The Best Burgers in MSP, Ranked by Our National Burger Critic
There was little doubt that I would travel to the Mini-Apple for Burger Quest. The Twin Cities happen to be one of the handful of areas in the country with a style of burger all their own. The Jucy (or Juicy) Lucy, a burger stuffed with cheese, was created in South Minneapolis in the '50s (for more on that debate, read my story here) and continues to be popular with tongue-burning enthusiasts today.
So I set out to taste both the finest Lucy-style burgers and more traditional ones across Minneapolis and St. Paul, talking to chefs and constantly harassing Drew Wood, the deputy editor at Mpls/St. Paul Magazine (and original Minneapolis Thrillist editor) to come up with a list of 11, incorporating both the old-school spots and the handsome new burger gents in town. Also, my dad was in Minneapolis for the weekend, so he came to a couple of spots.
In case you’re new to my rankings, here are some guidelines: if the restaurant had multiple burgers, I tried to order the closest to a classic cheeseburger, and if it came with options, I always picked American cheese and grilled onions. At the spots where I was supposed to get a Jucy (Juicy) Lucy, I got a Lucy, or whatever their signature burger was. If you think I missed something, please hold up a sign during ESPN’s College GameDay belittling me, or say something in the comments that doesn’t have to do with politics. Anyway, here is the ranking in all its glory:
11. The Juicy Lucy
One of the OG Lucy purveyors, 5-8 Club spells Juicy correctly, and surrounds that hunk of cheese in the middle with a lot of burger. I went there with my father directly after going to Matt’s Bar, and we couldn’t get over just how big it was. For example, when the burger came out, my dad was like, “Wow, that’s big,” AND HE CONSTANTLY DOWNPLAYS EVERYTHING. But it’s not the size of the burger in the fight, it’s the, um, hmmm. My point is that -- despite the size, and a substantial heaping of cheese oozing through the middle, it was buttery but not overly flavorful, and -- as is the problem with many Lucys -- overcooked and dry around the edges with a non-toasted bun.
10. The Juicy Nookie Burger
The Nook is a St. Paul legend, having been around since 1938, and passed through just four different owners (each of whom has kept the Nook name) over 78 years. I was told to continue my Jucy Lucy quest at the Nook, so I got the Juicy Nookie with grilled onions. The burger was nicely sized, seasoned well, and packed full of cheese, but again, it’s that old Lucy issue: dry overcooked meat outside of the molten center. I want to gently pat the cook who whipped this thing up and tell him that it isn’t him, it’s the burger style. Also, I would like to go bowling in their downstairs area as soon as possible.
9. The Blucy
The BDP was one of the places almost everyone from Minnesota told me I had to visit. The term “legend” was thrown around a few times. Shit was real. And when I visited, I could see why: the cozy place on Selby Ave with the blue door has a convivial atmosphere, nice little wooden booths inside, and a dude sitting outside on the patio on the phone with his wife with a spread of a couple of burgers and beers before him, possibly lying about his current location.
The classic burger to get at Blue Door is their Blucy, which is yet another version of a Lucy, but this one stuffed with blue cheese and garlic. It is -- as my perceptive photographer Annie pointed out -- a “date killer” for sure. And though pungent, the blend of the creamy cheese and the tang of the garlic mixed well with the meat, which was more balanced in temperature than the other Lucys (likely because the blue cheese’s core temperature doesn’t rise as fast as American), and the stacking of pickles along the bottom gave it some much needed acid. The bun was grilled well, but a touch stale through the middle of the top. It was a solid burger, even if I couldn’t get within 15 yards of anyone for the next three days.
8. The Revival Burger
Revival is known for their fried chicken. And if that wasn’t clear before I walked in the restaurant, it was after I sat up at the bar, and peeked into the kitchen where piece after piece lay waiting to be delivered to a lucky table. The burger is in the fancified diner-style category. It is two thinly griddled patties (partially made with a short-rib blend), American, mayo, and bread + butter pickles.
In very small portions, this burger is fantastic. It has almost like a dry-aged funk to it, the bun is soft and griddled, everything blends together well. But it is an absolute salty bomb. The cheese and mayo and patty and the buttery griddled bun dominate the house-made pickles, and that little bit of acid has no chance to cut through the tidal wave of butter and fat, which eventually end up making the bun slightly soggy. My advice would be to get this burger as an appetizer amongst a few people, and savor those few salty bites.
7. The "Perfect Burger"
The most creative restaurant in North Minneapolis is, at first, an almost unassuming gastropub, until you see the technical quality of the stuff coming out of their kitchen. And though the menu changes frequently, the “Perfect Burger” will likely never leave, because Chef Erick Harcey takes his burger game so very seriously.
After a glass of wine and a loaded pickle appetizer, the burger came out on a cutting board and the my bartender dutifully rattled off all of the bells and whistles: a patty made from 80% chuck and 20% bacon, housemade pickles on the bottom, more bacon on top, two slices of American cheese, Dijonaise, all on a potato bun from a local bakery. And those bells and whistles were delicious -- the salty partial pork patty had a fantastic char, and a nice blend of salt, the pickles and dijonaise does its job to offer contrast -- the only major issue was that potato bun. Although it was lightly griddled on both sides, it does not hold up to the crush of toppings and soon get a little soggy. But more importantly, the bottom bun is way too big, and that bottom bulk affects each bite, as more bread unintentionally enters the equation. With smaller buns and heavier griddle, the Perfect Burger would be even closer to perfection.
