The 33 Best Burgers In The Country
It’s been about a year since our first 33 Best Burgers in the country piece came out. And in that year, many things have happened: Our photography has gotten bigger and SO MUCH better, our reach has expanded into more cities, and I’ve eaten a little more than infinity more burgers. I’ve also come to a more definitive definition of my favorite type: simple. Many of the burgers on this list (we have seven holdovers we couldn’t possibly change, and 26 new entries) embody a commitment to almost austere excellence, sacrificing the show-tricks of crazy meats or toppings in favor of nailing the genuine article.
Now, of course, there are exceptions to this rule. And of course many of you will tender suggestions for things I’ve missed, or tell me that I have no palate, or just get into lively comment arguments because this is the Internet, and that is what happens. And we welcome it all. But before you do, maybe take a moment to celebrate and ogle our 2014 picks for the best burgers in the country. Now be a friend, and pass me the ketchup:
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Classic cheeseburger
When Ryan Farr took over Da' Pitt space on Divis, and I didn’t have to go to the farmers' market to get his burgers, I figured they’d drop off. Or at least I wouldn’t hold them in such high regard, because they’d lost a little bit of that elusiveness, and maybe that was what was keeping me in love with them. I was wrong. 4505 stays on the list this year, thanks to that classic made with Magruder Ranch beef on that perfect, not-too-thick sesame-scallion bun. The combination of the Gruyere, dry-aged beef, red onion, and special sauce may no longer be elusive, but it's still damn hard to top.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Single cheeseburger with an egg
In a city that enjoys heavy calories and arguing as much as Chicago does, it's nothing short of incredible that Au Cheval has steadily held the "best burger" consensus pretty much since opening in 2012. By now most locals know the drill: A single is actually a double, meaning your two impossibly beefy griddled patties will be enveloped in a creamy combo of cheese and Dijonnaise with just a briny hint of thinly sliced pickles. And you're getting it with an egg, because you know what is good.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: The Steakhouse Burger
We wanted to make some other moves in the city. We wanted to add in some more new NY spots with promising burgers, and we were damn close. But, in the end, we couldn’t, because we still believe the world needs to talk more about deckle. And so you can do so knowledgeably, we'll now define deckle, again, for you: It's basically the fat from around the edge of a ribeye cut. And, when worked in with other beef and steak trimmings at the East Village's Brindle Room, it turns a burger into a steakhouse burger, into a good-sized meat present from the meat gods. Have them throw some American and caramelized onions on top while it's getting medium-rare in the cast-iron skillet. Deckle. The name rings out in the streets, friends.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Hamburger Fonfon
Chez Fonfon may be a classic French bistro, but it plates an All-American caliber burger. James Beard Hall of Famer Frank Stitt grinds boneless chuck in-house to form his 8oz patties that get no seasonings other than a pinch of S&P. The sole frou-frou touch comes from Comte, but the cheese’s nutty-sweetness melts into the beef amping the patty’s flavor. Topped with grilled red onion, lettuce, tomato, and pickle, it’s hard to believe this burger could’ve started with escargots or foie gras paté.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: The Company Burger
At three-years old, Company Burger continues to dominate the NOLA burger scene with its dedication to old-school diner simplicity combined with the quality ingredients of the fancy-schmancy burger revolution. Adam Biderman, who worked at Atlanta’s Holeman & Finch (Spoiler: their burger's also on the list.), grinds brisket and chuck in-house to form his 3.25oz patties, and the basic, namesake burger is one of those glorious items that nets you two patties rather than one. Want lettuce or tomato? You gotta bring your own -- or just let the griddled, tender patties, American cheese, white bun, and bread-and-butter pickles mingle together into a gloriously juicy, meaty bite.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Sliders
You don’t stick around Salina, Kansas for 92 years by doing something wrong. Cozy has been there since 1922, serving up sliders. There are rules. First off, no fries. Second, you’re getting sliders. And no, they don’t come with cheese. They are tiny, and they are littered with cooked onions. Oh, so many cooked onions. Most people come out of a trip to Cozy remembering the softly steamed buns and onion burgers, of course, but they also remember the smell, an eau de onion that will permeate your skin for days. And the best part is: you’re not even going to care.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: The Proper Burger
What exactly constitutes a Proper Burger in the eyes of Duke's Grocery, you ask? Start with a Creekstone Farms beef patty (popular among NYC's Michelin set). Then add ANOTHER patty and top that with smoky melted gouda, charred red onions, sweet chili sauce, dill pickles, garlic aioli, and some arugula to maintain the slightest glimmer of healthful pretense. Ready to eat? NO! Why? Because they offer the option to add on an XXL duck egg and/or some housemade chicken liver paté. Pro tip: the answer is always "and".
