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America's Best Burger Cities 2011

Sometimes, only a burger will do.

When traveling overseas and feeling under the weather or homesick, New Yorker Jeff Ward often craves a burger. "I start wanting comfort food—something American," says the managing partner of African Safari Consultants. And yet? "They're always terrible," he says. "There's no better place for a burger than the U.S.A."

Which American city does burgers best? That inspires a lot of debate—but now Travel +Leisure readers have picked a winner. In our annual America's Favorite Cities survey, readers weighed in on the best features of 35 cities. While some categories had obvious contenders (like Chicago for pizza or Seattle for coffee), the race for the best burger seemed wide open.

There's even debate over where the hamburger originated—perhaps at a lunch counter in Athens, TX, in the 1880s, or at the famed Louis' Lunch in New Haven, CT. While only major cities were in the running—sorry, New Haven—the Top 10 showed a certain small-town flair in its distinctive burger styles.

In Texas, you'll find big patties, shredded lettuce, and plenty of mustard; Minneapolis/St. Paul has varying versions of a Juicy Lucy, a burger with the cheese cooked inside the patty. "The Juicy Lucy goes beyond burger-making and into science," says burger expert George Motz, a filmmaker and author of Hamburger America. "They have to prick it during cooking to release steam, otherwise it will explode on the grill."

In still other cities, the best burgers have gone upscale. New York's DB Bistro Moderne serves one of Ward's favorites: a sirloin patty filled with braised short ribs and black truffles for a whopping $32.

So what's the difference between a $3 burger and a $32 one? Motz says it's mostly the beef: not just whether the cattle is grass-fed or hormone-free, but that meat is fresh and ground right at the restaurant—something increasingly found at mid-range places like Joe's Cable Car in San Francisco.

Motz and most AFC voters seem to agree that the best burgers, no matter the price point, keep things simple—one reason California-based In-N-Out has such a loyal following. "The wax-paper-wrapped, handheld double cheeseburger is one of the greatest things California has ever given to America," says Motz. "Add too many seasonings and other things to the patty, and it becomes something else—meatloaf."

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