Is there any food more quintessentially American than the burger? The simple sandwich of ground beef on a bun allows for considerable creativity from the chef or home cook who's making it, and there are thousands of variations, from one end of the country to the other. And when done properly, there are few foods more delicious.
The burger, it is sometimes said, traces its roots all the way back to the Mongol Empire in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and the Mongol tradition of mincing horsemeat before cooking it was passed on to the Russians, who in turn brought it to the major Hanseatic port of Hamburg in the early nineteenth century. Hamburg was the most common port of origin for ships traveling from Germany to the United States, and by the late 1800s restaurants in New York began serving what they called Hamburg steaks, seasoned and cooked patties of ground beef, to German immigrants. According to the late Josh Ozersky’s The Hamburger: A History, the oldest mention of a Hamburg steak on a menu was at New York’s Delmonico’s, the recipe having been developed by one of America’s greatest chefs, Charles Ranhofer.
The exact originator of the modern-day hamburger unfortunately remains a mystery, but there are several contenders. Perhaps the most well-known is Louis Lassen, who introduced a hamburger steak sandwich at his restaurant Louis’ Lunch, in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1900. Others claim that "Hamburger Charlie" Nagreen actually invented the dish at Wisconsin’s Outagamie County Fair in 1885, and still others claim that the Menches brothers did it at an 1885 fair in Hamburg, New York. Regardless of whoever first applied a ground meat patty to bread, today the burger is one of the most beloved, comforting foods in existence. You can even argue that we’re currently in the midst of a burger golden age, with more and more upscale restaurants adding burgers to their menus as old-time burger joints keep going strong, and entire festivals and competitions are devoted to burgers.
But what exactly defines the perfect burger? To answer this question we called upon none other than Pat LaFrieda, butcher extraordinaire and the creator of some of the meat blends that have gone into making some of the most heralded burgers served in America today, including Shake Shack’s and the legendary Black Label burger at New York’s Minetta Tavern.
“The perfect burger, in my view, is one that satisfies what I am hungry for at that moment,” he told us.
Being more specific, he identified the three main burger styles: There are the inch-or-so-thick patties that drip juice down your arm and give you that “rare beef buzz,” according to LaFrieda, with “a beautiful sear on the exterior, and a bright red, yet warm center.” Next up are the “smash burgers,” sometimes called fast-food style burgers, thin patties cooked on a griddle that get an ample crust and are “stomach pleasers, fast and effective.” Finally, there’s what LaFrieda calls the “aged steak in a burger experience,” masterpieces (usually served in steakhouses) that raise the humble burger to fine-dining status.
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 four years ago, we took it up to a comprehensive 101. In order to compile this year’s ranking, we assembled a list of about 300 burgers from all across the country, from Hollywood, Florida, to Anchorage, Alaska. Building upon 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 2017 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 non-beef burgers in our ranking), 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 celebrate the best chain burgers in a separate ranking — choosing instead to focus on smaller-time restaurant owners. We asked a panel of noted writers, journalists, bloggers, and culinary authorities from across the country to vote for their favorites, limited to the ones that they’ve tried.
“Americans love burgers because we see them as something that our country has pioneered,” LaFrieda added. “They are inexpensive, they fill our bellies, and most importantly, they carry a link back to a memory of comfort and safety at some point in our lives. That all equals fun in eating, making it no longer a comfort food, but instead an American pastime.” Click here for America's 101 best burgers.
If you live in Burlington, Vermont, you’ve heard of Al’s French Frys. The sprawling burger joint, located just south of downtown, started as a French fry stand run by Al and Genevieve Rusterholz in the late 1940s, and over the years it just kept growing. The latest incarnation still has a distinctly 1950s vibe, and a menu that appears to not have changed (in either offerings and price) in years. The patties are small and sit between halves of a soft white bun. If you don’t order any toppings, which cost extra, all you get is meat on a bun, which certainly implies that they stand behind its quality. The never-frozen patties are indeed high-grade beef, but some lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions, cheese, and ketchup (as well as a second patty to balance out the meat-bun-toppings ratio) never hurt. This is a seriously good old-school burger, and a seriously tasty one at that.
Yelp/ Christine G.
Packing in crowds since 1933, what’s quite possibly the oldest bar in San Diego also serves what very well might be its best burger. Called the Texas, this half-pound, hand-formed patty is topped with melt-in-your-mouth fried onions and your choice of seven cheeses (opt for American). Wash the Texas down with a cold beer and it’ll quickly become obvious why Waterfront has become such an institution.