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: The Burger
As a point, I should say I’m biased against fancy restaurant burgers. Usually, the chef feels like he has to do something weird or show-off-y, and the end result might taste good, but it’s not the burger you were looking for. Five Bistro, despite being in that nice restaurant category, is not here to play those types of games. It’s just 100% grass-fed chuck, housemade bun, some peppery greens, and whichever housemade condiments you want. They also do burger specials that check off those other fancified boxes, but don’t get it twisted: that’s not why you’re there at lunch, friend.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Our Way
With apologies to JM Curley, Eastern Standard, Craigie on Main, R.F. O’Sullivan, Tasty Burger, Mr. Bartley’s, and all my other burger go-to's in my hometown: I still love you all, but I’ve started seeing someone new. It started a few years ago when The Gallows first opened. I had the burger in their simple “Our Way” style and liked it, but I got distracted and buried this information, until this year, when I went back, and had that Pavlovian response to the salty, seared meat, lettuce, pickles, American, and grilled onions. Now, when I walk by all the other spots, I try and keep my head down and avoid eye contact. The Gallows would want it that way.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Cease and Desist Burger
Last year, there was a bit of hype over Chris Shepherd’s lunch-only burger at the Underbelly, mostly because it was called a Double-Double, and In-N-Out was like “aww naw, hell naw, man, y’all done up and done it” (but in legalese) and sent over a cease and desist order on the name. So Shephard merely switched said name to Cease and Desist, and the burger has lived on, but not in infamy, since it’s too damn delicious. And though he’s since moved on to a Juicy Lucy (LAWYERS IN MINNESOTA, BE COOL), it’s still your legal right to get the double patty’d Cease at their craft beer bar The Hay Merchant, so I’d go ahead and do that now.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: The Burger
Yes, there are a ton of great burgers in the ATL -- big love to Miss Ann's, Bocado, and Illegal Food -- but we must, once again, declare our love for Holeman & Finch, mainly because The Burger is the Great White Whale... but, you know, beef. Each night, only 24 of these babies are available at the 10pm “burger time”, which is less like a great old-school NES game and more of a mad scramble for the city’s best burger, a double-stack of thin patties layered on a housemade bun, covered with ketchup, mustard, and pickles. When they’re gone, they’re gone. Luckily, they serve them in bigger quantities during the Sunday brunch, and, let’s face it, one of the world’s best burgers beats the hell out of scrambled anything when you’re hungover.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Cheeseburger
In an interview with Eater this year, Husk’s Sean Brock said something I wrote down on a piece of paper and stuck to the wall by my desk as I ate my weight in meat. "The older you get… the more cheeseburgers you eat, the more you realize how simple they really need to be." If I had a burger tattoo, that would be it. And his obsession with perfect simplicity paid off with his now-iconic Husk burger, which uses two 100% chuck patties infused with Benton’s bacon, and is griddled with onions shaved onto the patty and topped with American cheese (because IT IS THE BEST THING EVER FOR A BURGER), bread & butter pickles, and his own special sauce. Let’s just hope more people start following the Book of Brock.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: The Avocado Burger
Do you like avocado? Like, like-like it? Well, you better, because you’re about to get half of it on your burger at Kua’Aina, a legendary (and now slightly blown up, THANKS OBAMA) Oahu burger shop that my friends from Hawaii never stop talking about. Unlike most of our picks, the meat almost plays second fiddle on this one, but there’s something about the natural creaminess of the avocado, blending with the grilled onions and meat that puts it over the top. So really, I guess, thanks Obama?
