The 100 Best Burgers in America, Ranked by Our National Burger Critic
Most events in life feel ephemeral, the ever-ticking hands of time speeding them through your brain until they become distant memories. Burger Quest was not that. No matter how topically fun it seems, going to 30 cities and eating 330 burgers over the course of one year is a task, one that ropes in many of America's greatest failings, like air and road travel, and overusing the word "logistics." There were rental cars, and hotel rooms, and one Airbnb that looked like a mausoleum for an above-average Americana collector. And yet, this was also the greatest trip of my entire life.
Burgers are the most democratic of foods. The best burger in any one city might be in the dankest of dive bars, or in the fanciest of restaurants. Finding the ones that matter takes you all through a city (and outside it) and helps you understand a city's geography, its class structure, its views on race. I drank warm rum out of plastic cups in a carpeted bar in Cleveland during their first championship parade in 52 years. I sat in a diner on a violently windy day in El Reno, Oklahoma, and watched a 9-year-old shovel ice into my root beer while his dad kept one eye on my burger and the other on a particularly competitive Family Feud. I ate burgers with liquored-up chefs, sober food writers, and moderately buzzed photographers. I ate burgers with some of my best friends in the world. I ate burgers with my mom.
This started as a fairly straightforward mission. I was sick of having to rely on other people's opinions as to the greatest burger in America and I wanted to figure it out myself. And so I pitched an idea I never thought my editor (or his bosses) would approve -- but when they did, and I set off, this somewhat simple exploration of our nation's best burgers morphed into something much more complex. It became partly about that, but it also became a celebration and documentation of the culinary glory that abounds in America. It turned into stories of people and places as much as food. The quest became a living journal of the way we live, think, and eat now. But, yeah: I also ate a lot of f*cking burgers.
To that point, here lies a ranked list of the 100 best burgers I ate over the past year. This is not a list of every great burger I've ever had in my life. If I didn't eat the burger in this past year, it did not make the list -- so there will be some holes in places I didn't get a chance to hit, in states like Mississippi and Florida and the parts of Montana you only read about in Jim Harrison novellas that get turned into emotionally traumatic Brad Pitt films. But it also means the burgers on this list are all great. It means that 230 of the burgers I tried this year, most of which were recommended to me by local chefs and food writers, did not make the top 100. Go to any of the places below and you'll eat a damn good burger. Go to any of the top 10 and you'll eat a genuinely transcendent one.
In an effort not to overheat your phone or Power Mac G4 Quicksilver, most of these write-ups are short, with links to the longer versions in each city. I plan to update this yearly, and try to visit as many other cities as possible, until I can finally look at a map of the United States and feel confident that I can give you a burger recommendation within 100 miles of anywhere you point. Or die trying. But for now, you'll have to settle for the top 100. Gentlemen/women, start your bucket lists.
100. Jucy Lucy
If the word “jucy” has the "i" in it, you're in the wrong spot. The original and most iconic of the many joints serving up that strange Minnesota burger filled with mouth-scalding cheese, Matt's Bar has the most delicious one by far. And you get to eat it inside a place that feels like the bar your grandfather always meant to build in his basement.
99. LB Burger with American
With a pretzel bun that's surprisingly airy and light, special spicy sauce that gives the aioli an extra bite, and loose house-ground beef balanced by B&B pickles and the tang of grilled red onions, the burger at this Sacramento sausage hall is definitely worth a trip to the city with the largest tree canopy in the United States.
98. Pope Burger
Fried tomato and basil mayo may not sound like they work in tandem, but they do on this salty yet nuanced burger in one of the greatest day-drinking bars in South Philly/anywhere.
97. Block Burger
Why, yes, a cool lunch spot in Nebraska offering fries with dragon sauce and crushed fortune cookies sprinkled on top also manages to serve up one of the most balanced and well-composed burgers in the Midwest, assuming Nebraska is considered the Midwest. Where are my fact-checkers?
96. Burger Américain
Don't freak out if you see Nebraska Senator Deb Fischer or someone equally Washington famous eating moules frites next to you at this hip Cap City joint. Just get this version of a fancy Big Mac and a beer, and casually pretend to take selfies and snap 100 photos of Fischer to show your grandkids. She beat Bob Kerrey!!!
95. Cheese Burger
In case you need to be enticed to hit another South Philly bar, the burger is only $5 and the meat has a nearly perfect char.
94. Tattooed Moose Burger with American
A fresh local bun, perfectly melted cheese and meat, two special sauces, sweet & spicy pickled green tomatoes, and a perfect dive bar atmosphere make the Tattooed Moose's burger a force to be reckoned with.
93. Bocado Burger Stack (Westside Style)
When the original ATL story came out, I received some criticism for getting this burger "Westside-Style." Don't listen to those haters! Get one of Atlanta's best signature stacks the left coast way and you shall be rewarded.
