The family-owned Thurman Café makes some tasty burgers; there’s no way around it. The restaurant, which opened in Columbus’ German Village in 1942, has been stuffing guests to the gills ever since, and their flagship Thurman Burger is a masterpiece of the "so big I probably shouldn’t finish it in one sitting but I will anyway" style. Each patty is a whopping three-quarter-pound of 85:15 ground chuck, and this one comes topped with grilled onions, lettuce, tomato, sautéed mushrooms, pickles, jalapeño slices, mayonnaise, a half-pound of sliced ham, melted mozzarella, and American cheese. On second thought, maybe you shouldn’t finish this in one sitting.
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, perfected over decades and decades, unchanging. You 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 bun. 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. It’s astonishingly delicious, however. Order a few — you won’t regret it.
This big, unassuming, friendly place serves terrific Angus prime or Wagyu burgers, ranging from 8 to 10 ounces in heft (not to mention the 10-pound "Motherburger"), with all kinds of inspired accompaniments. Choosing just one to typify the place is a challenge, but ultimately we probably have to go with the Mustang Sally: 8 ounces of very juicy, very flavorful Wagyu with red onion marmalade, melted Brie, and prosciutto on a shiny-top brioche bun, with skinny fries on the side. There's nothing classic about this concoction; it's just a generous serving.
When Gabriel Rucker first opened Le Pigeon in 2006, he only served five of these outstanding burgers per night. How cruel. Today, thankfully, the burger can be purchased at all times, and also at Rucker’s downtown bistro Little Bird. 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 housemade ketchup, piled atop a ciabatta bun. If you find yourself in Portland, run, don’t walk, to this burger.
This old-fashioned-looking corner bar has been in business under its present identity for more than 40 years — and dates its ancestry back to a century before that. The establishment's famous JCB burger is just a decent-size patty, not overly lean, inside a standard sesame bun — but the inspired combination of cream cheese and sliced pickled jalapeños raises it to another level altogether. The combination is magic.
This vintage 10-seat diner in the California capital has been serving classic, old-style burgers to everyone from farm workers to politicians since the mid-1930s. For the Superburger, the bready, no-frills bun encloses a griddled patty, well-done but still at least a little juicy, dressed with mustard and mayo and layered with the usual tomato and lettuce. Nothing fancy, just a real burger.
There was a big White Castle-inspired hamburger stand boom across America in the early 1920s, and Salina, Kan.’ 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 as sliders, and 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," 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). Ask for a sack and you’ll get six; expect to leave smelling like onions.
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 flattop griddle, topped with impossibly flavorful stewed onions and a pat of butter that’s at least 2 or 3 tablespoons’ worth, and placed into a soft white bun. The butter melts into the burger and onto the plate, and it’s unlike any other burger you’ll experience.
Most burger purveyors griddle, grill, or pan-sear their patties. Since 1959, Ted's, in this historic community north of New Haven (there is another location in nearby Cromwell and a food truck on the way), has steamed theirs. Steamed meat? Yep. Steamed Cheddar cheese, too. Cooked in custom-designed steam boxes, the burgers, served on kaiser-roll-like buns, lose very little bulk while cooking and, need we say, 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.
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 were doing it under duress and 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. Tony Maws, at his splendid Cambridge restaurant, 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, sorry Charlie. 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, complemented by Shelburne Farm Vermont cheddar, vinaigrette-dressed lettuce and tomato, and Maws' own mace-flavored ketchup.
Since 1960, Mr. Bartley’s has been serving 7-ounce, freshly ground burgers to hoards of hungry Harvard students. Bill Bartley still mans the grill after more than 30 years, and his parents, founders Joe and Joan, still run the front of house. Fresh-ground chuck comes in from a local butcher daily, and the patties are formed using a special contraption that doesn’t compress the meat too much. They’re seared on a ripping-hot griddle, and the cheese is griddled separately and eased onto the patty before it’s served. The burger selection is enormous, but you’re going to want to try The Viagra, which is topped with blue cheese and bacon. Wash it down with a lime rickey with some onion rings on the side, and take in a place where time seems to stand perfectly still. Unless there’s a Red Sox game on.
Stepping inside the Lexington Candy Shop on New York City’s Upper East Side really is like stepping back in time. There are the spinning stools of diners past, ice-cream sodas, frosted malts, Formica, and a general wear and patina on everything around you — no wonder, this luncheonette has been doing its thing since 1925. And it still makes your Coke the old-fashioned way: a shot of syrup and a seltzer spritz. There may be a time and a place for a defense of the "diner burger," but this isn’t it. Why? There’s a special burger genre to sample here: the Lexington Butter Burger. It’s far from the only burger place serving this rendition; Milwaukee’s Solly’s Grille (founded 1936) gets a lot of that love, but it’s ridiculously delicious nonetheless, and the panel ranked this rendition higher than Solly's (#33). Conventional burger bun, a flat, but juicy patty that has that caramelized brown crust, and a heaping, honking tablespoon of buttah that arrives still intact but melting. Salty and juicy, dripping wet and indulgent, you’ll appreciate the vinegary pickle to cut through it all, but the Lexington Candy Shop’s butter burger is a decades-old next-level move that always feels revolutionary.
