Maryland recently got on the fast-casual burger bandwagon with the opening of Shake Shack and Smashburger. While those places are all well and good (read: delicious), it's not like Maryland was hurting for fine burger options before they got here. Here's a look at the finest Maryland-born burgers around, from the mom-and-pops and dives to the farm-to-tables and bistros that're cooking up juicy and satisfying beef masterpieces.
Cambridge Cambridge is a town usually reserved for a stopover on the way to the beach, but The High Spot will make you want to stick around. This cozy gastropub is in a bustling part of town near coffee shops and museums -- and only a couple of blocks from the water. When the weather agrees, the outside tables are filled with locals drinking beer with their dogs at their feet. Naturally, seafood is king here (try the Buffalo fried oysters), but be sure to try the duck fat burger. Ground beef from nearby Simmons Center Market is seared in duck fat, then topped with exotic mushrooms, smoked bacon, Gruyère cheese, and a fried duck egg. The mammoth creation is served open-face on a grilled bun with lettuce, tomato, and red onion. A fork and knife would be a wise idea.
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Ocean City This burger haven has two locations, in Downtown Baltimore and Ocean City, but we like the more laid-back beach spot, which still has the make-your-own burger options (with exotic choices like elk, bison, and kangaroo). But, sometimes decisions are too difficult, and that’s when we order the SimplyAJ10, which pays homage to the food-heavy Instagram account of Orioles center fielder Adam Jones. A mound of Kobe beef sits on an English muffin with pepper jack cheese, avocado, jalapeños, bacon, chili-pepper mayo, lettuce, and tomato. The spicy burger comes with a side of tater tots and nacho cheese. While you’re digesting all of that, it’s comforting to know that $1 from each burger sold goes to Jones’ charity, working with Baltimore youth.
Baltimore Housed in a converted old bank, Alewife’s interior is beautiful, with starkly high ceilings, stained glass and chalkboard details, and bright crimson walls. Another thing of beauty is its Smoke Burger, which the menu advises will take "a bit longer than average" to prepare, so be patient. But this honking sandwich, which comes with an Excalibur-like steak knife planted firmly in the middle, is worth the wait. This 11oz Monkton-based Roseda beef blend is topped with smoked Gouda, Gruyère, Applewood-smoked bacon, caramelized onions, and chipotle aioli all on a buttery brioche bun with melt-in-your-mouth duck-fat fries. The sun beaming in through the stained glass feels apropos, since eating this burger is akin to a religious experience.
Towson Sometimes simplicity is key, and this boutique Towson spot delivers a beautifully prepared classic cheeseburger. The Angus beef patties are grilled to a slightly smoky char and the buns are fresh and buttery, but able to withstand whatever toppings you choose. For us, it’s a standard bacon and pepper jack combination with a side of the delicious and crunchy hand-cut fries. Enjoy it at an outside table where you’ll never be bored with the people-watching.
Dunkirk It's not clear just how many canisters of Old Bay seasoning Chesapeake Grille & Deli goes through on a given day, but the spice is used on everything from shrimp, soup, and wing apps to crab cake, chicken, and rockfish entrees. However, the best use is on the Bay-Sized Burger, which is a whopping 12oz steak patty, bay fries (of course), shredded lettuce, and tomato on a seeded Kaiser roll. This massive burger was actually Chesapeake’s first order when it first opened up in Southern Maryland in 2008. Considering its size, that first customer may still be working through it.
Bethesda If you’re on a health-kick, but still want that burger-and-fries satisfaction, head to this tiny spot on Wisconsin Ave in Bethesda. City Burger’s meat is locally sourced from a farm in Frederick, plus they have a great vegetarian option in a quinoa & black bean burger. But we couldn’t go completely meat-free, so we opted for the turkey burger, the Suburban. The lean patty is charred on the edges and topped with alfalfa sprouts, roasted red peppers, and provolone. Plus you can get a side of fried green beans sprinkled with Parmesan and sesame seeds. The combination is so good, you'll forget about the lack of red meat entirely.
