No doubt Palo Alto’s most well-known burger joint, The Counter, launched in 2006, lives up to its reputation with high-quality meat, endless options and a lively environment. On an otherwise slow night for California Avenue, The Counter is hopping with hungry citizens of all ages—and styles.
One can wear dress attire or athletic clothing and will fit in either way; what brings everyone together at The Counter is his or her desire for a hearty, high-quality burger. Known best for offering a wide variety of toppings, The Counter also offers customers the choice of meat and size—and either a bun or a bowl.
All hamburgers are juicy, cooked to preference, and well proportioned, no matter what size is ordered. All chicken is high quality, done in a neutral way as not to overpower the topping choices and prepared better than at either SliderBar Cafe or The Workshop.
The Counter burger stands out as the most satisfying burger in Palo Alto. Its sweet potato and French fries are thin and house a unique, moderate spice, making both types irresistible to munch on while waiting for the main course to arrive. Both of the fries are the best of the burger restaurants. Atmosphere is also a highlight of a Counter experience. Graffiti artwork and modern décor fits perfectly with the aura of the restaurant; however, both SliderBar and The Workshop picked up on this, because all three are designed similarly.
The biggest drawbacks of The Counter are the price, the wait—there is constantly a line, and The Counter doesn’t take reservations—and the fact that supporting it does not mean supporting a local business, because there are 30 locations around the world. These shortcomings aside, The Counter was Palo Alto’s first gourmet burger restaurant, and it, no doubt, still wins over citizens with its vast amount of choices and stellar taste.
2. SliderBar Cafe
SliderBar has quickly settled into its Downtown Palo Alto location. When it was established, community talk was of how great the new, unique restaurant was.
Citizens fell in love with the slider, and SliderBar was quickly added to families’ regular lunch or dinner rotation. Any slider one gets will be at least satisfactory; burgers are well done yet juicy. The pulled-pork slider has a home-cooked taste and was the best "burger" tasted.
The chicken, for which there are three options, was less than satisfactory, though. An unexpected spice destroyed the chicken’s potential. The vanilla milkshake was not up to par, either. It tasted analogous to a McDonald’s shake, which was not what I was looking for and not what I got at The Counter.
The concept and price of SliderBar seem to be what’s drawing people to the restaurant, as opposed to the taste of the food. Serving sliders instead of full-sized burgers allows people to get the options they might crave from The Counter in the ability to order and eat two or three different varieties of slider in one meal.
The price is also more reasonable than either of the other burger restaurants, and seating is generally easy to find. The style is modern but comfortable. With an upscale/casual feel, colorfully framed posters advertising the restaurant and high-style lighting and furnishings, the atmosphere at SliderBar competes fiercely with The Counter's.
The open and laid-back atmosphere of SliderBar gives the restaurant a pleasing entrepreneur-hang-out vibe. Unfortunately, we had all too much time to take in the atmosphere, because not only did the burgers take longer than The Workshop to be prepared, but our waiter, who was very kind, forgot about our drinks and one of our burgers. He was apologetic, but more-so confused, as if he had no idea we had ordered more in the first place.
3. Workshop Burger Bar and Grill
The appeal of The Workshop is not as obvious as it is for The Counter or SliderBar, but there are some hidden benefits to eating there. The service was a pleasant surprise; our waiter was friendly and helped me customize my order in a way that would save me money. The atmosphere was friendly, though the façade is one of grunge.
The Workshop seemed geared toward young adults, as decorative beer signs and arguably too-loud music was present, but the light walls, backyard elements such as a veranda, and casual feel allow families to feel welcome, too.
There are six televisions and 12 beers on tap, making The Workshop top the other two burger restaurants in game-watching atmosphere. This would be, if anything, the differentiating factor of The Workshop. The burgers themselves were satisfactory; the Workshop Burger was a pleasant surprise and fairly juicy.
For those who enjoy SliderBar, The Workshop also offers the Backyard slider. This slider, though, is thinner than those at the SliderBar. There are also not many options for sliders; if a slider is desired it cannot be purchased in a multitude of ways. Most disappointingly, though, was the doneness of the burger; it was overdone and reminded me of a McDonald’s burger.
The chicken breast ‘burger’ had less chicken than a Counter chicken burger and was drier, but the taste was comparable and enjoyable. The French fries were bland and needed ample amounts of salt, but the sweet potato fries were crispy and had a homemade taste. The most disappointing thing about The Workshop, other than the fact that it doesn’t have a notable differentiating factor, is that its name misleads the guest. Entering The Workshop, I was expecting another customizable burger restaurant; why else would it have such a name? The idea of the restaurant is noteworthy, though; its beef is 100 percent All Natural USDA certified, and the company was “thought out on a warm California summer day in our backyard while barbecuing,” according to its menu, possibly part of the reason it caters to picnics.
Meat Quality: The Counter (1st), The Workshop (2nd), SliderBar Café (3rd)
All three provide hormone- and antibiotic-free beef.
Burger Size: SliderBar Cafe (1st), The Counter (2nd), The Workshop (3rd)
SliderBar sliders are generously filled, as are Counter Burgers.
Price: SliderBar Cafe (1st), The Workshop (2nd), The Counter (3rd)
One of the main complaints about The Counter is the price; the other two are priced decently.
Chicken Burger: The Counter (1st), The Workshop (2nd), SliderBar Café (3rd)
SliderBar’s chicken burger is not up to par. The Counter and The Workshop have exceptional chicken options.
Juiciness: The Counter (1st), SliderBar Cafe (2nd) , The Workshop (3rd)
Counter and SliderBar burgers are satisfactorily juicy, while The Workshop’s burgers were dry and over-cooked.
Milkshake: The Counter (1st), SliderBar Cafe (2nd), (untested at The Workshop)
The Counter has a tasty, relatively expected milkshake. The SliderBar milkshake tasted like it came from McDonald’s. We did not test The Workshop’s shake, but it is same to assume it is better than SliderBar’s.
Service: The Workshop (1st), The Counter (2nd), SliderBar Café (3rd)
The servers at The Workshop and The Counter are very friendly. SliderBar was disappointing here.
Wait Time: The Workshop (1st), SliderBar Cafe (2nd), The Counter (3rd)
The Counter often has a wait, the other two are reasonable.
Least Noise: SliderBar Cafe (1st), The Workshop (2nd), The Counter (3rd)
All of them are arguably too loud; however, SliderBar’s was the quietest.
French Fries: The Counter (1st), SliderBar Cafe (2nd), The Workshop (3rd)
The Counter has exceptional fries, SliderBar’s were average, and The Workshop’s were too bland.
Sweet Potato Fries: The Counter (1st), The Workshop (2nd), SliderBar Café (3rd)
All three restaurants had crispy, sweet potato fries.
Décor: The Counter (1st), SliderBar Cafe (2nd), The Workshop (3rd)
Each restaurant has a similar atmosphere with its own spin on the style. All are modern and fashionable here.
Bun: The Workshop (1st), SliderBar Cafe (2nd), The Counter (3rd)
The Workshop’s buns were airy and croissant-like. SliderBar’s were average and The Counters are below average.
Beer: The Workshop (1st), SliderBar Cafe (2nd), The Counter (3rd)
The Workshop has 12 beers on tap, SliderBar has 10 and The Counter has four.
Overall: The Counter (1st), SliderBar Cafe (2nd), The Workshop (3rd)