The Best Burger in Every State
May 29, 2019
These burgers are so much more than just meat on a bun
When you think of a food that's all-American, nothing comes to mind before 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 out there, each more delicious than the last. To celebrate this all-American dish, we’ve tracked down the absolute best restaurant for burgers in every state as well as Washington, D.C.
On our hunt for the best burger in every state, we took into account the fact that there are three main burger styles out there these days: the inch-or-so-thick patties that drip juice down your arm; the “smash burgers,” sometimes called fast food-style burgers, thin patties cooked on a griddle that get an ample crust; and the high-end burgers, usually served in steakhouses and made with scraps of aged beef and other premium cuts, that elevate the burger to fine dining status. All of these styles are represented in our list.
In order to assemble our list, we started by taking a look at our annual ranking of the 101 Best Burgers in America, which is compiled by creating a survey with hundreds of burgers on it and asking a panel of noted writers, journalists, bloggers and culinary authorities from across the country to place their votes. For the remaining states, we extensively researched beloved burger joints in big cities and small towns alike and dug through online reviews and combed existing best-of lists, both in print and online. Even though each of the burgers we found was unique, certain qualities were universal must-haves: high-quality beef (you'll find no non-beef burgers in our ranking), proper seasoning, well-proportioned components and an overall attention to detail.
Alabama: Chez Fonfon (Birmingham)
In Birmingham, Alabama, 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. The star of the menu? The Hamburger Fonfon. To make this impressive burger, chefs grind chuck in house and form it into 8-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.
Alaska: Tommy’s Burger Stop (Anchorage)
The fun and eclectic Tommy’s Burger Stop is renowned in Anchorage, Alaska, largely thanks to its wide variety of burgers, which start with 5.5-ounce patties of Australian beef that get a dose of Cajun seasoning before hitting the griddle. They adorn eight different types of burgers, ranging from a simple cheeseburger to the crave-worthy R.L.E. Hello Burger, two patties topped with bacon, grilled mushrooms, onions, jalapeños and cheese. Veggie burgers, sliders, cheesesteaks and po’boys round out the menu.
Arizona: Rehab Burger Therapy (Scottsdale)
If you’re looking for a great burger in Scottsdale, Arizona, locals know to go to Rehab. The 7-year-old beach-themed burger joint has attracted legions of followers for its massive selection of burgers (available with 10- or 5-ounce patties of custom-ground never-frozen sirloin, brisket and chuck). You can build your own burger (they’re all served on your choice of a brioche, pretzel, wheat kaiser or gluten-free bun), or select one of the inspired creations including the Hatch Burger (grilled hatch chiles and melted cheddar), the PB&J Bacon Burger (peanut butter, grape jelly, bacon and Sriracha), the Spicy Mac-N-Cheese Burger (pepper jack cheese, chile-kicked mac and cheese, bacon and Sriracha), and the Bigger Beefstro Burger (a 5-ounce patty topped with havarti, shaved rib-eye, roasted poblanos and onions, and house-made wasabi mayo).
Arkansas: Big Orange (Little Rock)
Little Rock = Big Orange. This popular hangout boasts a full bar, modern décor and the best burgers in Arkansas. They’re made with all-natural beef and as many fresh, local ingredients as possible, and most of them have a decidedly gourmet twist: There’s the Farmer’s Burger, with havarti, a fried local egg, bacon from local Petit Jean Meats, butter leaf lettuce, tomato, red onion and aioli; the Spicy Pimento (with house-made spicy pimento cheese and pickled green tomato); the Hickory Smoke (sharp cheddar, barbecue sauce, dill pickles and fried onion strings); and the pièce de résistance, the White Truffle & Pecorino (with pecorino cheese, arugula, fig jam, white truffle and mayo).
California: Father’s Office (Los Angeles)
Chef Sang Yoon’s gastropub Father’s Office has the wood-paneled, comfortable vibe of a great local lived-in spot, but it’s clean, to the point, and counter service-only. You’ll find great craft beers and small bites (think smoked eel with fennel and onions). 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 (and we say it’s the best in all of California). There’s nothing frou-frou about it, just arugula, bacon, caramelized onion, Gruyère, and Maytag Blue on a loaf that’s more similar to a baguette than a bun. It’s a very, very juicy burger with funk, freshness and great flavor. The fries are also among America’s best, but don’t forget that there’s no ketchup on the premises.
