College football season means buckets of beer, at least one half-hearted attempt at the wave, and as many burgers in your face hole as possible. And because there are few things in life we love more than a good American cheeseburger, we took it upon ourselves to crown the best burger at every school in the SEC.
We didn't want to mess this thing up, either, so on top of consulting our usual network of insiders and surveying the online community, we reached out to a few beat reporters to serve as expert consultants. Bob Holt of The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Jesse Simonton of the Miami Herald, Michael Bonner of The Clarion-Ledger, James Crepea of AL.com, Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Josh Kendall of The State are all required to spend ungodly amounts of time in SEC towns for their jobs, so they know a thing or two about the local eats. Specifically, these ones:
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We say: Like any good diner, Rama Jama's offers a robust menu of milkshakes and breakfast foods. However, we're not here to talk about egg and biscuit combos -- we're here to discuss the National Champ burger, the star bacon cheeseburger that so many Alabama students have scarfed on the way to Bryant-Denny Stadium (it is right across the street, after all). This special patty comes with double the cheese and a mountain of fixings (pickles, lettuce, onion, tomato, mustard, mayo, etc.) and is basically the pride and joy of Gary Lewis's 19-year-old restaurant. Plenty of daredevils will steer you towards the National Champs BLT -- which has 14 strips of bacon for all 14 of the Crimson Tide's titles -- but the burger is a classic for a reason.
University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa, AL Rama Jama's (address and info) We say: Like any good diner, Rama Jama's offers a robust menu of milkshakes and breakfast foods. However, we're not here to talk about egg and biscuit combos -- we're here to discuss the National Champ burger, the star bacon cheeseburger that so many Alabama students have scarfed on the way to Bryant-Denny Stadium (it is right across the street, after all). This special patty comes with double the cheese and a mountain of fixings (pickles, lettuce, onion, tomato, mustard, mayo, etc.) and is basically the pride and joy of Gary Lewis's 19-year-old restaurant. Plenty of daredevils will steer you towards the National Champs BLT -- which has 14 strips of bacon for all 14 of the Crimson Tide's titles -- but the burger is a classic for a reason.
Fayetteville, AR Hugo's (address and info) Bob says: "The best burger in Fayetteville for my money is the smoky cheddar cheese burger at Hugo's. It's near the campus -- and my house, fortunately -- right off the Fayetteville Square, but it's the place I'd go even if it was a ways away.
It's just a fun place to go. When friends from out of town visit I often take them there. I've taken a lot of sportswriter buddies there from other cities before or after games. It's a good place to meet friends for lunch. If I make a friendly lunch bet with a friend -- my team beat your team -- and I win, I want him to buy me a smokey cheddar cheese burger.
My doctor has been on me to lose weight, so I've cut back on a lot of stuff and haven't had a burger in a while, but when I treat myself to a burger, it will be at Hugo's."
Auburn, AL The Hound (address and info) James says: "The Hound offers such a wide variety of toppings for you to have on a burger, and the burger itself is delicious. It's kind of a build-your-own deal. It tops my list of burgers in the Auburn campus area."
Gainesville, FL The Top (address and info) Jesse says: "Relish and Square 1 are popular, but for me it’s gotta be The Top. It’s got a really good beef burger, but you can also get a Royale with Cheese -- in an ode to Pulp Fiction -- with a black bean burger or falafel patty. Personally, that’s my favorite.
They probably have 15 or more signature burgers. They have a really good one with chimichurri sauce. Lots with bacon and eggs on top.
I probably eat at Top at least a month. Another reason it's popular is because it’s got craft beer. You know, Gainesville is kind of like a poor man’s Austin. It's got good food and craft beer, just not quite as much."
Athens, GA The Varsity (address and info) Bob says: "The Varsity is like an old-time drive-in that specializes in burgers and chili dogs, fries, shakes. I think it opened in the 1920s. It's pretty legendary and didn't disappoint.
I ordered a combo with two chili burgers -- they're not super big, so two come with a combo -- and fries and a drink. The burgers are really messy, but they taste great. Definitely don't wear a white shirt if you order the chili burgers."
Lexington, KY The Village Idiot (address and info) We say: The name would suggest only simpletons order The Idiot, but really, it's the smartest thing you can do at Lexington's "first gastropub." We've previously named The Village Idiot's signature burger one of the best in the state, and considering the onion ring full of pulled pork that comes on top of this Angus beef patty, we dare you to defy us.