92. Classic Cheeseburger
I was born in Houston in the ‘80s. During this glorious time, my dad used to eat at Stanton's City Bites a lot. He also had some pretty fantastic '70s hair. Be like my dad in all ways and go here.
91. The Atomic Burger
This burger is the bomb, is what I would say if I wasn't totally original. But, in this case, it actually kind of holds up. Thin, salty, cheese patties, razor-thin onions and pickles, and a squishy, buttery bun make this burger an... wait for it... explosion of flavor. Sigh.
90. The Single with grilled onions and house pickles
If it's lazy to quote yourself, then fine I'M LAZY, I'M SORRY, but I repeat: "if the Pacific Northwest had its own In-N-Out-style place, with neat touches like a Jones Soda machine and a giant high ceiling with a big swath of wood, and proximity to Little Darlings (an 'intimate gentleman's club'), this is it. And the burger, like In-N-Out, is griddled and thin, with a great bun perfectly toasted, and the most tangy American cheese I've ever had."
If you've ever wondered if you could fit an entire block of butter into one burger patty, Solly's answers that question triumphantly (and if you want to know more about the butter burger phenomenon in Wisconsin, read this).
88. Double Cheeseburger
Logan Square's old-school diner, recently refreshed by Sarah Jordan, has a new-old take on the typical diner-style burger with enough butter to satisfy even the most dairy-centric of Wisconsin expats.
87. The Mack
What if, instead of describing this burger (go here to read about it), I just wrote down some of my favorite lines from the hit 1996 Mark Morrison song 'Return of the Mack'? Sound good? Cool, here's the hook:
Return of the Mack (it is)
Return of the Mack (come on)
Return of the Mack (oh my God)
You know that I'll be back (here I am)
Return of the Mack (once again)
Return of the Mack (top of the world)
Return of the Mack (watch my flow)
You know that I'll be back (don't you know)
86. The Paddy Shack Burger
If there is a better name for an Irish-influenced restaurant within a sports bar in the country, I don't want to know about it. And the best part is their burger, with its secret pickled green tomato weapon, is damn delicious. Also, you can play some sort of weird lottery game. Win-win-win.
The quintessential diner burger in the quintessential Midwest diner.
84. Cheeseburger with American
I ate this OG Boston-area burger with my mom, and she got very excited about the fact that it tastes like a grilled cheese is sitting on top of your burger.
83. The Soul Burger
Instead of giving you a one-sentence explanation as to why this burger from my favorite bar in the world is on the list, just read this.
82. The Vault Burger
If you're a fan of Cheddar, spicy mayo, peppery arugula, and Hickory Nut Gap ground beef seared perfectly, you should head to Carolina's mountainous land of men with beards discussing craft beer and eat this burger.
81. Double Cheeseburger with Mustard and Mayo
At first I was put-off by the fact that LeBron loves this place. After all, what does he know about burgers? Well, apparently a whole damn lot.
80. The Bang Bang Burger, single
I didn't want to like this one, because it seemed like the burger version of a carpetbagger, what with a NYC-favorite LaFrieda custom blend. But (spoiler alert), I really ended up liking this one.
79. Hook Burger
Who knew that a place known for making delicious lobster rolls also makes a damn delicious burger? According to the line when I went, everyone.
78. The Spruce Burger
One of the best fancy burgers in the city of cramped calves and giant hills can only be ordered at the bar of this fancy neighborhood haunt. Just be sure to ignore your server's recommendations and get it with Gruyère.
If you can't enjoy a classic cheeseburger in a classic New York restaurant teeming with watermelon pictures and statues, what can you enjoy? ANSWER THE QUESTION IN THE COMMENTS.
Don't expect a menu. Or windows. But do expect one of the best burgers in Michigan, seared perfectly and topped with a thick wad of Velveeta. Also, I dare you to ask, as I did, if they ever considered toasting their buns.
75. The Ghetto Burger
SO MANY RULES. But once you obey Ann's eight rules, you get rewarded with a double cheeseburger topped with chili, bacon, grilled onions, and the satisfaction of knowing you've just eaten one of America's legendary burgers.
74. The Everything
On its face, a steamed cheeseburger kind of seems like a bad idea. You can't get a sear, you cook all the meat the same temperature, it sounds weird when you say it, etc. But sitting on a barstool at the counter of this tiny joint in a little pocket of central Connecticut and biting into the glory of Ted's cheeseburger made me a true believer.
73. The No. 5 Special
Much like Earnestine & Hazel's, I have an undeniable soft spot for the old-school Dallas drive-in. And to prove that, here is my ode to the poppy seed-speckled masterpiece that is Keller's.
72. Bacon Cheeseburger
In the land of, as I describe it in my review, "many blonde women with Dallas hair cooing impressively as men wearing expensive jeans with Dallas belt buckles told the stories of their football heydays at Highland Park," the burger is often an afterthought on this fancy menu, but it shouldn't be. The meat from Southeast Family Farms in Alabama is funky and perfectly seared, and the caramelized onions taste like they directly from some French onion soup appetizer. It is intense and delightful all at once, much like my experience of going back to Dallas.