Colorado: Steuben’s (Denver)
One of Denver’s most popular restaurants since opening in 2007, 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 cheeseburger in town. 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.
Connecticut: Louis’ Lunch (New Haven)
The tiny Louis’ Lunch, widely heralded as the birthplace of the burger as we know it, is a must-visit for any culinary pilgrim to New Haven, Connecticut. Well, not exactly as we know it: The burgers here are served between two slices of white toast instead of a bun. Flame-broiled burgers are cooked 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. Yes, it's a tourist trap, but it's absolutely one worth visiting.
Delaware: Farmer & The Cow (Wilmington)
Nobody in Wilmington, Delaware, is doing better burgers or shakes than Farmer & The Cow, which sources high-quality ingredients to create its astoundingly good burgers. Don’t miss the FTC (with bacon, fried onions, special sauce and American cheese), the Morning Glory (with bacon, scrapple, a fried egg and spiced maple syrup), the Goomara (tomato jam, soppressata, pesto and mozzarella), the Bushwood (bourbon apples, prosciutto and smoked Gouda) and the Bleu Steel (bacon, stout-braised onions and blue cheese). Make sure you start your meal with fried chicken skins tossed with Nashville dry rub.
Florida: Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink (Miami)
Popular Miami, Florida, restaurant Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink used to serve its first-rate burger only at lunchtime, but it’s finally made it onto the dinner menu as well. The beef is house-ground Black Angus from California’s Harris Ranch and the bun is brioche. House-smoked bacon and blue or Vermont white cheddar are optional during lunch; bacon and cheddar come standard during dinner.
Georgia: Holeman & Finch Public House (Atlanta)
It used to be that only 24 (highly coveted) burgers were served nightly at Holeman & Finch Public House, but thankfully for us they’ve now been made a permanent menu item at this legendary spot in Atlanta, Georgia. 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 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.
Hawaii: W&M Bar-B-Q Burgers (Honolulu)
Yelp/ Nadine C.
The no-frills W&M has been serving classic, old-school burgers to hungry Honolulu locals since 1940, and the recipe has changed very little since founders Wilfred and Mary Kawamura first opened its doors. (It’s been in the same location since 1980, and is today owned by the Kawamuras’ grandson.) The burgers here are always made from fresh beef and grilled while being basted with the restaurant’s secret sauce (literally): a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce that’s a long-held secret recipe. Order the Royal Burger, which comes topped with lettuce, tomato, onion and a perfectly melted slice of cheese, served on a bun from Hawaii-based Love’s Bakery; or try the Hal Special, with thin-sliced barbecue steak added.
Idaho: Bittercreek Ale House (Boise)
Bittercreek Ale House has been going strong for 23 years, and has attracted legions of regulars thanks to a huge selection of craft beers and insanely delicious burgers. Just about every item on its wide-ranging menu is made with high-quality, Idaho-sourced ingredients, and that pertains to the burgers as well, which are made with 100 percent grass-fed, house-ground chuck and brisket and served on locally baked potato buns. You can have yours topped with cheese or bacon (or both), or you can opt for the popular Huntsman burger, topped with English cheddar, Stilton, pickles, lettuce, onions, bacon and special sauce.
Illinois: Au Cheval (Chicago)
The beauty of the burger served at Au Cheval lies in its simplicity: two patties (or three, if you order a “double”) of no-frills ground beef topped with cheddar, Dijonnaise, and a few thin slices of pickles and served on a soft toasted bun from Illinois’ Z Baking. The patties are wonderfully crusty, the fries are fried in lard, and just about everything about this burger is perfect. A fried egg and thick-cut bacon are also offered, but that’s just gilding the lily. The line to get into this place stretches literally around the block every day, so owner Brendan Sodikoff (who has finally opened a second location in New York City) is clearly doing something right. The line may be long, but this is one of many restaurants worth waiting in line for.