6. The Jucy Lucy
The OG of the Lucy scene, the place that started it all, the master of the craft. Matt’s looks almost exactly like the bar in my grandfather’s old basement -- all wood and formica, and white haired men talking about hockey. The flattop where they cook the burgers is tiny -- kids in dorm rooms could probably sneak something bigger in. The burgers take a long time to cook, and then when you get them, you’re told to wait, lest you burn your tongue off your face.
But when you do wait just the right amount, the burger, with its roughly griddled exterior, soft roll that gets steamed by the heat, lightly griddled diced onions, and one dill pickle somewhere in the middle offers up three of the most satisfying Jucy Lucy burger bites in Minneapolis. But then those three bites are over, and the party ends. Pro tip: get one Lucy, and a regular cheeseburger on the side.
5. Nighthawks Cheeseburger
The chef behind the burger at Nighthawk is Landon Schoenefeld, who, back in the day, worked alongside Isaac Becker (of 112 Eatery) to help create the instantly famous 112 cheeseburger, so you know the Burger Force is strong in him. And so it is at his upscale diner, which I hit up on their trivia night (spoiler: they asked no questions about Kent Hrbek, so alas I did not answer any trivia correctly).
As I was splitting the burger with our former Minneapolis editor, we got the double burger, and when it came out it looked intimidatingly messy, but I just embraced it, because that’s what my life coach told me to do. The patties were loosely formed, juicy and salty, almost ready to crumble and fall apart. The griddled onions on the bottom of the bun were clearly and thankfully marinated. A minor issue was that the bun seemed to take up too much space, both in comparison to the size of the burger and in my mouth during bites, but other than that it was one of those burger experiences where all elements conjoin in glory. Oh and please, trivia people: ASK SOME DANNY GLADDEN QUESTIONS, OK?!?!
4. The 112 Cheeseburger
During my meal here, they played this one song that sounded like it was skipping and drove my dad nearly mad. “I think your CD is skipping,” he somewhat preciously told our waiter, who smiled and told him that it was just part of the song. “Well, it’s a terrible song then,” my dad told the waiter. And it was. But the food at 112 Eatery is absolutely magical. I had one of my best meals I’ve had in the last six months at 112, and that doesn’t even count the burger.
So let’s start counting the burger (which, for the last 11 years, has been near the top of every burger list I’ve ever seen in this city), because it is a thing of beauty. Packed with flavor (I read in the Star Tribune that the mix involves “butter, raw egg, sauteed onions, thyme and salt.”), the meat would take on a meatloaf quality if it were overcooked, but it was juicy, and the chopped brie on top was not as cloying or overwhelming as I thought it’d be. Also, the bun is actually a griddled English muffin, which is one of my favorite non-buns to use for cooking burgers as they tend to stay much more crisp than most toasted breads. Go here, get the burger, but be warned: if they play the skipping song -- try not to make eye contact with my dad.
3. Paddy Shack Burger
You can usually tell that the burger at a bar is going to be good when you walk into the bathrooms and the urinals are filled with ice. Don’t ask me to explain the correlation, I’M NOT A SCIENTIST. But Half Time Rec and its ice-filled urinals have a secret weapon: Paddy Shack at the Rec, a sort-of-pop-up restaurant within the St. Paul sports bar serving up traditional Irish foodstuffs and pub eats.
One of those pub eats happens to be the 2015 winner of the Twin Cities Burger Battle, the Paddy Shack Burger, which comes with shredded lettuce (always a plus), onion, paddy sauce, and pickled green tomato. When I first saw the pickled green tomato, I was dubious -- first of all, I don’t really like tomatoes on my burgers, and second, the tomato seemed to be taking up a lot of real estate. But it turns out that thing is a secret weapon -- all of the acid and tang from a normal pickle and the soft cooling effects of the tomato in one vehicle. Combine that with a great char and flavor on the patty and the tang of the sauce (one issue: the bun needs a more intensive griddle so liquids don’t render it soggy) and you’ve got a burger worth traveling for.
2. The Parlour Burger
Parlour (my auto-correct keeps trying to change the spelling to Parkour, and I almost want to keep it) was my last burger stop on the tour, a place I snuck into late night after 112 Eatery. My brain was starting to slow down from all of the meat I’d consumed that day, and all of the critical looks my father had given me. In some small subconscious way, I was almost upset that the kitchen was still open because I just wanted everyone to stop so I could go back to my hotel and put on that episode of Stranger Things where the chubby kid hoards the puddings -- until I got the burger.
The Parlour Burger is like many of the new class of upscale bar burgers -- it’s a simple double burger, nothing more than meat and cheese on a bun with a side of pickles -- but the makeup of the patty (the combination of ground sirloin, brisket, and ribeye) with a perfectly buttered and griddled soft bun and American cheese make it into a funky, salty love letter to the burger form. And having an Improved Sherry Cocktail on the side doesn’t hurt.
1. The Cheeseburger
The day we went to Saint Dinette, the minor league Saints had a home game, so we were treated to the bonus eye-candy of watching many chubby men in Saints jerseys parading down the street, hoping to see Alonzo Harris go yard.
But meanwhile Saint Dinette had its own eye-candy in the form of their cheeseburger. You can see from the image above that the bun is buttery, but that butter has formed the perfect barrier on the griddle locking out the moisture for as long as I ate the burger. Each patty looked like it was stolen from a “perfect char” Google Image search and had excellent browning. The use of a sharp cheddar that somehow still managed to get as liquified as traditional American gave it a leg up in the tang department, and the house-made pickles teamed up to form an acid knife to help cut through and combat all the fat and salt. I’ve seen a lot of burgers that look like Saint Dinette’s -- the upscale double-double -- but few to none are able to pull it off so perfectly.
Go Alonzo Harris.
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