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Food & Drink

Is this San Francisco’s cheapest real burger? Here’s what you get for $3.75

A cheeseburger and fries from Hawaiian Drive Inn will run you $7.| Garrett Leahy/The Standard

In a city like San Francisco, where eating out is often expensive, you might find yourself craving something cheap and satisfying.

For those with bigger appetites than wallets who want a real burger—not something out of McDonald’s or Burger King—Hawaiian Drive Inn in the Excelsior is here to serve and has been for nearly 30 years.

Hawaiian Drive Inn on Mission Street is not a drive-in. | Joe Burn/The Standard

The Mission Street joint—which, funnily enough, isn’t a drive-in despite the name—is one of two San Francisco restaurants called Hawaiian Drive Inn. It serves Hawaiian classics like loco moco and spam musubi as well as regular favorites like chicken katsu. But one menu item stands apart: a $3.75 cheeseburger. Or, get it without cheese for a mere $3.50!

There are no frills. This burger has no lettuce, onions or tomatoes. But what you get is surprisingly thick, crispy, yet juicy and well-seasoned. Waxy cheese adds chew to each bite, and the sweet, tangy ketchup balances out the salty, fatty beef. 

Thinking of going the combo route? The fries are inoffensive but not extraordinary; they get the job done. Order a drink, and you’re out the door for only $8.25.

That’s all there is to it. But sometimes that’s all you need.

Grillmaster Wayne Cheng, who is not from Hawaii, said he’s seen generations of customers grow up during his 20 years at the restaurant.

“Kids come here, then they keep coming back, even when they’ve grown up,” Cheng said, chuckling.

Wayne Cheng cooks two burger patties and an order of chicken teriyaki at Hawaiian Drive Inn. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

The key to a good burger is time, Cheng said. When he fries a burger, he doesn’t baby it—he lets it sit there and take in the heat from the griddle. 

“You need to wait until you can see the crust,” Cheng said. “And everything’s gotta be fresh.”

Customers said one of the reasons they like Hawaiian Drive Inn is the price and the variety of food the restaurant serves.

Hawaiian Drive Inn offers a range of signature Pacific island and classic American fare, from loco moco to burgers to chicken katsu. | Joe Burn/The Standard

Joseph Oliveira, a Parkmerced resident who plays football for the Rams at City College, said his favorite thing to get at Hawaiian Drive Inn is chicken katsu—a breaded, fried cutlet served with rice. 

Oliveira heard about the 25-year-old restaurant from a friend at his community college last year, and he’s been a regular since, ordering three katsu plates for himself and some friends on Monday afternoon.

“It’s good food, good quality, cheap,” Oliveira said.

Cheng said he keeps the prices down so the community can afford to eat at his restaurant.

“Here, you can’t raise the prices too much,” Cheng said.

Construction worker Jonathan Mejia said he’s a fan of the loco moco, a burger patty served with rice, eggs and gravy on top. Mejia’s favorite way of eating it is to break the egg yolk and mix it into the rice.

Jonathan Mejia is a fan of the loco moco at Hawaiian Drive Inn. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

“It’s like breakfast but with a burger,” he said.

For Mejia, it’s the affordability and the quality that keeps him coming back.

“I want a decent meal at a good price, but I also want something that I love,” he said.

“I’m a regular.”

Hawaiian Drive Inn

📍 4827 Mission St., SF

Garrett Leahy can be reached at