We at The Daily Meal began ranking our country’s burgers back in 2013, when we detailed what we had found to be the 40 best, and last year, we took it up to a comprehensive 101. In order to compile this year’s ranking, we assembled a list of nearly 250 burgers from all across the country, from Hollywood, Florida, to Anchorage, Alaska. Building upon last year’s suggestions from various authorities on the subject, we dug through online reviews and combed existing best-of lists, both in print and online, that were published since our 2014 burger ranking. Even though each of the burgers we found was unique, certain qualities were universal must-haves: high-quality beef (you'll find no turkey or black bean burgers here), proper seasoning, well-proportioned components, and an overall attention to detail that many would call “making it with love.” As usual, we didn’t include large chains like Shake Shack and In-N-Out — we celebrated the best chain burgers earlier this year — choosing instead to focus on smaller-time restaurant owners.
We divided these burgers by region and compiled a survey that was taken by a panel of 70 noted writers, journalists, bloggers, and other culinary authorities from across the country, among them Hamburger America author George Motz, along with the knowledgeable Daily Meal staff, City Editors, and contributors. Participants were asked to vote for their favorites, limiting themselves to places they’ve actually visited. We tallied the results, and the 101 burgers that received the most votes are the ones you’ll find in this story.
This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the first Keller’s (there are now three locations around Dallas), and after one bite of their No. 5 Double Meat Special, it’s easy to taste why they’ve enjoyed such longevity. The burger is two grilled patties of fresh-ground beef with a slice of American cheese melted between them, topped with lettuce, tomato, and a Thousand Island-like dressing, which is all sandwiched between two halves of a poppy seed bun. For those who like to “go big or go home,” so to speak, we suggest adding bacon, which they pile up under the two patties.
This clubby brew pub, the preserve of craft-beer advocates Rich Carley and Scott Shor, is named for Edmund Egan, an English brewer who started making beer in Charleston in the mid-eighteenth century (an oast is a kiln for drying hops). The beer selection, not surprisingly, is extraordinary, and there are interesting wines and seductive cocktails. The food is surprisingly varied (curried squash custard, pickled shrimp, whole fried flounder), but for many Charlestonians, it's all about the burger — a beautiful construction of thick burger patty, melted cheese, crisp bacon, a sunny-side-up egg, and all the usual trimmings on a smoked-salt-and-black-pepper brioche bun. It towers so high that some diners eat it with a knife and fork.
Texas Tavern was opened on Friday, February 13, 1930, by Issac N. “Nick” Bullington, a scout for the Ringling Brothers circus who traveled the country to book the act a year in advance. Today, his great-great-grandson Matt Bullington owns and operates the restaurant, which continues to bring in flocks of hungry locals for the freshly ground beef burgers. The item to order here is the Cheesy Western, but just say “Cheesy,” as the staff does, or “Cheesy with” if you want onions (which, of course, you do). It comes topped with a fried egg, melted cheese, pickles, and sweet relish on a plain bun.
Jesse David Harris
That guy who wins the burger contest every year in Miami and New York City… what's his name? Joey Chicken? Johnny Crow? Oh wait, you mean Josh Capon of Burger & Barrel? Yup. That’s the one. Here he is again with another winning burger creation, this one at his New York City East Village outpost Bowery Meat Company. What’s his secret? A dash of confidence, a little cockiness, and a whole lot of knowing what he and his customers want to eat. In this case, that means a cheeseburger with griddled onions, raclette, and tomato aïoli.
Holiday Snack Bar
Back when this charming eatery opened in 1948, it was owned and operated by two sisters, who supervised an all-female staff. While the ownership has changed hands a few times since then and men are now allowed on the payroll, their burgers are still outstanding. Go for the Slam Burger, which is a cheeseburger dressed with fried onion rings, lettuce, tomato, and Russian dressing. Add a side of French fries and a root beer float and you’re set for a great meal (and a nap afterwards).
If you like a good beer with your mammoth of a bacon cheeseburger, than Pangaea Bier Cafe is the place for you. With a long list of rotating craft ales — both local and international — you’ll have your pick for creating a great burger and beer combo. Whether you’re into saisons, IPAs, or pilsners, the Pangaea Burger is sure to make a great mate. For this beloved sandwich, an all-Angus beef patty is grilled to your preferred temperature and topped with bacon, Cheddar, lettuce, onions, tomato, and house-made pickles and sauce. The brioche bun is perfectly domed, crispy fries come on the side, and the whole plate is quite a sight to behold.
Relative newcomer Fritzl’s was established two years ago, just a few stops away on the L subway line ,by Dan Ross-Leutwyler, who has worked at awesome food institutions like The Breslin and Roberta’s. The 19-seat eatery focuses on simple and delicious fare, with as many ingredients as possible sourced from local purveyors. Their burger was named the very best in New York by The Village Voice in 2013, and it’s pretty easy to see why: The patty is a mix of beef cheek and fatty beef chuck that’s been house-ground, garnished with chopped pickles and onions sandwiched within a sesame-seeded bun. We suggest adding Cheddar cheese, as they don’t skimp on quantity, and the sight of the cheese-blanketed burger heading your way is simultaneously comforting and exhilarating.
Paul’s is a bit of a downtown New York institution: They have been serving burgers to Cooper Union students and other hungry New Yorkers for over 25 years (the lines on their 25th anniversary itself were around the block). You can’t really order wrong here, but your best bet is probably the cheeseburger, which is an eight-ounce burger that’s cooked with a metal bowl over it to seal in the juicy goodness. In classic fashion, a wealth of Cheddar cheese is melted on top of the patty, and the whole thing is served open-faced with the top half of the bun, iceberg lettuce, onion, and tomato on the side.
Flickr/Little Black Car
Good burgers start with good meat, and where are you more likely to find good meat than at an old-style meat market that has, as they proudly proclaim, been "cutting meat for Houston since 1938"? Guy's is a traditional Texas barbecue place in addition to being a market, with the requisite brisket, ribs, links, and the usual sides. The eight-ounce burger — a limited number of them are prepared at lunchtime only, Tuesdays through Fridays — is exceptional, though, because it's smoked, just like the other meats. The downside? That smoking yields a well-done patty, so don't expect a juicy mouthful. Add cheese (at no extra cost) and the "fixens'" — mustard, mayo, lettuce, pickles, onions, tomatoes, and the inevitable Texas jalapeños — and you probably won't mind a bit.
About 30 minutes outside of Detroit, Miller’s Bar has been a local meeting place and eatery since 1941. You might drive by this nearly windowless joint, but try to keep your eyes peeled if you’re looking for a great burger. It’s seven ounces and gets seared on a flattop grill before being served plain on an unseeded bun, with fresh slice of raw white onion and a jar of pickles on the side. We’re into any place that allows you to semi-assemble your food yourself, and they even give you a choice of American or Swiss cheese. What more could a burger fan ask for?
Mel's Burger Bar
So, who is Mel? It’s a question the staff at Mel’s Burger Bar on the Upper West Side gets asked a lot, and the short answer is: the chef’s grandfather. However, the longer answer is that he was a man who valued “the experience of heading down to your favorite watering hole with your friends, grabbing a table or bellying up to the bar, clinking glasses, and whiling away the hours,” as their website states. This passion definitely translates to the food. There’s a whole list of interestingly titled burgers, such as the The Widowmaker and the Hot Mess, but we think their Dirty Hipster is the superior choice. A patty of all natural 100 percent certified Black Angus beef that’s blended just for Mel’s is topped by fried onion rings, Jack cheese, and spinach dip, then sandwiched in a potato bun. They even give you drink pairing suggestions for each burger, and for this one they recommend a Rolling Rock and a pickleback shot — sounds like a plan to us!