71. The LPG Cheeseburger
I think I'm just going to list the ingredients held within this burger: meat, Gruyère, aioli, onion marmalade, house pickles, grain mustard, peppery arugula. This is a burger that became a popularity monster, receiving accolades both local and national, and driving those who worked in its kitchen slightly insane, because, inevitably, everyone ordered the damn burger. But hell, by the time you get there, at least they'll have come to expect it.
70. Jumbo Cheeseburger
The burger is thin but has a wide diameter. Because this is Wisconsin, they stack it with cheese. The bun stays out of the way. It is simple and beautiful. Plus, you can follow it up with a clown sundae, for less than $3.
69. Hamburger with Gruyère
To obnoxiously quote myself again, "Imagine the best backyard cookout you'd ever had, with a wood-fired grill and handsome guests and cocktails and all of that. Imagine you are manning the grill, and you pull off a burger at just the right time, so it's salty and juicy but pink in the middle. Imagine you top that with just a quick smear of mayo and some Gruyère, pack it in a perfectly toasted sesame seed bun, and go about your business. That is what Rose's burger tastes like. The best backyard burger you could never make. Be warned."
68. Double Cheese with Everything, Onions Grilled
If you'd like to be served one of the best California-style burgers you've ever had by a grumpy grandfather who cares not about your picky customization requests and at least one of his ex-wives, I invite you to head to this gem in Van Nuys.
67. Classic Burger with Cheddar
The last thing I needed by the time I got to Uneeda Burger was an actual burger. I'd had 13 others in the previous 24 hours. But by the time I finished eating Uneeda Burger, I seriously considered ordering more.
66. South Burger
The best burger in Sac-town happens to be in a barbecue joint with barely any sign on a random residential street. And it also happens to boast a mustard sauce slaw that I want to bottle and put on everything else I eat ever.
65. Wood Grilled Hamburger
Go at 5pm. Sit at the bar. Make conversations about your favorite member of the Wu-Tang Clan (Raekwon!), eat bar snacks and drink handsome cocktails until 6pm when the kitchen opens. Get the wood grilled hamburger. Put on the pickled onion and maybe a touch of aioli. Eat it in a grotesque manner. Rinse, repeat, every damn week.
The Remedy Cheeseburger is the best parts of the Big Mac, upgraded, without a second patty or a catchy song. And that should be enough for you.
63. Slagel Farms Beef Burger
This is a very good Chicago burger, and I would like to talk more about the details of why that is so, but I'm sort of stuck on the fact that the name of this establishment sounds like a British kid's show in which a six-year-old befriends a fire truck.
62. Fedora Burger
If someone is sort of on the fence about putting crispy potato strings on a burger, you should go over to that fence and jump kick it over and tell them about the glory that is the Fedora Burger.
61. The Royale with Cheese
Because this is a French spot, I feel compelled to offer up my take in bad Google translated French: "Ce cheeseburger m'a rendu si heureux. J'aime aussi la musique rock & roll et EDM."
60. Classic Cheeseburger
If you meet an Australian in NYC, it is your duty to ask them if they've been to Ruby's and had the cheeseburger. And when they say "No, but I've had the Bronte Burger," you should shake their hands heartily and remind them that, while delicious, the classic is four times better. And then say something complimentary about the Sydney Swans.
59. The Seamus with American and Grilled Onions
If you get to this burger joint in Nashville after 11:30am, you will wait in line by a wall of haunting Mr. Potato Heads. But fear not, because the burger there is cooked to perfection, even if the bun isn't toasted. Still well worth it.
58. Cheese Burger with American and Grilled Onions
This revamped old school joint puts out a consistently excellent basic cheeseburger that my friend John Gonzalez recently claimed he loved even “more than his cat,” which is an insane statement if you know anything about his uncomfortable affection for that 28 year old alley dweller. Anyway, eat this burger (and don’t touch John’s cat).
57. Double Cheeseburger with Extra Fried Onion
Have you ever had an El Reno-style Oklahoma onion burger? Well, if you happen to be in the Midwest, this is the closest thing to a pure Oklahoma-style onion burger you’re going to get, especially if you do the smart thing and get those extra fried onions.
56. Do It Murph Style
Jalapeño-bacon relish, dill pickles, and a perfectly charred patty can get me to do nearly anything, especially if you're also serving tiny Mickey's grenades.
55. The Meatstick
There is bacon in this patty, and it will offer up a saltiness that could seem overwhelming, if not for the great balance provided by the bread & butter pickles, secret sauce, and the tang of thinly sliced white onions. Also, it’s called the Meatstick.