Baltimore Move over, popcorn & milk duds: the newest movie snack may just be burgers & poutine. It might sound strange, but that’s the mission of Clark Burger, adjacent to the historic Senator Theater in the Govans neighborhood of Baltimore. There are many variations of Black Angus beef patties, but it’s wise to stick with the titular burger with Tillamook sharp cheddar, smoked bacon, onion, lettuce, pickles, and CB sauce (a spicy Thousand Island). The bun is grilled and the burger is slightly charred, giving the whole sandwich a great crunch. And don’t forget the poutine, in which hand-cut fries are doused in rich brown gravy and squeaky cheese, which is a meal in itself. Plus, there’s a full bar with drinks you can bring into the next-door theater.
Gaithersburg The burgers are almost as big of a deal as the beer at this massive restaurant licensed by Delaware-based brewery Dogfish Head. Famous for its experimental beers, it’s no wonder that the brewery’s take on burgers is just as unique. The restaurant features a "burger of the week" with creative toppings like bratwurst, hummus, or fried shrimp. But the standout among the mainstays is Dave’s Border Burger, which is a half-pound wood-fired patty with pepper jack cheese, sliced avocado, pico de gallo salsa, and fried jalapeño discs. While all of the toppings make it a bit cumbersome to eat, the grilled bun and flat patty help keep it all together -- resulting in a spicy but fresh-tasting combination. And don’t sleep on the hand-cut beach fries. (Hint: add vinegar to really make them "beach"-style.)
Frederick Bryan Voltaggio is known for a lot of things: having a brother who’s a fellow chef, turning out amazing food at Volt, and coming in second-place a lot on Top Chef. Add "being a burger master" to that list, as his creations at Family Meal are gourmet-burger-execution at its finest. Take the Pepperoni Burger, which actually has spicy pepperoni meat worked into the patty and is then topped with smashed avocado, a thick slice of pepper jack, and an oozing fried egg all on a sesame seed bun. Do yourself a favor and accompany the burger with duck-fat fries and a trio of dipping sauces (including an addictive Old Bay flavor).
Baltimore This dimly lit bar has a few rules, including discouraging patrons from talking about religion and politics, and its TVs only come out during Orioles games. But one thing that’s always constant is the incredible Crosstown Burger. By far the most popular menu item, this burger is made with Monkton-based Roseda Farms beef, lettuce, onion, and horseradish cheddar. Adding the sticky-sweet bacon and an over-easy fried egg brings it to the next level. Pair your burger with delicious greens or onion rings battered in Natty Boh.
Ocean City Ocean City and fine-dining aren’t exactly synonymous, but Hooked is the exception. Located on the bay side of 80th St, this seafood restaurant ticks all the boxes: great crabs, extensive wine list, and excellent service. One other major plus is the Truffle Burger with shiitake mushrooms, bacon, chopped leeks, and creamy Gruyère sauce all on a brioche bun. The burger comes with delicious (and unique) fries sprinkled with pesto. This is surely one of the most indulgent burgers we’ve ever had -- and probably the messiest, so be sure to have plenty of napkins. But the effort is worth it to taste the sweet, smoky, and earthy flavors of this sandwich.
Annapolis Sometimes you just want a burger for breakfast. And that’s where Iron Rooster, a rustic rowhouse restaurant in Annapolis, comes in. This all-day breakfast spot is known for its house-made pop-tarts and fluffy pancakes, but its burger takes on a breakfast twist as well, as the ground beef brisket patty with lettuce, tomato, garlic aioli, and your choice of cheese is sandwiched between two pillowy corn-jalapeño waffles. Bacon and fried eggs are a $1 add-on, but the whole breakfast tie-in is just too fitting to pass up. Burn off the calories of this carb-loaded creation with a walk on the waterfront along close-by Spa Creek.
Baltimore Kooper’s Tavern has a couple brick-and-mortar locations in the Baltimore area -- where it features its famous burgers and dog decor. However, Kooper’s Chowhound burger wagon was the first official food truck in the area and deserves praise for the burgers it's grilling in its tiny mobile kitchen. Whether you’re at a music festival, beer garden, or charity 5K, there is nothing more satisfying than an Elvis Got the Blues burger with Creekstone Farms Black Angus beef, Maytag blue cheese spread, and thick slabs of Applewood-smoked bacon, all on a sturdy grilled bun. Also recommended: a side of 50-50 Fries (an even split of sweet potato and regular) and keeping track of the wagon with its website’s handy Google Calendar.
