Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Gluten Free Burger Project

(Updated Tuesday, May 2, 2017 and June 6, 2017)

In 2006, GQ Magazine published "The 20 Hamburgers You Must Eat Before You Die." The restaurants are located everywhere from L.A. to New Haven to Seattle to Florida. We took a road trip that year, and I made a list of all these places. We ate at about half of them.

If we'd bothered to actually read the article, instead of just making the list, we might have noticed that a large part of what makes the burger is the bun. Since we must eat gluten free, and gluten-free hamburger buns were a rarity anywhere in 2006, we had to eat ours without the bun, and we missed half the experience.

Hence, my quest to identify hamburgers you must eat, served by a restaurant on a gluten free bun. Yeah, we can't eat gluten, Yeah, we want to eat our burger on a bun just like you do. Yeah, gluten-free buns are readily available. Yeah, lettuce wraps and corn tortillas do not cut it.

This is a list of restaurants purported to serve a decent burger on a gluten-free bun. We have not eaten at many of them, so now that we've identified a few, we can start checking them out. If you know anything about them, or have an opinion, or know of some that are not in our list, please comment. There is a list of resources at the bottom. I had these criteria for whether or not to list:
  1. They must list the GF bun option on their online menu. 
  2. It is not enough to just be listed on some GF web site.
  3. They must not have bad reviews on any GF web site or any review web site.

We have visited these

1. Smashburger - 300 locations
Our current favorite. A really soft GF bun. Helpful servers. And they have sweet potato fries cooked using a dedicated frier. Good shakes too. It's like fast food, not much ambience.

2. Red Robin - 500 locations
We only had a bad experience once, when they didn't really know how to cook the bun. And they tend to seat us in the bar, when we'd rather watch the children in the larger area. Their sweet potato fries are bottomless but they aren't as crisp as Smashburger's. Our favorites are the bacon guacamole burger and the DBG (with garlic aioli).

3. The Counter Burger - 40 locations, mostly in California
We ate here only once. It was good. We weren't impressed enough to visit again, when there are other places closer.

4. Koa's Seaside Grill - Lahaina, Maui
Many restaurants on Kauai and Maui will work with your gluten allergy. We just asked. The buns aren't on the menu, but they have them. (An exception to the rule.)

5. Gott's Roadside - St. Helena, San Francisco, Napa, Palo Alto
We visited the one in St. Helena when it was known as Taylor's Refresher. It was a lot of fun. The food was all huge. Everyone sits at long tables while the children play on the lawn. Don't know anything about their GF buns.

Update: We visited the Palo Alto location. The burger is big. They made my shake wrong twice before they got it correct.

6.  Armadillo Willy's - 8 locations in the bay area.
I visited the one near Blossom Hill and Almaden one day at lunch time. The burger was huge!

7. The Melt - 18 locations in San Jose, Palo Alto, southern California, Colorado, and Texas.
We went once. It was OK. The burger was nothing to write home about.

8. Scramblz - San Jose. Update 6-6-17: the bun is very soft. You can get side of GF waffles or french toast. Scramblz has a disclaimer that their kitchen is not GF and cross contamination could be a problem. We've never had a problem, but someone more sensitive that we are might get glutened.

9. Lyfe Kitchen - 14 locations in Cupertino, Palo Alto, southern California, Las Vegas, Colorado, Texas, Memphis, and Chicago. We ate at the one in Valencia near Magic Mountain. The bun was crunchy to the touch but soft in the mouth. The Farmhouse Burger is served with bacon and an egg over easy. The meat was cooked to medium, still pink.

10. Manna Cafe in Fresno. We did not have the burger, but the breakfast was wonderful.

11. Hero Certified Burgers in Ontario and Quebec. We ate at the lone outpost in Montreal. This one comes near the top of our list for its locally made gluten free bun with poppy seeds. Most of the other burgers we've eaten use the same off the shelf gluten free bun from a major baker.

12. B Good - 27 locations around Boston. We visited the one on Washington Street, near the State Street T station. The burger and sweet potato fries were tasty. They have some healthy brand of fountain sodas that still met my caffeine needs. Their niche seems to be healthy, locally-sourced food.

We visited these before they had GF buns

13. Santa Fe Bite - Santa Fe, NM
This one is owned by the owners of the Bobcat Bite, which closed. Bobcat was one of GQ's 20. Their burger was ok, but the small restaurant made it difficult. They are in a larger location now. Here is a recent review.


These locations are near us in northern California

  1. Mooyah Burger - Los Gatos, Morgan Hill, Walnut Creek, southern California, AL, AR, CO, CT, FL, IL, LA, MA, MT, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, TN, TX, VA, WI, Canada, Mexico, Middle East. Not all locations have gluten free buns, but Los Gatos has it listed.
  2. Moxy Beer Garden - Berkeley
  3. Farm Burger - Berkeley, San Anselmo, North Carolina, and Georgia
  4. Kronnerburger - Oakland
  5. Drake's Brewing Company - Oakland
  6. Fast Food Francais - Sausalito
  7. Saturn Cafe - Berkeley
  8. Bernal Star - San Francisco
  9. BurgerMeister - Daly City, Alameda, San Francisco, Berkeley
  10. Mona's Burgers - Walnut Creek
  11. Broderick Road House - Walnut Creek, Sacramento
  12. Shoreline Coffee Shop - Mill Valley
  13. Moss Beach Distillery - Moss Beach

OK, still on the west coast, at least

  1. Burger Lounge - 20 locations in Los Angeles and San Diego
  2. Blue Moon Burgers - Seattle
  3. Cheeseburger Nation - Las Vegas, 4 on Oahu, 3 on Maui (we saw the one in Lahaina but we did not eat there)
  4. Burgerville - 39 locations in the Portland, Oregon area
  5. Wahlburgers - Las Vegas, FL, MA, MI, NY, PA, SC, Canada
  6. Blazing Onion - 7 locations in the Seattle area

At least some locations west of the Mississippi?

  1. Burger 21 - 20 locations mostly in Florida and Georgia, but also TX, IL, MI, PA, NY, VA, NC, NJ
  2. Culvers - 600 (?) locations in (in order of frequency) Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, IN, FL, IA, MO AZ, KY, SD, CO, TX, NE, OH, TN, UT, GA, KS, ND, SC, NC, ID, WY
  3. Cheeseburger in Paradise - FL, SC, VA, MD, NJ, IN, NE
  4. Guru Burgers and Crepes - Sugar Land, Texas
  5. Cafe Abiquiu - Abiquiu, NM
  6. Guru Burgers and Crepes - Sugar Land, TX - and it looks like they have gluten free crepes too!

The east coast or somewhere else far away

  1. The Nomad Hotel - New York
  2. The Little Beet Table - New York
  3. Vinsetta Garage - Berkley, Michigan
  4. Bareburger - 25 locations, mostly in NY and NJ
  5. Dakota Blue - Atlanta
  6. Sprig Restaurant - Decatur, GA
  7. South City Kitchen - 2 locations in Atlanta
  8. Yeah Burger - 2 locations in Atlanta
  9. Mainely Burgers - Cambridge, MA

Closed since this list was first created

  1. Four Burgers - Cambridge, MA