You may be surprised to learn that renowned modernist cuisine chef Wylie Dufresne (formerly of the now-closed wd-50) has a spot on this list of America’s 101 Best Burgers. To be fair, it wouldn’t be a Dufresne creation without a cerebral touch. In this case, a Pat La Frieda chuck-and-brisket blend is ground with shio kombu (a Japanese seaweed) cooked in sake and tamari (Japanese soy sauce) for an umami boost, then topped by house-made "beer cheese" — a mixture of American cheese, Cheddar, and Greenport Harbor Brewing's Harbor Ale. Okay, the fancy-pants talk is over. The result is a supremely tasty burger, sandwiched in between a classic Martin’s potato bun — one made all the more fun by the accompanying French onion soup rings: sweet onions battered in cheese stock tempura then fried until crisp and topped with a layer of melted Gruyère. Just keep in mind that Dufresne's burger is a bit petite — slider-size. Be sure to order two.
A hunk of soft French bread might not come to mind as the ideal burger bun, but at the landmark Rotier’s, located a stone’s throw from Vanderbilt University, that’s exactly what you’ll find. The 6-ounce burger patties are hand-formed every morning, and while the burger — topped with your choice of American, Swiss, pepper Jack, or Cheddar cheese; lettuce; mustard; tomatoes; and pickles — might look challenging, the bread is so soft and squishy that it’s a lot easier to plow through than you think.
No corner is cut at Hopdoddy Burger Bar in Austin, where hormone- and antibiotic-free black Angus beef is ground in-house, buns are baked from scratch, and only the freshest vegetables are allowed. There’s a staggering variety of specialty burgers, but our pick is the Classic: topped with bacon; beefsteak tomato; cheese; house "sassy sauce," a combination of horseradish, mustard, and mayonnaise aimed at bringing out the fresh patty's natural flavors; onion; and red leaf lettuce.
This Georgetown gourmet burger establishment offers one of the best customizable burger experiences in the country. A "Thunder Burger" order will give you the base of a beef patty, to which you can add a seemingly endless array of toppings, including basics like grilled red onion and jalapeño, of course. But if you're looking to go next level, get creative and choose something like their pineapple salsa, triple cream brie, pulled pork, foie gras, and, well, the list goes on…
Flickr Heather Sterling
Sure, they have great Taco and Tiki Tuesdays, but do you know about Essex’s burger? It used to only be available on Sundays, but it’s now offered Wednesday through Sunday due to popular demand. The eight-ounce patty that’s composed of two different grinds and three cuts of beef is cooked in their wood-burning oven, which helps it retain its juices and cook evenly, and lends a nice charred flavor to the meat. Here’s where it gets really impressive: A shallot-based sauce is spread on the top half of the bun, while a Shake Shack-esque sauce is smeared on the bottom half. All this care will cost you ($15), but we think it’s worth it. If you can, pay extra for bacon, Cheddar cheese, and Padrón peppers — they’ll further elevate this already fantastic burger.
When a butcher shop decides to open a burger and barbecue joint, you know that it’s going to be good, and 4505 lives up to all expectations. Their Best Damn Grass Fed Cheeseburger starts with grass-fed beef from Magruder Ranch that’s broken down on premises, ground, sprinkled with salt, and griddled, all within 12 hours. The thin patty stays a little pink in the middle, but with a fat-to-meat ratio hovering around 25 to 30 percent, it remains supremely juicy and seriously beefy (you can also make it a double). When placed onto a house-made scallion-pecorino bun and topped with Gruyère, a secret sauce similar to Thousand Island dressing, lettuce, and tomato when in season, it’s a masterpiece.
If you want to experience what a perfect burger tasted like in 1963, head to Pie ‘n Burger, where nothing about the place — including the butcher from whom they source ground chuck — has changed in decades. The double is the best way to go, with two quarter-pound balls of beef smashed down on the well-seasoned flat-top with a big can of tomato juice, then topped with lettuce and homemade Thousand Island dressing, all tucked into a toasted white bun and wrapped in wax paper. Don’t leave without trying some pie; the butterscotch variety is legendary.
A North Jersey legend, White Manna is one of the last remaining diner-style burger joints that arose in the tradition of White Castle. What’s served here is the perfect interpretation of that form, honed over decades and decades, unchanging. Walk up to the tiny counter, place your order with the grillman, and watch as he smashes a small wad of meat onto the flattop with a handful of thin-sliced onions, keeps careful track of it as it cooks, and sandwiches it into a Martin’s potato roll. Make it a double with cheese, and the burger that will end up on your plate next to some pickle chips won’t be pretty, but it’s astonishingly delicious.
At half a pound, Fat Mo's namesake burger is mammoth, yes, but size alone isn't enough to earn a place on our list. Drive-thru and walk-up only, Fat Mo's burgers are a cut above regular fast food — everything is fresh and cooked to order, the portions are enormous, and you'll never walk away with your pockets folded out. It’s also a favorite for the non-carnivorous among us — the falafel burger gets high marks from Nashville's vegetarians.
The most outrageous offering at this down-home burger joint starts with a house-ground, 100 percent chuck patty that’s seared on a flat-top. You have your choice of a 5-ounce or 8-ounce patty, and we recommend going with the 5-ouncer because what comes next is delicious insanity: smoked pork shoulder, Anson Mills red pea chili, crispy tobacco onions, roasted tomato malt vinegar slaw, Cheddar, and yellow mustard are all piled on top of the patty before being sandwiched between two halves of a bun. All the components work perfectly together thanks to the deft hand of a great chef: Ashley Christensen, who was the recipient of the 2014 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast.
B Spot Burgers
Iron Chef Michael Symon has won too many burger contests to recall, and with good reason — the man understands good food, he understands meat, and more importantly, he understands how to make a great burger. The Lola, Symon’s burger with bacon, Cheddar, pickled red onions, and a sunny-side up egg, is going to be on the rarer side, the saltier side, and the gooey-dripping side. If you’re really into burgers, and really know the way chefs like to make them, well… you’ll be into the Lola.
“Live fast. Eat Well!” is Grindhouse Killer Burgers’ motto, and they’re happy to help you to live by it. As the name suggests, they’re all about burgers; you can build your own by choosing a beef, turkey, or veggie patty and then adding toppings like Carolina coleslaw and New Mexico green chiles, but they also have seven “styles” to choose from. We suggest leaving it the professionals and ordering their most popular style, The Grindhouse. It’s made up of all-beef patties (a junior gets you one, a double gets you two), American cheese, bacon, grilled onion, lettuce, pickles, and their special “Grindhouse” sauce. It’s a glorious mess, and damn fun to eat.
This October marks the 80th anniversary of Folger’s Drive-Inn, opened in 1935 by G.G. and Christine Folger. Today, their sons, Jim and Jerry, own and operate the place, and it’s they who cook and build this list-worthy burger. When you order a cheeseburger, Jim cooks the quarter-pound ground-that-day beef patties on the flattop and Jerry adds American cheese, lettuce, mustard, onion, and tomato; it’s all served on a Wonder bun. The place isn’t easy to spot, so keep your eyes peeled — this is one burger you don’t want to drive by.
It’s not going to break the bank for you to try No. 77 on this list of America’s best burgers. Two 100-percent all-natural Black Angus beef patties, topped with two slices of American, will set you back just $3.95 (onions and pickles are free on request, jalapeños and wheat buns are 20 cents each, and bacon is 85 cents), but will soon set your standard for fast food fare.
