7. Pimento Cheeseburger
Next DoorAddress and Info
Cooper-Young is hip. I know this because I saw a young man with lots of facial hair smoking something electronically as we walked into Next Door, which is a perfect little bar for a hip neighborhood. Their pimento cheeseburger, however, was not perfect for me.
I should start by saying that I do like pimento cheese on burgers, but a little goes A LONG way, and this thing was topped by someone with a heavy hand. That saltiness combined with a 1/2lb of Claybrook farm beef overwhelmed the acid from the house pickles and anything else in the mix. Plus the bun wasn't toasted (this is a pet peeve of mine) and so it started to get soggy on the bottom quickly. If this was slider-size, I'd have been all in. It was not. Lovely folks though!
6. The Greek Burger
Alex's TavernAddress and Info
Alex's Tavern is Memphis' oldest family-owned tavern. I know this because the red awning out front told me, and I'm a journalist so I wrote it down. Also, it only serves drumsticks when you order hot wings, which is absolutely genius. In fact, everything on the menu looked amazing, from the ribs and the gumbo to the chicken tenders.
Of course, the burger is legendary, cooked up in an old skillet and topped with Cavender's Greek Seasoning and black pepper, with white onions tucked underneath. The patty was cooked a perfect medium and remained juicy throughout, and though the spot claims there are 13 spices in that seasoning, the garlic and oregano are really the main players. I have no problem with either spice, but they did make it taste more like well-seasoned meatloaf than an actual burger. The thick-cut steak fries were damn delicious though.
5. World Famous Huey Burger with Cheddar
Huey's DowntownAddress and Info
"Look up," Casey told me as we sat down at Huey's bar. I looked up. Toothpicks stuck out from the ceiling like a porcupine's back. "Look at the walls," Casey said. I looked at the walls. They were covered in graffiti, including one passionate plea to elect Kanye president. "Look at the burger," Casey said, when our World Famous Huey Burger showed up. I looked at the burger. It was beautiful.
Huey's has a lot of burgers. And many of them sound delicious (I really wanted to try the Old Tyme A1), but alas, I am a professional, and so I got the basic enterprise, not, frankly, expecting a whole lot. But Huey's burger cooks know what the heck they're doing. The composition of the burger was perfect: The mayo and the Cheddar and meat all combined to form some sort of fatty, salty base that was balanced nicely by the acid in the mustard and pickle, and the cut of the onions.
There were some slight missteps: The meat was salty and well-cooked, with just a little bit too much snap and density, and the bun was well-toasted but the top was a bit dry and started to peel a bit towards the end. But those were minor complaints. Go to Huey's. And before you stare at that burger, look up.
4. Dyer's Single with Cheese
Dyer's BurgersAddress and Info
If you've ever wanted a burger cooked in the same grease that your great-grandfather's burger was cooked in, Dyer's is the spot. Open since 1912, Dyer's is well-known for its "ageless cooking grease" strained daily and, though, it has changed ownership through the years, the restaurant still abides by the rules of cooking in the magical old grease.
Case and I walked down Beale through throngs of people drinking frozen boozy concoctions in tall glasses and humming "Mustang Sally," and popped into Dyers around 8pm on a Thursday night. It was empty save a couple of college guys crushing wings and talking about cars they'd buy if they were rich (everyone seemed to like Dodge Vipers), and the burgers came out quickly. The burger is thin, and griddled well in that grease so you can see the deep brown crust. The cheese blends in with the meat and offers up that great diner burger flavor, when butter and grease and cheese and meat all come together as one, though the mustard, pickle, and onions kept it from overwhelming.
The bun was a touch dry, but otherwise, it's a great diner-style burger with the extra cache that the grease on my lips might've also helped perfect a burger enjoyed by Memphis legends like Penny Hardaway and Jerry Lee Lewis. Or at the very least, Shannen Doherty.
3. The Burger with American & Sauteed Onion
Off the Hoof BurgersAddress and Info
Arlington is just outside of Memphis. And it is filled with farms. And close to those farms sits a giant barn. Outside that barn sit a lot of Ford trucks. And inside that barn is a pretty damn great burger joint.
When we went to Off the Hoof, it was around lunchtime and the place was packed with a mix of farmers, military folk, and a few other locals. We ordered up a burger and some "hot tops," because I can't go through a day in the South without eating fried jalapeño slices dipped in ranch. The burger clearly used quality meat, with minimal snap and a loose grind, and though it was slightly overcooked it had a great char. The toasted, buttered bun was a touch dry, but the composition was great, and it reminded me in many ways of a perfect backyard burger, cooked in a place where the backyards go on forever.
Oh, and those "hot tops" were damn near perfect too.
2. The Soul Burger
Earnestine & Hazel'sAddress and Info
I could go on forever about this burger, and about what this place means to me. But instead, I'll invite you to read my story on the bar and the burger right here, and just say that the Soul Burger and the bar are both well worth traveling for. Go immediately.
1. The John T. Burger
Hog & HominyAddress and Info
I don't enjoy re-confirming other people's opinions. In fact, if there ever seems to be a consensus about, say, a burger being so great, I'll admit it: I go into those experiences looking for mistakes. The John T. burger at Hog & Hominy is well-trodden territory for national burger lovers. Plus it's named for one of the legendary Southern food writers, John T. Edge, as an homage to his favorite type of burger. And because of that hype, I decided I wasn't going to like it.