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: La Bete Burger
Helmed by up-and-coming chef, this elegant wrought-iron-heavy eatery is famous for its pork rinds, but THIS ISN’T A STORY ABOUT PORK RINDS (IS IT?). Anyway, in The Town (Where Eight Months Of Rain Keeps Everyone From Moving There), La Bete’s titular deluxe burger is a little more luxurious than most of our picks, but once you taste the blend of Painted Hills beef with the Gruyere, grilled onions, and remoulade, you’ll happily make the exception. They also offer bacon, if you weren’t smart enough to get your pig fill on those rinds.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: The original Lamar Burger with pimento cheese
In 2013, local legend John Currence bought the Lamar Lounge and, while he’s added new stars like the boast-worthy, pit-smoked whole-hog BBQ to the menu -- it's the only in the state -- the chef knew not to mess with the favorite Lamar burger. A hefty 8oz-er shines under the standards: red onion, lettuce, and tomato. But add pimento cheese for a spicy Southern flair that oozes in between the patty and accoutrements, showing off what'll be your new favorite cheese for burgers.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: The Burger (it doesn’t have a special name)
Housed in a two-story craftsman that makes you feel like you’re eating in somebody’s house -- and “somebody” means a trio of acclaimed LA chefs -- the Larchmont specializes in farm-to-table dining, meaning that grass-fed patty’s fresh from Old MacDonald’s compound. One of LA’s best under-the-radar burgers is cast iron-seared and covered in cave-aged Kaltbach cheese, buttered onions, slow-roasted "overnight" tomatoes, and housemade aioli, then presented on a rich brioche bun. Sadly, despite appearances, you can’t take a nap after eating it.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Double cheeseburger slider
There’s nothing remarkable about the façade of this SW diner... it’s just a diner, like the hundreds of others in the D. The staff's been there for years... and so have the regulars, who can’t get enough of Motz’s legendary smashed burgers. The formula's nothing revolutionary: smashed, griddled patties with oozy cheese and onions that melt into the burger itself as it cooks. But it's that unmistakable flavor of a well-seasoned griddle -- which has also been here for years -- that makes the difference. You can score big burgers with accoutrements, but this isn’t really a place to say things like “accoutrements”. Grab the old-school slider (the double cheeseburger one), and prepare for three perfect bites of Detroit’s finest.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: The cheeseburger
Portland (not that one) continues to make Boston nervous with its cheaper prices, and renaissance of awesome eateries, including Nosh, a comfort-food haven (You want crispy cheese curds with pretzel breading? They can do that.) that happens to have one of the best burgers in the state of Maine. Though they have crazy options, the move here is to keep it simple with the cheeseburger, and enjoy that ground beef chuck seared on a flat top, then topped with American, onions, and pickle on a brioche bun.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: The Slagel Farm Beef Burger
Look, you're allowed to add extras to the burger at English pub-inspired Owen & Engine. They'll happily appoint it with some aged cheddar, a rasher of bacon, or a fried egg, and if you go that route, it'll be amazing. But do yourself a favor and show some restraint this time. Enjoy the perfect harmony of the three base components: a generous helping of deeply caramelized (caramelised on the menu, because, Brits) onions, a pillowy-yet-sturdy housemade potato bap (it's just a bun, be cool), and a flavor-rich patty from a combo of brisket, short rib, and chuck sourced from a local farm (you can probably guess the one). The flawlessly crisped chips (aka fries, because, you know) with malt vinegar aioli that come with it are the only complement you'll need.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Spicy burger
A laid-back sister bar to the Cleveland neighborhood’s Beer Market and Bar Cento, Nano pulls experimental beers off a tiny one-barrel system that pair perfectly with its gigantic, sloppy, and amazing burgers, which include one loaded with PB&J and one modeled after the hoppin’ John. Skip the stunts and go Spicy, which you can get as a single or double patty (honestly, one is enough) piled with cheddar, poblanos, caramelized onions, and spicy mayo. Make it spicier with Stoner Fries: waffle fries topped with chorizo chili and cheese sauce. Maybe bring a bib.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Cheeseburger