Everybody's got to have a burger on the menu these days, it seems, and why should the sleek, upscale Italian restaurant at the Los Angeles Four Seasons Hotel, especially famous for its imaginative crudo menu, be any different? The Four Seasons has always served great burgers in various styles over the years, but never before has it presented one like its $19 lunch-only "burger Italiano" — ground short rib with pancetta, provolone, pickled onions, and Calabrian chile aïoli on a ciabatta roll. If Italy had invented this all-American specialty, it would probably taste exactly like this.
Opened in 1947, Tune Inn has been family-owned and -operated for three generations, and even survived a fire back in 2011. The spot is popular with locals and politicians alike, and just about everyone has tried Tony’s Beer Battered Burger at least once. First, a beef patty is dipped in beer batter and fried to a crispy golden brown, then it’s topped with a slice of America cheese and served open-faced on a white bun with lettuce, pickles, and tomatoes. Opt for crispy tater tots on the side, because, as we’re pretty sure you’ve already said to yourself before ordering, why not?
Homer "Hut" Hutson opened the original Hut's Hamburgers in 1939, and though it's now in a different location with different owners, the spirit of the place hasn't changed much since then. Fresh Texas-raised beef is at the heart of Hut's burgers (though, this being the twenty-first century, they're also all available in buffalo, grass-fed longhorn beef, boneless chicken, or vegan-friendly form). There are versions named for Ritchie Valens, Fats Domino, and other personalities, but the classic here is Hut's Favorite, with lettuce, tomato, mayo, American cheese, bacon, and tomato.
Jimmy Emerson DVM
Most burger purveyors griddle, grill, or pan-sear their patties, but since 1959, Ted's — in the historic community of Meriden, Connecticut, north of New Haven — has steamed theirs. Steamed meat? Yep. Steamed Cheddar cheese, too. Cooked in custom-designed steam boxes, the burgers, served on kaiser-like rolls, lose very little bulk while cooking and hence stay very moist. The steamed cheese is spooned over the patties and cloaks them thickly. Add lettuce and tomato (or complimentary sautéed onions and/or mushrooms) and you've got an unusual, and unusually good, burger.
MEAT Eatery & Tap Room
The buns on the burgers at MEAT Eatery & Tap Room come stamped with the word “MEAT” in all caps, so if you couldn’t already tell by the name, these folks are serious about, well, meat. The Nancy Pants is the burger to order, and we implore you to add their maple-cured cherry wood-smoked bacon to it. The patty is only five ounces, but it’s well seasoned and packed with flavor, and comes dressed with American cheese, lettuce, and tomato. The bun is toasted, you can add on their house-made ketchup, and the whole thing is served with a tiny gherkin pickle skewered to the top. Their fries are fried in duck fat and totally worth ordering to accompany your Nancy Pants, as are the crispy chicharrónes, or pork cracklings.
Hidden on an upscale American, French, and Mediterranean menu in the affluent Washington, D.C. suburb of Falls Church, Virginia, is the available-at-lunch-only All American burger at 2941 Restaurant, which makes the metro ride from Downtown worth the trip. This is a straightforward beef burger topped with lettuce, melted Cheddar, onion, and tomato on an olive oil bun. Don't let the simplicity fool you: The simple, fresh ingredients work together in beautiful flavor harmony.
Italian gastropub Alla Spina has only been open for three years, but has already gained a loyal fan base that includes Burgamo diehards looking to wrap their mouths around this high-stacked, double-pattied Philly burger favorite. The double cheeseburger is made with Cheddar, LaFrieda beef, lettuce, onion, pickles, and a special sauce, all sandwiched on a house-made, sesame-seeded potato bun.
Company Burger chef and owner Adam Biderman set out to create the perfect double cheeseburger, and one bite will tell you that he hit the nail right on the head. He starts with two 3.25-ounce patties, which are given a light crust on the flat-top before being loaded with red onion and high-quality American-style cheese and then stacked. A couple of pickle chips and a toasted white bread bun complete it. You’re left to your own devices at the expansive condiment bar, which includes Creole honey mustard, basil mayo, and pickled jalapeños. Before getting creative, though, make sure you try the burger as-is — you might be compelled not to mess with perfection.
Being greeted by the eager-to-please Hong family that owns Irv's, known to draw up personalized doodles on their plates and bags, is a big part of this West Hollywood spot's attraction. But another huge draw, of course, is the juicy, old-fashioned burgers that are flavor-packed and the perfect size for stacking, so you’ll want to order the Double. Angelenos breathed a savory sigh of relief when Irv's reopened in a new location last year after losing their lease in 2013. Their revival was partially thanks to a local community group calling themselves the Burger Brigade, dedicated to saving their beloved burger institution. Now that's a cult following.
Schlafly Tap Room
Sitting in a sprawling, fully refurbished turn-of-the-century printing building, Schlafly's name implies the star of the show here is beer — of which there is plenty — but the real menu gem is the ground sirloin tap room burger, featuring burger slaw, white Cheddar, and an English muffin bun. Burger adventurers can also go with the equally delicious Mediterranean-style lamb burger with feta and cucumber sauce, served on a ciabatta bun.
Motor & Maple
Maple & Motor has been known to serve its signature attraction with a side of attitude, although it certainly isn’t the first casual spot with a following to develop a little arrogance. But Big D’s burgerphiles will tell you it’s worth braving the fray, and hey, you don’t mess with Texas, right? The cheeseburger is really where it’s at, and we’ll let the menu description speak for itself “A half-pound of finely ground American beef flat grilled in its own juices. Dressed in traditional Texas fashion with mustard, lettuce, red onion, and dill pickle. Served on a toasted, grill-shined bun. If perfect ain’t enough, add a slunk of America, Cheddar, or Pepper Jack.” We’re booking our plane tickets now.
The Le Tub Saloon
If you like your burger big and bold, the sirloin burger sold at this converted gas station about a half-hour’s drive from Miami is worth seeking out. The place will be crowded, you’ll most likely wait for more than an hour for your order, and you’ll leave smelling like smoke, but it’ll all be worth it as soon as you see the 13-ounce, hand-formed, fresh-ground grilled burger hit your table. It’s a behemoth, sure, but the crowds don’t lie: this burger is a thing of beauty.
Yelp/Giant Drive In
Husband and wife duo Bill and Gail Kreger have been serving 28 different burgers on a stretch of suburban Portland road for 35 years, and have garnered a loyal following for their awesome burger concoctions. The Filler is one of them; it comprises two all-beef burger patties, bacon, a fried egg, ham, lettuce, raw white onion, Tillamook Cheddar, and tomato, and is served on a sesame seeded bun. As Yelp user Hannah K. puts it in her review, “It is a handful, mouthful, and messy, but worth it!”
The frita is a perfect representation of the American influence on Cuban culture, and vice versa. It was created in Cuba and brought over to the States after the revolution, and the one served at Little Havana’s El Mago de las Fritas is arguably the best. Here’s the breakdown: A fresh-ground patty of spiced beef (possibly with some chorizo mixed in) is pressed flat onto the griddle along with some diced onions and a mysterious red sauce, then tucked into a fresh Cuban roll. It’s topped with freshly fried potato sticks (not from a can here, as they are at some other places), more diced onion, and a squirt of ketchup. It’s mind-blowingly delicious and unlike any other burger you’ll ever try.
