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Get Delicious Burgers at Healdsburger

Mushroom Swiss with chicken strips on sourdough Healdsburger

The Healdsburger in Sonoma County's Healdsburg is a perfect place for a great burger. There is comfortable seating inside the small café, which was formerly an A&W, dating back to the 1950s. It’s nice, with wood tables branded in cowboy boot designs, and a tile floor. But when you’re ordering at the counter, and there are French fries involved, something seems so natural about eating outdoors. The patio is covered, there are small plots of trees and shrubs, and dog dishes for water.

Owner David Alioto is a third generation Californian, and following a 30-year career in pro sports management, with the Giants and the Oakland A’s. He took over the stand in 2011, but there’s no sports theme here, just some of the best burgers in Sonoma County.

A chalkboard above the order counter lists specialty burgers made with all kinds of seasonal goodies. You can get modern signatures like a Hangover topped in bacon, cheddar and a fried egg, or a ramen burger, where instead of a bun, the meat is cradled between to crispy noodle cakes (better than it sounds).

Yet I like the main menu just fine, for its simple treasures ranging from a Bobo burger, a 3-oz. gem topped in cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, mayo, mustard and ketchup ($4.50), to a 7 oz. regular ($6.50) to the 14-oz. Mondo double cheeseburger ($10.50).

Juicy beef, toasted buns, crisp produce from a nearby farm, local cheeses — and we have the option of gussied things like sourdough bread and grilled onions ($7.95), Ortega green chiles ($7.95), or sloppy good bacon and barbecue sauce ($8.95).

The difference is in the ingredients, like hand-pressed, cooked-to-order meat patties, glittering fresh veggies, toasted sesame seed buns, hand-cut fresh potatoes, and real ice cream milkshakes. Servers bring your food — it takes some time to custom cook — delivering items on aluminum trays with the burgers tidily bundled in white paper.

My pups watched every move, as my glorious Swiss mushroom burger ($7.95) glided from tray to mouth. But I wasn’t sharing — just some French fries made it their way. The blue cheese on another burger is the real deal, in tangy crumbles ($7.95), while the chili cheeseburger ($8.95) may be one of the world’s finest creations. It’s an absolute mess of meaty stew with chunky tomato and onion, and fair argument for licking your fingers.

One friend got the turkey burger ($7.25), and it’s fine, but she ended up mooching bites from our beef burgers, too (the aroma was irresistible, she said).

If you like McDonald’s fries, you won’t love the versions here ($2.50-$4) — they’re more potato-y and less greasy, like In-N-Out. But they’re oh so good, and when you dust them in garlic ($3.50-$4.50) or chili cheese ($4.50-$6.50), you’re living large.

The only things that don’t work for me here are the sourdough rolls and the chicken strips ($5.95). The sourdough is so thick it’s like eating a hard loaf of bread, and on my latest visit, the chicken was dry and way too salty. The pups helped polish them off.

But as we sipped ice cold local beer and wine, and shared peanut butter and Oreo milkshakes ($4.95), who could complain? Not this silly bunch, sandy and damp from the river, lounging with pals, and full to the brim with glorious Healdsburger happiness.

Details: 48 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg, 707-473-9604, healdsburger.com.

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