With apologies to their sister resto Roberta’s, which makes a fantastic, thick steakhouse-esque burger, we prefer the thinner one in the burger shack at Rockaway Beach, which is so damn juicy, it’s essentially like a plum made from meat and cheese. But it really sort of finds its groove when said melty cheese, meat, bun, pickles, and special sauce, all start to congeal together into what's basically a burger burrito... and that, come to think of it, doesn’t sound like a bad idea either.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Green Chile Cheeseburger
When Bobcat Bite was forced to close after a dispute between the restaurant and their landlord, we were extremely sad, and resorted to watching old romantic comedies starring Meg Ryan. But then they opened Santa Fe Bite, and we could get our green chile cheeseburger fix again, and the Meg Ryan movie-ing stopped. Though the large patty isn’t normally my thing, it doesn’t matter once you try that essential meaty mix of boneless chuck and sirloin with the subtle smoky heat from the chiles. They also offer a smaller (sorry “smaller”) 6oz burger off-menu, but if you’ve made it this far -- to mangle a popular sports cliche -- you might as well go big, then go home.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: The Slowburger
SE Portland’s inconspicuous Slow Bar has gained national notoriety for this mammoth burger, and for damn good reason. A lockjaw-inducing beast, this two-fisted wonder starts with a 1/2lb slab of Painted Hills beef (that’s Oregonian code for high-quality, grass-fed beef) and a generous, gooey blanket of Gruyere. Texture comes in the form of a thick-cut onion ring that’s bigger than the beef, plus butter lettuce, pickle relish, and garlic aioli. The first bite sends an arterial spray of juice splattering on the plate, marinating the hand-cut fries in perfection. Which is to say, don’t come here in a white shirt.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Original Solly's Cheeseburger
Having opened in 1936, perhaps the most incredible thing about Solly's is that it hasn't completely decimated the entire population of Wisconsin. From afar it might just seem like you're getting a classic diner-style griddled burger with 1/3lb worth of sirloin, some melty American cheese, and stewed onions. But what's that pooling on the plate? Oh, it's melted butter. Because they slather it on at the end. Because griddling the damn patties in butter wasn't enough. Because, Wisconsin.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: The Bowling Alley Burger or the Big Ass Burger special
Swift's is known for taking your expectations and then playfully coating them in crumbles of Pop Rocks and dollops of foie gras. The mix of high and low sensibilities shines through in their Bowling Alley Burger, a succulent slab of Never Ever Angus with a nostalgic flavor profile marked by griddled onions, melted Fontina, and “fancy-ass” special sauce on a housemade sesame seed bun. It's deceptively small, but packs enough punch to clog your afternoon.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: TAG American Slam
The man behind a slew of successful Denver-area restaurants opened up his burger-focused shop a few years ago, and it has been a Mile High favorite, while also dominating in area burger contests, ever since. While there are over-the-top builds common to new-school burger shops, like the Godzilla (crispy tempura flakes, smoked kewpi), at its core, Burger Bar excels because of their patty: a blend of chuck, short rib, and brisket specially ground for them. It can be deliciously topped with everything from Colorado-born ingredients like Pueblo green chiles to honey-infused local goat cheese. But even though it's in CO, you can't top the burger with weed. I mean, you could, but you'd have to put it on there yourself.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: The Deluxe Torch Burger with bacon
Tucked away in an alley beyond the brick streets that used to mark the glory of downtown Flint, the cavernous Torch Bar is the common ground between the blue-collar workers of old Flint and the younger folks fighting for its revival. For 50 years, the Torch Burger has been a beacon for all: a no-frills, basic bar burger grilled to order by the 1/2lb. No fancy aioli or stunt toppings. Just the perfect balance of fresh ground beef, lettuce, tomato, and bacon. When you dream of burgers, the Torch Burger is what you envision... whether you’ve been here or not. Don’t skip the onion rings or, if you’re feeling feisty, pizza rolls... a side item that helped solidify The Torch’s status as one of our favorite dive bars.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Trick Burger