This homey Houston institution has been going strong since 1938, when Nona and Aubrey Lankford set up a small fruit stand. Burgers were introduced in the late 1970s, and they were such a hit that the fruit (and the entire grocery store concept) was phased out to let the burgers take center stage. Today there are 20 burgers on the menu, topped with everything from mac and cheese, jalapeños, bacon, and a sunny-side-up egg (the Grim Burger) to shoestring fries, Cuban sauce, Swiss cheese, red onions, and ham (the Cuban), but the Double Meat Burger is the best way to learn what put this place on the map. Supremely juicy and packing a chargrilled flavor punch, these hand-formed burgers are filling, beefy, cheesy, and wildly satisfying.
Yelp/ Cory E.
Open since 2008, the Hubcap Grill, which now has two locations in Houston and one each in Kemah, Galveston, and Bush Airport, isn’t for the faint of heart. To make their popular Decker, two deeply seared fresh-ground hand-formed burger patties (with a slice of Texas toast in the middle for good measure) get topped with American and Swiss cheese, lettuce, pickles, onions, and a mayo-based “special sauce” perfected by owner Ricky Craig’s father Richard, who runs the popular nearby Craiganale’s Italian Deli. You can pile on more patties if you like, but save the stomach space for some of their perfectly seasoned fries.
The building that houses Earnestine's & Hazel's supposedly started as a pharmacy in the ‘30s and was owned by Abe Plough, the man who would invent Coppertone suntan lotion. Rich from his invention, Plough gave the building to two hairstylists (sisters) operating upstairs who used another of his products to straighten hair. Their names? Earnestine and Hazel. They turned the spot into a café, one said to be visited by musicians like B.B. King, Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry after gigs at a nearby club. Food wasn't the only thing people stopped in for — there was also supposedly a brothel upstairs. After being boarded up in the 1970s, it was reopened in 1993 by Russell George, who, until he died in 2013, hosted an amazing atmosphere with a fantastic jukebox in a bar whose every step creaks, and whose every inch holds the tantalizing smell of the incredible slow-cooked “soul burgers” the joint is known for. Thin, perfectly seared, and served on a soft white bun, it’s given a couple squirts of Worcestershire-kicked sauce as it cooks, and is the perfect accompaniment to a night out.
Lucky 13 may look (and sound) like a sports bar, but don’t be fooled: It’s home to Utah’s best burgers. Their patties are made of 7 ounces of never-frozen locally-sourced ground chuck, cooked to medium with an enviable crust, and served with a dizzying array of toppings on a freshly-baked bun. There’s no shortage of insane toppings; popular ones include the Breath Enhancer (with fresh garlic, rosemary, and Cheddar), the Bacon Stinky Cheeseburger (bacon and blue cheese), and The Fungus Amongus (with red wine-sauteed mushrooms, garlic, and Swiss). Our advice: Skip the gimmicky ones like The Big Benny (28 ounces of beef topped with bacon, ham, Cheddar, Swiss, onions, and special sauce) unless you have the metabolism of a race horse, and keep it simple with cheese and house-smoked bacon. Make sure you get some rosemary garlic fries on the side.
Facebook/ The Varsity
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 it’s shockingly inexpensive, too.
Yelp/ Katherine S.
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.
A beloved local landmark that draws locals and Black Hills tourists alike, Black Hills Burger & Bun Co. is run by the husband-and-wife duo of Claude and Christie Smith, who take their burgers very seriously. Burgers are made from chuck, which is ground in-house daily, formed into 6-ounce patties, seared, and served on a house-made bun with your choice of toppings and a side (try the baked beans). There’s a nice variety of burger styles on offer (including a few veggie options), but you can’t go wrong with The Western, with Cheddar, bacon, grilled onions, and barbecue sauce.
Yelp/ Bill T.
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.
Yelp/ Mike F.
With six locations, Dick’s is a Seattle institution. Since 1954, they’ve served burgers, hand-cut fries (among the best in the country), and milkshakes, and the owners know that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The Double Deluxe is 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.
Yelp/ Thomas C.
