Photo Credit: @hollisterbrewingco via Instagram
Burgers are the ultimate crowd-pleasing, American comfort food. The traditional hamburger has evolved significantly over the decades, between gourmet spins on the classic beef sandwich, the infusion of globally inspired toppings, and the tasty variety of nutritious meat alternatives. Being the renowned culinary destination it is, the Santa Barbara South Coast has no shortage of amazing burgers to get your hands messy digging into—no judgment if you prefer to use a knife and fork! Think bison burgers and truffle fries paired with a local craft beer. Vegan “cheese” burgers, sriracha-spiced burgers and ahi tuna burgers … perhaps washed down with a Happy Canyon Sauvignon Blanc or Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay. You can also go for basic burgers with something bubbly by the beach. We’ve rounded up a guide to the best burgers in the Santa Barbara South Coast, covering the full spectrum from elevated fast food and refined fare to smash burgers, veggie burgers and cult favorites.
Note that nearly all of the full-service restaurants and many of the fast-casual spots highlighted offer a variety of protein choices and substitutes like black bean burgers, chicken, turkey and fish to cater to dietary preferences. $ = under $10; $$ = $10-$16; $$$ = $17+
BEST BURGERS IN SANTA BARBARA under $10
Any conversation about burgers in Santa Barbara must start with The Habit, a well-known West Coast chain that started in Goleta in 1969. Stop by one of the eight Santa Barbara County locations to sample one of their Original #1 Charburgers made with 100% fresh, lean beef and topped with crisp lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions, mayo and pickles. Chubbies on De La Vina is another Santa Barbara staple dating back to 1985. Bring your appetite for The Chubbie, a double patty cheeseburger with twice the cheese and your choice of grilled or raw onions.
Jalama Burgers are famous among locals and visiting surfers and foodies alike. It’s worth the scenic drive up to the coast of Lompoc north of Point Conception, where you’ll find a windswept county beach and the humble Jalama Beach Store & Grill that a local family has run for more than 40 years. Here, it’s all about Kathy Eittreim’s secret sauce, which can be enjoyed atop both beef and vegan patties.
Summerland’s Tinker Burger is a fun and funky casual daytime burger joint. Kids love the simplicity of their basic cheeseburger while grown-ups with big appetites can supersize their burger to a triple or quad patty. With two Goleta locations and a Santa Barbara outpost, Kyle’s Kitchen is another go-to for local families who appreciate the socially responsible ethos as much as the quality ingredients at an affordable price point. The Mountain Climber features an all-natural beef patty topped with melted pepper jack cheese, crispy onion strings, sliced jalapeños, lettuce, tomato and jalapeño ranch stacked between a brioche bun.
BEST BURGERS IN SANTA BARBARA $10-$16
Buellton’s Hitching Post II is a family-owned steakhouse renowned for its Central Coast style of oak wood-fired grilling. Time your visit for a Wednesday or Thursday night when they’re grilling up burgers made with cuttings from their premium Midwestern sourced steaks—yep, we’re talking filet mignon and rib-eye patties with a sprinkling of their magic dust. Day-trippers are in luck because burgers are available on the regular lunch menu at their winery next door, too.
An eatery in The Waterline co-op in the Funk Zone, The Nook quickly earned acclaim for their Lama Burger, which can be enjoyed with a pint poured from their neighbors Topa Topa Brewing and Lama Dog Tap Room. Pardon us if the idea of a Black Angus beef patty, roasted Anaheim chile stuffed with mozzarella cheese, beer-braised onions, candied bacon strips, tomato, Romaine and house-made burger sauce on a brioche bun has you drooling!
Local resident and celebrity Chef Cat Cora is the creative culinary mind behind Mesa Burger which, by popular demand, expanded to three South Coast locations: Santa Barbara, Montecito and Goleta. The burgers are named for local neighborhoods—try The Goodland Burger topped with sliced bratwurst, crispy onion strings, smoked bacon, cheddar cheese and smoked bbq sauce. Live Oak Café is another palate-pleasing spot for creative concoctions like the Spicy Kimchi Burger topped with a fried egg, aged cheddar and garlic sesame sauce.
BEST BURGERS IN SANTA BARBARA $17+
Yellow Belly Tap and Restaurant is a low-key neighborhood joint on De La Vina for elevated casual eats paired with local brews. It’s a toss-up between two of their decadent burgers that each have a hint of sweetness in the savory: The Fig + Goat + Bacon with a fig jam, goat cheese, bacon, arugula and roasted garlic aioli, versus The Royale with Cheese topped with caramelized onion bacon jam, American cheese, iceberg lettuce, tomato, dill pickles, thousand island dressing and yellow mustard.