Baton Rouge, LA strong>The Chimes (address and info) Jesse says: "The Chimes is a great place to eat and drink. They have a good burger. Place has a large craft beer menu, huge bar, and plenty of burgers and seafood options."
Oxford, MS Ajax Diner (address and info) We say: As you probably learned in Lit 101, Ajax was an epic Greek hero immortalized by Homer in The Iliad. The people behind Ajax Diner never fought any Trojans themselves, but tales of their greatness have been passed down by Ole Miss students for years. The burger offerings at the diner are minimal, but when you've got something like The Deuce, a double-decker bacon cheeseburger, you don't have to waste time on anything else.
Mississippi State University
Starkville, MS Mugshots Bar & Grill (address and info) Michael says: "My favorite burger place in Starkville is Mugshots. In my opinion, it's not even close. I've gone many times, taken many friends, and we've never had a bad burger. From the Pizza burger, to [Reagan's] Peanut Butter burger, or the Big Kahuna (my girlfriend's favorite -- pepper jack and pineapple), you can't go wrong.
My personal favorite is the Steak burger. It's a cheeseburger topped with shredded cheese, green peppers, and onions. I get a side of their famous 'comeback' sauce to top it all off. It's probably the best burger I've ever had.
Mugshots was also the first restaurant I ate at in Starkville. My parents and I ate there while moving me in two years ago. We had no idea where to go, and we landed at Mugshots. I think of them every time I go to Mugshots, so it's a little slice of home in Starkville for me."
Columbia, MO Booches Billiard Hall (address and info) Dave says: "Nothing beats Booches. I'm not one for a lot of toppings on a burger, so I go with a plain cheeseburger. Bun. Beef. Cheese. Wax paper. That's all you need. Okay, more like two burgers at the least, maybe three. It's the simplicity that makes it so unique, along with the signature juicy taste and texture. What I love most about Booches is going there with my kids, five-year-old twin boys who have been eating there since they could walk. They have their favorite seats and favorite menu items and, unlike Dad, like some ketchup on their burgers."
University of South Carolina
Columbia, SC Pawleys Front Porch (address and info) Josh says: "Pawleys Front Porch is a transplant from the beach. My favorite burger there is is the Caw Caw Creek -- jalapeño pimento cheese, bread and butter pickled green tomato, applewood smoked bacon, and grilled onions. Just writing this makes me very, very hungry. They also have one with grape jelly caramelized onions and goat cheese. It's just a very creative place that makes a lot of great flavors on huge burgers. It's also right in the middle of the city's Five Points district, which is the under-30 hangout spot in town. They make exceptions for old folks like me to come eat burgers when the sun is up."
University of Tennessee
Knoxville, TN Stock & Barrel (address and info) We say: Stock & Barrel hinges its reputation on bourbon and burgers, two of the human race's greatest achievements. The bourbon list contains nearly 100 options, and the burger menu contains 20 locally sourced beauties. They're all pretty great, but if you want one of Tennessee's best, go with The Farmhouse. This burger gets you barrel-aged cheddar, bacon, tomatoes, onion, garlic aioli, and a fried egg on top.
College Station, TX Mickey's Sliders (address and info) We say: The rare exception to the "everything's bigger in Texas" rule, Mickey's specializes in baby burgers. But that doesn't make them any less tasty! The menu includes inventive spins like the Kim Jong Yum (Korean BBQ steak and kimchi) and Soul Slider (fried chicken and maple syrup on a waffle bun), but the one named for a local legend is your move. The Willie Nelson features applewood smoked bacon, black pepper truffle mayo, pepper jack and American cheeses, Mickey's secret BBQ sauce, and onion rings. None of Willie's preferred herbs are involved, but the experience is so euphoric you might suspect they're secretly stuffed in that Angus patty.
Nashville, TN strong>Rotier's Restaurant (address and info) We say: Try the Signature French Bread burger. And yes, we know what you're thinking: "A burger on French bread? What's this un-American nonsense, Marie Antoinette?" But Rotier's knows exactly what it's doing. The soft, toasted bread soaks up the meat juices and cheese in a way that'll make you question why you aren't eating all burgers on poppy seed-speckled baguettes.
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Kristin Hunt is a staff writer for Thrillist, and wonders how many times a day the Top staff hears Pulp Fiction quotes. Follow her to Le Big Macs at @kristin_hunt.