54. Best Damn Grass Fed Cheeseburger
4505 has the best freshly baked bun in SF. The meat is loosely ground, perfectly cooked, fresh, and pure, but that’s not a surprise considering the owner is one of America’s great butchers. I also once took a British radio show host here and did an interview wearing a giant headset while eating the burger, and he had us do a retake making audible chewing sounds to show how much we enjoyed it. I recommend doing all of these things.
53. Single Onion Burger with Cheese
I’ve been talking a lot about Oklahoma-style onion burgers, but here lies an actual onion burger from Oklahoma. If you happen to be in OKC to watch a Thunder game or just check out the tornado scene, this is the best onion burger in the city, and arguably the best in the state outside of El Reno.
52. Sirloin Beef Burger with American and grilled onion
The best burger in Philadelphia has no stunt elements. It’s not named after a Rocky character, or Randall Cunningham, or (sadly) A Prayer for the City’s true star, Mayor Ed Rendell’s chief of staff David L. Cohen. It just has a perfectly loose grind somehow held together by the American cheese, which melts perfectly into the meat alongside the well-cooked grilled onions. The spicy aioli gives it just the right amount of heat, and the bun knows what’s up and stays the hell out of the way. Much like David L. Cohen, actually! Change the name.
51. The Trick Dog
The burger I eat more frequently than any other burger in SF is also the only one on the list shaped like a hot dog. It also pairs well with literally any of their fantastic cocktails. Or at least that’s what I tell myself every time I order another burger.
50. Single Burger with American
This feels ripe for a quote: "There are no fancy elements to the Wilma Jean burger. The patty is medium-thick with great char on either side. It's salty and buttery and has a clean beefy element. The American cheese melds with the beef, and there are the side accoutrements, of which you should merely add the pickles and a few onions to give it some acid and tang. It really needs nothing else."
49. The Burger
Proof that amazing burgers can come from anywhere, including former pop-ups turned bar/restaurants serving international food like curried goat and congri.
I don't know how the sweets at the shop are. And I don't know what the proprietor Mr. Coffee does to relax. But I do know that A&R makes one of the best damn burgers in any of the Carolinas.
47. The Parlour Burger
My first favorite thing about the Parlour burger is the perfect simplicity of complex, funky thin patties melding with American cheese on a perfectly griddled bun. My second favorite thing about the Parlour burger is how my auto-correct insists on changing it to Parkour, and I really want to keep it.
46. Cheeseburger with Tillamook Cheddar
Quoting myself yet again: "Everything about this burger is a winner -- from the French-esque bread griddled and soft but absolutely impenetrable to the evil sog, to the combination of Beaver sweet hot mustard and mayo giving it a tangy, creamy labor, to the juicy, flavorful meat, which must have garlic and some other spices in there, because it's too damn flavorful to just hold up on its own."
45. Oak-Fired Prime Steak Burger
If you like watching rich people talk on cell phones while ordering spa waters AND fantastic upscale versions of Big Macs that will make you weep with joy, this is your huckleberry.
44. Classic Cheeseburger
If you can't enjoy a shockingly underrated classic burger inside a divey Pittsburgh joint with some of the best house-made chips I've ever had, you are going to have a very hard and sad life.
43. Double Burger a la Americaine
You must get this burger with American cheese, and not the brie they recommend. It is essential! And then you must eat this entire hyper balanced and delicious burger and then ask Gabriel Rucker about his tattoos.
42. Dario's Cheeseburger
Most places in Nebraska overcooked their burgers, but Dario's is not most places in Nebraska. My burger there had a salty, peppery outer crust and a juicy pink interior. It was perfectly balanced and even paired well with the sour I was drinking. It's the best damn burger in a town lousy with burger joints.
41. The Happiest Burger
The Happiest Burgers' "double patties Voltron themselves together via the American cheese and meld in with the confit onions, pickles, and sauce to basically create a stronger, more handsome burger. The composition is completely on point. I now fully understand why everyone sprints to this bar at 5pm on the dot."
40. The Cheeseburger
As I said in my review, "each patty looked like it was stolen from a 'perfect char' Google Image search." Oh, and they somehow managed to make sharp Cheddar melt like American. The people at Saint Dinette are wizards. That's really the only plausible explanation.
39. Le Big Matt
One of the most Instagram-famous and hyped burgers in the entire US is pretty damn worth the hype. To quote my brother, who ate the burger with me and lives in Brooklyn: "damn, this aioli is spicy as hell, but I really, really love it and now might be addicted to it. Also, check out all these dating apps on my phone."
38. 5oz Grass-Fed Beef Patty
One of the great and most infuriatingly simple Boston burgers located in one of the great and often infuriatingly crowded Boston bars.
37. The Mini Market Burger w/ American and grilled onions
The only burger place I ate at that also featured a car decorated to look exactly like a burger, and an arcade featuring the game Zoofari. And yet, somehow, the best part of this place is still the actual burger.