Look, I know what you’re going to say, and I’ll be the first to admit it: I didn’t want to pick Trick Dog either. I already laud them for everything else, and it didn’t seem fair to keep with the lauding, especially in the food category. After all, they are a cocktail bar, right? Well, in order to feel comfortable with picks in SF, I went on a burger spree. A burger tear. A burger-thon. I re-tried all my favorites in the city, from Zuni and Nopa, to Maven and Rickybobby, to Pearl’s, Marlowe, and Tipsy Pig (sub in the smoked cheddar!), plus Hopscotch in Oakland, and even Hog & Rocks' underrated move. I took copious notes. I bought stretchy pants. And when it all shook out, I had no choice -- aside from 4505, Trick Dog is my favorite burger in the city. Their tongue-in-cheek riff on the burger dog at the Olympic Club’s snack shack comes shaped like a hot dog, but the house-ground blend of brisket, sirloin, and chuck is all burger. The toasted sesame bun with that combination of meat, shredded lettuce, pickles, and house sauce could only be made more perfect if they replaced the cheddar with American. But other than that, friends, I don’t know what to tell you. I’m sorry. It’s too damn good.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Double Onion Burger with cheese
For those uninitiated to Oklahoma onion burger culture, here is a quick primer: these things came about during the Depression because onions were cheaper than meat, and if you mixed them together, you got more of a burger for your buck. Or nickel, as it were. The difference between these and just adding grilled onions to a burger, is that the OK-style actually cooks the meat at the same time. And though the onion burger capital is El Reno, OK, with three famous spots all on the same block, if we’re eating an onion burger, we want it from Tucker’s. Get the double onion burger with cheese and fresh grilled jalapeños, and watch that oozy mess of cheese, onions, and spicy peppers mix in with the meat. And then get at least two more.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: The Perfect Burger
If someone calls their burger, the “Perfect Burger”, it better be a) damn good, or b) referencing former WWF star Mr. Perfect. Luckily for this list, V44’s is the former, thanks to its 80% ground beef/20% pork belly patty, icebox pickles, bacon, American (yay!), and a toasted Rustica, brioche-esque bun, which I’d originally written off as too thick (NOTE: aside from random fancy cheeses, I also dislike huge buns that hinder the beef mawing) until I bit in, and discovered its light airiness. Quite the victory, indeed.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: VW Burger
VW is a casual spot from chef Jose Garces focused around the idea of a place that he and his fellow chefs would like to hang out at after work. They, of course, have 80 whiskies, but the real sleeper here is their standard burger, loosely packed, and perfectly seared on a sesame-milk bread bun with housemade thousand island. (I’d add caramelized onions as well, but I do that to everything. Plus a fried egg.) They have fancier options surrounding it, but stay the course: my burger obsessed friend Ramsey in Philly swears by it, and he literally ONLY EVER EATS MEAT. Ramsey wouldn’t steer you wrong, folks, trust me.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Cheeseburger with fried onions
As you may know from last year’s list, and ever hearing me talk about anything, the White Hut in West Springfield is my favorite burger place in the world. All of my family comes from Springfield, and as such, I’ve been eating at this place since before I could walk (so... like 8?). And though the years have past, most of my family has moved out, and I’ve turned into some sort of snobby food editor monster, I still try and make it at least once a year to get two perfectly griddled, thin cheeseburgers with fried onions and ketchup. Come find me at the counter, friends. It’s my happy place, and, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll quickly make it yours.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Four cheeseburgers, fries
The Hackensack White Manna (not to be confused with the White Mana in Jersey City) has been flipping smashed sliders with sliced onions and radiant orange cheese to crowds since '46. The burger's potato roll sits atop all that deliciousness as it cooks on the flat top, allowing it to warm up while taking on the flavors of the meat, onions, and cheese. It's one reason why the lines still stretch out the door, laden with people filling up on sliders and fries nearly 70 years after it first opened. A cheap, fresh burger never goes out of style.
Kevin Alexander is the executive editor of Thrillist Food/Drink and would eat at White Hut everyday if he didn't have to commute 3,016 miles. Follow him to the American cheese aisle in the supermarket @KAlexander03.