According to local legend, the heavenly, now-iconic combination of melted cheese atop a burger was invented back in the '30s right here in Louisville, at the now-defunct Kaelin's Restaurant. Given this history-making mark on the world, it stands to reason that the city's burger spots would feel a special duty to create some of the finest burgers in the land... which they must have, because they did. We went around the whole city eating them to find the very best ones for you to enjoy. Yeah, it’s a hard gig.
For Nirvana, it was "Smells Like Teen Spirit." For Grind, it’s the B&B burger. Made with bacon, brie cheese, and habanero jam, it’s one of many standouts in this food truck-turned-neighborhood eatery.
Jeffersonville (& Downtown)
Now with two locations, this slightly odd -- yet delicious -- fusion restaurant offers excellent takes on both of its namesake menu items. Some favorites include the Argentinian (which comes with chorizo and chimichurri sauce; the B.B.B. (bacon breakfast burger) whose appeal boils down to four words: maple syrup-glazed pork belly; and The Local Burger (of course), made with grass-fed ground beef and Kenny’s Gouda cheese.
This meat temple sings like a dozen Hendrixes in heaven, with elk, antelope, venison, and kangaroo burger options. The menu suggests multiple combinations for toppings and other accessories, which is why burgers like the duck can end up with a fried egg on top. Pro tip: no one in the history of the world has ever regretted ordering fries that have been cooked in duck fat.
At this semi-suburban highlight, some of the best burgers are hiding in plain sight. Despite a chain-in-waiting vibe and a family-friendly atmosphere, the grass-fed, Kentucky-raised beef and bison burgers offer some of the most surprising bites around (and the ahi tuna burger never disappoints). Put some sliced avocado on it for extra creaminess.
Follow and find this truck for a truly great burger, handmade by the chef on a black rock basalt stone and served on the side of the road. Among an array of excellent, grass-fed beef burgers, the Inferno, with Cajun seasoning and pickled jalapeños, really stands out.
Jeffersonville (& New Albany, IN)
It’s so easy to do burgers well and make nearly everyone happy, and Big Four has done so, quickly doubling its footprint with smashes like its Queso Burger, the Big Bleu, or the California. And it has superb milkshakes to boot!
Some places are classics… some are just old. The ol’ Burger Boy had become less classic and more… the other thing, until a new owner saved it from itself a few years back, giving the city one of the few 24-hour options around. The prices are hard to beat, and no amount of innovation can ever replace something like the Burger Boy Burger. Always add onion rings and chili cheese fries on the side.
Another classic, Ollie’s Trolley pops up occasionally elsewhere, and is still a fun diversion. Step up into the trolley car and place your order. You might need to eat it in your car, especially in winter, but that’s OK. It’s just part of the charm. Oh, and this place has great fries, so don’t skip ‘em.
Proof on Main has a fantastic burger -- made out of bison -- but it’s the Jezebel sauce that gives it a fruity, earthy bent, and the Tillamook cheddar and applewood-smoked bacon certainly don't hurt, either. Go for a side of the crispy cauliflower -- it’s better than it has any right to be.
The walls of Harvest are adorned with large photos of the various Kentucky farmers who grow and raise the ingredients you’ll find on your plate, which speaks to Harvest’s unwavering commitment to sourcing only the freshest local vegetables and meats. The burger is no exception; it's a perfectly cooked patty of local beef, currently topped with tomato jam, triple-cream brie, and lettuce on a positively addictive pretzel bun.
When it comes to the Bambi Burger, the "almost famous" delicacy of one of Louisville’s most infamous dive bars, you can order yours one of five ways: no sides, with chips, with fries, with onion rings, or with your choice of appetizer. That’s it. The Bambi Burger remains the same regardless of your side selection, dressed with American cheese, onions, tomatoes, pickles, lettuce, and mayo, just as a classic dive bar burger should be.
Every Shady Lane Cafe burger is hand-pattied and cooked to order. The secret to this incredibly delicious burger lies in the secret spice blend used to season the beef just before it hits the cast-iron griddle. It’s been a cult hit for years and is the shining star of this tiny neighborhood cafe.
There is so much to love about Mayan Cafe, NuLu’s venerable veteran restaurant. Chef Bruce Ucán infuses the authentic flavors of his Yucatan heritage into this farm-to-table restaurant, and has firmly established himself as one of the most influential and humble chefs in the state. He simply gets everything right, including his Mayan Burger, a perfectly cooked, grass-fed beef patty, which comes slathered with chili aioli, topped with greens, pickled onions, mozzarella cheese, and tomatoes, and served on a warm pretzel bun.
The menu at this local beer mecca changes on the reg, but the burger never misses the mark. Always made with local beef and generally adorned with melty cheese and signature frites sauce, this burger only needs one of the many craft brews on offer (the bartenders will be happy to recommend the ideal pairing) to make it perfect.
Sign up here for our daily Louisville email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.