36. Cheeseburger with grilled onions
I'm still sort of obsessed with the bun at Hubcap, which was chewy, delicious and almost tasted like Portuguese bread. And I am very much obsessed with the patty, which had just a hint of some sort of soy umami flavor that made the entire experience somewhat revelatory.
35. Onion burger with cheese
Rather than take up valuable space on this monster, why don't you read more about Robert's in my story on the El Reno burger scene? IT WOULD MEAN A LOT TO ME.
34. Single Burger with American
They don't make you do a Boilermaker when you walk into this bar, but they should make you eat the damn burger, which features secret and special spices that elevate it above most other bar burgers anywhere.
33. Double Cheeseburger with the works
From my review, which named Kopp's the best burger in Milwaukee: "Kopp's tastes like you owned a fast-food franchise and made a deal with the devil to ensure that all your burgers cherry-picked the best elements of most other fast, recognizable burgers. But it goes beyond that: Kopp's just might be the best fast burger joint in the country. And hell, I didn't even try the custard."
32. Zack's Special
People in Charlotte know this place is the truth: I waited in a line that wrapped around the restaurant at just after 11am on a weekday. And yet, maybe 10 minutes after ordering, I got one of the best "Big Mac"-esque diner burgers I've had all year.
31. Plancha Burger
Not only does Launderette make the best burger in Austin, but they also have birthday cake ice cream sandwiches, which just might be the best dessert in the entire damn country. So win-win here.
30. Double Burger with American
"It is a diner burger plain and simple, and yet it is perfectly executed. The basic bun is fresh, well buttered, grilled, and warm. The onions were perfectly griddled. The Meyer Natural Angus beef was cooked well and salty with a relaxed grind that didn't snap like many pre-formed diner burgers. The bottom bun has a layer of mayo, then lettuce, and tomato before the patty, which builds a layer of protection from the burger's juices. It is, in my opinion, the best burger in Asheville. And that's before I even talk about the Tastee Fries with queso, chili, and jalapeños."
29. Green Chile Cheeseburger
The cream rising to the top of the New Mexico green chile burger scene, Bite consistently puts out a burger that might make this list even if the green chiles weren't there to help push it with subtle heat and acid.
28. The All-American
It takes a lot for me to avoid ordering El Reno-style onion burgers when they're on a menu. But the "All-American" at WesBurger is a lot. Does that even make sense? It's so hard to even tell what's going on anymore writing this never-ending list.
27. The Burger
All those annoying, exalted things everyone said about this burger back in the days when Lost was actually on television are undeniably true. It really is that good.
26. The Kimchi Burger
One of those burgers that seems like a very strange, bad idea (topped with spicy mayo and kimchi) until you actually eat it and realize it's the best idea ever (it turns out putting spicy mayo and kimchi on hot charred meat is fantastic).
25. Haus Burger
"When I bit into the burger, I think I actually started crying a little bit. Both of the patties were perfectly cooked, with a Maillard reaction so intense you could see the elements of crispy beef flaking off the ends. The cheese, house-made pickles, and special sauce all teamed up to attack my taste buds Captain Planet-style, melding together in beefy, salty, (porky, maybe?), creamy glory with just enough acid to keep balance."
24. The John T. Burger
In the subcategory of "burgers named after food writers," the John T. may get the silver medal, but it was by far the best burger in Memphis.
23. Tavern Burger
This is still the only place in America where I've ever had sunchoke relish on a burger. But my god, did that nutty sweetness and acid balance out perfectly cooked meat. This is definitely the must-stop spot for a burger in Charleston, South Carolina. And if you’re not eating 10 other burgers that night, you can likely eat at least two.
22. Black Sands Burger
This is a burger I sampled on a whim late one night after eating lot of other more famous SF burgers. And it was so good that I had no choice but to go back two more times just to make sure I wasn't hallucinating the flavors. And thank God for both my health and tastebuds, I was not. Black Sands likely makes the most underrated burger in all of San Francisco.
21. Cheeseburger with American and grilled onions
Even if you don't like eating burgers amongst motorcycle enthusiasts, Jimmy Buffett enthusiasts, and families who've just spent time at the beach with way too little sunscreen, this burger joint 40 minutes southeast of Houston is worth a drive.
20. Hamburger with American
One of the best classic California-style griddled burgers in the country is cooked up at this counter spot that's been in Pasadena since 1963. I never got a chance to try the pie, though. SOMEONE GO TRY THE PIE FOR ME, PLEASE.
19. A Burger with Cheese and Everything
From my OKC review: "Nic sits behind the grill, a giant, genial, patient but determined man, and cooks everything up in waves. Another younger man is the waiter and barback and everything else. No one ever really asks what you want to eat. They know you're getting a burger. But after a short wait, Nic turned to me: 'Mustard and mayonnaise, brother?' he asked. And then, 'Cheese and everything?'