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 local bakery with sliced tomato, shredded lettuce, and a choice of sauces — among them hot mustard, BBQ, harissa aïoli, and (a surprising retro choice) green goddess. 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?
It’s not because The Varsity claims to be the world’s largest drive-in, or that 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. Nope, it’s about 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. Make no mistake, this is a greasy cheeseburger, more compact than most double cheeseburgers, but one whose sloppy, cheesy, saltiness all comes together in a solid, but proportionately fluid burger, both texturally and flavor-wise. No wonder it’s one of America’s best burgers (and for just $2.83).
It’s a the sign of a great food city when you can find two crazy restaurant waits within three blocks of each other. So it is in the case of Hot Doug’s and Kuma’s Corner, some would argue Chicago’s best hot dog and burger joints. It’s 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, burgers with Sriracha and grilled pineapple, but you have to start with the signature: the Kuma Burger: bacon, sharp Cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion, and a fried egg. It’s not as though there’s not enough flavor in the burger, but that egg... whoah.
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.
There are 12 locations of Beck’s Prime in Houston and two in Dallas, and not one has a freezer. Founded in 1985, Beck’s has become a beloved institution since then, serving half-pound Angus chuck burgers that are hand-ground and formed on-site daily. While they offer your usual variety of cheeses and toppings, the Bill’s Burger is the way to go. With sautéed onions, sliced Cheddar, bacon, jalapeños, secret sauce, and lettuce, it’s a true gem, and is sure to make your dining companions jealous.
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 at the original Evanston location are available in two preparations, smashed flat on a griddle, or grilled over an open flame (these "Char Burgers" aren’t available at the new Lincoln Park location). Go for the classic griddled burger: thin and crispy, served with up to three on a bun, topped with the classics as well as interesting options like garlic butter, fried eggs, and giardiniera (this is Chicago, after all).
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 mustard, ketchup, pickles, and a thick slice of onion (with cheese lettuce, tomato, and bacon if you want it), served on a soft white bun. The double is the way to go, offering 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 it one of the best burgers in the world. Get cheese, order a limeade and fries, take in your surroundings, and enjoy what Hamburger America’s George Motz calls "the perfect diner eating experience."
At the East Village’s Brindle Room, chef/owner Jeremy Spector is serving a lunch-only burger that, at $12, 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 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 rib-eye with cheese? The soft white generic bun perfectly holds it all together.
This always crowded Greenwich Village institution, a semi-dive bar (no real dive bar sells a large 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 darned good to us.
With six locations, Dick’s is a Seattle institution. For nearly 60 years, Dick’s has been serving an unchanging menu of never-frozen one-eighth-pound burgers delivered daily, hand-cut fries, and milkshakes, and its owners know that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The Double Deluxe is a hamburger Platonic ideal: two patties, melted cheese, lettuce, tomato, and pickle relish, on a soft, squishy bun, sold for a whopping $2.70. Want onions? That’ll cost you an extra five cents, please.
Dick’s is family-owned, and they treat all employees like family as well, offering full benefits, scholarships, childcare assistance, paid community service, and a starting hourly wage of $10.
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.
Sigh. Deep breath. 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 being sent with the gentleman on his way. But is it a "burger," or is it a "sandwich"? Some argue that historically and semiotically speaking, the "original burger" is a sandwich and not a hamburger because a hamburger is technically a ground-beef patty on some form of yeast bun. It’s a smart conversation, one it would be fun to get Chicago’s deep-dish lovers to take on (theirs is a casserole, not a pizza). But because of the "it’s a burger" answer that comes from 99.995 percent who answer the "what-is-this" question, and because, well, give us a break, it’s a place in the pantheon of hamburger sandwiches (how is a burger not a sandwich anyway?), Louis’ Lunch made this list.
Sandwich, hamburger, whatever. So what do you get? A flame-broiled burger made in a vertical hinged-steel wire gridiron that cooks the burgers on both sides at the same time. That’s what. It’s a hamburger sandwich supposedly made from a blend of five cuts of ground steak. If you want condiments, you’ll have to ask. The extent that your burger is going to get tricked out 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.
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 pretention. There's a 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. There are 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 bougie or frou-frou about it, just caramelized onion, bacon, Gruyère, Maytag Blue, and arugula. It's a very, very juicy burger with funk, freshness, and great flavor. Checklist item? You bet.
Because of this burger’s location in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and its lunch-only appearance on the menu, out-of-town visitors are likely to have an easier time than New Yorkers 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, ½-pound Luger Burger made from porterhouse and prime chuck roll trimmings is worth New Yorkers 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, a bit more of a chewy affair, but either way, if the famed gruff waitstaff unsettled you when you sat down, you’ll have forgotten them after the first bite. Just make sure to arrive before 3:45 p.m. when they stop serving it.
Tom Perini's steakhouse, in a converted barn on his family's ranch just outside Abilene, 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, grilled mushrooms, green chiles, and onions.
The lunch-only grass-fed burger at this San Francisco classic, ground in-house, medium-lean, 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 fine with us.
