Want to eat the best burger in the country? Head on over to the Habit Burger Grill, the Goleta born-and-bred burger chain that has since grown to 94 locations — and was just named by Consumer Reports as the best place to get your patty on. After the magazine’s readers scarfed down nearly 100,000 fast-food meals across 65 restaurants nationwide, the Habit beat out In-N-Out and Five Guys for the top burger spot, with eaters saying quality trumps convenience (which may explain the throngs of people ever-lined up, despite some unsavory characters loitering nearby, at the downtown and Milpas locations).
Known for its charburger — made popular by brothers Brent and Bruce Reichard, who worked at the Goleta stand as teenagers, bought the place, and still run the Santa Barbara locations today — the Habit grew slowly, said CEO Russ Bendel, with the Goleta stand opening in 1969, the second eatery opening in Ventura in 1997, and more locations trickling along until 2007, when the chain supersized to a private equity partnership and expanded exponentially. Across California and throughout Arizona and Utah, diners can order the restaurant’s popular half-fries–half-onion-rings combo (this vegetarian reporter can also attest to the tastiness of the veggie burgers), and fast-food aficionados in New Jersey will soon get the company’s first East Coast location. The 100th restaurant will also open later this year, Bendel added.
Bendel, who said his favorite menu items are the Santa Barbara Style Double Charburger and the Sushi Grade Albacore Sandwich, said the company is “obviously happy and proud” to receive the magazine’s — and the customers’ — recognition. “We do it the good old-fashioned way,” Bendel continued, crediting word-of-mouth and the chain’s high percentage of female patrons — about 48 percent, compared to other fast-food joints’ 30 percent — for its growing popularity.