"I did it all: mustard and mayonnaise (brother), and cheese and everything. And the burger that came to me was a giant, an impossibly large and overwhelmingly delicious mess, featuring a guest spot by some delicious fries. I'd watched the onions scooped on top of the burger in regular Oklahoma style, and then I watched Nic put the cheese on, and then top with the bun and let it steam. I have thought of a variety of ways to describe it, but the best I could do is relate the fact that -- when I turned to my left and my right -- the other 11 people sat in perfect eery silence, essentially in prayer to one of the most perfect burgers in the country."
18. Secret Burger
People around the country lineup to taste this burger, and they've been lauding it for years. I hadn't had it in six years when I returned to my hometown of Boston for Burger Quest, and I was waiting to be disappointed. I'm still waiting. It's truly that damn infuriatingly good.
17. The Single
The best burger in New Orleans, and one of the true quality pioneers of the upscale fast-casual counter-service trend that has taken over the American restaurant industry. There are no tricks here: just house-made bread & butter pickles, American, grilled red onions, and a perfectly cooked patty with a loose grind. Oh, and they have a sauce bar. My house needs a sauce bar.
16. Husk Cheeseburger
I've stated this often, but I'll say it again: I hate picking the most hyped burger in any city as the best. It's just my natural contrarian tendencies to want to go against popular opinion. But at the Husk in Nashville, there is no choosing. Sean Brock's second iteration of his Husk burger (without bacon in the patty, like the Charleston one) is his finest burger creation. And seeing how he's one of the best chefs in America, that is definitely saying something.
15. Single Cheeseburger
This legendary diner in KC puts out the closest burger clone to my beloved hometown White Hut burger. And I mean that in all of the complimentary ways, from the griddled onions to the perfectly seared meat, to the wise-cracking staff. Oh, and if you thought things couldn't get any better: Some teenagers were filming a rap video on the roof behind the restaurant while I was eating.
14. The Little Guy
This place deserves a direct quote from my Cleve review: "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."
13. Burger Stack
Atlanta is the king of the burger "stack," which is basically an upscale version of a thin patty double burger popularized in the mid aughts by Holeman & Finch. And everyone in Atlanta throws their hat in the burger stack ring. So what makes the perfection that is Fred's stack all the more infuriating is that burgers aren't even the sole focus of the menu. They've got lots of delicious foodstuffs and all of them are so damn good. They're like the Deion Sanders of the burger world, and I DON'T EVEN CARE IF THAT DOESN'T TOTALLY ADD UP.
12. Sebastian's Steakhouse Burger
Not having Brindle Room in the top 10 in America is going to cause some problems at work, because, as I point out in the review, "Brindle Room is far and away the favorite burger place of the Thrillist Editorial staff. Four different people mentioned it to me as the clear-cut winner, in their opinions. And I must admit, it's nearly perfect. The caramelized onions are perfectly cooked -- just a touch of crunch and deep, nearly soup-rich flavor. The bun is well-toasted and never gets soggy. The well-griddled patty is studded with peppery elements. The American cheese somehow tastes better than the American cheese on all other burgers."
11. Single Cheeseburger
Before I undertook this journey to 30 cities, if you would've asked me to guess what burger I would think would end up being the best in the country, Au Cheval would’ve definitely been in the top three contenders. As I said in the review, "The experience of eating an Au Cheval burger for the first time is hard to put into words, but it's essentially a burger baptism -- biting into that perfectly charred meat, simply adorned with chopped red onion, mayo, cracked pepper, pickle, and cheese changes you, possibly even in God's eyes. It is one of the purest burger ideals in the country." And yet it sits slightly outside the top 10, because America has SO MANY INCREDIBLE BURGERS that it didn't even end up number one in Chicago. I know, friends. I'm stunned too.
10. Drive-In Cheeseburger with grilled onions
This is a no-frills, Cali-style burger at its very best. As I said, "Soft, pliable, lightly griddled bun. Special sauce. Pickles. Well-grilled onion. Lightly salted meat that has a great char and just enough pink to be juicy. Perfectly melted American cheese blending it all together. I kept looking for problems with it but none came up. Each element was done incredibly well, and the burger is a damn steal at under $10." Just try and ignore the fact that you have to go all the way down to the SOMA neighborhood to get it.
9. Classic Burger with Sharp American
It was a rainy Wednesday in Detroit, and I was not trying to go all the way up to Royal Oak. I thought of several excuses as to why I could skip Redcoat and still have sampled most of Detroit's finest burgers, but my friends from the area urged me otherwise. "Trust us," they said, "it's worth it. You'll see."
