America’s Best Burgers (Dig In!)
For a dish as seemingly straightforward as the hamburger, the category is awash with diversity ⎯ and dissent. Burger aficionados in the U.S. of A. generally fall into two schools of thought. One camp espouses griddled, no-frills diner patties; the other prefers freshly ground, carefully sourced proteins cooked to order (occasionally by Michelin-starred chefs). Fortunately, there are ample opportunities to explore your options. Emily Saladino grabs the country’s best burgers with both hands.
Charleston, SC: Cheeseburger at Husk
Savvy Southern gentleman Sean Brock grinds hickory-smoked Benton bacon directly into the all-beef patties of his cult burger at Husk, his James Beard Award winning ode to Low Country cuisine. The double-stack, 100% chuck burger is served on a housemade buttermilk bun and topped with a proprietary "special sauce" that we suspect is comprised of mayonnaise, ketchup, jalapenos and unicorn’s blood; plus bread and butter pickles, white onions and American cheese, which Brock praises for its superior meltability.
New Haven, CT: The original at Louis’ Lunch
As with any icon, the hamburger’s origin story is difficult to arbitrate. Louis’ Lunch, a 120-year-old institution two blocks from the New Haven Green, claims founder Louis Lassen invented the burger in 1900, when he sandwiched steak trimmings between toast points at his eponymous lunch wagon. Today, fourth-generation Lassen burgermeisters go through nearly 200 pounds of ground beef daily at their casual counter fitted with exposed brick, barstools, and countless orders of "cheese works" (code for thin, griddled cheeseburgers with all toppings). All burgers start at $6.00 a pop, and are served between slices of toast, as Louis intended.
New York, NY: Superiority burger at Superiority Burger
In the same slender Manhattan space that once housed vegetarian Michelin darling Dirt Candy, former Del Posto pastry chef Brooks Headley serves a game-changing veggie burger to long lines of enthusiastic omnivores. An instant success, Headley’s $6 slider is a meat-free mic drop for carnivores prone to inquire "Where’s the beef?" The nutty, spicy affair is composed primarily of quinoa, topped with lettuce, tomato, dill pickles and Muenster cheese, and served on a Martin’s potato roll.
Chicago, IL: Cheeseburger at Au Cheval
Crowned the country’s best by Food Network in June 2015, Brendan Sodikoff’s griddled burger has a lot to live up to. Fortunately, the Thomas Keller-trained chef delivers. Sodikoff sandwiches all-beef patties between lightly toasted buns from Chicago’s Z Baking, and slathers them with American cheese and housemade Dijonnaise and pickles. It’s a nostalgia-inducing double (or triple) decker so popular it spawns two- or three-hour wait times outside of Sodikoff’s West Loop location, which launched a burger-centric sibling, Small Cheval, in Wicker Park last July.
Los Angeles, CA: Truffle Burger at Umami Burger
Started in 2009 by meaty maestro (and former wine professional) Adam Fleischman, this fleet of freewheeling burger shops spans California, Nevada, Illinois and New York, and has earned legions of hungry patrons eager to undo last night’s SoulCycle class on Umami’s gleefully indulgent fare. The most splurge-worthy item on this (and most) menus is the truffle burger, an all-beef blend topped with a triple threat of truffle glaze, truffle aioli and truffle cheese. Hey, diet starts Monday.
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Miami, FL: Black Angus at Michael’s Genuine
"Farm-to-table" is rarely applied to burgers (or to Miami, for that matter), but Michael Schwartz’ Design District stunner defies expectations. The Black Angus burger, a house signature with a deservedly devoted following, is made with house-ground, Harris Ranch beef, and served on a brioche bun with one simple, fresh tomato. Sustainably sourced bacon, cheddar or bleu cheese comprise the sort of optional additions that make us proud to self-identify as locavores.
Boston, MA: Lamb bocadillos at Tres Gatos
Housed in what looks like a private home, Tres Gatos is a bi-level retail space/ tapas bar bringing both vintage vinyl and single-origin mezcal to Jamaica Plain. The unabashed stars of nightly dinner service, however, are the palm-sized lamb bocadillos. More slider than burger, the mini lamb patties arrive on the long bar and surrounding tall-tops beneath cilantro-heavy salsa verde and crispy shallots, and are served on custom-sized, housemade potato roll. A perennial top-seller, the bocadillos are untraditional and irresistible — much like Tres Gatos itself.
Atlanta, GA: Doublestack at H+F Burger
Atlantans credit local fine dining chef Linton Hopkins with inaugurating a citywide doublestack burger craze, thanks to his limited-quantity cult creation at Buckhead gastropub Holeman & Finch. Last fall, he gave the people what they wanted by opening H+F Burger, a burger-centric stall at the hip new Ponce City Market. The kiosk serves variations on Hopkins’ theme, but the main event is that classic doublestack with two patties of freshly ground, grass-fed chuck and brisket, Kraft American cheese, homemade ketchup, mustard, diced red onion and tangy bread and butter pickles.
Austin, TX: Famous Frisco burger at The Frisco
The last remaining outpost of former mayor and culinary champion Harry Akin’s Nighthawk restaurants, a groundbreaking fleet that installed farming and workers’ rights initiatives and were Austin’s first to integrate, The Frisco opened its swinging glass door in 1953. From the vinyl-and-chrome stools to signature Famous Frisco burger, little has changed. The latter is a humble, homey affair, combining griddled Angus beef patties, tangy relish, American cheese and thousand island dressing on a toasted supermarket bun. It ain’t fancy, but it sure is good.
Napa, CA: Ahi tuna burger at Gott’s Roadside
Niman Ranch hot dogs, chili cheese fries and beefy burgers topped with beer-battered onion rings headline Gott’s Roadside, a Northern Californian mini-empire with locations in Napa, St. Helena, San Francisco and Palo Alto. It takes a substantial filet-o-fish, then, to distinguish itself amongst carnivorous crowds. Gott’s ahi tuna burger is such a sandwich. Sushi-grade tuna is lightly seared, topped with cilantro and ginger-wasabi mayonnaise, and served on a soft, eggy bun. It is simultaneously hearty and (somewhat) healthy, and has us wishing they all could be California grills.