America's Best Burger Cities 2012
How much should you pay for a great hamburger?
“The best ones fall between $10 and $20,” says burger enthusiast Keith Flanagan, who’s also an account executive at a New York City public relations firm. “Anything less should make a foodie question the quality, and anything more should make a foodie question the restaurant’s hubris.”
Once the ultimate cheap comfort food, the burger is increasingly becoming a gourmet indulgence—often prepared with grass-fed, Kobe-style beef, topped with shaved truffles, or rendered quirky through toppings such as fried duck eggs. So where to go to sample the best burgers? Providence, RI, according to T+L readers, who voted in the annual America’s Favorite Cities survey to rank cities on features that delight travelers, among them, irresistible foods like pizza and burgers.
To be fair, the survey’s list of 35 major metropolitan areas didn’t include some smaller towns that were key in the burger’s evolution, such as New Haven, CT, home of the legendary Louis’ Lunch, or Wichita, KS, where White Castle sold the first burger that resembles what Americans eat today.
Other cities in the top 20, however, have their own claim on hamburger history. The Los Angeles area launched the first McDonald’s and the In-N-Out Burger, both in the 1940s. Minneapolis/St. Paul, meanwhile, is famous for the Juicy Lucy, a burger with the cheese cooked inside the patty.
While some cities keep it simple (Dick’s Drive-In in Seattle serves an old-school $1.50 burger), others like Philadelphia’s Hickory Lane American Bistro aim higher. “It’s not just a sandwich anymore—it’s become an entrée,” says owner and executive chef Matt Zagorski, whose burger ($14) blends filet mignon, short ribs, and brisket.
The No. 1 burger city, Providence, may have it both ways, offering both classic and creative burgers, with an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients—within reason. At Harry’s Bar and Burger, you can wash down your 100-percent-Hereford-beef sliders with spiked milkshakes, such as the Caramel Twinkie, made with ice cream, vanilla vodka, and snack cakes.
Purists like chef Zagorski think that the power of a great burger meal ultimately comes down to the high-quality beef. Why not just eat a good steak then? “Because,” he says, “it would be sacrilege to put cheese and mayo on a steak.”
No. 1 Providence, RI
According to readers, pretty much everything tastes good in this New England city, with its reputation for creative, locavore chefs. It ranked No. 2 for overall dining, as well as No. 2 for pizza and No. 5 for high-end cuisine. Try the New England Grass-Fed Burger at Local 121, or swing by Harry’s Bar and Burger for 100-percent-Hereford sliders on potato rolls and 50 beer options—proof of the city’s high rankings for microbrews.
No. 2 Philadelphia
Voters may associate the historic city with other comfort foods like cheesesteaks and pizza but it made a huge jump this year with its burgers, up from last year’s No. 22 ranking. Perhaps some thanks is due to celebrity chef Jose Garces, who tops his eight-ounce Angus burgers at Village Whiskey, off Rittenhouse Square, with maple bourbon–glazed cipollini, Rogue blue cheese, or foie gras. New restaurant Hickory Lane is also getting raves for its burger, a blend of filet mignon, short ribs, and brisket.
No. 3 Chicago
Up three slots from last year, the Windy City now ranks almost as highly for its burgers as for its winning pizza. Along with the classics served at Billy Goat Tavern (which inspired the famous “Cheezborger! Cheezborger!” skit on Saturday Night Live), you can find almost theatrical interpretations of the burger. Kuma’s Corner in Avondale, for instance, embraces a full-on heavy-metal theme: the Iron Maiden features avocado, cherry peppers, and chipotle mayo, while the Slayer has a patty topped with fries, chili, andouille, and “anger.”
No. 4 Houston
The Texas city—known for its giant, mustard-laced burgers—held the top slot last year, for such burger institutions as Lankford Grocery and the all-buffalo Bubba’s Texas Burger Shack. One hot newcomer: The Burger Guys in the Energy Corridor area, where they use Kobe-style Akaushi beef and cook their fries in duck fat; you can also top your burger with a fried duck egg for an extra $2.
No. 5 San Juan, P.R.
The romantic island city catapulted from next-to-last place last year to this year’s top 5. It’s not just the burgers, either: this year, readers applauded the local foodie renaissance, giving it first place for both its ethnic cuisine and street food. For a great burger, locals swear by a few old standbys: El Hamburger, a shack on the oceanfront drive outside the city, or El Patio de Sam, in Old San Juan.
No. 6 San Diego
The surfer town has plenty of classic-style burger places—from Hodad’s in Ocean Beach to the up-and-coming, all-grass-fed-beef chain Burger Lounge. For something exotic, check out Tioli’s Crazee Burger, in North Park or Old Town, which offers burgers made from alligator, wild boar, or kangaroo.
No. 7 Minneapolis/St. Paul
The Twin Cities are famous for the Juicy Lucy, a decadent burger with American cheese cooked inside the patty. For a more upscale cousin, try the Vincent Burger, made with a mix of beef and short ribs and stuffed with Gouda, at Minneapolis’s Vincent—A Restaurant. (Baseball fans can also buy a Vincent at Target Field’s Hennepin Grille stands.)
No. 8 Kansas City, MO
Once home to the nation’s second-largest livestock area, this is a serious beef town—it even won the barbecue category this year. The city’s best gourmet burger option may be at Blanc Burgers + Bottles, which offers watercress and truffle butter as toppings. Kids and trainspotters, however, might prefer Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant, dating back to the 1950s, where the burgers are delivered by way of miniature train.