I didn't want to see. And when I got there, I figured it wouldn't work out. I'm a diner-burger lover, and here was this big pub burger. But when I took a bite out of the burger, I was changed. As I said in the review, "The meat in the Redcoat Tavern burger is seasoned and cooked perfectly. There was a garlic undertone, great salt & pepper flavors, and a perfect, crispy char on the outside, holding together a juicy, loosely ground, perfectly cooked burger. The 'special sauce,' which is just really good mayo with minced onion in it, combined with the shredded lettuce to offer the perfect complement for the fatty meat and melted sharp Cheddar." I ate the whole thing that day, despite having to eat five more burgers. And I'd do the same damn thing today.
8. Burger with cheese "all the way"
I think my review here sums it up: "Have you been to Brooks' Sandwich House, friends? Have you pulled up to a dusty red shack behind an overpass across from trendy developments on a patch of dirt and shrouded by trees, and looked at this little house with black bars on the windows and wondered just what sort of culinary witchcraft was happening inside? Did you see 20 people of every stripe -- hipsters and office workers and auto mechanics still in their jumpsuits -- all standing outside, patiently waiting for a specific number? Did you go inside and order the burger with cheese 'all the way' and realize belatedly that this meant something different than you'd originally thought?
"When you finally heard your number called, did you let out a cry of glee and retreat to the standing tables outside? Did you make weird audible groans of ecstasy as you bit into a burger with some of the best char you've ever seen mixed with the rich meaty flavor of a thick, subtly smoky chili, the crisp tang of diced white onions, and the acid from yellow mustard? Did you raise your hands in victory after you finished the burger and proclaim to yourself in your rental car that this was definitely the best burger in Carolina, and maybe one of the best in country?
"Well then, it seems we shared similar experiences at Brooks'."
7. The Mott Burger
Imagine if your friend spent an entire year telling you that you were missing out on the greatest burger in Chicago. And then imagine going to Chicago and, in an attempt to humor him, hitting up this restaurant, which doesn't seem like a burger joint at all. And then imagine biting into that burger and having all of the alarms in your head go off simultaneously, as you realize that -- not only is this the best burger in Chicago -- but it just might be one of the best burgers in the country. And then imagine trying to downplay that entire mental and physical experience so your friend doesn't feel too self-satisfied. Well, now you know the true emotional toll Mott Street inflicted upon me. Bravo, Josh.
6. The Ozersky Burger
Named for the late, great food writer and burger aficionado Josh Ozersky (who tended to prefer his burgers spartanly simple), this is the best burger in Dallas, a city that might boast the best overall burger atmosphere in the country. And yet there are no bells and whistles on the Ozersky. It's just pure 44 Farms beef, thick, salty, with a pure, clean meaty aftertaste. The thinly sliced red onions and bread & butter pickles give just the proper amount of balance to honor the man behind the name, and the man behind the grill. Plus, you can stay in the hotel Knife is housed in and order it over and over again for room service.
5. Proper Burger
I had zero expectations for the burgers in DC. I didn't even really think it was worth a full trip until I talked to DC food writer Laura Hayes. But then I went to Cap City (please make this nickname happen! I NEED THIS!), and I ate all the burgers and I was blown away. This city of both real and political gridlock is right up there with Dallas and Manhattan at the top of the burger city world. The top four burgers in DC could likely compete with the top four in any other city. And the best of the best was from this small British restaurant where I sat with my college roommate outside drinking beer and stuffing loosely ground Creekstone Farms Angus burgers, with house dill pickles, pickled onion, sweet chili sauce, Gouda, and garlic mayo into our mouths on an unnaturally warm February day.
4. The Tavern Burger
I'm just going to let my original review explain this one:
"It's dark in Loretta's. Even on a Monday afternoon around 1pm in the South Park neighborhood in Seattle (a hood just south of the Duwamish Waterway, which no one I talked to seemed to be very familiar with), the front bar is packed with all sorts of locals watching non-important Olympic games and nursing Rainiers.
"I ordered the Tavern burger and a beer at the bar, and then headed back to the covered greenhouse bar in the back, which sits in front of a patio area featuring a trailer and a bunch of tables. The crowd inside reminded me of visiting Seattle in the '90s before the tech tentacles latched on -- or maybe it was just the idea of that time, during the grunge era when everyone seemed moody but heartfelt and a little sensitive, their skin pale from the rains and affinity for flannels. But this is not an ode to a place I visited once in the '90s. This is about the best burger in Seattle.
"It is so simple it seems stupid: just basically cheese, raw white onions, a pale special sauce, and pickles. The bun is literally perfect -- one of the more tightly buttered soft white buns I've had across the country. No tricks, just perfect execution, especially around the ends, where you get a crisping that's so buttery and delicious. The burger is not big -- you should get a double if you don't plan on following it up with several other burgers -- but the char is exquisite, and the white onions and tang from the sauce create enough acid to balance the cheese and meat and buttered bread. As Nirvana once wrote... just kidding, guys, I wouldn't do that to you, but I will tell you to cross the fucking Duwamish and get this burger as soon as earthly possible."