1. Grind Burger Kitchen829 E Market St, Louisville
2. Mussel & Burger Bar9200 Taylorsville Rd, Louisville
3. Game2295 Lexington Rd, Louisville
4. Bluegrass Burgers3334 Frankfort Ave, Louisville
5. Big Four Burgers + Beer134 Spring St, Jeffersonville
6. Burger Boy Diner1450 S Brook St, Louisville
7. Ollie's Trolley978 S 3rd St, Louisville
8. Proof on Main702 W Main St, Louisville
9. Harvest624 E Market St, Louisville
10. Bambi Bar2701 Bardstown Rd, Louisville
11. Shady Lane Cafe4806 Brownsboro Rd, Louisville
12. Holy Grale1034 Bardstown Rd, Louisville
13. Mayan Café813 E Market St, Louisville
It's no surprise that the best burger in town has a spacious and consistently packed spot in the trendy NuLu (or, "New Louisville") neighborhood. Thankfully, this location offers the usual favorites the restaurant became famous for: that brie bacon burger, the Southern burger, and the Asian pork sandwich, for example. If you’re looking to sit down, know that it’s first come, first served so you may have to wait. Though, the crowd waiting around are a pretty good indicator that it'll be worth it.
This expanding franchise of Louisville offers up, as its name suggests, a rare combination of seafood and burgers. The fare here is as laid-back as a local dive with burgers, of course, mac & cheese, and nachos among many other staples, but they're all approached with Cordon Bleu sensibility and therefore taken up a few notches with add-ons like braised ribs, gooey Monterey jack cheese, and soft, airy brioche.
This Irish Hill hot spot doles out all the bourbon and beef you could ask for, like its Wagyu burger with bone marrow mayo and brioche bun, aka one of the best burgers in the city.
With a short menu flaunting just burgers, dogs, and desserts, Bluegrass Burgers is an all-american classic. This family-friendly joint with multiple suburban outposts grills up high-quality Kentucky-raised beef for some of the biggest and unexpectedly inventive burgers around. Aside from it's staple, the all-beef burger, Bluegrass' menu changes the game with other bases like fresh ahi tuna, bison, and vegetarian black bean patties -- all winners, if you ask us.
There are your regular, go-to burgers joints, and then there's this place. Big Four Burgers + Beers delivers a simple menu of burgers and sandwiches, but ups the ante with beef, chicken, turkey, and veggie creations like garlic-y mushroom swiss, the California, laden with avocado slices and sprouts, and the gooey queso burger (exactly what it sounds like), all atop hearty pieces of toast or on a fluffy house bun. And that's only one half of its namesake -- if you don't pair with a hand-spin milkshake, there's a full selection of domestic beers waiting for you.
This old-school joint's been slinging burgers from its residential corner locations for more than 50 years, and its shows. The small quarters covered head to toe in Cardinals gear provides all the indulgences of your favorite 50's diner (read: burgers and breakfasts). Thick beef patties on the burgers come with thick slices of melted cheese to match, and during breakfast (well, the entire day), fried egg yolks and ponds of gravy and syrups sit atop heaping piles of hash browns, biscuits, and pancakes.
Step up into this Old Louisville trolley car "fast food" joint and place your order (which should definitely include a burger). You might need to eat it in your car, especially in winter, but that’s okay. It’s just part of the charm. Oh, and it has great fries, so don’t skip ‘em!
Located in The 21c Museum Hotel Louisville, a boutique hotel and art museum, Proof on Main serves up gourmet meals from Chef Levon Wallace, including a unique and scrumptious burger made out of bison and topped with a Jezebel sauce that gives it a fruity, earthy flavor, plus Tillamook cheddar and applewood-smoked bacon. You'll want to throw in a side of the crispy cauliflower, and top it all off with the s'mores dessert. This trendy spot houses the Proof Bar, too, which offers an enormous bourbon list (we're talking upwards of 50 varieties).
You know you're in for a fresh meal at Harvest, because the walls are adorned with large photos of the various Kentucky farmers who grow and raise the ingredients you’ll find on your plate. The team here knows a thing or two about fried chicken, crafting a buttermilk-soaked, battered, and fried breast and thigh served over a savory hoecake, drizzled with creamy gravy and topped with spicy greens. It’s heaven on a plate. And if you're not in the mood for chicken, they also have one of the best burgers in Louisville: a local beef patty topped with tomato jam, triple-cream brie, and lettuce on an addictive pretzel bun.
A rickety structure in the Highlands neighborhood houses this infamous dive bar, where locals have been flocking for years to kick back with a cold beer or a shot of bourbon. The real reason you're coming to Bambi, though, is to indulge in the beloved Bambi Burger, which you can order in one of five ways: no sides, with chips, with fries, with onion rings, or with your choice of appetizer. No matter what, this juicy delicacy comes topped with American cheese, onions, tomatoes, pickles, lettuce, and mayo -- just like a classic watering-hole burger should be.
An unassuming strip-mall spot, Shady Lane Cafe has all the classic eats and neighborly charm you want in a local mom & pop shop. Owned and operated by a husband-and-wife team, this tiny cafe has one of the best burgers around and it's the true star here. Sure, it's hand-pattied and cooked to order, but the real secret lies in the spice blend used to season the beef just before it hits the cast-iron griddle. It’s easy to see (and taste) why it's been a cult favorite for years.
This converted century-old church now works full-service as an artisanal pub specializing in beer and food pairings. The space is equal parts ingenious adaptation and gorgeous design and the menu is always changing, as are the beers. Be sure not to miss the choir loft and the beer garden, and if the Scotch quail eggs are on the menu, order them immediately.
Chef Bruce Ucán heads up Mayan Cafe, a beloved veteran restaurant in NuLu, infusing the traditional flavors of his Yucatan heritage into every beautiful plate on the menu -- from the signature tok-sel lima beans to the Mayan Burger, a grass-fed beef patty topped with chili aioli, greens, pickled onions, mozzarella cheese, and tomatoes, and (best of all) served on a warm pretzel bun.