For anyone unacquainted with Tim Love, he's the bigger-than-life, straight-shooting, game-cooking, festival-circuit chef whose demos you don't want to miss — he’s been known do tequila shots with the crowd barely past lunchtime. Love does fine dining, but Love Shack is where he exhibits playfulness. Normally, when a menu includes "love" as an ingredient, the appropriate response is an eye roll. That said, given the chef's name, you have to allow for an exception here. The menu is full of jokes and puns: Consider the Amore Caliente (hot love) burger and the section called "Love on the Side." But there's serious flavor here, too. The way to go is the Dirty Love Burger: lettuce, tomato, pickles, "Love Sauce," American cheese, bacon, and a fried quail egg. The patty is on a fresh bun with an excellent cheese-to-meat ratio. The perfect burger? No. Needs more sauce, a touch more seasoning, and it could stand to be juicier. But these are the finer points of burger debate. You're still going to want to go back for bite after bite.
Parkside chef Shawn Cirkiel worked at Napa's now-closed Domaine Chandon restaurant, Étoile, New York's Café Boulud, and Austin's Uchi before becoming one of Austin’s most respected chefs in his own right. It’s taken less time for him to develop burger accolades — Parkside is commonly known for serving one of the best, if not the best, burgers in Austin. Said to be modeled after his grandmother’s hamburger steak, Cirkiel’s iteration is deceptively simple, listed just as “cheeseburger - $14 ,” which doesn’t speak to the decadence and artistry that reviewers and regulars happily attest to: a cast iron-seared burger topped with white Cheddar and nestled into brioche with a slice each of red onion and tomato, and a large piece of bibb that pirouettes out and around from under the top of the bun.
Jenny Adams Freelance
To New York burger-lovers and the tourists lining up in front of the ridiculously tall curtain it’s “hidden” behind, the idea that Burger Joint is a secret is, well, silly. Still, you could argue it doesn’t have the national renown that it should. This is a very simple burger, folks. And in a very satisfying setting: a fancy hotel’s corner pocket of dive bar with scribbles on the wall, signs asking you not to scribble on the wall, bare booths, paper wrapping, servers who are rude (with good reason… depending on your perspective), and buns taken straight out of the bag. The Burger Joint’s namesakes have all their components on point, which makes for one of the best total-package cheeseburgers you’ll ever taste.
3 Square Café + Bakery
Chef Hans Röckenwagner is one of L.A.’s best under-the-radar chefs, and the trademarked (literally) burger at his no-frills Abbot Kinney café and bakery 3 Square is spectacular from top to bottom. With a freshly baked pretzel knot bun, perfectly seared coarse-ground 8-ounce patty, melted Swiss cheese, and caramelized onions, it’s hearty and soul-pleasing.
Bachi Burger is known for their “Asian-style burgers and unique beverages,” but this place is about more than the food: diners can feel good about the eatery’s sustainable practices. They actually separate their post-consumer recyclable waste daily, recycle their used oil for renewable energy, and transport their compostable waste to local farms. It might seem they wouldn’t have any time left over to make great burgers, but one bite of the Kalbi Burger will put that anxiety to rest. An Angus beef patty is topped with green onions, their house-made kimchi, lettuce, special “Kalbi” marinade, and kochujang mayo (made with Korean chile-rice-soybean paste). It’s served on a white bun with a side of pickles, and is one delicious burger.
Flickr/Queenie Von Sugarpants
There was a big White Castle-inspired hamburger stand boom across America in the early 1920s, and Salina, Kanas’ Cozy Inn is one of the last ones standing. Started as a six-seat counter in 1922, it gained local popularity for serving 1-ounce burgers griddled with chopped onions that came to be known nationally as sliders, and so is the birthplace of this beloved dish. To this day the grillmen are still doing it the old-fashioned way, in the same tiny room, with fluffy white buns made especially for them. A few things to know before going: you’ll want yours "all the way," meaning with ketchup, mustard, a pickle, and onions. Don’t ask for it without onions; don’t ask for it with cheese; don’t ask for fries (just grab a bag of chips). Request a sack and you’ll get six sliders, and expect to leave smelling like onions.
At this friendly, no-frills diner, it’s all about the onion-fried burger. Sit at the counter and watch the magic happen: Chef and owner Sid Hall (or his brother, Bob), take a ball of fresh-ground beef, place it on a ripping hot griddle, and smash it down along with a handful of thin-sliced white onions. The onions fuse into the meat as it cooks, and the end result is all crust and fried onions. Make it a double, and you get twice as much. No ketchup, no lettuce, no tomato — just meat and onions on a soft bun.
Family-owned and -operated since 1936, Solly’s claim to fame is the butter burger, one of the last and finest examples in the nation. Fresh-ground sirloin is delivered daily from a local butcher, and the shakes, fries, and burgers, complete with a healthy dose of real Wisconsin butter, are prepared in full view of diners. About 15 toppings and burger varieties are available, but the trademark Original Solly Burger is the way to go. Each 3-ounce patty gets cooked on a large flat-top griddle and is topped with impossibly flavorful stewed onions and a pat of butter — at least 2 or 3 tablespoons’ worth — before being placed in between two halves of a soft white bun. The butter melts into the meat and into the bun, and it’s unlike any other burger you’ll experience.
There are 13 locations of Beck’s Prime spread out in Houston, Dallas, and Augusta, Texas, and not one has a freezer. Founded in 1985, Beck’s has become a beloved institution, serving half-pound Angus chuck burgers that are hand-ground and formed on-site every day. While they offer your usual variety of cheeses and toppings, the Bill’s Burger is what to order here. With bacon, jalapeños, lettuce, sautéed onions, secret sauce, and sliced Cheddar, it’s sure to make your dining companions jealous.
As their website states, Dog Haus’ mission is to serve “uncompromisingly fresh, quality food in a clean, energetic and fun environment.” We say mission accomplished. Although this place is best known for their hot dogs and sausages, they offer a couple killer burgers, too. Our experts narrowed it down to the Motley Bleu 2.0, which takes a 100 percent natural Black Angus beef patty that’s been ground that day and tops it with bacon, “bleu sriracha,” lettuce, “soy-racha” onions, tomato, and white American cheese, all sandwiched between two halves of a French bread-like bun. It’s a fine example of a fusion burger that gets our stamp of approval.
Winstead’s is a household name in the Kansas City area, serving diner staples and "steakburgers" for more than 70 years. These burgers are what the locals crave when they leave the city: fresh-ground Choice beef served with ketchup, mustard, pickles, and a thick slice of onion (along with cheese, lettuce, tomato, and/or bacon if you want it), served on a soft white bun. Order the double, comprising two 2-ounce patties, smashed down on the griddle until they’re essentially just crust, but retaining moisture. If this is your preferred type of burger, then you probably agree with Kansas City native Calvin Trillin, who proclaimed Winstead's burger one of the best in the world. Add cheese, order a limeade and fries, take in your surroundings, and enjoy what Hamburger America author George Motz calls "the perfect diner eating experience."
J.M. Curley's Angus burger is a straightforward approach that steers clear of gimmicks — this is 9 ounces of perfectly seasoned and cooked beef topped with Cheddar, grilled onions, house Russian dressing, and pickles, all moistened with excess drippings. The Burger won this unpretentious dinner and after-bar eatery Best Burger honors from Boston Magazine in 2013.
The Grind is the proud home of the only 1,000-degree coal-burning ovens of their kind in the United States, which make for some pretty amazing burgers. They use locally sourced meat almost exclusively, as well, so we suggest straying from the normal beef and going for the Buffalo Burger, made up of a half-pound of local buffalo meat, bacon, caramelized onions, jalapeños, steak sauce, and white American cheese on a brioche bun. We bet it pairs really well with their Maker’s Mark old fashioned.
