The 25 Best Cheeseburgers in America 2015
October 1, 2015
There may well be no food that’s more perfect than a cheeseburger — and these are the most perfect of all
The 25 Best Cheeseburgers in America
If you’re like most people, you probably think that a burger isn’t a burger if it doesn’t have some cheese on it. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of amazing cheeseburgers out there, and — from an Atlanta legend served on a home-baked bun to a no-frills burger that’s been a Kansas City staple for more than 70 years — we’ve tracked down the country’s 25 best.
#25 Burger Joint, New York City
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.
#24 Winstead’s, Kansas City, Mo.
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."
#23 JM Curley, Boston
Yelp/ Burger Guide D
J.M. Curley's Angus burger is a straightforward approach that steers clear of gimmicks — this is nine 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.
#22 DuMont Burger, New York City
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 DuMont chef and owner Colin Devlin was found dead, an apparent suicide, said to have been related to the pressures and financial difficulties behind running his three restaurants: (the now-shuttered) DuMont and 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.
#21 Craigie on Main, Cambridge, Mass.
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.
#20 Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink, Miami
This popular Miami restaurant 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; we suggest you opt for the Cheddar.
#19 The NoMad Bar, New York
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 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.
#18 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.
#17 Emily, Brooklyn
Yelp / Emily
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. 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.
#16 Chez Fonfon, Birmingham, Alabama
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.
#15 Second Bar + Kitchen, Austin
Yelp / Jake A
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. You can also just put all your cards on the table, so to speak, and tell them “double meat double cheese.” Happy napping.
#14 Cassell’s, Los Angeles
Yelp / William K
Cassell's, opened in 1948, has 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.
#13 Dick’s, Seattle
Yelp / Lala K
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.
#12 Edzo’s, Evanston, Ill.
Yelp / Sherwin C
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 of Chicago 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, and topped with cheese.
#11 Matt’s Bar, Minneapolis
Yelp / Tom C
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.
#10 Bill’s Bar & Burger, New York City
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.
#9 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.
#8 Husk, Charleston, South Carolina
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.
#7 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.
#6 Holeman & Finch Public House, Atlanta
Yelp / Mike C
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.
#5 Luger Burger, Peter Luger, Brooklyn
Yelp / Mike C
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 to this legendary steakhouse 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. While cheese isn’t absolutely necessary, there’s no reason why you should leave it off.
#4 Corner Bistro, New York
Yelp / Alexandra C
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 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.
#3 JG Melon, New York City
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.
The Spotted Pig, New York City
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.
#1 Au Cheval, Chicago
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.