The burger at Washington, D.C.’s Palena Café is certainly a fancy-pants one, but that doesn’t mean it’s at all precious. Chef Frank Ruta’s burger starts with a loosely packed 7-ounce patty of Angus beef (mostly chuck and trim from aged steak cuts) that’s got a 60:40 fat ratio, about double the fat of your average burger. He gussies it up with a slice of a truffled Italian cheese called Sottocenere al Tartufo, a smear of powerfully garlicky mayo, and a fried egg if you want it, and it’s served on a big fluffy bun that compresses nicely once you get into it. Make sure you have napkins handy, and be ready for a flavor bomb.
So what’s the secret to the burger at Husk, Sean Brock’s Charleston landmark? Bacon. Ground right into the patty. Brock’s 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. Housemade 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 a ridiculous 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.
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 originally invented this brilliant burger variation, the one at Matt’s Bar is a 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 a legend 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.
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 name, and couldn’t persuade its owners to let them trademark it. It may have been jarring to see the name change and the neon-lit red G, but what didn’t change when they adopted the family name Gott's Roadside Tray Gourmet were the storied grilled ⅓-pound Niman Ranch burgers. Cooked medium-well, but served "a little pink inside," topped with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, 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 it still leaves the underside toasted-crunchy). The effect is thick and juicy. An icon.
Down the Old Las Vegas Highway (the original Route 66), the green chile cheeseburger joint Bobcat Bite, founded by Mitzi Panzer in 1953, has been hailed by Hamburger America's George Motz, Roadfood's Jane and Michael Stern, Food Network, and even Bon Appétit as not only the zenith of green chile cheeseburgers, but perhaps one of the greatest burgers period in the US of A. This 29-seat diner sitting atop a desolate, dusty dirt hill, was supposedly named after the local fauna that would ravage the garbage cans at night looking for leftovers. A recent dispute between the Panzer family and John and Bonnie Eckre, who took it over 12 years ago, means that there will now be two spots in the area claiming the heritage and expertise of what has become a legend. It remains to be seen which ("The Bite" or "Bobcat Bite") restaurant can lay claim to regulars’ and experts’ title as best green chile cheeseburger, but it’s clear that the restaurant’s ginormous house-ground, boneless chuck, 10-ounce burgers cooked to temperature preference and blanketed with green chiles under white American cheese on huge, ciabatta-like buns deserve a shout-out as one of the nation’s best burgers.
There's all kinds of good stuff on the menu at Cindy Pawlcyn's ever-popular wine country bistro (crispy calamari with curried slaw, seafood tostada, Mongolian pork chop…) but the cheeseburger (Maytag Blue is an optional choice, and one well worth making) is just so big and juicy and tasty that it's hard to resist. The house-made pickles and impeccable fries don't hurt, either.
Is the burger served at Chicago’s relative newcomer 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.
Chef Joey Campanaro knows his way around a burger, and the one that he serves at his West Village restaurant The Little Owl has been named the country’s best by Eatocracy and the world’s best by The Guardian. Campanaro starts with a ¾-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, tomato, pickles, and onion, and serves it on a homemade bun. It’s rich, meaty, hits all the right notes, and is a damn good burger.
After the closure of Michael Landrum’s two D.C.-area locations of Ray’s Hell Burger, devotees despaired that they’d never again be able to enjoy these perfectly seared, ingeniously topped burgers. The third outpost, however, is still going strong, and thank goodness for that. Hand-trimmed, aged in-house, fresh-ground throughout the day, and hand-formed, these burgers, especially the original 10-ounce "Big Devil," are a sight to behold. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can top yours with seared foie gras or roasted bone marrow.
The burger at New York’s The Spotted Pig, a restaurant that is widely responsible for launching the high-end gastropub trend on this side of the pond, is a wonder. Chef April Bloomfield has created a half-pound behemoth of prime grilled beef, topped with a layer of creamy, stinky Roquefort, and sandwiched inside a brioche-style bun. It’s served alongside a mound of rosemary-scented shoestring fries, and is the kind of burger that will force you to close your eyes after taking the first bite and make sure all your dining companions know that they’re missing out.
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 chefs Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson’s 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, funky, salty, soul-satisfying, these words lose meaning in the presence of a burger this good. Minetta is a bit of a scene, and it’s going to cost you $26, but if you consider yourself a lover and connoisseur of the country’s best burgers and you have yet to make this pilgrimage, you better get moving.
Every night at 10 p.m. on the dot, 24 burgers emerge from the kitchen at Holeman & Finch Public House, and that’s it. Even though they’re not listed on the menu, these burgers are often spoken for well in advance (they can be reserved at any point during service), and for good reason. Each double-patty burger of fresh-ground grass-fed chuck and brisket comes topped with American cheese, pickles, onions, and homemade ketchup, and is served on a toasted house-baked bun alongside fresh-cut fries. Chef Linton Hopkins (who developed this burger while he was battling cancer; it’s the only food he didn’t lose his taste for) chose to offer this burger on such a limited basis in order to let the other items on his menu get their due, but if you’d prefer not to take your chances you can also try it on Sundays, when it’s featured on their brunch menu. We suggest it; it’s nothing short of the best burger in America.