With its ancient sign propped up on a slightly lopsided roof (and a completely out-of-place ornate clock), Zweig’s is one of those places that you’d be a fool to drive past. Located about halfway between Milwaukee and Madison in the small, sleepy town of Watertown, this mainstay has been slinging burgers and other classic diner fare for more than 70 years, and the burgers coming off of the griddle are just about perfect. Enjoying two of these thin and crusty burgers draped in melted cheese and tucked onto a squishy bun while perched on a stool at the counter may just be the perfect burger-eating experience.
H Brant R./Yelp
The Burger Dive chef Brad Halsten might as well call himself “The Burger King of Montana,” because nobody around is turning out such well-made, award-winning, and creative burgers. His 1/3-pound burgers start with Angus beef, and his Jerk Burger (with house-made jerk sauce, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onion on a locally-made bun) took first place in beef at the 2012 Masters of Barbecue Challenge; his Best of the Bash Burger (a blackened patty topped with goat cheese, bacon, an onion ring, arugula, sriracha, and garlic basil mayo) won the South Beach Wine & Food Festival’s famed Burger Bash in 2014; and the I’m Your Huckleberry (topped with huckleberry Hatch chile barbecue sauce, bacon, goat cheese, roasted red pepper mayo, and arugula) won 2016’s World Food Championships. This guy is a burger wizard.
It looks sort of like a psychedelic preschool, all Day-Glo colors and funky signs and crowdsourced artwork, but this small Philadelphia burger joint serves up an exquisitely simple, highly flavorful 8-ounce sirloin burger, served on a doughy white bun from a nearby LeBus Bakery with sliced tomato, shredded lettuce, pickle, raw onion, and a choice of sauces — among them hot mustard, barbecue, harissa aïoli, and “Caribbean Green.” Sketch also serves a smashed onion burger, a truffle butter burger, and a Cyclops burger (with bacon and a fried egg), but why would you tamper with elementary success?
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.
Along with its near-contemporary, the 1947-vintage Apple Pan, 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.
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 cherrywood-smoked bacon to it. The patty is only 5 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.
This loud and lively sports bar offers diners a choice of sizes, burger-wise: one-third pound, one-half pound, and one pound. The country-fried bacon version is a half-pound patty slathered with mustard and mayo and layered with lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, and country-fried bacon — which, yes, is bacon that has been battered and deep-fried — has got to be about the most mouth-filling burger in America. And it's a really good one, too.
Who couldn't use more cowbell? (Sorry, had to.) This New Orleans burger joint, headed up with a focus on handmade, high-quality burgers by chef Brack May, is a Big Easy favorite. Their "Locally World Famous Cowbell Burger" includes a natural beef patty on a toasted potato roll with lettuce and tomato and onion. It all sounds pretty by-the-numbers, but when you see — and more importantly, taste — the results, you'll know why Cowbell gets a name check in pretty much every New Orleans “best of” burgers list.
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.
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.
If the name of this burger (and its associated restaurant) sounds a little odd, it’s pretty easy to explain: Triple XXX was the name of the root beer the burger stand sold when it first opened in 1929, and Duane Purvis was an All-American football star at nearby Purdue University (all their burgers are named after Purdue stars; another top seller is the Drew Brees First Choice). But on to the burger: The top seller, this one starts with a 1/3-pound patty of 85/15 sirloin hand-sliced and fresh-ground every morning, topped with cheese, your choice of lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles, and — get this — a big glob of creamy Jif peanut butter. Don’t knock it till you try it; its sweet creaminess serves as a great counterpoint to the cheese and high-quality beef. Don’t forget to wash it down with some Triple XXX root beer.
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.
Opened in 1945 as a bar called Mary Zimmerman’s and re-dubbed the Cherry Cricket by then-owner Lloyd Page in 1950 (nobody’s quite sure why), this Denver landmark has gone through plenty of ownership changes over the years (and a 2016 fire shut it down for five months), but one thing has remained the same: its legendary burger. The burgers start with a half-pound patty (or quarter-pound, if you prefer), and from there you can choose from 30 toppings, ranging from a variety of cheeses to more out-there options like herbed cream cheese, peanut butter, grilled pineapple, sauerkraut, corned beef, and raspberry jam. Don’t be afraid to get a little adventurous; it’s all delicious.
