Ready to enter hamburger heaven? Put away those George Foreman grills and let On the Menu take you on a transcendent journey outside the fast food bubble of mass-produced, frozen patties as we shed some light on Santa Barbara’s options for the real beef deal.

License to Grill
Char West
221 Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara
(805) 962-5631
Price: Under $10

Situated right on the Santa Barbara pier, this burger joint offers patrons not only the best of Santa Barbara’s views, but also some of its most renowned charred patties. Perfect for hungry locals in the mood for some classic quick food in an extraordinary location, this hamburger heaven at the famous Stearns Wharf is sure to provide a mouthwatering and meaty meal.

While the eatery is well known for, and named after, its hamburgers, patrons often stop by for its delectable fish and chips. Even so, Char West owner Francisco Aguilera said the delicious burgers continue to reign supreme.

“When people come here, they come to eat burgers,” Aguilera said. “Everybody loves our burgers and we’ve been doing our burgers for the same way for 40 years.”

Cooked to perfection on a char-fired grill, these burgers feature your typical all-American toppings including pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise and even a special savory sauce. Options also include cheeseburgers, as well as double burgers for the more voracious carnivorous clientele.

The quality of these patties keeps patrons coming back for more than just the ideal location. However, Aguilera said there’s no doubt that it’s the stunning locale that makes Char West an excellent spot to both grab a burger and take the parents when they drop in town.

“We’re on the pier,” Aguilera said. “Really on top of the water. A lot of people are around the pier and it’s a lot of fun. We’re really a family-friendly fast-food place.”

For all those meatheads out there, there’s no better place to enjoy a summer day. Head down to Stearns Wharf and enjoy the sea and sunshine with a charred burger in hand at Char West Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7p.m.

A Happy Meal
Derf’s Café
2000 De La Vina St., Santa Barbara
(805) 687-5437
Price: Under $10

Derf’s Cafe isn’t an in-and-out kind of burger experience. It may not be literally “fast” food, but you’ll be rewarded with a mountain of meat served just the way you want it.

Patrons can also partake in breakfast here, but the spot does its best work at the grill fulfilling any hamburger hankerings. All Derf’s burgers are one-third a pound of prime ground beef cooked medium rare, unless otherwise requested. The patties are served with a toasted sourdough bun and come topped with lettuce, tomatoes, your choice of cheese and a delectable secret sauce. The eatery also provides meatless patties for those looking for a veggie-based burger.

There’s no dearth of burger choices, but for those seeking some out of the ordinary fare, the Sourcream Mushroom Burger is an explosion of flavor that should not be missed.

Server and bartender Charlene Heaston, a fourth-year sociology and French major at UCSB, said the burgers are so delicious because they are freshly prepared on location.

“Our meat is high-quality, good meat,” Heaston said. “All the stuff that goes on the burger is made from scratch and prepared here. It’s really good.”

For those looking for an alternative to I.V. dining, Heaston said the establishment offers a fun atmosphere for college students, with a daily happy hour from 4 p.m. until 6 p.m. and several big screen televisions.

“It’s really laid back and relaxed,” Heaston said. “It’s kind of like the ‘Cheers’ bar – you hang out and you have a burger and a beer. It’s like a sports bar.”

Chill out and watch the game with a burger and brew in hand at Derf’s Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Saturday through Sunday 8 a.m. until 9:30 p.m.

Cheeseburger in Paradise
East Beach Grill
1118 E. Cabrillo Blvd., Santa Barbara
(805) 965-8805
Price: Under $10

Looking for a hearty meal after a swim in the Pacific? Then grab a cover-up and head on down to East Beach Grill where you’ll enjoy a perfectly grilled burger at this beachside cafe. With views of the Channel Islands and the ocean waves just a casual walk on the beach from the tables, this restaurant is the ideal summer hotspot.

Customers can order at the counter and settle in at a table on the patio to soak up some sun as they chow down with one of the classic options available. The milkshakes are a popular treat to accompany the main meaty meal, according to owner Frank Aguilera, who also owns Char West, and the fries are on the deliciously greasy side.

Aguilera said the waterfront eatery is well known for its breakfast options. The restaurant is often packed for Sunday brunch, due in part to the variety of omelets, famous special wheat germ banana pancakes and other breakfast treats.

No matter what time of day, Aguilera said, people are happy to take a break from the sand and take a seat by the grill.

“We’re very popular because of breakfast,” Aguilera said. “As for the burgers, it’s the same way we do it at Char West.”

Aguilera said the atmosphere is particularly enjoyable for college students, as it’s just a step from the sand and popular beach activities. After a game of volleyball or hitting the surf, Aguilera said customers can finish off the perfect summer’s day by stopping by East Beach Grill and entering hamburger heaven.

“It’s right on the beach, and when it’s nice and beautiful everybody enjoys the burger more,” Aguilera said.

Grilling has never been hotter and, with a trip to East Beach Grill, you can have an epic burger experience anytime Monday through Sunday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Diners, you’re sure to meet your hamburger match at any of these fine local eateries. Embrace the hamburger habit and stop by these local restaurants for that perfect meat patty.