When it comes to DuMont Burger, there’s a distinct sadness that locals in the know won’t be able to see far beyond. It wasn’t long ago that chef and owner Colin Devlin was found dead after an apparent suicide, said to have been brought on by the pressures and financial difficulties behind running his three restaurants, DuMont, Dressler, and DuMont Burger. But even after Devlin’s death, the food that brought him into the spotlight can still be found at this Brooklyn burger joint. They serve a burger that satisfies newcomers and long-time fans, a burger that lives up to the expectations of locals and Lonely Planet-wielding Italian and French tourists alike. Yet it’s a simple iteration: A basic thick-patty burger that features pickles (and you’ll want to add cheese), juicy with a slight char; the sweet-smelling, buttery brioche provides just enough handle through to the last bite.
Craigie On Main
Serious chefs never used to serve burgers in their restaurants, and when they started doing so, you always sort of had the feeling that they would much rather you didn't order one so they could sell you that heritage pork belly and bone marrow tower with kale pesto and quinoa foam instead. At his Cambridge restaurant, chef Tony Maws offers a really great burger — fat and dripping with flavor — and has figured out an easy way to keep the number of burger orders down: He prepares only 18 of them a day. If you're 19th in line, them’s the breaks. It's worth getting to the place early for this 8-ounce grass-fed patty (custom-blended daily from various cuts of meat) on a house-baked dome-shaped sesame bun. It’s topped with Shelburne Farm Vermont Cheddar, vinaigrette-dressed lettuce and tomato, and Maws' own mace-flavored ketchup.
There are all kinds of good stuff on the menu at Cindy Pawlcyn's ever-popular wine country bistro (crispy calamari with curried slaw, Dungeness crab cakes with chipotle aïoli, Mongolian pork chop with homemade mustard…) but the cheeseburger (Maytag Blue is an optional choice, and one well worth making) is just so big and juicy that it's hard to resist. The house-made pickles and impeccable fries don't hurt, either.
This standalone counter-only burger-and-pie place in West Los Angeles hasn't changed since it opened in 1947 (well, except for the prices). The Apple Pan's signature Hickory Burger is a juicy round of hickory-smoked ground beef on a reasonably standard bun anointed with mayonnaise and a secret sauce that tastes like slightly spiced-up ketchup. Pickles and lettuce complete the package, with Tillamook Cheddar melted on top for an extra 50 cents.
The Genuine Hospitality Group
This popular Miami restaurant (with an outpost on the Caribbean island of Grand Cayman) serves its first-rate burger only at lunchtime, but it's beefy enough to make a substantial dinner. The beef is house-ground Black Angus from California's Harris Ranch and the bun is brioche. Optional accompaniments include house-smoked bacon and blue or Vermont white Cheddar
Mr. Bartley's Burgers
Fifty-five years ago, Joe and Joan Bartley took over a small convenience store facing Harvard Yard with the mission to perfect the great American hamburger. The Boston Herald seemed to think they’d done it when they proclaimed them the place home of the best burger in Boston, and locals agree: There’s almost always a line to score one of the interestingly named burgers, such as The Hashtag and the Gay Marriage. We suggest taking a deep breath and going for The Viagra: a seven-ounce freshly ground chuck steak burger dressed with blue cheese dressing, bacon, lettuce, and tomato. You’ll probably have stopped blushing by the time your order is up.
Hog & Hominy
When food insiders see something called the John T Burger, they’re likely to get both excited and skeptical. “A burger in Memphis named for the head of the Southern Foodways Alliance [prolific writer and Daily Meal Council member John T. Edge],” you can almost hear them muse, “Hmm. This could either be really good or really bad.” Then you see the restaurant and the chefs behind it — Michael Hudman and Andrew Ticer — and you just know that there’s no need to worry about whether this is going to be awesome. And it really, really is. Hudman and Ticer grind the meat from local rancher Claybrook Farm medium-coarse and smash in satisfaction and gooey-salty indulgence. Have a few drinks out on the porch and then enjoy the John T Burger before playing some bocce outside the restaurant. The complete experience is what makes it. Trust us.
It’s a swanky burger to be sure, served in a bar in one of Manhattan’s trendiest hotels, whose restaurant is helmed by one of the city’s (and the country’s) most well-respected chefs: Daniel Humm (also of Eleven Madison Park). And while the house burger at The NoMad Bar, which has a separate entrance and only starts serving food starting at 5:30 p.m., doesn’t come out of the same kitchen that prepares the signature $84 whole-roasted chicken with foie gras and black truffles, it’s still in the same sphere of indulgence, albeit more beefy and affordable. We’re talking a dry-aged Cheddar burger laced with bone marrow and suet, and dressed with red onion and pickles.
Sam’s Tavern, founded in the 1940s on the corner of Furhman and Eastlake Avenues in Seattle, was the original birthplace of national chain Red Robin. Before adopting the name “Red Robin,” it was just “Sam’s Tavern,” and then “Sam’s Red Robin.” 70 years later, the original Sam’s Tavern was resurrected, this time on Pike near 11th Street, and they still serve awesome burgers. They have one in particular that’s perfect for all you bacon fans out there: Sammy’s 50/50 Burger. The patty is half Certified Angus beef and half hickory smoked bacon, topped with avocado, buttermilk bacon ranch dressing, Gouda cheese, and (you guessed it) more bacon. Might as well go whole hog and start with the wedge salad with bacon bits and see if they’ll load your side of fries up with it, too.
The Cherry Cricket has gone through some interesting transformations over the decades — it was a trucker bar in the 1950s, Bernard Duffy’s prime rib outpost in the ‘60s, and a beer-and-burger joint called Eli McGuire’s in the ‘90s – but it’s always been home to some really good meat. The Cherry Cricket honors that tradition today, especially with their half-pound namesake burger that you can customize with relatively common topping like avocado and grilled onions. But don’t stop there: They also give you the chance to add a little wild to your plate with additions like grilled pineapple, peanut butter, raspberry jam, grape jelly, an egg any style, and smoked Cheddar cheese. The saying goes “When in Denver,” right?
Back in 2011, popular California hamburger stand Taylor's Automatic Refresher renamed its three locations (Napa, St. Helena, and San Francisco's Ferry Building) because its owners, brothers Joel and Duncan Gott, didn't own rights to the original name and couldn’t persuade those who did own it to let them trademark it. It may have been jarring to see the name change and the introduction of the neon-lit red “G,” but one thing didn’t change when they adopted the family name Gott's Roadside Tray Gourmet were the storied grilled third-pound Niman Ranch burgers. Cooked medium-well and topped with American cheese, lettuce, pickles, tomato, and secret sauce on a toasted egg bun, Gott’s cheeseburger gets pressed lightly in a machine at the end of the line (employees say this steams the bun, but leaves the underside crunchy). It’s an icon.
One of Brooklyn’s most underrated Neapolitan pizzerias shouldn’t be laying claim to one of the country’s most under-the-radar burgers, too, right? Well, too bad, ‘cause it is, and the woman and co-restaurateur the place is named for is a yoga instructor to boot. So there! If you haven’t been, you need to catch up — first by just trying their excellent pizza (and the thin-crust pies done by former Serious Eats pizza columnist Adam Kuban in a pop-up they host on weekends). Once you’ve done that, it’s high time you try an Emmy Burger, a funkified, dry-aged beef burger with Grafton Cheddar, blackened onions, and cornichons atop a pretzel bun that gives new verve to the genre.
37) Hamburger Fonfon, Chez Fonfon, Birmingham, Ala.
