The American college experience is unique: wearing sweatpants for 300 days straight, dressing as a golf pro on at least 11 occasions, purchasing overpriced Sociology of Sports textbooks, and definitely attending every class, especially the morning ones. Since our love of burgers is just as singular, it makes a lot of sense that, during College Week, we yet again celebrate the best burgers in towns filled with students carrying overpriced textbooks while wearing sweatpants.
Some college legends remain on the list from last year while some are newer spots that've forged their way into our hearts and stomachs. Tuck a napkin into your shirt so your pledge tie doesn't get dirty, and dig in.
At this point, Austin's a food mecca: not just for brisket, tacos, and more brisket, but for steaming bowls of ramen, espresso from small-batch roasters to please even the most uppity coffee snobs, and, of course, burgers. The only move for UT students, though, lies at Crown & Anchor, a spot whose gravel parking lot is always packed, whose beer is college-style cheap, and whose burgers have just the right level of melty cheese, crispy bacon, and char-grilled perfection to make it legendary in the city.
What you're getting: Bacon cheeseburger with blue cheese
Chuck's is one of those quintessential college dive bars: it's covered in graffiti, that stickiness clinging to the bottom of your shoe could be from a beer spilled when John Mackey was an Orange, and the beer specials are made for people without any income. Which also means the burgers are delicious; whether you go for half-price Mondays or not, grab the bacon cheeseburger, add blue cheese, and get there early enough to hog the dart boards for a long night of pitchers.
Sobelman's is undeniably Milwaukee, which means the beer selection is enviable (think selections from local breweries like nearby New Glarus or Madison's Ale Asylum) and the burgers are giant and do not skimp on the cheese or bacon. If it's your first time, go with the namesake: it's far from regular, layering American, Swiss, and cheddar on top of bacon, fried onions, and jalapeños. Then, just go ahead and transfer to Marquette: you're going to want to try the rest of this menu.
Memphis tends to get its name on any burger lists thanks to Dyer's, a Beale St legend that deep-fries its burgers in the same grease that was used when the spot opened. But UBEE'S, a late-night spot just outside the University of Memphis, "imports" its grease from the legend, getting that same super-flavorful, aged taste. Because it's already 3am and you're ordering a burger cooked in decades-old grease, go ahead and get the Two Timer: it's double patties, double cheese, and exactly what you need at that point in your Saturday night.
While most great college burger spots are marked with decades of underclassmen clamoring for a bite after too many very watery lagers or at least seven hours picking apart the female psyche in The Cultural Devastation of American Women, Al's is, well, fresh. But the Chapel Hill restaurant caters to the roadside classics with very simple burgers and dogs, plus regular, more elaborate specials (like the Aubrey, a pimento cheese, avocado, and bacon giant that you should absolutely get when you've fasted for at least two days). Get a bite-size version of the classic, plus a bite-size incarnation of the Mookie (there's bacon-onion jam, roasted garlic aioli, cheese, and probably a two-hour supply of happiness), and enjoy what'll eventually be a Tarheel classic, exactly like Michael Jordan. Seriously: let's discuss burger-themed high tops, guys.
You may call it a "cheeseburger, add a fried egg" wherever you're from, but that just means you didn't spend at least 5/7ths of your undergrad nights tucked away at the far end of The Corner ordering Gus Burgers. You also probably don't have to worry about your Woodberry alumni tie getting egg yolk on it, but we guess that's a small price to pay for four years with this simple, greasy diner burger.
First of all, great name. Second of all, aside from Harvard students, the burger cottage has been visited by many famous people, like Katie Couric. Third of all, it constantly updates its names to stay current, like the Roger Goodell Booooo! and the Hashtag. We are partial, however, to one that feels more like a punchline from 2013: the Rob Ford ("he CRACKS me up") comes with Swiss, grilled sauerkraut, Russian dressing, and several bonus overheard comments about punching the Porc.
Oxford's one of those quintessential college towns that every admissions officer dreams of putting on the brochure: town square! Blonde cheerleaders! Famous novelist references! But it also has insane food options, starting with chef John Currence's fine-dining options and moving down to Handy Andy, a BBQ spot that does a damn good pulled pork sandwich and a burger that is even better. Order the double cheeseburger -- it's a simple, greasy, delicious meal that is exactly what you'd expect from a bare-bones Southern spot -- and then maybe just get some 'cue to go since you're already there. Or another burger. Your call.
What you're getting: Classic cheeseburger on bread
In a city that blessedly claims an unhealthy bounty of meat and threes, Rotier's stands out by first being a burger joint, located on Elliston Pl, a short strip running behind Vanderbilt's campus. And while any meat and three could churn out a satisfying diner burger, Rotier's has made a name for over 70 years with its slightly unusual, but wholly delicious version that puts the charred patty, cheese (go American, of course), crisp lettuce, tomato, tangy mustard, and pickle onto a hulking hunk of French bread. Get it with a chocolate milkshake. You'll be happy, we promise.
