We put 16 of the area’s best burger joints head-to-head in a showdown and asked or readers to vote for their favorites. While we have four finalists — and one honorable mention by reader demand — we at 209 Magazine encourage you to get out this summer and try as many local burgers as possible on your travels and share with us your favorites @209magazine.
Barkin’ Dog Grill
Favorite burgers: Avocado Bacon Cheese Burger featuring crisp bacon, avocado, melted American cheese, mayo, lettuce, tomato, onion and organic dry aged beef patty; and the Gorgonzola Bleu featuring warm Gorgonzola bleu cheese, grilled onions, provolone, lettuce, tomato, chipotle mayo and organic dry aged beef patty.
Secret to success: If organic beef that is dry aged sounds like it would make one of the best burgers in the 209 then you would be correct. The Barkin’ Dog Grill is known for their burgers and owner Hanibal Yadegar is proud to bring customers a simple and tasty menu with quality ingredients and the best burger in the 209.
Bringing a simple menu to downtown Modesto was their plan all along but the quality of the food had to be top notch and only the very best.
“The idea was to have a simple menu but concentrate on quality ingredients,” explained Yadegar. “Our beef…is all organic and dry aged. Produce is all local. We make everything here, our chili is homemade and our homemade soups are made daily.”
The burgers are made with all natural beef with no hormones or antibiotics and are dry aged to perfection, which makes this burger joint stand out from the rest.
Location: 940 11th S., Modesto
Hours: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday
Contact: barkindoggrill.com - 209-572-2341
Gillman’s Classic Drive-In
Favorite burger: Fatboy that features two ¼ pound 100% ground London broil steak patties, four slices of American cheese, mustard, relish, chopped onions, ketchup, lettuce and mayo.
Secret to success: Gillman’s owner Jennifer DeGraff said she loves what she does and that job satisfaction can be tasted in every burger she makes at the classic drive-in she’s owned for the past six years.
Gillman’s was the second oldest restaurant in Oakdale and DeGraff pays tribute to the drive-in’s history by keeping the menu — and most of the building — exactly the same as it was since it originally opened in 1955.
“People come to me and say ‘I carved my name in this bench in 1965,’” said DeGraff.
Along with tradition, another secret to Gillman’s success is how DeGraff sources all her meat and produce locally — literally from across the street at the El Toro Market.
“We’ve tried to preserve as much as we possibly could and keep the food quality high,” said DeGraff.
In fact, DeGraff makes sure to eat a piece of a burger every single day to make sure the quality is consistent, she said.
DeGraff and her staff’s hard work has paid off as Gillman’s remains a local hangout for high schoolers to the older crowd and draws tourists from around the world who make the trek to Oakdale every year to grab a burger on their way to Yosemite.
Location: 763 W. F St., Oakdale
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday
Favorite burger: The Big Kahuna that features a 1/3-pound ground chuck patty, lettuce, tomato, avocado, bacon, jalapenos and jack cheese.
Secret to success: Hula’s owner Tony Victorino said he built the business up with “the burgers fresh and with generous portions.”
While known for their all-day breakfast to thousands of travelers along Hwy. 120 on their way to Yosemite, Hula’s also bears the moniker of ‘The Best Burgers in the Valley’ with 23 different burgers to choose from.
The Hawaii-themed drive-in, which has been operating in Escalon since the 1970s under different names, also pays tribute to local and professional sports teams. As a nod to locals, the menu features an Escalon Burger with cheese, grilled mushrooms and onions and a Cowboy Burger with bacon, a sweet red onion ring and BBQ sauce.
Every order is custom-made, said Victorino, helping to ensure the best quality possible. Hula’s is also popular with those traveling with their canine friends as it has a pet-friendly patio.
Location: 2261 Jackson Ave., Escalon
Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Sunday
Favorite burgers: Knock burgers come with all the veggies, avocado, jalapenos and bacon and can be purchased as a single knock, double knock, or triple knock. Rodeo-themed burgers — cowgirl, cowboy or the bull burgers — feature BBQ sauce, onion rings and bacon.
Secret to success: The fresh, made-to-order juicy burgers come in a variety of options from the classic cheeseburger, to the Knock or Western burgers that are made just how you want it. They have a variety of cheeses and toppings.
“All the burgers are great,” said Robert Riedinger, who operates the drive-in with his uncle, Daryl Daniel. “I like seeing the reactions and knowing everything is good. We make it fresh for them so every burger is personal. No one can beat a good American burger. I love to see the reaction after they eat and they come up to the window and thank us and say that was really good.”
This is a traditional drive-in with a simple menu that requires guests to park, get out of the car and order at the window. That is why it is called a drive-in and not a drive thru. There are outside tables where patrons can enjoy their tasty burgers or they can take their food to go. Daniel noted that many customers during the pandemic would drop their tailgate on their trucks and dine right there.
Sno-White Drive-In has been in Riverbank since the 1960s with original owner Ron Daniel that then passed the torch to his son Daryl Daniel, who has owned it since 1993.
Location: 3442 Atchinson St., Riverbank
Hours: 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday
Contact: snowhiteriverbankca.com – 209-869-6833
The Village Butcher - Honorable Mention
Favorite burger: Dry-aged burger that features a Wagyu beef patty, bacon cured at the shop, homemade pickles, Fiscalini cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, Dijon mustard and served on a Brioche bun.
Secret to success: The Village Butcher owner Matt Soderstrom said he was initially hesitant to add a burger to the menu.
“I know how easy it is to make an okay burger, but that’s not what I wanted,” Soderstrom said. “One day we had some extra ground beef so I decided to do a burger special. Then people kept asking for it, so I thought maybe we’re on to something here.”
The Village Butcher uses Wagyu beef that has a genetic trait for marbling. It’s dry-aged, which Soderstrom says helps “consolidate the flavor.”
“To make the best burger that is juicy and full of flavor, it all starts with the meat,” Soderstrom said. “It has a good balance because we pay a lot of attention to the details. When people bite into our burger, we want them to taste the beef and have everything else compliment it.”
Soderstrom got into the meat business after realizing his hobby of smoking meats was where his heart was at and not in his sales job.
Location: 1700 McHenry Ave. #65, Modesto
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Contact: thevillagebutcher209.com – 209-841-0109
Editor’s note: Ok 209 Magazine readers, we heard you loud and clear. You all thought The Village Butcher should have been included in our 209 Burger Showdown brackets. We decided we needed to check it out and you all were right - that’s a good burger.