In Birmingham, Frank and Pardis Stitt are justly famous for their Highlands Bar & Grill (one of the first contemporary Southern restaurants anywhere) and Italian-Southern (as opposed to Southern Italian) classic Bottega, but they get the cozy French bistro thing right, too, at Chez Fonfon. A cozy French bistro, that is, where the country pâté, trout amandine, and croque monsieur share a menu with the Hamburger Fonfon. To make this impressive burger, chefs grind chuck in-house and form it into eight-ounce patties, to be griddled and topped with Comté cheese (whose sharp, nutty flavor adds a racy French flavor to the proceedings), along with grilled red onion, lettuce, pickle, and tomato. Très bien.
Chef Jose Garces has won heaps of praise for the burgers he’s serving at Village Whiskey, and it’s well-deserved. His burgers are so lightly packed that they’re almost fluffy, and come on a house-baked pain au lait bun that’s similar to brioche, but less eggy. The patties are well seasoned, super juicy, and full of flavor. If you’re looking for something especially decadent, go for the Whiskey King Burger, which is topped with maple bourbon-glazed cippolini onions, blue cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, and foie gras for good measure. It’s a wonder to behold.
A conversation about Louis’ Lunch is never simple. Is it the birthplace of the hamburger? Supposedly, one day in 1900, a gentleman hurriedly told proprietor Louis Lassen "he was in a rush and wanted something he could eat on the run," resulting in a blend of ground steak trimmings between two slices of toast, with which the gentleman was sent on his way. But was this a "burger," or was it a "sandwich" — because it wasn't a ground-beef patty on some form of yeast bun? Sandwich, hamburger, whatever. So what do you get at Louis'? A flame-broiled burger made in a vertical hinged-steel wire gridiron that cooks the burgers on both sides at the same time; a hamburger sandwich supposedly made from a blend of five cuts of ground steak. If you want condiments, you’ll have to ask. Otherwise, all you’ll get is cheese, tomato, and onion. No mustard, ketchup, or mayo. But do you really need all that? You can practically taste the nostalgia. And that never disappoints.
Second Bar + Kitchen Jody Horton
Executive chef David Bull grew up in his family’s restaurant, where he picked up not only a love of cooking, but also a deep knowledge of how to run a successful kitchen and restaurant. All of this is on display at Second Bar + Kitchen. His approach is “Natural American,” as he puts it, which means using local ingredients when possible and cooking with the seasons. One menu item that’s available year-round — and for good reason — is the Congress Burger. The patty is a blend of ground brisket and chuck, and Bull tops it with Gruyère, lettuce, shallot confit, and tomatoes. Then comes the really fun part: You have the option to add avocado, crisp pork belly, an over-easy egg, and/or seared foie gras. You can also just put all your cards on the table, so to speak, and tell them “double meat double cheese.” Happy napping.
Along with its near-contemporary, the 1947-vintage Apple Pan (No. 46), Cassell's, opened in 1948, defined hamburger excellence in LA for many decades. Cassell's now occupies a corner of the historic Hotel Normandie in Koreatown, a few blocks from its original location, but stays true to founder Al Cassell's old ways: the beef is Colorado Angus chuck and brisket, ground daily in-house, formed in the original burger press and cooked with Cassell's original crossfire broiler. Cheddar or Swiss draped over the top and a Parker House bun complete the burger. All the usual condiments are available (the mayo is house-made with organic eggs), and bacon, a fried egg, or avocado are available as optional enhancements.
With six locations, Dick’s is a Seattle institution. Since 1954, they’ve served burgers, hand-cut fries (named the second best in the country earlier this year), and milkshakes, and the owners know that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The Double Deluxe an ideal burger specimen: two patties, melted cheese, lettuce, tomato, and pickle relish, on a soft, squishy bun, sold for a whopping $2.90. Want onions? That’ll cost you an extra 5 cents, please.
Thurman Café has been serving all-American fare since 1942 to Columbus’ German Town neighborhood, and it’s a great place for locals to stop in or take out classics such as wings, pizza, fries, and of course, burgers. If it’s your first time there, make sure you order The Thurmanator, which comprises not one but two twelve-ounce burger patties, American cheese, bacon, banana peppers, ham, lettuce, mayo, Mozzarella cheese, sautéed mushrooms and onions, and tomato, all served on a bun with fries on the side and a pickle spear. We wish you luck on your quest to vanquish this monster.
Opened in 2007, but named in honor of a famous restaurant and nightclub co-proprietor Josh Wolkon's great-uncles owned in Boston for several decades in the middle of the last century, Steuben's is a neighborhood diner serving American regional specialties. Representing Colorado's neighbor, New Mexico, the menu presents what is regularly named the best green chile (or chili, as Steuben's puts it) cheeseburger in Denver. Said to be inspired by the classic version at the Owl Bar in San Antonio, New Mexico, it's a fat burger patty topped with American cheese into which green chile strips seem to melt. Lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo, and mustard ornament the burger, which is served on a challah bun.
Known as “the other Keller” (besides Thomas, obviously) Hubert Keller is familiar to fine-dining enthusiasts who have long enjoyed his exquisitely crafted modern French food at the now-defunct Fleur de Lys in San Francisco, and to the Las Vegas dining public for having created a $5,000 hamburger at his Fleur in the Mandalay Bay Hotel. The accomplished Alsatian-born chef has more recently established a reputation for producing sensibly priced burgers of great quality at his Burger Bar (with additional locations in San Francisco and Beijing). The basic burger here is certified Angus beef on a plump bun with tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and dill pickle, but the menu allows extravagant customization, offering roughly 50 accoutrements including such diverse add-ons as coleslaw, black truffles, smoked Gouda, jalapeño bacon, guacamole, and shrimp.
To know Edzo’s, you must first know Eddie Lakin, a former line cook who worked in high-end kitchens around the world before settling back on his home turf to flip burgers for a living. But what burgers these are: choice chuck, hand-cut, and ground on-premises every morning, handled gently and given a shake of salt and pepper as they cook. Burgers are available in two preparations: smashed flat on a griddle, or grilled over an open flame. We suggest the ordering the former — it’s thin and crispy, served with up to three patties on a bun, topped with the classics as well as interesting options like garlic butter, fried eggs, and giardiniera.
Ah, the inimitable Jucy Lucy (yes, Matt's spells it without the "i"). While the battle rages between Matt’s Bar and the nearby 5-8 Club over who invented this brilliant burger variation (basically a cheeseburger with the cheese inside the patty instead of on top), the one at Matt’s Bar is the superior specimen. Legend has it that shortly after the restaurant opened in 1954 a hungry customer came in and asked for two burger patties with a slice of cheese in the middle. He took a bite, proclaimed it to be "one juicy Lucy!," and an icon was born. Only fresh-ground beef goes into each hand-formed burger, and the first bite yields a river of molten, gooey cheese. These burgers are much more difficult to make than it may appear, and the one at Matt’s Bar is absolute perfection.
PYT is renowned for its absolutely insane burger creations, including one topped with chocolate-covered bacon on a glazed doughnut, but beneath all the gimmickry is a seriously delicious — and, dare we say, restrained — burger: the flagship PYT burger. A house-ground patty is topped with bacon, Cheddar, onions, lettuce, special sauce, and tomato. When you’re finished, you might even have room left over for a Birthday Cake Shake, with vanilla ice cream, real birthday cake, and cake-flavored vodka, all topped with a cupcake and candle.
