9. "Say Cheese" Burger with American
Flip Side FlatsAddress and Info
This mini chain, with seven spots in and around the Cleveland area, was packed when I popped in. And you can see why: it has a long list of all sorts of fancified burgers with tricks and fireworks and bells on top of the whistles. So they were a little bummed out when I just ordered the basic cheeseburger (I'm just kidding, they literally couldn't have cared).
The burger was solid, but had some minor issues -- the toasted brioche sesame bun was a little dry on the inside, and the Ohio-raised, premium grass-fed beef was slightly overdone -- but other than that, it was a solid middle-ground burger and a good kicking-off point.
8. Thin Lizzy
B SpotAddress and Info
I'd never had the B Spot burgers before, but I'd heard the deafening hype all the way in California, and so I was eager to get in here. And there's a lot to like with the Thin Lizzy -- the griddled onions had good buttery flavor, the mayo and cheese are offset nicely by the dill pickle, the burger has a good, slightly peppery flavor, etc.
The only major issue for me was the bun, which was dry and bulky and sort of stood in the way of the flavor of the rest of the burger. Because so much of my bite consisted of bun, the other flavors had to play second fiddle, and yes, that was a music reference because of the name Thin Lizzy. *Takes deep, satisfied bow*
HoopplesAddress and Info
One of my favorite things about Hoopples, even before I got there, was reading the very casual history on its website. Towards the end, it starts listing off some of the "bests" lists it's made, and the first one reads like this: "One of Cleveland's best burgers thrillist (Thrillist?)"
So yes, clearly Hoopples was already very familiar with the Thrillist name when I barged in on that Tuesday night and got a cheeseburger. Made with its "special blend" of meat, the burger is simple and easy and good. It tastes like a burger your dad would make you when you got home from basketball practice, if your dad wasn't out drinking and watching the Browns at Hoopples. But hey, can you blame him?
6. Ohio Beef Burger
The Greenhouse TavernAddress and Info
This was the first place I hit after getting into town, and it’s right Downtown on that pedestrian strip, so it was basically like hitting up Bourbon Street on the night of Mardi Gras. But inside Greenhouse was a little more chill oasis, strewn with old vintage bikes haphazardly strewn about.
I got the Ohio Beef Burger. The medium-sized patty had great char, and was especially juicy for a medium. Good peppery taste, solid aioli, and a good griddle on the top bun. One issue was that the bottom bun became immediately soggy with the juices running out when I took my first bite, and by the third bite it was so soggy as to be unusable. I put Greenhouse in the category of a lot of potential, especially once they sort out how to ensure you can get through a burger cooked medium with an entire bun intact.
5. Ohio Beef Burger
Bar CentoAddress and Info
You probably think I made some sort of mistake in the name of the burger, because I have the same name two times in a row. WELL, YOU'RE THE ONE WHO IS WRONG, OK? Both Greenhouse and Bar Cento have taken to touting the state the meat comes from in their burgers, and weirdly enough, both burgers sit in very similar places in my mind.
Bar Cento's version doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles: just a delicious house-made bun (honestly, I could've eaten the griddled bun as an appetizer), caramelized onions tucked under port salut cheese, and lettuce and tomato. There's no special aioli or weird mustard concoction, and for the most part, it doesn't need it. The meat is juicy, and the grilled onions seem like they were marinated, and have the proper amount of tang. I wish the meat had a little bit more of a griddle, but otherwise, I could dance with this burger date again.
4. Half Pound Burger with American
Johnny's Little BarAddress and Info
I love this place. Literally around the side of the fancier Johnny's Downtown, JLB was a perfect scene when I popped in, mostly because several boozed-up locals were happily gathered around the jukebox doing a "Thunder Road" singalong.
The burger is simple and delicious, tasting just like a really, really well-done backyard burger. There are no tricks here, it's just really good meat cooked skillfully on a soft, well-griddled bun that never got soggy. I could've spent the night there, regaling those Boss fans with stories of how fellow Thrillist writer Wil Fulton actually knows Bruce Springsteen's daughter, but it gets weird when you bring it up in public. Oh, oops.
3. Heckburger with American and grilled onions
Heck's CafeAddress and Info
This burger is a great burger. The meat is juicy and griddled, and you can taste from the way it crumbles into your mouth that it was hand-packed. Good char on the edges meshes well with the American cheese. The griddled onions are perfectly buttery. The whole thing, in fact, could've been a home run of sorts. But for the bun.
They don't cook the buns at Heck's. Yes, the bun is surprisingly airy and light, and it did an admirable job holding up to the burger, but come on. Eventually it has to get soggy. You're a great burger joint. JUST TOAST YOUR BUN A LITTLE BIT, AND GIVE IT A CHANCE, PLEASE...
2. Double cheeseburger with mustard and mayo
SwensonsAddress and Info
"Lebron loves this place."
"This is Lebron's favorite burger place in the world."
"If you tell Lebron you like Swensons, he will hold you like a giant baby and rock you to sleep during the parade."
Two of the three statements above are things people told me all the time in Cleveland. Swensons is a drive-in place, where they come to your car and take your order and then attach a metal tray to your window when the order comes out, so you can continue to listen to your Pelican Brief book on tape while enjoying the burger. Truth be told, I almost didn't go here. It was out of my way, and I didn't really have much faith that a local fast food joint could really bring it.
I should've never doubted Lebron: the thin patty doesn't have a lot of char, but it doesn't need it. The meat is simple and flavorful, the bun is perfectly toasted and crispy on the outside but soft in the middle, the acid from the mustard and the creaminess of the mayo give it a little zip, and it's just a fantastic experience all the way around. Plus, I was at the part where Gray Grantham and Darby Shaw really start to trust each other in The Pelican Brief.
