nearby high school students and families, so you’ll likely find plenty of giggling teens crowded around the tables. 799 Montecito Center, Santa Rosa, 707-538-0775, ozziesgrill.com.
WACKY BURGERS: I Love Animals Burger, KC’s American Kitchen, $15.50
An ode to creatures that taste delicious, this barnyard bonanza includes a half-pound flamebroiled burger with bacon and cheddar, BBQ pulled pork and a chicken strip. 9501 DuVander Lane, Windsor Town Green, Windsor, 707-838-7800, kcsamericankitchen.com.
WACKY BURGERS: Don Chava Burger, Picazo Cafe, Sonoma, $12
Townies know exactly where to find the best burger, and this well-hidden little gem of a restaurant has gotten their vote as Sonoma’s top burger spot for several years. The Don Chava, named for the owner’s dad, piles it on with local grass-fed beef, pulled pork, barbecue sauce, pepper jack, jalapeño, pickled red onion and spicy Picazo sauce. 19100 Arnold Drive, Sonoma, 707-931-4377, picazocafe.com.
WACKY BURGERS: Pork Belly Burger, Hey Misstir, Santa Rosa, $13.50
The burgers at Santa Rosa’s Hey Misstir Bar & Grill are intimidating, even to an experienced eater. It’s not just the sheer size of these towering beefscrapers, but the carnivorous radicalism of a poultry, pork and beef ménage à trois under a single bun. Broken down layer by layer: Toasted Franco-American bun, mayo, fried egg, bacon, pork-belly stuffed hamburger, requisite vegetables, toasted bun. With a side of buffalo wing sauce-slathered fries (topped of course with blue cheese crumbles), it’s a cardiac nightmare — so bring an army to help you eat it. 52 Mission Circle, Suite 111, Santa Rosa, 707-978-2395, facebook.com/heymisstir
WACKY BURGERS: Lahaina Burger, Superburger, Santa Rosa, Windsor, Cotati, $10
Not much has changed at Santa Rosa’s original Superburger since its opening more than 30 years ago. Its tried-and-true formula was simple: honest burgers, fries and onion rings served up in red plastic baskets around an old-school lunch counter. The burgers are still fried up to order, but we like one of the restaurant’s new-school burgers, served with a charbroiled pineapple slice, ham and teriyaki glaze. You just know a burger’s gonna be good when the counter sports rolls of paper towels rather than napkins. 1501 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-5464016, 9238 Old Redwood Highway, Windsor, 707-620-0745, and 7981 Old Redwood Highway, Cotati, 707-6659790, originalsuperburger.com.
WACKY BURGERS: Patty Melt, Starting from Scratch Cafe, Santa Rosa, $16
Inside the posh new AgCredit complex near the Sonoma County Airport, longtime caterers Greg and Tammy Long have crated the ultimate melt with grass-fed beef, bacon, avocado, caramelized onions, Havarti cheese and sriracha aioli. The portions are truly massive, and like most caterers, Greg and Tammy let the food do the talking rather than their egos, making for truly delicious, uncomplicated dishes. 400 Aviation Blvd., Santa Rosa, 707-843-3829, startingfromscratch.biz.
WACKY BURGERS: Moo-Ben, Mike’s at the Crossroads, Cotati, Petaluma, $13
In the annals of Sonoma County hamburger history, Mike’s holds a special place in almost everyone’s heart. The original owner, Mike Condrin, set up at the Petaluma Livestock Auction Yard in the early 1990s with his own quirky set of rules (he wouldn’t serve fries and it was an extra nickel to order your burger without cheese). But the burgers were excellent, and Mike was a legend. Ownership changed a while back when Mike retired, but all of his favorite burgers are still on the menu, including this take on a Reuben. It’s got all the usual fixings: corned beef, Swiss cheese, Thousand Island dressing) piled on a burger. Plus, they’re serving fries now. 840 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma, 707-778-8222, and 7665 Old Redwood Highway, Cotati, 707-665-9999, mikesatthecrossroads.com.
MEATLESS BURGERS: Vegan Barbecue Burger, The Drawing Board, Petaluma, $15
This barbecue black bean veggie burger is served with caramelized onions, house-made cashew cream cheese and sprouts on a long-fermented sourdough bun from Revolution Bread. Available on Wednesday nights along with a different drink special each week. 190 Kentucky St., Petaluma, 707-774-6689, tdbpetaluma.com.
MEATLESS BURGERS: Tiki Burger, Bibi’s Burger Bar, Santa Rosa, $11
The vegetarian potato Tiki Burger is topped with tamarind sauce, chili cilantro chutney, red onion, lettuce and tomato. Comes with fries. 630 Third St., Santa Rosa, 707-523-1400, bibisburgerbar.com.
MEATLESS BURGERS: Quinoa Burger, Red Grape, Sonoma, $12
This house-made veggie burger gets its heft from quinoa, but for vegetarians, a slather of tasty Gruyère, mustard aioli and a brioche bun take it to the next level. Though the Grape is one of Sonoma’s favorite pizza spots, this unlikely addition to the menu is a favorite. 529 First St. W., Sonoma, 707-996-4103, theredgrape.com.
MEATLESS BURGERS: Bella Burger, Gaia’s Garden, Santa Rosa, $10.95
A perfectly seasoned, grilled portobello mushroom with pesto aioli, a smidge of garlic, lettuce, tomato and grilled onion served on a house-made vegan bun with a pickle spear. Substituting tempeh instead of portobello runs $11.95. 1899 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-544-2491, gaiasgardenonline.com.
MEATLESS BURGERS: Vegan Bohemian Burger, Barley & Hops, Occidental, $13
Start with a patty of lentils, brown rice, barley, ground oats, carrot and onion and build your own burger with a wide variety of options. Gluten-free buns available for $1 extra. 3688 Bohemian Highway, Occidental, 707-874-9037, facebook.com/barleyandhops.