Grill ‘Em All
What do you get when you combine a love of heavy metal and a passion for good food? A menu of some 16 burgers with names like “Napalm Death” and “Dee Snider” and topping combinations as unusual as you can imagine. Peanut butter, strawberry jam, bacon, and sriracha? Fried chicken, Cheddar, bacon, maple, and hot sauce on waffle buns? You bet. Chef Ryan Harkins and Matthew Chernus of Grill ‘Em All rose to national prominence as winners of the first season of Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race. The truck is still in operation, but like a fair number of successful food truck entrepreneurs of the past few years, the crew has since settled into a brick-and-mortar location. Grill ‘Em All’s crazy combinations are tasty, mostly because of their sound technique and sense of balance; if they go with an over-the-top bread, they’ll be sure there’s enough moisture to go with it, but there’s perhaps no better example of why they deserve to be on this list than the F.T.W. It’s just a big old juicy burger on a bun with cheese. And you have to respect that.
Bill's Bar & Burger
Bill's Bar & Burger is run by the hospitality company BR Guest, also known for upscale offerings like Dos Caminos, Strip House, and Ruby Foo’s. The burgers served here, made using a meat blend from celebrity butcher Pat LaFrieda, receive the level of care and attention they deserve: The 6-ounce fresh-ground hand-pressed patties get a deep, crispy sear on a flattop and a slice of melty American cheese before being tucked into a soft squishy bun, served with lettuce, pickles, and tomato with a squirt of secret sauce to top it off. The meat is loosely packed, and just crumbly enough, super juicy thanks to a high fat content.
Down the Old Las Vegas Highway (the original Route 66), the green chile cheeseburger served at Bobcat Bite, founded by Mitzi Panzer in 1953, was hailed by Hamburger America's George Motz, Roadfood's Jane and Michael Stern, Food Network, and Epicurious as not only the zenith of green chile cheeseburgers, but perhaps one of the greatest burgers, period, in the country. A dispute between the Panzer family and John and Bonnie Eckre, who took The Bite over 12 years ago, forced the Eckres to move to a new location on Old Santa Fe Trail and adopt a new name, Santa Fe Bite, but the restaurant’s legendary ginormous burgers — 10-ounce house-ground, boneless chuck patties cooked to temperature preference and blanketed with green chiles under white American cheese on huge, ciabatta-like buns — remain. And for that we should be very thankful.
Tom Perini's steakhouse, situated in a converted barn on his family's ranch just outside Abilene, Texas, is famed for its 22-ounce "cowboy rib-eye" and other heroic slabs of good Texas beef, but burger lovers swear by the establishment's grilled half-pound burger, laden with Cheddar or provolone, green chiles, grilled mushrooms, and onions.
Ray’s to the Third
After the closure of Michael Landrum’s two D.C.-area locations of Ray’s Hell Burger, devotees despaired that they’d never again be able to enjoy these perfectly seared, ingeniously topped burgers. The third outpost, however, is still going strong, and thank goodness for that. Hand-trimmed, aged in-house, fresh-ground throughout the day, and hand-formed, these burgers, especially the original 10-ounce "Big Devil," are a sight to behold. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can top yours with seared foie gras or roasted bone marrow.
“Bash Style,” for the uninitiated, means American cheese, onion and bacon jam, pickles, special sauce, and, most importantly, a killer blend of meat cooked medium-rare by chef Josh Capon and his team at Burger & Barrel. This is the foundation of what you could argue has become unparalleled burger greatness: Capon’s clubby SoHo spot is a veteran winner of Burger Bash, the marquee event of the South Beach and New York City Wine & Food Festivals, having claimed the title five times in six years.
When you've been selling burgers since 1977 and your restaurant is always packed, you must be doing something right. At Chris Madrid's, the "macho" tostado burger made it into George Motz's book, Hamburger America, and the author's 25 Essential U.S. Burgers Checklist. Chris Madrid reinvented the Texas bean burger (hamburger, refried beans, Fritos, and Cheez Whiz), which is said to have been created at the now-defunct Sills Snack Shack in San Antonio, by subbing in Cheddar and house-made corn chips. The bun is soft and toasted crisp inside, but the weight of the burger and the moisture of the patty, beans, and cheese presses down on the bottom, condensing it, making it sweet. So you have that sweetness, the juiciness of the patty, the comforting refried beans, and cheese flowing out all over. What a burger.
The lunch-only grass-fed burger at this San Francisco classic is ground in-house, medium-lean, and comes on grilled rosemary focaccia slathered with aïoli. Beecher's Flagship or Bayley Hazen blue are available options, as are grilled onions or sliced heirloom tomatoes. There's very much of an only-in-Northern-California feel about the whole arrangement, which is just fine with us.
Chef Joey Campanaro knows his way around a burger, and the one that he serves at his West Village restaurant The Little Owl was named the world’s best by The Guardian. Campanaro starts with a three-quarters-inch-thick patty of ground Pat LaFrieda brisket and short rib; seasons it liberally with a curry powder-kicked spice blend; grills it; tops it with American cheese, bacon, lettuce, onions, pickles, and tomato; and serves it on a homemade bun. It’s rich, meaty, and hits all the right notes.
So what’s the secret to the burger at Husk, Sean Brock’s Charleston landmark? Bacon ground right into the patty. Brock has been on a personal quest to perfect the burger, and after eating his cheeseburger you’ll most likely agree that he’s achieved his goal. House-made buns are steamed, sliced, toasted, and smeared with butter and beef fat. The two patties are a blend of chuck and hickory-smoked Benton’s bacon, seared on a ripping-hot nonstick griddle and scraped off to retain their crust. The toppings? Three slices of American cheese, shaved white onions in between the patties, bread-and-butter pickles, a "special sauce" that closely resembles the one at In-N-Out, and lettuce and tomato only when they’re in season. Sean Brock: in relentless pursuit of burger perfection. You: lucky.
Ben's Chili Bowl
The celebrity (and presidential) photos on the wall are clear indications of Ben's Chili Bowl's city landmark status, but the continuous lines out the door are evidence that the restaurant's chili cheese burgers and dogs are some of the best in the country. When you order the quarter-pound beef chili burger, you get a never-frozen all-beef patty that they suggest you top with chili, lettuce, and mayo; we highly recommend splurging for cheese for an additional 40 cents. As the U Street Corridor/Shaw neighborhood around it has become trendy, it's a more than 50-year-old bastion of down-home D.C. where college kids, old-timers, and celebrities are all welcome as long as they're willing to stand in line like everybody else — though the President eats for free.
There are now seven P.J. Clarke's locations, including two in São Paulo, but the Third Avenue Manhattan original is the feisty little brick building that refused to make way for the 47-story Skidmore, Owings & Merrill skyscraper that now looms over it. It is also the one that created the terrific pub-style burger known as The Cadillac — a juicy patty on a classic bun with smoked country bacon and American cheese as well as lettuce, onion, and tomato, with shoestring fries on the side. The name, by the way, was bestowed on the thing by Nat "King" Cole, who dubbed Clarke's "the Cadillac of burgers."