Indiana: Workingman’s Friend (Indianapolis)
In business since 1918, Indiana old-timer Workingman's Friend reportedly got its name because owner Louis Stamatkin allowed regulars to run a tab until payday; the fact he supplied them with homemade whiskey probably didn’t hurt, either. Nowadays it’s run by Louis’ granddaughter Becky, and it’s turning out stellar burgers that haven’t changed since day one, still cooked on the original grill. Patties are hand-formed from fresh-ground chuck and smashed down on the grill until they’re essentially all crust, deep and dark and salty and loaded with umami. Order a double and you’ll receive two cheese-topped patties stacked on top of each other, with a segment of bun in between to absorb some of the juice. It’s a beaut.
Iowa: Zombie Burger & Drink Lab (Des Moines)
Zombie Burger & Drink Lab has a vaguely horror-related theme, but the spectacular burgers served here certainly aren’t novelties. There are more than 20 different burgers on offer, with cheeky names including Dead Moines (smoked Gouda, prosciutto, ham and truffle mayo), The Walking Ched (a breaded and fried mac and cheese bun, bacon, cheddar, onion, cheese and mayo), Undead Elvis (peanut butter, fried bananas, bacon, American cheese, a fried egg and mayo), and Juan of the Dead (green chile and cheese croquette, Monterey Jack, caramelized onion and chipotle mayo). There are also several vegan options (including one made with a Beyond Meat patty), and a stellar pork tenderloin sandwich, because this is Iowa, after all.
Kansas: Cozy Inn (Salina)
There was a big White Castle-inspired hamburger stand boom across America in the early 1920s, and Salina, Kansas’ 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 nationally as sliders, and so is the birthplace of this beloved dish. 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,” meaning 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). Request a sack and you’ll get six sliders, and expect to leave smelling like onions.
Kentucky: Mussel & Burger Bar (Louisville)
Mussel & Burger Bar’s executive chef and owner Fernando Martinez and his partner Yaniel Martinez also run popular Louisville, Kentucky, spots Guaca Mole, Taco Luchador and Artesano Tapas, and they’ve turned their attention to burgers and elevated pub fare at this standout. Fifteen different burgers are on offer, and the beef used is from Black Angus cattle, house-ground daily, and served on house-made buns. Standouts include the Spanish Blue (Le Peral blue cheese, pepper cress, and fig marmalade), the C.E.O. (Gruyère, truffle aioli, caramelized onions, baby arugula, oven-roasted tomatoes and optional foie gras), the BBB (maple-glazed pork belly, a fried egg, caramelized onions, aged white cheddar and maple aioli), and the high-end Local Burger (local grass-fed beef, smoked Gouda, local tomato, lettuce and onions). They also serve one of the best vegetarian burgers in town.
Louisiana: Company Burger (New Orleans)
Company Burger chef and owner Adam Biderman set out to create the perfect double cheeseburger, and one bite will tell you that he hit the nail right on the head. He starts with two 3.25-ounce patties, which are given a light crust on the flat-top before being loaded with red onion and high-quality American-style cheese and then stacked. A couple of pickle chips and a toasted white bread bun complete it. You’re left to your own devices at the expansive condiment bar, which includes Creole honey mustard (because Louisiana), basil mayo and pickled jalapeños. Before getting too creative, though, make sure you try the burger as-is — you might be inclined not to mess with perfection.
Maine: BRGR Bar (Portland)
BRGR Bar has staked a claim as serving the best burgers in town thanks to its owners’ meticulous ingredient sourcing. The beef burgers are an aged custom primal blend from Maine Family Farms, and the bison is from a farm in Berwick, Maine; both are grass-fed. The 6-ounce burgers on offer include The Mac Daddy (topped with house-made mac and cheese and barbecue short rib) and the Up in Smoke (a bison patty with smoked Gouda, bacon, grilled red onion, avocado, bourbon barbecue sauce, lettuce and tomato), but the one to order is the OO-Mommy. It’s topped with Gorzonzola, beer-battered onion rings and bacon-onion jam, and it’s an absolute umami bomb (get it?).