The Vortex, which has two Atlanta locations, is a crazy place. First of all, just to enter the restaurant you have to walk through a giant skull with crazy eyes that also happens to be the main entrance. The menu has a full page of rules ("We maintain the right to refuse service to any person that, in our sole opinion, is a great big jerk."). They also don’t allow anyone in who’s under the age of 18 because of smoking laws. And while all of this kitsch and attitude might make for a great distraction from underwhelming food anywhere else, the burgers here are the real deal (and so are the sweet potato tots). The Hell's Fury burger is a gargantuan half-pound patty of choice sirloin, topped with pepper jack cheese, something called “Atomic Death Sauce,” habanero relish, and a whole roasted jalapeño. Not for the faint of heart, but if you’re into spicy food, this very well might be the tastiest burger you’ll ever encounter.
In business since 1918, this Indianapolis old-timer reportedly got its name because owner Louis Stamatkin allowed regulars to run a tab until payday; the fact he supplied them with homemade whiskey probably didn’t hurt, either. Nowadays its run by Louis’ granddaughter Becky, and it’s turning out stellar burgers that haven’t changed since day one, still cooked on the original grill. Patties are hand-formed from fresh ground chuck and smashed down on the grill until they’re essentially all crust, deep and dark and salty and loaded with umami. Order a double and you’ll receive two cheese-topped patties stacked on top of each other, with a segment of bun in between to absorb some of the juice. It’s a beaut.
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.
A cozy neighborhood pub with a low ceiling, comfortable booths, and a pleasant backyard, Loretta’s just looks like the kind of place that would serve a legendary burger. And indeed, it does. The burgers here are small — only enough for about a half-dozen or so bites — but boy, are they mighty. A soft and toasty buttered bun, an expertly seared, supremely juicy patty, a slice of American, some raw onions, and a smear of special sauce all blend together into cheeseburger alchemy. We suggest you order a few.
Dayton L/ Yelp
That guy who wins the burger contest every year in Miami and New York City? You mean Josh Capon of B&B Winepub? Yup. That’s the one. Here he is again with another winning burger creation, this one at his outpost in New York’s East Village, 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.
This relative newcomer in the Old Port neighborhood has already staked a claim as serving the best burgers in town thanks to its owners’ meticulous ingredient sourcing. The beef burgers are an aged custom primal blend from Maine Family Farms, and the bison is from a farm in Berwick, Maine; both are grass-fed. Six-ounce burgers on offer include The Mac Daddy (topped with house-made mac and cheese and barbecue short rib) and the Up in Smoke (a bison patty with smoked Gouda, bacon, grilled red onion, avocado, bourbon barbecue sauce, and lettuce and tomato), but the one to order is the OO-Mommy, which is topped with gorzonzola, beer-battered onion rings, and bacon and onion jam, and it’s an absolute umami bomb (get it?).
Tucked away in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is a complete innocuous-looking diner cart with a menu of burgers, hot dogs, and fries — almost everything is under five bucks. But don't be fooled by Gilley's nonchalant appearance: Inside you'll find their no-frills but transcendent bacon double cheeseburger, featuring fresh ground pattied chuck loin on simple toasted white bun. It's elegant in its simplicity. Hey, there’s a reason this greasy spoon has been in business since 1940.
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.” Seventy years later, the original Sam’s Tavern was resurrected, this time on the corner of East Pike Street and 11th Avenue, 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.
When a burger hasn’t changed in more than 40 years, you know they’re doing something right. And at the Redcoat Tavern, that burger is a half-pound beauty, served on a traditional sesame seed-topped bun and topped with shredded lettuce, tomato, and your choice of toppings including cheese and “burnt” onions. It’s packed daily, and just about all the regulars will tell you that the no-frills burger is the best they’ve ever had. Don’t miss the onion rings and clam chowder.
Thurman Café has been serving all-American fare since 1942 to Columbus’ German Village neighborhood, and it’s a great place for locals to stop in to sit 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 12-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 that 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.
For more than 50 years, Keller’s has been serving classic, old-school burgers in a way that you really don’t see too often any more: via carhop. The wise move is to pull up and order the No. 5 Special, 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.
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.
Dating back to 1937, when burgers were slung from behind the counter for five cents apiece, Town Topic has since evolved into a Kansas City institution. Their 80/20 ground chuck cheeseburger served up on a soft bun is fresh, simple, and lets the greasy flavors do the talking. If you've really worked up an appetite, we suggest topping the cheeseburger off with hash browns and washing it down with a root beer float. It'll transport you back to a simpler time before we, as a nation, were preoccupied with the dangers of saturated fats.
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.
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.