Madison's best burger joint has changed locations four times (once from... Des Moines!), began as a trinket shop that sold zero cheeseburgers, and has a name that makes approximately negative sense. It also has the Melting Pot, an appropriately over-cheesed (cheddar, Swiss, provolone) meat mound stacked with bacon and touched with the joint's trademark English garlic sauce. But don't overlook other "yep, we're definitely in Wisconsin" options like Stanley's Blue Ribbon (cream cheese, BBQ sauce, and an onion ring) and the new Green & Gold with deep-fried pickles and bacon mayo. Whichever you go with, just remember: cheese curds are not optional.
This burger again retains its place at the top of the college burger pyramid thanks to some pretty intense lobbying by our own Boulder grad Al Raddock, who definitely scrawled his name on this spot's ceiling after he took down a Texas Onion Straw burger with jalapeños, cheddar, and provolone as well as all the crunchy onion straws. So if anyone at The Sink is reading this, you should probably get Mr. Al Raddock a bumper sticker or something.
Coming to school in New Mexico from out of state, you may've heard that people like their green chile around these parts, but you have no real idea until you get down here and see it for yourself. And Frontier, which looks kind of like a barn and an East Texas BBQ restaurant had a giant child and happens to sit right across from campus, is most newbies' first experience in the art of New Mexican cooking. And so it's best they start with a gateway green chile food, like the Fiesta Burger with green chiles, cheddar, and lettuce, just as the New Mexican forefathers intended.
What you're getting: The Green Truck Classic with pimento
Savannah is an underrated college town, but between SCAD, Savannah State, Armstrong State, and South, there are plenty of young people ready to judge your dad jeans. But you need to get over that fear, because right at the corner of Habersham and Maupas sits one of the finer college-town burger joints in the country. The resto does all the proper things art-minded college kids care about these days: recycles and reuses basically everything, utilizes local salvaged goods for tables and booths, and most importantly, buys grass-fed local beef from Hunter Cattle Company for the Green Truck Classic burger. The patty is reliably thin, and comes with delicious house-made pickles. And you might as well add the pimento cheese seeing how you're already wearing those dad jeans.
There are newer moves, like Gott's, and there are other old-school moves, like Kirk’s, but the Oasis is truly one of the last bastions of classic Menlo, before all of the tech money swarmed the place with Teslas being driven by drones being driven by nannies. It's even more well-known for its pizza, but if you truly are a smart Stanford person in a "Talk Nerdy to Me" shirt, then you will get the patty melt, in all its gooey, cheesy, toasty glory and ask the old-timers from '08 what life was like pre-Yik Yak.
What you're getting: Two cheeseburgers with grilled onions
Despite the fact that this one is not the original White Hut, it is still a White Hut, and that makes it the best burger place in any college town. But aside from that biased little editorial, the Amherst location has been around long enough to have attracted a clientele of Minutemen, Lord Jeffs, and whatever Hampshire College's mascot is. And if they know what's good for them, they're ordering two cheeseburgers with grilled onions and nothing else.
What you're getting: The Famous Crunchy Burger with bacon and cheddar
Last year, we hemmed and hawed before selecting the Peanut Barrel's fantastic Rodeo Burger for East Lansing. This year, though, our hearts -- our beef-addled hearts -- returned to Crunchy's. Maybe it's the nostalgia of seeing your name carved into the wall. Maybe it's the fact that you've just split a mop bucket of craft beer with somebody at what, pre-HopCat, could be considered Spartan Country's original craft beer bar. Or maybe it's the fact that the char-grilled, half-pound Crunchy Burger is basically a picture of what a burger should be: a solid, juicy patty that stands on its own without relying on a bunch of stupid toppings. Unless you want those. In which case the place has them. And also pizza nuggets. And karaoke. Because Crunchy's is kind of the best. At least our editor thinks so.
While Jack Brown's has expanded into a three-state chain, the original location is in Harrisonburg and, like we can only assume the Barden Bellas would be if they reached fictional sync status, but returned for an encore performance at their college, the burger spot is undeniably at its best in its hometown. While you shouldn't ignore the intense daily specials (think donut burgers), the move for JMU students is the jalapeño popper burger, a simple wagyu patty that balances melty cream cheese with spicy jalapeños.
There are few things better than sitting outside on a sunny September day in Iowa City with a cold John's White Ale and one of Short's classics made with beef from local farmer Ed Smith (hey Ed!), like the Colo with grilled onions, American, and Swiss on rye, and trying to figure out when Iowa basketball starts so you can start awkwardly telling the undergrads at Brothers your Chris Kingsbury anecdotes again.
What you're getting: Triple, plain roll, with grilled onions & peppers and American
If you've never been to Blimpy Burger (or Krazy Jim's Blimpy Burger, if you're feeling formal), then you're probably going to mess up the order. And this is one of those spots that's going to sass you when you do. So let us help you save face and pretend you're an experienced Wolverine: order a triple on a plain roll with grilled onions & peppers and add that American cheese on at the end. Skip the condiments request. And once you've eaten one burger and are feeling confident, go try again: there's basically infinity topping, bun, and cheese combinations and you may just need to enroll to have enough time to try them all.