En route, I told this to Casey. "I just can't see it living up to the hype" were my exact words. Casey didn't say anything, possibly because he was engrossed trying to figure out how to book an earlier flight home. But when we got to Hog & Hominy, Casey fell in love. "This is the exact restaurant I would create, if I were to create a restaurant," he said, swooning. I told him he would never build anything, but he ignored me, stretching to see if he could buy a novelty tee. And then when the burger came, Casey fell in love all over again. "Holy shit," he said maybe three or four times. He kept taking bites and then glancing back at me with this sort of shocked look on his face. And then he nodded several times vigorously. "This," he said, "is the one."
And so I took a bite. And dammit it all, if he wasn't right. The John T. burger is an exercise in perfection. There are no wasted ingredients and no wrong turns. The griddle on the loose and juicy meat is exceptional. The sesame bun is soft, but holds up to the meat and cheese. The pickled lettuce subtly gives every bite the acid needed to balance the flavors. The bite of the mustard addresses the need for some tang. The onion gives it bite. It is the best burger in Memphis, and one of the best in the country. And it comes from an Italian restaurant in East Memphis that only serves it at lunch. Plan accordingly.
1. Sweet Grass and Next Door937 S Cooper St, Memphis
2. Alex's Tavern1445 Jackson Ave, Memphis
3. Huey's Restaurant77 S 2nd St, Memphis
4. Dyer's Burgers205 Beale St, Memphis
5. Off the Hoof Burgers12013 U.S. 70, Arlington
6. Earnestine & Hazel's531 S Main St, Memphis
7. Hog & Hominy707 W Brookhaven Cir, Memphis
Sweet Grass and Next Door are a perfect pair: an upscale low-country restaurant and its casual bar cousin. But at either, you can get a delicious taste of Southern flavor -- say, with the Pimento Cheeseburger, featuring local beef from Claybrook Farms, tangy pimento cheese, crisp lettuce, peppers, onions, and the best house-made sweet pickles you've ever had.
Alex's Tavern is an unassuming, local watering hole in the Crosstown neighborhood that makes up for its humble-but-charming atmosphere with one of the best burgers (and ribs and wings) in town. Perhaps the burger reigns supreme because of the inclusion of a secret mix of Greek seasonings in the patty, or perhaps because the cast-iron skillet said patty is cooked in has seen the sear of thousands of the patty's kin. Regardless, you'd be remiss to stop in for a beer and leave without the burger.
At Huey's Restaurant, which is actually more reminiscent of a pub than a restaurant, customers are given leeway to write on the walls and shoot toothpicks up to the ceiling. And though the digs may be divey, the lauded burger is high-quality and wildly popular, and has earned the Huey's multiple accolades, time and time again, since its inception in 1970. The beauty of the burger is in its simplicity: it's nothing more than a 1/3lb juicy, beef patty with a single slice of cheese, lettuce, tomato, and pickles, served on a soft, sesame seed bun. That laser-focus on just a few simple ingredients is likely the reason Huey's has expanded across the city, the burger slinging showing no signs of slowing down.
Dyer's Burgers, the historical Beale St. joint, is famous for its burgers -- so famous, in fact, that its Double Doubles have been lauded as some of the best in the country. We can only speculate, but one reason for their superiority may be in part due to the oil in which the patties are fried: the 100-year-old garlic-infused grease known as "vitamin G." And while the frying oils might be a century old, the red-and-mint-colored venue is spick and span, and sports glossy tiles and neon signage that help the venue maintain its retro vibe.
Located on Hwy 70 just outside of Memphis, Off the Hoof Burgers is drawing massive crowds (and long waits) to its Arlington outpost. The burger-centric eatery features various types of meat for its various signature burgers -- choice Angus steak, ground venison, elk, bison, and boar, Kobe beef, salmon, bologna (yes, a bologna burger), crab, chicken tenders… you get the picture. All those options, and more, but the top billing Pat LaFrieda Chopped Steak Burger is lauded as world famous, and that burger alone is reason enough to cross city limits to Arlington.
Built in the late 19th century, the South Main Street building that houses Earnestine & Hazel's was meant to be a church. It didn't stay that way for long, and in the 1930s, it started its evolution from sundry store to pharmacy to jazz-cafe-and-brothel (the former was downstairs, the latter upstairs), to its current iteration as a dive bar. It's got burgers, beer, and plenty of characters, including the ghosts of Earnestine and Hazel. The sisters who owned the original cafe haunt the dive in the friendliest way possible by playing the piano upstairs, turning on the jukebox, and flickering the lights. The paranormal activity doesn't deter guests, but the Soul Burger most certainly draws them. The burger, in all its simple, heart-stopping glory, is a thin, seasoned beef patty cooked on a well-worn griddle and topped with American cheese, onions, a pickle, and a healthy spreading of Soul Sauce. It's best enjoyed with a beer (or three), and the company of the ghostly souls of Memphis past.
Hometown boys Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman's restaurant has a homey feel thanks to a bright & airy atmosphere, a wood-burning pizza oven in plain sight, and waiters dressed in plaid. They not only serve incredible pizzas, like the Fontina, boudin, and scrambled egg-topped Prewitt pie, and cocktails, but also have outdoor seating and bocce ball. Looking for late night dining and brunch? Stop searching, they have that here too.