When Gabriel Rucker first opened Le Pigeon in 2006, he only served five of these outstanding burgers per night. How cruel. Until recently, it was also available at Rucker’s downtown spot Little Bird, where it's been replaced with the bistro's own signature burger. Today, thankfully, the burger can be purchased at all times at the original Le Pigeon. And what a burger it is: A thick square patty of beef from a local farm is seasoned with salt and pepper; grilled (a rarity); topped with sharp Tillamook white Cheddar, an iceberg lettuce slaw, thick slices of grilled pickled onions, mayo, mustard, and house-made ketchup; and piled atop a ciabatta bun. If you find yourself in Portland, run, don’t walk, to this burger.
db Bistro Moderne
The idea of the “chef-inspired” burger, in all its renown and prominence, can be hit or miss these days. Lately, it seems like all chefs feel like they have to have a burger on the menu. But while some are just paying lip service to the trend, some of them really, really hit the mark. In that regard, it’s very hard to disregard the importance of the Original db Burger, created by esteemed French chef Daniel Boulud for his db Bistro Moderne. A sandwich that’s simultaneously very American and very French, the db Burger is a mixture of grilled beef and braised short rib — the ultimate upscale juicy Lucy, so to speak — with a foie gras center. This is a burger that’s as tall as it is wide. There’s a Dijon mustard layer on the bottom layered with tomato compote, chicory, and the gorgeously tall “patty” — and all that’s topped with Cheddar, red onion slices, and grated horseradish. Indulgent? You bet. Juicy? Absolutely. Salty, sweet, and savory with a bit of a bite? Oh yeah.
Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo, affectionately known as “The Franks” by fans of their New York restaurants, including Frankies 457 and Frankies Spuntino, serve an epic burger at their meat-centric farm-to-table spot, Prime Meats. They start with a half-pound patty made with dry-aged Black Angus trimmings from Creekstone Farms, and it’s so beefy, juicy, well-seared, and full of dry-aged funkiness that it really doesn’t even need toppings or a bun. But the house-made bun stands up to the juiciness, and the additions of lettuce, onion, pickles, and tomato elevate it all to burger glory.
Every night at 10 p.m. on the dot, 24 burgers emerge from the kitchen at Holeman & Finch Public House, and that’s it. Even though they’re not listed on the menu, these burgers are often spoken for well in advance (they can be reserved at any point during service), and for good reason. Each double-patty burger of fresh-ground grass-fed chuck and brisket comes topped with American cheese, pickles, onions, and homemade ketchup, and is served on a toasted house-baked bun alongside fresh-cut fries. Chef Linton Hopkins (who developed this burger while he was battling cancer; it’s the only food he didn’t lose his taste for) chose to offer it on such a limited basis in order to let the other items on his menu get their due, but if you’d prefer not to take your chances you can also try it on Sundays, when it’s featured on their brunch menu.
Flickr/lulun and kame
Because of this burger’s location in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and its lunch-only appearance on the menu, out-of-town visitors free to venture over during the week are likely to have an easier time than locals experiencing New York City’s best burger. There are no bells and whistles, but Peter Luger has been handling meat since 1887, and its rich, half-pound Luger Burger, made from porterhouse and prime chuck roll trimmings, is worth figuring out how to sneak out of the office for a long lunch. Burgers are molded into a coffee cup, emptied onto the high-temperature broilers used for the restaurant’s steaks until they develop a dark crust, and then settled into a sesame-studded bun. For a few dollars more you can have cheese and thick-cut bacon, but either way, if the famed gruff waitstaff unsettled you when you sat down, you’ll have forgotten them after the first bite. Just make sure to arrive before 3:45 p.m., which is when they stop serving it.
Flickr/Suzi Edwards Alexander
This always-crowded Greenwich Village institution, a semi-dive bar (no real dive bar sells a line of branded casual clothing, or opens outposts in Long Island City), is justly famous for its big no-nonsense burgers, cooked under a salamander-like broiler, draped with American cheese (and crisscrossed with bacon for the signature Bistro Burger), and served on a classic sesame bun with the usual trimmings. Old-timers complain that it isn't what it used to be, but the burgers still taste darn good to us.
What do you get when you go to Father's Office, chef Sang Yoon's gastropub in Los Angeles (now in both Santa Monica and Culver City)? No table service. And no pretension. It has the wood-paneled, comfortable vibe of a great local lived-in spot, but it's clean, to the point, and one of The Daily Meal’s 101 Best Restaurants of 2012. You’ll find great craft beers and small bites (think smoked eel, sobrasada, Spanish mushrooms, and white anchovies). You can also "Eat Big" and opt for the spicy oatmeal stout ribs or the bistro steak. But let’s face it: you're there for the Office Burger, which many people in LA refer to as the city's best burger. There's nothing frou-frou about it, just arugula, bacon, caramelized onion, Gruyère, and Maytag Blue. It's a very, very juicy burger with funk, freshness, and great flavor.
According to legend, burgermeister George Motz wanted to include J.G. Melon's definitive bar burger in the first edition of his book Hamburger America, but nobody at the place would return his calls — maybe because they were too busy actually turning out the darn things. The burger is simple and classic: a healthy slab of ground beef (the exact formula is kept a secret) sizzled on the griddle, served draped with American cheese on a toasted bun, with pickles and red onions on the side.
Kuma’s Corner is not a quiet place to eat — the restaurant’s ethos is "Support your community. Eat beef. Bang your head." But with all the pyrotechnics that go off when you take a bite, the heavy metal doesn’t just make sense, it’s a perfect fit. There are burgers with tomatillo salsa and fried chiles and burgers with sriracha and grilled pineapple, but if you have to choose just one, go for the signature Kuma Burger: a fried egg, bacon, lettuce, onion, sharp Cheddar, and tomato. It’s not as though there’s not enough flavor in the burger, but that egg adds the extra “oomph” to make it truly memorable.
Flickr/Ice Cream Man
The Varsity is not included on this list because it claims to be the world’s largest drive-in, or because it’s one of the few restaurants in America that still employs carhops. No, neither is it The Varsity’s staying power (founder Frank Gordy launched it with a $2,000 nest egg and "million dollar taste buds" in 1928) and its expansion to some eight locations in the greater Atlanta and Athens areas. It’s because it sells one of the country’s most idiosyncratic burgers: the double chili cheeseburger. There’s something going on with the buns ‘round these parts — they get condensed and sweeter once find yourself in Atlanta. Make no mistake, this is a greasy cheeseburger, more compact than most double cheeseburgers, but one whose sloppy, cheesy saltiness all comes together in a solid, but proportionately fluid burger, both texturally and flavor-wise. No wonder it’s one of America’s best burgers (and for just $4.08).
The Spotted Pig
The burger at the Spotted Pig, a restaurant that is widely considered responsible for launching the high-end gastropub trend, is a wonder. Chef and co-owner April Bloomfield created a half-pound behemoth of prime grilled beef, topped with a layer of creamy, stinky Roquefort, and sandwiched inside a brioche-style bun. Served alongside rosemary-scented shoestring fries, it’s the kind of burger that will force you to close your eyes after taking the first bite and just be with the beefy, cheesy decadence.
Is the burger served at Au Cheval "the perfect griddle burger?" According to Bon Appétit, it is. Its beauty lies in its simplicity: two patties (or three, if you order a “double”) of no-frills ground beef topped with Cheddar, Dijonnaise, a few thin slices of pickles, and served on a soft toasted bun from Chicago’s Z Baking. The patties are wonderfully crusty, the fries are fried in lard, and just about everything about this burger is perfect.
Sure, the côte de boeuf, roasted bone marrow, and various ungodly delicious potato renditions are big reasons why Minetta Tavern was called the city’s best steakhouse and awarded three stars by The New York Times. But no less the stuff of legend is the Black Label Burger. Prime dry-aged beef, sourced and aged for six to seven weeks by Pat LaFrieda, is well seasoned and cooked on a plancha with clarified butter, developing a glorious exterior. The fussed-over burger is nestled onto a sesame-studded brioche bun designed specifically for it, topped with caramelized onions, and served with pommes frites. Juicy, savory, salty, soul-satisfying… these words lose meaning in the presence of a burger this good. Minetta is a bit of a scene, and it’s going to cost you $28, but you’ll have sampled the very best burger in America.