Maryland: The Abbey Burger Bistro (Baltimore)
The Abbey Burger Bistro is renowned in Baltimore, and its burgers are phenomenal. You can build your own from a wide selection of patties (including bison, lamb, Black Angus beef from local Roseda Farm, game meats, or crab cake), 15 cheeses and more than 40 toppings (ranging from crab dip and raspberry jalapeño sauce to peach and herb salad). We suggest you go to town and build your dream burger, but if you’d rather have them do it for you, try either Harry’s Bistro Burger (topped with a fried egg, bacon and cheddar on an English muffin), or the Baltimore Burger (topped with crab dip, bacon and cheddar). For the full Abbey Burger Bistro experience, stop by for the specials during an Arsenal F.C. game — Abbey is Maryland’s official Arsenal America outpost.
Massachusetts: Craigie on Main (Cambridge)
At his Cambridge, Massachusetts, restaurant Craigie on Main, 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. Thankfully, it’s also usually available during lunch and brunch. House-made veggie burgers are also available.
Michigan: Redamak’s (New Buffalo)
Founded by George and Gladys Redamak in 1946 and owned by Jim and Angie Maroney since 1975, the legendary Redamak’s is only open from March 1 to November 15 due to the fact that it only holds a 10-month resort liquor license, but it’s definitely worth a detour to the sleepy hamlet of New Buffalo on the shores of Lake Michigan. Expect a wait (even though the restaurant seats 400), and when you finally snag a table, do what everyone else does: Order a burger — the Velveeta Cheeseburger, in particular. Butchered and ground in-house, these patties (which are available in either 5 1/3- or 8-ounce portions) get a nice sear in their own individual skillet and are then draped with a glob of melty, oozy Velveeta. It’s served with ketchup, mustard, pickles and onions (lettuce and tomato were only introduced within the past few years), but honestly all you really need is meat, cheese and bread. You’ll never receive a burger cooked below medium, but something about these burgers makes them irresistibly delicious. Cash-only and undeniably quirky, there’s nothing else quite like Redamak’s.
Minnesota: Matt’s Bar (Minneapolis)
Ah, the legendary 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 Minnesota 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 and 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.
Mississippi: Fine & Dandy (Jackson)
Yelp/ Aaron W.
Fine & Dandy has established itself as the destination for burgers in Jackson, Mississippi. Executive chef (and James Beard Award semi-finalist) Jesse Houston grinds a blend of short rib, chuck and brisket in-house, forms patties seasoned with salt and pepper, sears them on a hot griddle and serves them on a house-baked potato bun-brioche hybrid created by pastry chef Amy Henderson. These are spectacular with no ornamentation at all, but you can’t go wrong if you order The Nobleman, topped with smoked cheddar, house-cured bacon, smoked tomato, grilled romaine and chipotle- and beer-spiked Dijonnaise.
Missouri: Winstead’s (Kansas City)
Winstead’s is a household name in the Kansas City, Missouri, 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.
Montana: The Burger Dive (Billings)
The Burger Dive chef Brad Halsten might as well call himself “The Burger King of Montana,” because nobody around is turning out such well-made, award-winning and creative burgers. His 1/3-pound burgers start with Angus beef, and his Jerk Burger (with house-made jerk sauce, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion on a locally-made bun) took first place in beef at the 2012 Masters of Barbecue Challenge; his Best of the Bash Burger (a blackened patty topped with goat cheese, bacon, an onion ring, arugula, Sriracha and garlic basil mayo) won the South Beach Wine & Food Festival’s famed Burger Bash in 2014; and the I’m Your Huckleberry (topped with huckleberry Hatch chile barbecue sauce, bacon, goat cheese, roasted red pepper mayo and arugula) won 2016’s World Food Championships. This guy is a burger wizard.
Nebraska: Block 16 (Omaha)
“Farm to table street food” is the name of the game at beloved Omaha, Nebraska, standby Block 16, run by the husband-and-wife team of Jessica and Paul Urban. They source their humanely-raised, 100 percent grass-fed beef from a high-end Iowa butcher, and 1/3-pound patties are used on burgers including the Croque Garcon (topped with cheese, ham, a sunny-side-up egg, mustard and truffle mayo on ciabatta). Believe it or not, this is the burger that none other than Alton Brown dubbed the country’s best, calling it “high art.” Make sure you get a side of Duck Duck Goose Fries, topped with duck confit, crispy duck skin, duck-fat mayo and gooseberry gastrique.