1. The Little Guy
Stevenson's Bar & GrillAddress and Info
When I walked in, there were two other people at the bar. It was about 1pm on a Wednesday, and 20 minutes away, 1.3 million people were celebrating like mad in Downtown Cleveland. But here in Stevenson's, we were doing our own kind of celebrating.
Everything about the place makes either no sense, or so much sense. It is completely carpeted. An old-school '90s TV sat in the back. A handwritten sign mentions a $4 fried bologna special. And yet the Little Guy (the one-patty version of the "Big Guy" burger) came out so well constructed, it felt fake, as if they'd brought in a fancy guest chef and no one told me. Everything about it was right: the soft split-top bun, toasted nicely; shredded lettuce and pickles to help catch the "special sauce"; the burger with just the right amount of crusty griddle. The burger gods have spoken and they're telling you to go immediately to this nondescript sports bar next to a gas station, or face eternal shame and embarrassment.
1. Flip Side49B Village Way, Hudson
2. B Spot BurgersHorseshoe Casino Cleveland, Cleveland
3. Hoopples1930 Columbus Rd, Cleveland
4. The Greenhouse Tavern2038 E 4th St, Cleveland
5. Bar Cento1948 W 25th St, Cleveland
6. Johnny's Little Bar614 Frankfort Ave, Cleveland
7. Heck's Cafe2927 Bridge Ave, Cleveland
8. Swensons Drive-In40 S Hawkins Ave, Akron
9. Stevenson's Bar and Grill800 E 200th St, Cleveland
With its locally-sourced grass-fed burgers, solid brunch fare (truffle fries, anyone?), and other New American bar eats, this Cleveland chain has made regulars all over the region. The rustic-meets-industrial space has a casual vibe to it and is both group- and kid-friendly. If you happen to swing by with the family, there’s delectable milkshakes for the little ones and, as an added bonus, the opportunity for parents to add a shot of Kahlua to their own one -- proof that everyone truly can win.
Started by James Beard Award-winning Clevelander Michael Symon, this burgers and brats joints serves casual meals in a casual industrial-inspired space accented with dark wood booths and upright metal chairs. You can choose to top your burger with pulled pork, eggs, bologna, or pastrami... but no matter what meats, be sure to pair it up with a beer from the encyclopedic, all-encompassing menu.
At first glance, everything about Hooples calls to mind your average, divey sports bar -- authentic retro bowling machines, walls covered with stickers and posters, classic jukebox in the corner -- but this unassuming Tremont spot is actually home to one of the city’s best burgers and a sweeping panoramic view of downtown. Whether you’re here for weekly live music or a sports game, just make sure to check out the outdoor patio; with hanging lights strung above, it makes for a chill breather from the raucous good times indoors.
This downtown gastropub is a tails-to-trotters kind of place: from barbecue-roasted pig’s head to pan-fried pork chop saltimbocca, there’s a meat-forward bent to this market-driven menu. Helmed by James Beard award-winning chef Jonathon Sawyer, the vegan- and vegetarian-friendly options don’t disappoint (pro tip: get the yucca fries), and a full bar means an array of craft beers and seasonal libations for imbibing. If you can’t snag a table in the sleek, modern space (note the bicycles hung throughout and the lamps made from repurposed wheels), don’t worry: the outdoor patio makes for a perfectly delightful evening.
There’s nothing quite like the classic pizza & beer combo, which makes Bar Cento shine in Ohio City, Cleveland’s unofficial brewery district. Its open kitchen turns out delicious house-made charcuterie and upscale Italian fare, including specialty pizzas. But BC is more than a restaurant, serving as an entryway into the rowdy Bier Markt and its endless taps and a hidden speakeasy shelling out craft cocktails.
Located in the Warehouse District, Johnny's Little Bar features all the accoutrements of a beloved neighborhood dive: wooden high-top tables worn around the edges, exposed brick, neon lights with familiar beer logos, cheap drinks, and jukebox melodies. The kitchen has a leg up on your typical pub, boasting one of the better burgers in Cleveland -- a half-pound burger on a griddled bun, with house-fried chips, your choice of cheese, and all the usual fixings (pro tip: don't forget the onion rings).
This converted 18th century townhouse (winding iron stairs, scuffed mosaic evocative of an Italian café, greenhouse-like dining room sporting lush fauna) offers refined takes on traditional American fare. Take the Heckburger, for example, which elevates the popular sandwich to a winning combination of fresh-griddled beef, onions, and American cheese; of the brunch menu, the braised short rib hash with sunnyside eggs, herb potato cake, and sour cream is the clear standout. Combined with New World wine offerings, a beer menu of popular bottles ranging from Bud Lite to Lagunitas, and a martini-centric list of specialty cocktails, Heck's Cafe makes for a heck of a good time. While the beer menu features popular brands like Budweiser and Stella Artois, the speciality cocktails
It's not a trip to Ohio without a visit to Swensons Drive-in, the famed burger stop where the carside service includes your very own lightning-fast server. The signature burger here -- renown by locals and out-of-towners alike -- is the Galley Boy, a double cheeseburger with two special sauces and an olive for garnish.
Having moved from their old school location in Euclid to a modern space on the East Side, Stevenson’s is a Cleveland mainstay dating back to the 1920s. There’s ample reason to believe the hype: the burgers here are legendary, having stayed true to their roots with traditional, all-American preparation. Loyal regulars come for the Big Guy double cheeseburger, and stay for the bare-bones pub vibe, complete with a vintage bowling machine and touch tone jukebox for good measure.