There are nearly 70 BurgerFi locations around the country, most in Florida and Texas, with a smattering on the East and West Coasts — the BurgerFication of America continues. Why? Much of that has to do with the fast-casual all-natural burgers made from humanely raised, 100 percent antibiotic- and hormone-free, and sustainably farmed cattle. The BurgerFi Cheeseburger, a double natural Angus burger with double layers of American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and BurgerFi sauce, makes you wonder why tasty and responsible have taken such a long time to go hand in hand.
Just think, a few different decisions by a few select entrepreneurs and we all could be talking about In-N-Out and Fatburger as franchises with the same crazy scope as McDonald's. How's that? Lovie Yancey had been making Fatburgers in her own home for famous musicians on tour in Los Angeles before opening her first shop in 1952, that’s about four years after the McDonald's brothers opened the streamlined burger shop that would inspire Ray Kroc’s quest for national domination. Fatburger may not have the scope of McDonald’s, but it has a cult following for good reason: big, juicy hamburgers served with shredded lettuce, tomato, onion, relish, mustard, and mayo.
Food Network Iron Chef Bobby Flay doesn’t claim to have invented the idea of putting potato chips on a burger instead of serving them alongside one, but he did trademark the term "Crunchify," and proudly stacks them three times the height of your typical burger (perhaps up to six times the height of a McDonald’s cheeseburger). The first of the current 18 Bobby’s Burger Palace locations (across Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.) was launched in Lake Grove, Long Island, a pit-stop on the way to chef Flay’s Hamptons home. There are 10 signature burgers inspired by Flay’s travels across the country and his love of the grill, but that Crunchburger (or "Crunchifying" any of the signatures actually) is the move. A skewered burger made with certified Angus beef and served on a sesame seed bun, it’s draped with two layers of American cheese and layered with potato chips for a juicy, but texturally pleasing affair.
The one burger you must have before you die. That’s the claim of founder Mark Bucher’s BGR: The Burger Joint, which is some 22 locations strong. Bucher’s burgers are modeled after Bucher’s burger memories as a child growing up on the outskirts of Philadelphia, where every Sunday, the neighborhood’s prime beef butcher Philip Kaufman would grill burgers that would draw long lines of local kids, including Bucher. The Burger Joint’s signature "The Burger," comes with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, and "mojo sauce." They use dry-aged prime beef from grain-fed cattle, grilling them to temperature over an open flame, and settle them onto a buttery-toasted brioche bun baked just for the chain. The one caveat is that you need to eat the burger quickly lest the bun deteriorate. As tasty as this hamburger is, that won’t likely be a problem.
More than 60 years ago, Harmon Dobson was inspired to serve a burger on a 5-inch bun, a burger so big that it would take two hands to hold, and so good that after just one bite, customers would cry out, "What a burger!" Thus the name of his Corpus Christi, Texas, original: "Whataburger." However you order your Whataburger: (triple, double, jalapeño and cheese, bacon and cheese, or the new Monterey Melt with jalapeño ranch and grilled onions and peppers), you really can’t go wrong. But the beauty about the classic, the namesake Whataburger that comes with mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and diced onions on that 5-inch bun, is that beautiful blank canvas it provides. There are some 36,000 delicious different ways to make a Whataburger with special requests. What a burger indeed.
Adam Fleischman’s wildly popular LA-based Umami Burger chain is 25 locations strong, thanks largely in part to a $20 million investment by the New York-based Fortress Investment Group in 2013 that enabled Umami to open in 13 new cities, including Chicago, Las Vegas, Miami, and serveral in New York, with more to come in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. Named after the Japanese term the "fifth taste," this isn’t your run-of-the-mill burger chain. Look at their flagship Umami burger for proof: a custom-baked Portuguese-style roll, a 6-ounce fresh-ground patty formed in a ring mold and seared on a ripping hot plancha, Umami Dust (which contains flavor-bomb ingredients like kombu and dried mushrooms), roasted tomato, caramelized onion, shiitake mushroom, a Parmesan crisp, and umami-kicked ketchup. When this place says "umami," they mean it.
Since 1934, Illinois-based Steak ‘n Shake has been serving their famous diner-style "steakburgers," and they’ve become the stuff of legend. The trademark creation is the classic Double ‘N Cheese, which is just what it sounds like: two patties, American cheese, and your choice of toppings. A true American classic, and undoubtedly delicious.
With more than 1,000 restaurants, this Washington, D.C.-based burger chain continues its quest for national domination, and as far as fast-food-style burgers go, it doesn’t get much better Two thin, well-seared patties go into each cheeseburger (a single is called a "little" burger), and it’s served on a seeded enriched bun. You can stop there (the meat itself is juicy, beefy, and needs no augmentation), but with a selection of 15 free toppings there’s plenty of room for creativity. And don’t forget to order the Cajun-seasoned fries, and grab some free peanuts while you wait.
It’s difficult to believe that Harry Snyder could have imagined the cult following that would swell up around his hamburger stand when he launched California’s first drive-thru in Baldwin Park in 1948. But take off they did. There are now almost 300 In-N-Out spots serving its signature "Animal-style," and that “secret” menu has spread beyond California to Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and Texas. A freshly baked old-fashioned bun made from slow-rising sponge dough, two slices of American cheese, two all-beef patties, a freshly sliced or grilled onion, fresh and crispy hand-leafed lettuce, a plump and juicy tomato slice, and the original recipe for In-N-Out’s "spread," which goes back to that founding year. Although the fries are subpar (yes, even when ordered Animal-style), this excellent, high-quality, fast-food burger is the whole package. The perfect blueprint for fast-food burger heaven, which was only barely outvoted by the panel as the country’s best.
America’s best fast-food burger is Shake Shack. Yes, it’s better than In-N-Out, and yes, it has its own secret menu… kind of (it’s called Danny Meyer’s hospitality philosophy). What started as a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park in 2001 has made history. In 2004, restaurateur Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group won the bid to open a permanent kiosk in the park, and the lines, buzz, cult following, and even a begrudging review from The New York Times followed. Why is it so good? Quality. And one of the juiciest cheeseburgers (100 percent all-natural Angus beef, no hormones, no antibiotics) you’ll ever find on a soft, grilled potato roll (ask for pickles and onions!). Shake Shack’s vigorous expansion program — 14 locations in New York City, along with many others across the country — and around the world — in places like Tokyo, Chicago, Las Vegas, and even Los Angeles in 2016, that teeming enclave of In-N-Out and Umami Burger, setting up a showdown that is sure to be interesting to witness. Place your bets....