When you've been selling burgers since 1977 and your restaurant is always packed, you must be doing something right. 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. A fire last October sadly gutted the building, which is still being rebuilt, so if you want to try this burger, you’ll have to get it from a temporary shack set up across the street from the original location.
Serving some of America’s best sliders since the 1930s inside a circa-1929 White Castle, this humble Detroit mainstay is a must-visit for any burger-lover passing through the city. Located inside a quiet industrial neighborhood, the interior is the exact opposite: bright, cheerful, and welcoming. Grab one of the six round stools and watch the magic happen: One-and-a-half-ounce balls of fresh-ground sirloin are smashed down onto an ancient griddle with a hefty spatula, thin-sliced onions are pressed on, it’s flipped, cheese is applied, the toasted top bun is placed on top to steam, and the finished product is served with a squirt of ketchup and mustard. They’re oniony, beefy, cheesy, crusty, and everything you look for in a good old-fashioned slider.
Yelp/ Michael U.
Chef Jeremiah Bacon has been nominated for three James Beard awards and is widely regarded as one of Charleston’s best chefs, so we should all be thankful that he’s added a burger to the menu at his fun-loving and freewheeling modern American restaurant, The Macintosh (to give you an idea of the vibe here, look no further than the extremely popular bacon happy hour). His “The Mac” burger, which sells for an eye-opening $18, is worth every penny and is surprisingly restrained. It starts with an 8-ounce house-ground patty and is simply topped with Nueske’s bacon and aged Cheddar, but the whole exceeds the sum of its parts. This thick slab is perfectly complemented by its toasted bun, as well as the accompanying pecorino truffle fries.
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.
All you need to do is get a glimpse at the 5-8 Club's menu to realize that the Juicy Lucy is no by-the-numbers burger menu item. The establishment features their most famous menu item smack in the center in bold, noting that their Lucy has been featured on Man vs. Food and Food Wars and has won a whole host of Twin City burger accolades. So what's the secret? A mouth-watering, cooked-to-order half-pound patty, stuffed with your choice of cheese that melts in the center and mingles with the meat’s natural flavors. Just one look at this molten, mammoth burger creation is enough to kick in some serious burger and cheese cravings.
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.
Since 1973, the Brooks family has been serving some of the Carolinas’ finest burgers in a small, no-frills, no-seating restaurant (twin brothers David and Scott Brooks took it over in 1991). Balls of freshly ground beef are flattened on the griddle to order, cooked until the exterior develops an enviable char, ticked into a super-squishy bun, and (if you order it “all the way”), topped with mustard, raw onion, and a smoky, beefy chili that’s the restaurant’s other claim to fame.
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 diner and after-bar eatery Best Burger honors from Boston Magazine in 2013.
There was a big White Castle-inspired hamburger stand boom across America in the early 1920s, and Salina, Kansas’ 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 bison, 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.
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.
Yelp/ Katie O.
There are plenty of basic, let-the-meat-speak-for-itself burgers on this list. Butcher's Cut at Atlanta's Flip Burger Boutique, run by the inimitable Richard Blais, isn't one of them. This Jenga tower of a sandwich is stacked high with a juicy beef patty, crumbled blue cheese, caramelized onions, soy truffle vinaigrette, frisée, pickled shallots, and red wine jam. But even with all those fancy words involved, this melt-in-your-mouth upscale take on an American classic will only run you $8.
There are 14 locations of Becks Prime spread out in Houston, Dallas, and Austin, 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.
Ah, the legendary 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.
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 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 7-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.
At the East Village’s Brindle Room, chef/owner Jeremy Spector is serving a lunch-only burger that, at $17, is a certifiable steal. The reason? Dry-aged meat. Prime aged beef trimmings and deckle are brought in from his partner’s New Jersey restaurant, and they give this burger a pronounced mineral-rich funk. It comes topped with caramelized onions and your choice of cheese, but honestly, would you top a dry-aged ribeye with cheese? The soft white generic bun perfectly holds it all together.
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.
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.
With two Manchester, Connecticut, locations (the first opened in 1948 and the second in 1965), Shady Glen is nothing short of a New England legend. While the ice cream served at this family-owned business is certainly worthy of note, the burgers here really are something else. Fresh-ground patties get a sear on a well-seasoned flat top, and where most burger joints will add a slice or two of cheese, Shady Glen does something unique: They add four, forming a huge square of cheese with the patty in the middle. The overhanging cheese melts directly onto the griddle, and is folded up slightly into a “skirt” when it’s served. Whether you eat the browned, bubbly cheese separately or fold it up under the bun, there’s nothing else quite like a burger from Shady Glen.
