Many would argue that a burger, by nature, should be inexpensive. But similar to just about everything else on this planet, prices have crept higher and higher over the years, and some restaurants’ offerings are now considered luxury items. Thankfully, there are still plenty of spectacular burgers out there that won’t cost you more than 10 bucks, and we’ve tracked down the top 10.
It’s actually pretty easy to understand why some burgers’ price tags have hit stratospheric levels in recent years: It comes down to the ingredients. Just take a look at the Black Label Burger served at New York’s Minetta Tavern, for example. This isn’t just made with your standard ground chuck: It’s made with dry aged rib-eye, skirt steak, and brisket, all USDA Prime and sourced from Creekstone Farms in Kentucky, and blended by master butcher Pat LaFrieda. Biting into one of these beauties is like taking a bite of a Prime dry-aged steak, and few who’ve tried it would argue that the $33 price tag is excessive.
But there’s a big difference between a burger of that caliber and the simpler fast-food-style burgers of our youth, which can be just as satisfying and delicious in their own right. Mercifully, these burgers are still very cheap: Shake Shack’s classic ShackBurger usually costs a little over 5 bucks, In-N-Out’s Double-Double costs just $3.60, and a cheeseburger at Atlanta’s acclaimed Varsity will set you back a paltry $2.54. While there might be a lot more high-end burgers than there used to be, thankfully there are still plenty of lower-end burgers, and they’re still very inexpensive.
Cheap food sometimes signifies low quality, of course, and there are plenty of cheapo burgers that are made with the lowest quality meat available and defrosted to order. The following burgers, however, are definitely not low-quality. In fact, they’ve all been included in this year’s ranking of the 101 Best Burgers in America, which was compiled by asking a panel of noted writers, journalists, bloggers, and culinary authorities from across the country to vote for their favorites from a pool of more than 250 options. Not only are these burgers cheap, they’re also legendarily delicious, and they should definitely be on your must-try list.
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 they may appear, and the one at Matt’s Bar is absolute perfection.
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.
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 a patty is topped 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.
Yelp/ Mary Ann C.
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.
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 2 or 3 tablespoons— 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.
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.
There are 13 locations of Beck’s Prime spread out in Houston, Dallas, and Katy, 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 there are a handful of topping varieties, it’s best to stick with the classic hamburger: mustard, pickles, onion, lettuce, and tomato.
Yelp/ Kimberly J.
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 hot, toasted, grill-shined bun. If perfect ain’t enough, add a slunk of American, Cheddar, or Pepper Jack.” Sounds good to us.
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.
Yelp/ burger joint
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, and easily one of the best burgers in New York.