Ellicott City Marylanders flock to Phoenix Emporium on Ellicott City’s quaint Main Street for its expansive beer selection: 160 bottled microbrews and imported beers in all. But they stay for the food, which includes burgers made with meat from J.W. Trueths butcher shop, just a mile away from the restaurant. But what most impressed us was how satisfying the meatless version is. The Portabella Burger is made with the grilled mushroom, melted provolone cheese, roasted red peppers, sauteed red onions, pesto spread, and a roasted red-pepper mayo, all on toasted focaccia bread. The burger is absolutely bursting with complex flavors of sweetness and spice, and proves that even vegetarians can get their carnivorous fix every once in a while.
Brookville The word "unassuming" gets thrown around a lot, but it's so apt when describing Sunshine General Store, a burger joint hidden in an old Howard County gas station. The cash-only diner harkens back to a simpler time, where regulars fill up the lunch counter and the same women prepare their burgers day in and day out. Customers can watch as their meat gets grilled on the flat-top, then placed on a hearty sesame seed bun with standard toppings like lettuce, tomato, onions, and mayo. Be sure to get yours with American cheese and ask for pickle chips on the side. Bacon is an option too, but why complicate things? Sometimes a simple cheeseburger, eaten at a diner counter, is everything.
Baltimore Though this dive bar’s name has been the butt of many jokes, it’s also remained a North Baltimore institution since it opened in the 1940s. And, seemingly, not too much -- besides the lack of cigarette smoke and a now-digital jukebox -- has changed. But when new management took over a few years ago, the pub-grub got even better, and the best example is the cheeseburger (which is half-price on Wednesday nights). The hand-formed patty is well-seasoned and we added cheddar cheese, crispy bacon, and fresh jalapeños. The burger comes with a small cup of refreshingly light coleslaw and salty hand-cut fries. Your group can wash it down with a cheap pitcher of domestic beer, just like patrons have been doing for decades.
Baltimore The Dizz’s slogan is "Baltimore in a bar," which is pretty accurate, considering it’s the ideal setting for taking in an Orioles or Ravens game or sharing a crab cake dinner with friends overtop a plastic tablecloth. It also has nearly 20 varieties of burgers to choose from on the menu, but our go-to is the Black & Bleu Burger, which has a patty rubbed with blackening spices, a bleu cheese spread, and two crispy pieces of bacon all dusted with Old Bay on a kaiser sesame seed bun. The burger is served simply with a pickle spear and original Utz chips. Just goes to show that a place doesn’t have to be fancy to make amazing food.
Bel Air As the saying goes, "When in Rome" -- so it only makes sense that a Maryland burger list would include the crab-cake-topped McHenry Burger from Vagabond Sandwich Shop in Bel Air. The 6oz Angus burger from nearby Hickory Chance Farms is topped with bacon, melted cheddar, tomato, green leaf, Old Bay remoulade and, yes, a 2oz lump crab cake on a toasted brioche bun. The sweet crab meat juxtaposed with the smoky burger and spicy remoulade makes for a completely flavor-packed burger. Your best bet would be to save the house-made kettle chips to scoop up the leftover remoulade that drips off the sandwich, in essence creating your very own crab chip.
Frederick Walking down the steps into Wag’s Restaurant in Frederick, you feel like you’re about to enter someone’s basement club room -- which is actually pretty accurate. With a long wooden bar, mirrored walls, a fireplace, and sports on TV, Wag’s has all the comforts of home. Including delicious homemade burgers. What makes this one so unique is that toppings are stuck under the cheese, the quarter-pound patty is grilled so the cheese melts, and it's then placed on a toasted Kaiser roll. Our favorite version is the Philly Burger with onions, green peppers, and mushrooms under melted provolone. All the taste notes of a famed cheesesteak in a cozy-basement setting.
White Marsh Every once in a blue moon (or hangover), we crave the grease of a Five Guys burger and, luckily, Maryland has its own mini-chain to answer those hunger pangs. Z-Burger has a brightly colored location in The Avenue shopping complex in White Marsh and has a lot of advantages over its quintet competitor: twice as many toppings, deliciously breaded onion rings, and uniquely flavored shakes. We recommend getting a double (since it’s only 3.5oz per patty) with the "works" and adding any of the 31 toppings or sauces you desire -- favorites include the fried egg, guacamole, and banana peppers. The blend of ground sirloin, chuck, and brisket isn’t overly greasy but still fatty enough... plus the soft sesame seed bun is the perfect envelope for squishing together all your ingredients for that first, juicy bite.
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