What you're getting: Buffalo burger (and breakfast fries)
The f**king fries, my God they're good (esp the breakfast ones with egg, bacon, and cheese on them), but the f**king burger is somehow my God better. The buffalo is the signature one and deservedly so, but the chorizo burger is also a solid move, as is the bacon and jalapeño -- the burgers are massive, the toppings plentiful, and there's a line all... the... time. Throw in the fact that this place is also a legit beer bar, is three short blocks from campus, and gets packed even at like 2pm, and you've got yourself a college burger hero spot.
You know what is pretty fantastic, especially for a fine college town like Eugene? At Cornucopia, you can not only get the Angus beef Cheezy American burger delivered, but the resto will also deliver beer and wine, so you don't have to leave your green-and-yellow apartment’s green-and-yellow bean bag chair shaped like a duck in order to enjoy all that greasy goodness.
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Kevin Alexander is Thrillist's executive editor and is enrolling in college for a fourth degree now that White Hut has an Amherst location. Follow him to UMass sweatshirt purchases @KAlexander03.
Liz Childers is Thrillist's cities strategy director and is considering starting a college for burgers just to make life happier. Follow her to stretchier sweatpants @lizchilders1.
This neighborhood favorite in Central Austin has everything: a dive-bar attitude, ample seating indoors and on the dog-friendly patio, multiple pool tables, dartboard tournaments, more than 30 taps and more than 100 beer bottles and cans, a full menu of pub food staples, and a long, daily happy hour. It's not the bar for visitors or bar-crawlers -- when you come to Crown & Anchor, you end up staying for the whole night with a local brew in one hand, a cheap cheeseburger in the other, and familiar faces surrounding you.
The sit-down Wisconsin chain Sobelman's came to international fame following the creation of its gargantuan slider-topped Bloody Mary. But the burgers here are in and of themselves worthy of renown: each prepared with cushiony, butter buns, a third pound of Angus beef, your choice of high-quality cheese (this is Wisconsin, after all), pickles, and other accouterments, these all-American courses are destination meals worthy a drive. Besides their signature breakfast cocktail, liquors and beers also stand at the ready to wash down all your cheese curds.
At this Chapel Hill cottage, sustainability is key. Not only is the locally-sourced beef hormone and antibiotic free, but the shack itself—and picnic tables and bar tops—is made from recycled material. Al's also supplies housemade dressings and sauces and North Carolina craft beer.
A Harvard mainstay since 1960, Mr. Bartley's slings 7oz patties of perfection under ridiculous names like the Mark Zuckerberg ("Richest Geek in America" -- their attribution, not ours) with boursin & bacon; the Situation ("The Situation is Awful") with bacon, cheese, 'shrooms, and onions; and the Michelle Obama ("She's hot and spicy") with blue cheese and Cajun seasoning.
Since 1945, Rotier's has been supplying the Music City with their own little slice of Americana—cheeseburgers flanked by two slices of crispy French bread. This mainstay also serves classic Southern eats like chicken gizzards and liver and fried pickle spears.
Speciality burgers like the Stanley's Blue Ribbon (cream cheese, thick-cut onion ring and BBQ sauce) and the Green and Gold (cheddar cheese, fried pickles, and bacon mayo) make Dotty's a popular joint among Madison residents. The menu also offers poutine and cheese curds because, ya know, Wisconsin.
The restaurant industry doesn't get greener than this. At this eatery, they make almost everything from scratch—ketchup, pimento cheese, salad dressings, and veggie patties. The food is locally-sourced (grass-fed, hormone-free, and range-free), as is the coffee and craft beers that are available. The furniture, too, has either been made or salvaged by locals.
Although this family-owned business has been operating since the '20s, and has, over the past 90-or-so years, changed and gained relative fame among West Springfield and Amherst residents, White Hut still maintains its original mom-and-pop shop atmosphere. Their classic burgers, milkshakes, and fresh brewed iced tea keep people coming back for more.
Burgers and craft beer are king at this University of Iowa favorite. Signature burgers like the Jamaica—jerk spiced beef, mango jalapeno salsa, and pepper jack cheese—and dozens of local brews are enough to make any day brighter.
Krazy Jim's Blimpy Burger is reputable for grinding its own Western church beef and for its billion plus number of possible Blimpy combinations, which includes variations on toppings like fried eggs, mild hot peppers, and grilled onions. The interior design is surprisingly tame and clean-cut, but the playfully illustrated menu and messy spillage of burger guts on various tables prove the restaurant's moniker.
A favorite of the UC Davis college crowd and with good reason. Burgers and Brew is the type of place every college town ought to have. You'll find a rotating tap list always featuring local brews from the likes of nearby Berryessa and Russian River, a badass patio outside and a deep list of burgers along with interesting french fry concoctions like the New England fries with Clam Chowder, melted jack cheese and applewood smoked bacon. This is not a joke.
This aptly-named, laid-back American restaurant has plenty to offer: award-winning burgers, salads, sandwiches, and an assortment of creative cocktails, such as the "Honey Dew Me"
(New Amsterdam gin, Midori, muddled limes, pineapple juice, sour mix and Sprite Topped with tonic) and the "Polar Express" (Rumpleminz, Godiva vodka, hot cocoa, chocolate powder dusted whipped cream).