The 20 Best Burgers in the West
July 26, 2016
The western half of the country is home to some spectacular burgers
The 20 Best Burgers in the West
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. We recently published our annual ranking of the 101 Best Burgers in America, and these are the top 20 burgers from the West that made it onto the list.
#20 Green Chile Cheeseburger, Steuben's, Denver
Yelp/ Wesley O.
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.
#19 Hamburger, Pie n' Burger, Pasadena
Yelp/ Sonya L.
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.
#18 Tostada Burger, Chris Madrid's, San Antonio
Yelp/ Chris R.
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.
#17 The Special, Stanich's Tavern, Portland, Ore.
Yelp/ Kim F.
You won’t find many customers nursing only a beer at this circa-1949 sports bar; people come here for the food. Namely, the burger known only as “The Special:” a big toasted bun topped with a quarter-pound of fresh-ground chuck, ham, bacon, a fried egg, cheese, red onion, lettuce, and tomato, finished off with mayo, mustard, and vinegary burger relish. It’s a step back in time, and a legendary burger.
#16 "Le Pigeon" Burger, Le Pigeon, Portland, Ore.
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.
#15 Cheeseburger, Gott's Roadside, San Francisco
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.
#14 Fontina Black Truffle Burger, Cecconi's, West Hollywood, Calif.
This trendy Italian mainstay, part of the Soho House group, with sister restaurants in Miami, London, Berlin, and Istanbul, is a bright and sunny place to while away an afternoon, and those who arrive between the hours of 4 and 7 can treat themselves to one of L.A.’s most under-the-radar burgers: the fontina and black truffle burger. A thin patty gets a stellar sear on a griddle, and it’s draped with plenty of truffled fontina and a folded slice of griddled pancetta. It’s earthy, funky, salty, rich but not too rich, and best of all, it only costs $7.
#13 Motley Bleu 2.0, Dog Haus, Los Angeles
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.
#12 Hut’s Favorite, Hut's Hamburgers, Austin
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.
#11 Double Bacon Cheeseburger, Hodad's, San Diego
Yelp/ Mary Ann C.
With two locations in San Diego and another inside Petco Park, 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.
#10 Dirty Love Burger, Love Shack, Fort Worth, Texas
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.
#9 Bill’s Burger, Becks Prime, Houston
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.
#8 Hamburger, Perini Ranch, Buffalo Gap, Texas
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.
#7 Half Pound Niman Ranch Cheeseburger, Mustards Grill, Napa, Calif.
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 and onion rings don't hurt, either.
#6 Cheeseburger, Maple & Motor, Dallas
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.
#5 Hamburger, Zuni Café, San Francisco
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.
#4 Hickory Burger, The Apple Pan, Los Angeles
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.
#3 Hubert Keller Burger, Burger Bar, Las Vegas
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 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 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.
#2 The Office Burger, Father's Office, Los Angeles
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.
#1 Green Chile Cheeseburger, Santa Fe Bite, Santa Fe
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.