3. Cheeseburg, fried onions
This is the place, friends. This is the burger place of my youth, the place against which I judge all other burgers. I've been eating White Hut cheeseburgs (the "er" is never spoken or seen on the menu in the Hut) since before I had teeth. I've written long essays about what the Hut means to me and my family. I've recommended the Hut to everyone I've ever met both in person and online. I wear a White Hut T-shirt when I stare at the broken things in my house and try and fix them with magical thinking.
I saved my trip to the Hut for the very end, partially because I was nervous. I wanted to make an honest assessment of my gold-standard burger, a place inextricably linked to my family for generations. If we're being honest, that sort of objectivity is nearly impossible. The smells alone upon entering the Hut bring back memories from my childhood. But I gave it my best shot. And I have to say, I was so, so relieved by how damn good a White Hut cheeseburg still is. The peppery, buttery onions. The perfectly toasted white bun. The thin griddled patty melded with the hot American cheese. I swear I teared up as I bit into the burger. It's not the best burger in the country, but in my opinion, it's really, really damn close.
When I ordered another one (plus a hot dog with everything), the guy working behind the counter stared at me for a second. "You look familiar," he said, trying to place my face. "You've been in here before, right?"
"Yeah," I said. "I definitely have."
2. The Burger
I snuck over to Raoul's at 5:05pm on a Wednesday, and just barely got the last seat at the bar. I wasn't sure how to order, so I immediately told the bartender my intentions. "I'm here for the burger," I said, louder than I meant to. He was patient. "I know you are, but the kitchen doesn't open until 5:30, so why don't we start with a drink?"
And so I drank wine and made small talk with the coat-check girl, who had just moved to NY from Oregon to pursue acting. When the burgers eventually came out a hush fell over the bar. Raoul's only makes 12 burgers a night. It's not some sort of Holeman & Finch-style move to create scarcity, it's simply that the chef doesn't want to turn this classic NYC French restaurant into a burger-only zone. The 12 burgers at 6pm is almost like a warm-up, the chef and cooks clearing their throats before they really get down to business. But it also feels a bit religious, like a ceremonial burger sacrifice to the Food Gods. And once I tasted the burger, I knew why. Raoul's makes the best non-diner burger in America. The brisket-heavy patty is seared like a steak, giving it a thick crust dotted with peppercorns and salt. If it'd then just added the rich triple-cream Saint-André and called it a day, this burger might be up with the rest of the hyper-fancy custom LaFrieda patties. But Raoul's recognizes balance perhaps better than 99% of the country, and so it adds thinly sliced red onions, cornichons, and some peppery greens to give it acid, bite, and some extra peppery elements. The challah bun is squishy and chewy and does not fold in the face of intense moisture. And the cream-and-cognac au poivre sauce served on the side makes for one of the all-time best dipping sauces, if you truly want to go for it.
As I was awkwardly inhaling my food, I noticed the coat-check girl glancing at my burger. I asked her if she'd ever tried it. Her eyes got big. "No, I haven't had the chance yet," she said. Without thinking, I immediately broke off a piece of the burger and held it out to her. Her eyes shot quickly towards the bartender, but he'd just turned around to serve customers on the other side of the bar. She nervously glanced back at me, then the burger, then gracefully took it from me with two fingers, spun 180 degrees, stuffed it in her mouth, and busied herself with the coats. When she emerged a few seconds later, her smile was triumphant.
"That burger," she said, "is absolute heaven."
1. "Nick's" Cheeseburger with Grilled Onions
Editor's note: Stanich's is currently closed -- for more behind that story, read Kevin Alexander's 2018 follow-up on what happened to Stanich's.
The Portland burger trip was third out of 30 cities. I was relatively fresh and inexperienced. I didn't know how to plan my days, I didn't know how much of each burger to eat, I didn't know that you should never try and eat burgers on a Monday, (because restaurants are all closed), I didn't know anything. My longtime colleague Andy Kryza recommended I go straight from the airport to Stanich's, and told me he'd pick me up there, so I rolled in around 11am just as things were getting going. A few construction workers sat at a random table, barely paying attention to SportsCenter on the TV above. No one else was in there.
What I had at 11am amongst those construction workers and old-school pennants was otherworldly. The sesame bun was griddled perfectly, preventing the somewhat messy burger from leaking through and getting soggy. The ground chuck had a good crisp edge, and the grilled onions, which must sit marinating in something, melded with the American cheese for that perfect diner burger mix. Normally, we'd stop there, but Stanich's does not yield. On the top bun, they use a combination of mayo and mustard while on the bottom, it's mayo and red relish. The end result is a mixture of sweet and salty flavors I haven't experienced anywhere else. In fact, I didn't even see the hamburger dill pickles sitting on the side until after I ate the whole damn thing, but it didn't matter. This burger is a national treasure. This burger at an old mom-and-pop sports bar that's been sitting in a random Oregon neighborhood since 1949 is the best burger in America.