Grab a seat at the counter in the diminutive Nic’s Grill, joining the hordes of other pilgrims who line up here daily, and watch chef/owner Justin “Nic” Nicholas work his burger magic. He forms passive patties by hand and sears them on a hot griddle, and if you order yours (as encouraged) “with cheese and everything” it’ll be served with plenty of cheese, griddled onions, pickles, mustard, mayo, and ketchup on a perfectly steamed bun. If you’re looking for a slightly more elevated experience, the burgers served at Nicholas’ new Nic’s Diner and Lounge across town are also spectacular.
Chef John Tesar decided to pay homage to the late food writer and burger lover Josh Ozersky by adding a burger with his name on it to the menu at his acclaimed Dallas steakhouse Knife, and the end result is easily the best burger in town. Ozersky liked his burgers with as little frill as possible, and this definitely does it justice: A simple bun, a big slab of beef from 44 Farms, a slice of American cheese, thin-sliced red onions, and bread and butter pickles. This burger is all about the high quality of the beef, and its namesake would have loved it.
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.
Springfield is generally known as the birthplace of basketball (local phys-ed teacher James Naismith supposedly invented it to fill the gap between football and baseball seasons). West Springfield doesn’t have quite as strong a claim when it comes to national recognition, but it deserves a nod for being the home to one of the country’s best burgers: the cheeseburger with fried onions at White Hut. White Hut has been through several different owners and generations, and it has the whole “White” reference that speaks to the success burger joints experienced when relabeling themselves with that adjective in the ‘20s in the wake of the uproar around meatpacking practices caused by Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” However, there’s really only one thing you need to know about this spot. The burgers are legit, squashed cheesy affairs — the kind of cheeseburgers where the cheese is not just a topping, but an integral part of the cooking process, and as important an ingredient (or at least close to it) as the patty. Some might scoff at this. Scoff all you like, but that won’t change the facts. White Hut and its sweet, caramelized onions, squishy bun, and juicy patty cooked on an open griddle in front of the customer counter are delights made almost better by the authenticity and confidence of this unheralded gem’s just-off-prickly but genuinely local and good-hearted servers.
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 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.
Nikki N. / Yelp
With two locations in San Diego and another inside Petco Park, the nearly 50-year-old Hodad’s might very well be the most popular burger destination in San Diego, and for good reason. These are some seriously good burgers, and when two patties get stacked with mayo, mustard, ketchup, onion, pickles, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and bacon, it’s burger heaven. The secret to Hodad’s success may be the bacon; instead of just adding plain ol’ strips to the burger, they boil the entire belly until it falls apart, then fry up a patty on the grill before adding it on. It’s nothing short of brilliant. And make sure you don’t miss the fries, which are more like giant battered potato slices.
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.
Gerard T/ Yelp
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 two or three 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.
Founded by George and Gladys Redamak in 1946 and owned by Jim and Angie Maroney since 1975, the legendary Redamak’s is only open from March 1 to November 15 due to the fact that it only holds a 10-month resort liquor license, but it’s definitely worth a detour to the sleepy hamlet of New Buffalo on the shores of Lake Michigan. Expect a wait (even though the restaurant seats 400), and when you finally snag a table, do what everyone else does: Order a burger — the Velveeta Cheeseburger, in particular. Butchered and ground in-house, these patties (which are available in either 5 1/3- or 8-ounce portions) get a nice sear in their own individual skillet and are then draped with a glob of melty, oozy Velveeta. It’s served with ketchup, mustard, pickles, and onions (lettuce and tomato were only introduced within the past few years), but honestly all you really need is meat, cheese, and bread. You’ll never receive a burger cooked below medium, but something about these burgers makes them irresistibly delicious. Cash-only and undeniably quirky, there’s nothing else quite like Redamak’s.
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.
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 the rights to the original name and couldn’t persuade those who did own them to let the Gotts 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.
Birmingham, Ala._Vance B./Yelp
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 8-ounce patties, to be griddled and topped with Comté cheese (whose sharp, nutty flavor adds a racy French aspect to the proceedings), along with grilled red onion, lettuce, pickle, and tomato. Très bien.
“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 B&B Winepub, formerly known as 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.
Yelp/ Koichiro H.