No. 9 New York City
If any town can elevate the burger to mythic status, it’s the Big Apple, No. 1 in the survey for classical music, grand theater, and high prices. Happily, one of the longtime favorite burgers in town—the half-pound Bistro Burger at the West Village’s Corner Bistro—is $8. The infamous DB burger by Daniel Boulud, on the other hand, will set you back $32. Boulud’s DBGB Kitchen and Bar on Bowery offers an in-between option with its Frenchie Burger—topped with confit pork belly, tomato-onion compote, and Morbier cheese—at $17.
No. 10 Los Angeles
The City of Angels may rank near the top for its luxury stores and diverse, stylish locals, but it’s also the mother ship for burger chains such as In-N-Out and Fatburger. One new burger in town is Hollywood’s Fukuburger, which grew out of a Las Vegas food truck and offers burgers with Japanese flavor, such as pickled ginger or wasabi mayo. For an established gourmet burger, go with the Polo Lounge Burger at the Beverly Hills Hotel—where you might also do some A-list people-watching.
No. 11 Denver
Being the most active calorie-burners in the nation, Denverites can afford to indulge in a good burger. For a hometown classic, go to The Cherry Cricket in the Cherry Creek neighborhood. Once a favorite among local garbage-truck drivers (in the 1940s, it was near the dump), the burger joint now offers a few creative toppings, such as peanut butter and pineapple. It’s also a fine place to see why Denver won the survey for microbrews: it has a “normal” and “fancy” beer list, including plenty of local Wynkoop on tap.
No. 12 Savannah, GA
These southerners embrace their quirky side: at the popular Green Truck Pub, you can order the Trailer Park, a grass-fed, one-third-pound patty topped with bacon and pimento cheese. Work up an appetite (or walk off your Trailer Park) by strolling the charming, peaceful city: it won the survey for its outdoor spaces and ranked near the top for its cool antique shops and indie boutiques.
No. 13 Austin, TX
This techie haven may be better known for its hipster culture—including live music and food trucks—but Austin is still part of cattle country. One burger hot spot these days is Hopdoddy Burger Bar, where you can decide between the Magic Shroom (goat cheese, organic field mushrooms, and a pesto spread) or the Terlingua (chili con carne, cheddar, and Fritos).
No. 14 Memphis, TN
You might choose a burger just to cleanse the palate between rounds of barbecue in this Tennessee city, which took the silver for its fabulous ribs. The Soul Burger at Earnestine and Hazel’s deliciously blurs the line between burgers, barbecue, and the city’s late-night spirit: the grilled mound of beef with cheese, onions, mustard, and pickles is available until 3 a.m. (the spot is also famous for its jukebox).
No. 15 Nashville
Johnny Cash once sang about having beer for breakfast, and Music City certainly ranked near the top of the survey for both its live music and bar scene. You can have both beer and a burger for a late breakfast at East Nashville’s Pharmacy Burger Parlor and Beer Garden, where the Farm Burger has a fried egg, bacon, and maple mustard.
No. 16 Las Vegas
Vegas won the survey for its array of hotel options and ranked No. 2 for wild weekends—though, in this case, wild may refer to your cholesterol numbers. Chefs have built a bustling, upscale burger scene in Sin City—from the Mirage’s BLT Burger and Bradley Ogden at Caesar’s to the beloved Burger Bar at Mandalay Bay. A recent entry, Holsteins in the sleek Cosmopolitan hotel, offers dry-aged beef burgers as well as over-the-top shakes, such as one made from milk-steeped Captain Crunch.
No. 17 New Orleans
A great burger is a little messy, and New Orleans embodies that uncontained energy: it ranked near the top for being both unkempt and offbeat. Port of Call in the French Market may serve the city’s most legendary burger (it comes with a baked potato), while relative newbie Sylvain, with its own acclaimed burger, encourages you to pair your hand-cut french fries with Veuve Clicquot.
No. 18 San Antonio, TX
The home of the Alamo is big on Texas-style patties: a little thin, but plenty filling. Locals are loyal to the “macho”-size burgers (like the Flaming Jalapeño) at longtime burger joint Chris Madrid’s, as well as the one-pound wonders at The Lord’s Kitchen. Voters otherwise loved the easygoing vibe of the city, ranking it in the top 10 for families.
No. 19 Portland, ME
You can get a lot more than great lobster rolls in this foodie town: voters loved the pizza, the high-end, farm-to-table dining, and the great coffee. The Blue Spoon in the city’s East End makes a case for great burgers, too. Its Bistro Burger is made with locally raised, Scottish Highland beef, caramelized onions, and red wine. Burgers are a natural part of an all-American vacation, and Portland ranked first for both summer and the 4th of July.
No. 20 Seattle
The Emerald City squeaked into the burger top 20, but it handily won the categories for both tech-savvy and smart locals. Suitably cutting-edge burgers can be found at Lunchbox Laboratory in South Lake Union, where the Dork features a house-blended patty made of duck and pork. But the city’s patron saint of techies, Bill Gates, has professed his loyalty to Dick’s Drive-In, which has been around since the 1950s and where a cheeseburger costs a not-just-for-billionaires $1.50.