Two of the Bay’s Best Burgers Under $10

Garaje flair

Tacos at Garaje

Burgers come in degrees: layered with expensive accoutrements, whole egg, foie gras, and the like… or simple, without pretense. I crave a burger in all degrees, whether upscale, knife and fork versions, or down and dirty. On the cheap, two burgers incite salivation in memory alone. One is at a brand new SoMa dive that also serves winning tacos, the other is Alameda’s shining jewel of burgerdom.

GARAJE, SoMa (475 Third Street between Bryant and Harrison, 415-644-0838)

Garaje’s laid back space

Call me food snob (it’s too late to reverse the palate now) for wanting even my go-to dive to serve quality deliciousness, but brand new Garaje is my kind of dive. Sipping long excellent Old World-style California wine greats on tap in a garage with cheap burgers and tacos? A few visits in and I’m smitten.

Reluctantly I write about Garaje, dreading the day it’s overrun with crowds aware of its utter value. A  haphazard, funky setting initiates its charms. Goodyear and Ducati signs glow across a long, former garage space. Restored mini diner booths in dingy mauve line the center of the room, while vintage fast food boards list offerings. A retro red, 1950’s refrigerator door houses taps: eight beers, three impressive on tap wine options, including Au Bon Climat Chardonnay, and owner Al’s tart, sassy house Sangria Roja.

The best $6 burger in SF

On the taco front, corn and flour tortillas arrive daily from La Palma, the best Mexicatessen in existence. It’s apparent from this detail they mean business. There’s a range of tacos: $5 for two street style tacos of skirt steak asada, mojo chicken, or carnitas ($2 at happy hour) or $4 for one generous fish taco, either grilled tilapia and guacamole or beer-battered tilapia (using sustainable fish). After trying four different tacos, my unexpected favorite is Thai prawn ($5), a corn tortilla piled with plancha-grilled Gulf prawns, cilantro, cabbage. Creamy lime mayo intermingles with salty peanuts in a delight of Thai flavors.

Behold the drive-in cheeseburger ($6), a charbroiled 1/3 lb. certified Angus patty (cooked medium) slathered in cheddar, griddled onions, pickles, lettuce, tomato, 1000 Island dressing on an Acme bun.

On tap

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Straightforward and humble, the burger is like an elevated In ‘n Out – and just as gratifying. Typically, I don’t repeat dishes at a worthwhile spot until I’ve tried just about everything on a menu. Yet every visit to Garaje, I must reorder this burger. The only slight misstep has been beer battered fish & chips ($11), though still good, served with classic, creamy slaw: the tilapia tasted slightly fishy one visit, though fresher-tasting on tacos. ­­

How to they manage to source local ingredients “whenever possible”, fry in rice bran oil, use quality ingredients like Acme Bread, yet keep prices so low? I’m grateful. The owner remembered my face from one visit to the next, welcoming me back. Each staff member has been friendly and attentive.

Big score for SoMa.

Garaje’s funky, fun space

SCOLARI’S, Alameda (1303 Park St., 510-521-2400)

Scolari’s tiny, bright shop

Now an Alameda staple, it is worth detouring for non-Alameda residents to pick up one of the best burgers I’ve ever had at Scolari’s. Drawing me like a beacon as I pass by on the 880 freeway, their $9 cheeseburger elicits sighs of contentment, nearly melting with onions and cheese. Direct and unfussy – with lettuce, tomato and onion – it’s what a burger should be.

Scolari’s does plenty of things well – from sandwiches to strombolis – in a closet-sized space, using quality ingredients. Even fries ($5) are no afterthought, served with aioli of the week, or available in special form like garlic scampi fries doused in lemon and chilies ($6.50), or Buffalo fries laden with crumbled bleu, shaved carrot, celery ($7).

Scolari’s perfect burger