Chances are, most of us have enjoyed our fair share of fast food burgers, whether they be the objects of a late-night McDonald's craving (don't deny it) or the lauded prize at the end of a pilgrimage to In-N-Out. The growth of smaller-scale burger franchises has made it easier than ever to land a tasty burger. Two of the Bay Area's best are San Francisco's Super Duper Burger (superdupersf.com), located in the Castro, Downtown, the Marina, and the Financial District; and Uptown Oakland's True Burger (trueburgeroakland.com). But who reigns supreme? We stopped in to both to find out.
Super Duper bills itself as a restaurant serving "fast food burgers with slow food values." It sources its beef from Niman Ranch and its dairy from Strauss. Pickles are made in-house, and its buns are of the undefined "artisanal" variety. Super Duper is very, very excited to share all of this information, both on the website and in person. Indeed, the cashier at lunch on a recent visit to their Castro location was enthusiastic about everything I ordered, even the iced tea. The interior was equally lively; everyone seemed genuinely psyched to be there.
As advertised, the single, quarter-pound burger came out quickly, wrapped in sustainable decorative paper and served on an industrial-chic quarter-sheet pan ($5.50 with cheese). At first glance, it appears diminutive and aptly named, but one bite reveals that it packs a punch. Super Duper's thin, smashed patty is abundantly juicy, richly seasoned, and tastes profoundly of the beef from which it was ground. Some decry this juice, calling it grease and shoving the burger aside. But truthfully, this juiciness made it easy to ignore the fact that the burger itself was overcooked, the advertised medium much closer to a medium-well.
A thick slice of cheddar cheese and abundant "super sauce" (read: souped-up mayo) also helped to disguise the disappointingly brown interior. Otherwise, the appropriately toasted bun did a fine job housing the burger and the remaining toppings — crisp lettuce, ripe tomato, and thinly sliced red onions — were fresh.
There's only one location of True Burger (right now), and it sits in a slim, secluded storefront on Grand Avenue near Lake Merritt. During the weekday lunch rush, the small restaurant is packed with office workers. Off-hours, I'd venture to guess that the restaurant is pretty quiet. True Burger's menu seems to be closely modeled on Shake Shack's, even down to the mushroom veggie burger. Still, this point is no knock on the joint — burgers, hot dogs, and shakes make a fine combination.
Despite the fact that True Burger doesn't sell name-brand beef, its burgers are pricier than Super Duper's ($8.35 for a quarter-pound Cheesy Trueburger.) The burger itself is solid, but not terribly exciting. With a decent char and a perfect medium cook, the patty is clearly executed with care — but it doesn't taste particularly beefy. It's cradled in a toasted, eggy bun that's well-proportioned and not distracting. Melty American cheese and the requisite lettuce and tomato (on par with Super Duper) are fine toppings to the patty, but get drowned out by the massive dollop of bland garlic mayonnaise. In fact, I didn't even realize that the mayonnaise was anything other than generic Hellman's until I later looked back at the menu; the garlic's presence was entirely lost. Scrape off a little of that mayo, or skip it entirely, for a far better burger.
Both burgers make a great lunch, but one has to come out on top.
Meat: Super Duper
Execution: True Burger
Bun: Super Duper
Sauce: Super Duper
Value: Super Duper
The winner? Super Duper Burger. San Francisco wins ... this time.