The California chain Eureka! became a fast favorite among burger connoisseurs when they opened in Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center. The 28-Day Dry-Aged Bone Marrow Burger is a worthy $20 splurge. The 28-day dry-aged and carrot-fed Angus patty is topped with bone marrow shiitake butter, charbroiled onion, horseradish mustard aioli and roasted Roma tomato. It’s off-the-charts umami gold.
Nor can you go wrong with the Bison Burger at Finney’s Crafthouse & Kitchen on lower State Street. The beef is sourced from the Flocchini Family Ranch in Wyoming and the smoked gouda, bacon jam, cherry peppers and mustard aioli create the perfect smoky brightness. We also love the spiciness of The Rocket Burger at Jane (Santa Barbara and Goleta), which comes with arugula, avocado, jack cheese, balsamic and cracked pepper mayonnaise—an added bonus to get your greens with your protein!
The Honor Burger at Montecito’s Honor Bar is a modern classic with fresh ground chuck, melted cheddar and tomato topped with coleslaw. Its nearby neighbor Lucky’s Steakhouse has a premium 8 oz. Lucky Burger, while the Beach Bar at Rosewood Miramar serves the robust Hank’s Burger with a double patty, American cheese, 60-minute onion and Hank’s special sauce on a brioche bun. And you can’t beat those sea breezes and ocean views.
Smash burgers are so special, they deserve their own category. If you haven’t had the pleasure of devouring a smash burger, it’s a patty that has been thrown on the grill or griddle, pressed and seared. The cooking technique results in a super satisfying charred, toasty flavor and a thinner patty.
Longtime local butchers, Shalhoob’s ($-$$) recently opened a new restaurant and beer garden in the Santa Barbara Public Market. They are serving Single and Double “Shoobies,” their take on the smash burger made with their own quality cuts and topped by American cheese, caramelized onions and special sauce.
Last but not least, Third Window Kitchen at Third Window Brewing ($-$$) serves incredibly legit smash burgers. They are proud of their hyper-local beef, which comes from Wagyu cattle raised on the owner/brewer’s family land in nearby Los Olivos. The cattle feed on spent grain from the brewery, bringing the brewery experience full circle.
VEGETARIAN & VEGAN-FRIENDLY BURGERS
Our vegetarian and vegan friends will find a plethora of burger options available at many of the eateries in this guide, Third Window Kitchen ($$) included. It’s a sweet spot to try a meatless take on the smash burger. Their Vegan Burger is made with a black bean patty served with vegan chipotle aioli, avocado, pickled onions and cilantro—all on a bed of lettuce, with a small vegan bun and pickled jalapeños on the side. Finney’s Craft House & Kitchen ($$) makes an exceptionally satisfying, plant-based Impossible Burger topped with Swiss cheese, grilled onions, arugula, steak sauce and mustard aioli.
Natural Café ($$) has State Street, Uptown and Goleta locations. The pioneering local health food restaurant planted roots in the community more than 20 years ago. In addition to ground turkey burgers, they have tempeh, Hungry Planet and whole grain veggie patties to choose from. Instead of fries, here burgers come with blue corn chips and salsa.
Kyle’s Kitchen ($) comes through with their Earth Burger. Expect a handmade veggie patty, crushed avocado, arugula, red onions, organic sprouts, tomato and garlic aioli on a wheat bun. Mesa Burger ($$) does a solid Shoreline Veggie Burger with a vegan patty, pickled red onions, arugula, salsa verde and red pepper hummus. Instead of the brioche bun, you can opt for a lettuce wrap, gluten-free bun, vegan wheat bun or sourdough bread. How’s that for accommodating?!
At Rascal’s ($$), Chef Dalan Moreno’s 100% vegan restaurant, expect ridiculously good plant-based burgers paired with an ever-changing menu of creative vegan-friendly “milk” shakes. Beyond the customizable single and double cheeseburgers, a special weekly burger is featured, such as the “Kahuna Style” Impossible Burger with fried pineapple, house-made teriyaki, red onion, cheese and lettuce. Finally, the Mushroom Umami Burger at Mesa Verde ($$$) is what vegan dreams are made of—mushroom, lettuce, heirloom tomato, beet ketchup, caramelized onions, sprouts, pickled shallots, mustard and cashew aioli. To that we say, “chef’s kiss!”