Nevada: Burger Bar (Las Vegas)
Accomplished Alsatian-born chef Hubert Keller has established a reputation for producing sensibly priced burgers of great quality at his Las Vegas, Nevada, must-visit Burger Bar. 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.
New Hampshire: Lexie’s (Various Locations)
Husband and wife KC Cargill and Alexis Wile opened the first location of Lexie’s in Portsmouth in 2010, and today there are five New Hampshire locations (in Epping, Exeter, Newburyport, Portsmouth and seasonally in Newington) and a “Burger Bus” for catering. What’s made this place to successful? A relaxed vibe (the motto is “Peace, Love, and Burgers”) and, obviously, some stellar burgers! These 4-ounce patties are vessels for deliciously creative toppings, as evidenced in burgers like the Stairway to Heaven (cheddar, braised short ribs, melted onions and barbecue sauce); the Fun Guy (blue cheese, mushrooms, crispy onions and horseradish sauce); and The Farmhouse (cheddar, bacon, fried egg, avocado, lettuce, tomato, onion and herb aioli).
New Jersey: White Manna (Hackensack)
A New 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, honed over decades and decades, unchanging. 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 potato roll.
New Mexico: Burger Boy (Cedar Crest)
Burger Boy has been a local Cedar Crest, New Mexico destination since 1982, and it’s a simple, no-frills lunch counter and dining room with basically the same staff, owners and regulars since it opened. Burgers here are 1/3-pound patties of fresh ground beef, seared on a flat-top and tucked into a no-nonsense bun with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and onions, but you’re going to want to do as the locals do and get some chopped green Hatch chiles added.
New York: Minetta Tavern (New York City)
Minetta Tavern is a fabulous all-around classic New York restaurant, but it’s the Black Label Burger that put it on the map. 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. It’s juicy, savory, salty and nothing less than soul-satisfying.
North Carolina: Chuck’s (Raleigh)
The most outrageous offering at this down-home Raleigh, North Carolina, burger joint Chuck’s, the Dirty South Burger, starts with a house-ground, 100 percent chuck patty that’s seared on a flat-top. You have your choice of a 5-ounce or 8-ounce patty, and we recommend going with the 5-ouncer because what comes next is delicious insanity: smoked pork shoulder, Anson Mills red pea chili, crispy tobacco onions, roasted tomato malt vinegar slaw, cheddar, and yellow mustard are all piled on top of the patty before being sandwiched between two halves of a bun. All the components work perfectly together thanks to the deft hand of a great chef: Ashley Christensen, who was the recipient of the 2014 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast.
North Dakota: JL Beers (Various Locations)
JL Beers is a beloved local chain, with seven locations in North Dakota along with three in Minnesota and two in South Dakota. And with 40 beers on tap, a fun and welcoming vibe, and some truly great burgers, it’s not surprising to see why it’s so popular. More than a dozen burgers are available, made with never-frozen beef; The Original Hamburger Stand Burger, topped with only pickles and special sauce, is definitely enough to satisfy a craving, but you might as well go all-in and try the JL Burger (topped with grilled onions, cheese, special sauce and two patties); the Rajun Cajun (pepper jack, Cajun lime sauce, grilled onions and Cajun seasoning); or the Not Just a Nutter Burger (fresh peanut butter, red pepper jelly, diced jalapeños, raw onions and lettuce).
Ohio: B Spot Burgers (Cleveland)
Iron Chef Michael Symon has won too many burger contests to recall, and with good reason — the man understands good food, he understands meat, and more importantly, he understands how to make a great burger, with his skills on display at B Spot Burgers, which has three Cleveland, Ohio, locations. The Lola, Symon’s burger with bacon, cheddar, pickled red onions and a sunny-side-up egg, is going to be on the rarer side, the saltier side and the gooey-dripping side. If you’re really into burgers, and really know the way chefs like to make them, well… you’ll be into the Lola.