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.
Lu C./ Yelp
New York City’s most talked-about new burger is one of its most elusive, and it has quite the provenance: It’s served at the impossible-to-get-a-table-at 4 Charles Prime Rib, and it’s from Brandon Sodikoff, the brains behind one of Chicago’s best burgers, served at his Au Cheval. Similar to its sister burger in Chicago, this one is made up of two four-ounce prime beef patties, topped with American cheese, pickles, onions, mayo, and Dijon, and served on a soft white bun. It’s got that perfect level of heft, a wonderful char, and an ideal interplay of all its components. Lettuce and tomato, an egg, and bacon are available, but it’s perfect without them.
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. Thankfully, it’s also usually available during lunch and brunch.
Keens is primarily famous for its longevity (in business since 1885) and its incredible steaks (seriously among the best you’ll find anywhere), but few visitors spend much time in two of its most charming rooms: the bar and the pub, which each have their own entrance and share a more casual, less expensive pub menu. The star of this menu — if it's not the celebrated prime rib hash — is certainly the hamburger, which, in our opinion, is just as worthy of praise as the legendary mutton chop. The thick half-pound patty is made with trimmings from the restaurant’s dry-aged steaks, and it’s rich and insanely juicy, slightly funky from the dry-aged beef, perfectly crusty and salty, packed just loosely enough, and just barely held together by its soft bun. Top yours with a slice of red onion; no cheese or ketchup required.
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 ribeye" 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.
There’s 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 and onion rings don't hurt, either.
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 $94 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.
There are now four P.J. Clarke's locations, with one coming soon to Philly, but the Third Avenue Manhattan original is the feisty little brick building that refused to make way for the 47-story 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."
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.
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.
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 (possibly 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.
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 one of New York City’s best burgers. 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 famously 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.
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.
Yelp/ Anthony N.
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 an additional location in San Francisco). The basic burger here is certified Angus beef on a plump bun with tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and dill pickle, but the burger that Keller enjoys so much he put his name on it starts with a bison-meat patty and is topped with caramelized onion, wilted baby spinach, and blue cheese, and is served on a ciabatta bun alongside red wine shallot sauce.
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 3/4-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 and meaty and hits all the right notes.
The legendary JG Melon burger is simple and classic: a healthy slab of ground beef (exact formula not revealed) sizzled on the griddle and served draped with American cheese on a toasted bun, with pickles and red onions on the side. It’s served in a no-frills old dining room on a checkerboard tablecloth with a side of cottage fries. JG Melon is the kind of place where many burger memories are made, and a fine example of a classic, old-school New York City burger.
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 sirloin patty filled with braised short rib, truffles, and foie gras, and served on a Parmesan bun — the ultimate upscale juicy Lucy, so to speak. Indulgent? You bet. Juicy? Absolutely. Salty, sweet, and savory with a bit of a bite? Oh yeah.
Frank M/ Yelp
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 Casual Restaurants of 2017. You’ll find great craft beers and small bites (think smoked eel with fennel and onions). 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 on a loaf that’s more similar to a baguette than a bun. It's a very, very juicy burger with funk, freshness, and great flavor. The fries are also among America’s best, but don’t forget that there’s no ketchup on the premises.
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 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 13 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.
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.
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.
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.
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, who left the restaurant earlier this month amid the upheaval of sexual harassment claims surrounding the other owner, Ken Friedman, 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. This is a burger that you’ll be dreaming about for weeks to come, but you might not be able to experience it for much longer: The new co-owners, Gabrielle Hamilton and Ashley Merriman from the city’s renowned Prune, haven’t committed to keeping it on the menu once they take over.
Only 24 burgers used to be served nightly at Holeman & Finch Public House, but thankfully for us they’ve been made a permanent menu item. 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 you can save those for the second visit.
Eric C. / Yelp
The beauty of the burger served at Au Cheval lies in its simplicity: two patties (or three, if you order a “double”) of no-frills ground beef topped with Cheddar, Dijonnaise, and a few thin slices of pickles and served on a soft toasted bun from Chicago’s Z Baking. The patties are wonderfully crusty, and just about everything about this burger is perfect. The line to get into this place stretches literally around the block every day, so owner Brendan Sodikoff (who will be bringing Au Cheval to New York at some point in the near future) is clearly doing something right. And just to gild the lily, its fries are fried in lard, and are among America’s best.
More From The Daily Meal: