It’s consistently one of the most contentious food topics across the nation. Who makes the best burger? In New York City alone, the classics—Peter Luger, Corner Bistro, P. J. Clarke’s—must defend their meat cred from sizzling newcomers like Black Iron, Back Forty, Five Napkin Burger, and Shake Shack.
In the final analysis, the beauty of a burger depends on personal preference for patty size, toppings, and sides, but we still scoured the 50 states for our list of the top 10 ways to serve beef in a bun. Doing our two-fisted (and multiple-napkin) diligence, we ordered our burgers loud-and-proud in greasy-spoon diners, late-night taverns, hip downtown joints, indie chains, and even a few haute cuisine temples where the homegrown chefs know their Wagyu from their Black Angus and occasionally add foie gras or short ribs to the meaty mix.
We’re flexible: regional toppings like chile con carne, fried eggs, and artisanal bacon are just fine with us, though a plain, good old-fashioned cheeseburger also appeals to our appetites. Of course, a champion burger also deserves heroic sides. Golden-brown fries always hit the spot, but we also enjoyed the sizable pickles, grits, and even scrapple that showed up on our plates.
Tradition must be taken into account, even if the tradition in question might taste strange to outsiders. At Dyer’s Burger, a Memphis institution since 1912, the all-beef patties are dunked in a cast-iron skillet of boiling hot vegetable oil. Out in Hawaii, Oahu’s Kua’Aina Sandwich Shop has been offering enormous charbroiled burgers topped with slices of fresh, island-grown avocado or pineapple for the past 25 years.
When it comes to the Big Apple, the burger battle becomes more contentious. It also becomes more difficult to pick a clear winner, which is why we chose two. The no-fuss, no-attitude Black Iron Burger Shop’s house special is a delectable version involving two patties topped with grilled onions and horseradish cheddar. And our other pick? Well, as tough as it is to spurn restaurants with a proud hamburger history, this one is also a newcomer to Gotham’s burger circuit.
Here is Travel + Leisure’s highly opinionated, highly subjective, and high-calorie take on where to find the best burger in America.