Oklahoma: Nic’s Grill (Oklahoma City)
Grab a seat at the counter in Oklahoma City’s diminutive Nic’s Grill, joining the hordes of other pilgrims who line up here daily, and watch chef/owner Justin “Nic” Nicholas work his burger magic. He forms massive patties by hand and sears them on a hot griddle, and if you order yours (as encouraged) “with cheese and everything” it’ll be served with plenty of cheese, griddled onions, pickles, mustard, mayo and ketchup on a perfectly steamed bun.
Oregon: Le Pigeon (Portland)
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 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, Oregon, run, don’t walk, to this burger.
Pennsylvania: Village Whiskey (Philadelphia)
Chef Jose Garces has won heaps of praise for the burgers he’s serving at his tiny Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, bar Village Whiskey, and it’s well-deserved. His burgers are so lightly packed that they’re almost fluffy, and they come on a house-baked pain au lait bun that’s similar to brioche, but less eggy. The patties are well seasoned, super juicy and full of flavor. If you’re looking for something especially decadent, go for the Whiskey King Burger, which is topped with maple bourbon-glazed cippolini onions, blue cheese, applewood-smoked bacon and foie gras for good measure. Make sure to get some of the fabulous duck fat fries on the side.
Rhode Island: Mission (Newport)
Laid-back, no-frills Mission is the go-to spot in Newport, Rhode Island, for hot dogs, hand-cut fries, seasonal popsicles made in house and, of course, burgers. The ones served here start with a custom blend of beef ground in house and formed into thick, smallish patties; the toppings on offer don’t veer too far outside of the box, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing: Some American cheese, a couple slices of high-quality crispy bacon and a smear of Mission Sauce — mayo, ketchup, cornichons, capers, fines herbes and a hit of brandy — is all you need.
South Carolina: Husk (Charleston)
So what’s the secret to the burger at Husk? There are several: Bacon is ground right into the patty, for one, and 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. The restaurant has expanded beyond Charleston into Nashville, Greenville and Savannah, and the burger is definitely one of the (several) reasons for its success.
South Dakota: Black Hills Burger & Bun Co. (Custer)
A beloved South Dakota landmark that draws locals and Black Hills tourists alike, Black Hills Burger & Bun Co. is run by the husband and wife duo of Claude and Christie Smith, who take their burgers very seriously. Burgers are made from chuck, which is ground in house daily, formed into 6-ounce patties, seared and served on a house-made bun with your choice of toppings and a side (try the baked beans). There’s a nice variety of burger styles on offer (including a few veggie options), but you can’t go wrong with The Western, with cheddar, bacon, grilled onions and barbecue sauce.
Tennessee: Earnestine & Hazel’s (Memphis)
Earnestine & Hazel’s got its start as a down-home Memphis, Tennessee, café, one said to be a frequent haunt for legendary musicians like B.B. King, Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry after gigs at a nearby club. After being boarded up in the 1970s, it was reopened in 1993 as a bar with a fantastic jukebox, and every inch of the space holds the tantalizing smell of the incredible slow-cooked “soul burgers” the joint is known for. Thin, perfectly seared and served on a soft white bun, the burger is given a couple squirts of Worcestershire-kicked sauce as it cooks, and it’s the perfect accompaniment to a night out.
Texas: Maple & Motor (Dallas)
Maple & Motor has been known to serve its signature attraction with a side of attitude — but 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 American, cheddar or pepper jack.” And at only $8.25, it's one of America's best burgers for under 10 bucks.
Utah: Lucky 13 (Salt Lake City)
Lucky 13 may look (and sound) like a sports bar, but don’t be fooled: It’s home to Utah’s best burgers. Their patties are made of 7 ounces of never-frozen locally sourced ground chuck, cooked to medium with an enviable crust and served with a dizzying array of toppings on a freshly-baked bun. There’s no shortage of insane toppings; popular ones include the Breath Enhancer (with fresh garlic, rosemary and cheddar), the Bacon Stinky Cheeseburger (bacon and blue cheese) and The Fungus Amongus (with red wine-sauteed mushrooms, garlic and Swiss). Our advice: Skip the gimmicky ones like The Big Benny (28 ounces of beef topped with bacon, ham, cheddar, Swiss, onions and special sauce) unless you have the metabolism of a race horse, and keep it simple with cheese and house-smoked bacon. Make sure you get some rosemary garlic fries on the side.
Vermont: Al’s French Frys (Burlington)
If you live in Burlington, Vermont, you’ve heard of Al’s French Frys. The sprawling burger joint, located just south of downtown, started as a french fry stand run by Al and Genevieve Rusterholz in the late 1940s, and over the years it just kept growing. The latest incarnation still has a distinctly 1950s vibe, and a menu that appears to not have changed (in either offerings and price) in years. The patties are small, and sit between halves of a soft white bun. If you don’t order any toppings, which cost extra, all you get is meat on a bun, which certainly implies that they stand behind its quality. The never-frozen patties are indeed high-grade beef, but some lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions, cheese and ketchup (as well as a second patty to balance out the meat-bun-toppings ratio) never hurt. This is a seriously good old-school burger, and a seriously tasty one at that.
Virginia: 2941 Restaurant (Falls Church)
Hidden on 2941’s upscale American, French and Mediterranean menu in the affluent Washington, D.C., suburb of Falls Church, Virginia, is the lunch-only All-American Burger, which makes the Metro ride from downtown worth the trip. This is a straightforward beef burger, topped with melted cheddar, lettuce, onion and tomato on an olive oil bun. But don’t let the simplicity fool you: These are simple, fresh ingredients working together in beautiful flavor harmony.
Washington: Sam’s Tavern (Seattle)
Sam’s Tavern, founded in the 1940s on the corner of Fuhrman and Eastlake avenues in Seattle, Washington, was the original birthplace of national chain Red Robin. (Before adopting the name “Red Robin,” it was just “Sam’s Tavern,” and then “Sam’s Red Robin.”) Seventy years later, the original Sam’s Tavern was resurrected, this time on the corner of East Pike Street and 11th Avenue, and they still serve awesome burgers. They have one in particular that’s perfect for all you bacon fans out there: Sammy’s 50/50 Burger. The patty is half certified Angus beef and half hickory-smoked bacon, topped with avocado, buttermilk bacon ranch dressing, Gouda cheese and (you guessed it) more bacon. Might as well go whole hog and start with the wedge salad with bacon bits and see if they’ll load your side of fries up with bacon, too.
Washington, D.C.: Ray’s Hell Burger
After the closure of Michael Landrum’s two Washington, 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, in Arlington, closed down a couple years ago as well, but thankfully a 4-year-old D.C. location is still going strong. Hand-trimmed, aged in house, freshly ground throughout the day and formed by hand, these burgers are a sight to behold.
West Virginia: Avenue Eats (Wheeling)
The small, low-key Avenue Eats offers a relaxed patio, a casual atmosphere and a burger that’s putting the town of Wheeling, West Virginia, on the map. The burgers here are made with freshly ground, locally sourced, grass-fed beef, and they come in a variety of tempting styles, including one topped with poutine; another topped with house-made pub cheese, bacon and fried onion straws; and another with brie, grilled pear, caramelized onions and bacon. These aren’t gimmicky, though; they’re all designed with an eye toward flavor and balance.
Wisconsin: Solly’s Grille (Milwaukee)
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’ worth — before being placed 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.
Wyoming: Local (Jackson Hole)
One of Jackson Hole, Wyoming’s most popular restaurants, Local is primarily a steakhouse, which is always a good sign for anyone on a hunt for a great burger. And the burger here, made from a blend of different locally ranched, house-ground beef, lives up to all great steakhouse burger expectations. Drop by at dinner and you’ll find one burger on the menu — topped with smoked cheddar, bacon, tomato jam, lettuce and pickles — but come for lunch and create your own burger from four patty options (custom-blended locally pastured and grass-fed beef; Montana buffalo; steak, which is a blend of rib-eye, New York strip and filet mignon trimmings; and veggie), with a wide variety of cheeses and other toppings. And once you’ve sampled the best burgers around, you might as well go for broke and check out the best hot dog in every state as well.
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