50 States 50 Burgers
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Creek Bank Restaurant, Wagerville, Alabama
Until recently, this roadside eatery didn't have an address. People relied on word-of-mouth directions to head an hour north of Mobile for one thing: the burger. The seven-ounce chuck patty is nothing fancy, just plain delicious. At first bite, a secret ketchup-mayo sauce drips down the side.
21711 Hwy. 43, Wagarville; 251-246-9396
Long Branch Saloon, Anchorage, Alaska
Patties and toppings usually get all the attention, but at this dive bar, the buns push the burgers over the top: The famously light rolls, baked on-site daily, taste like a cross between ciabatta and sourdough — and they never crumble. But fans say the fresh-beef patties are darned tasty too.
1737 E. Dimond Blvd., Anchorage; 907-349-4142
Carlsbad Tavern, Scottsdale, Arizona
The menu warns diners this burger may cause temporary blindness or loss of hearing. We found no reported cases, but beware: The Angus patty includes two ounces of habanero pepper (60 times hotter than a jalapeño). The burger is grilled over pecan wood.
3313 N. Hayden Rd., Scottsdale; carlsbadtavern.com
Cotham's in the City, Little Rock, Arkansas
This jumbo burger, once shipped to the White House during the Clinton years, is a smoky, garlicky, 16-ounce stack of flavor held together by a 7-inch-wide bun made with olive oil. The Hubcap comes with loads of toppings and a challenge: Eat two and the owner picks up the tab for the second.
1401 W. 3rd St., Little Rock; cothams.com
In-N-Out Burger, California
Yeah, California has lots of highfalutin farm-to-table burgers, but ask locals where to find a good, simple burger, and the answer is In-N-Out. To order in the lingo of the chain's cult followers, ask for fries "well-done" and burgers "animal style" (fried with mustard, topped with grilled onion).
multiple locations; www.in-n-out.com
Jack-N-Grill, Denver, Colorado
Former chile pepper salesman Jack Martinez used to haul a grill around town on weekends, serving food at car dealerships, until customers demanded he open his own place. The specialty at his restaurant is the Juarez burger, topped with ham, a hot dog, guacamole and, yes, chile peppers.
2524 N. Federal Blvd., Denver; 303-964-9544 jackngrill.com
Nage, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
This strip-mall bistro, in Delaware’s popular vacation spot, is packed with tourists and year-round residents — always a good sign.
1970 Coastal Hwy., Rehoboth Beach; nagerestaurant.com
El Rey De Las Fritas, Miami, Florida
The small Miami chain's name means "King of the Fried Burgers," a fair claim: It reportedly has family ties to Havana's first restaurant specializing in the frita, Cuba's take on a slider. The thin beef-and-chorizo patties are fried and topped with shoestring fries and a secret tomato-based sauce.
six locations around Miami; 305-223-9944
Holeman & Finch Public House
The cheeseburger isn't on the menu at this pub, for fear that it's all anyone would order. Two cheese-smothered chuck-and-brisket patties are topped with house-made bread-and-butter pickles and served on a brioche bun. Only 24 are available nightly at Burger Time, 10 p.m., announced by megaphone.
2277 Peachtree Rd., Atlanta; holeman-finch.com
Hukilau Cafe, Laie, Hawaii
A loco moco is Hawaii's take on a burger: a beef patty and fried egg on a bed of rice, smothered in gravy. Fans of the state specialty know the gravy is critical, which is why this loco moco is so popular. At the hidden eatery on Oahu's North Shore, the rich, beefy stock is the best around.
55-662 Wahinepee St., Laie; 808-293-8616
Big Juds, Boise, Idaho
Anyone who polishes off this one-pound cheeseburger plus the side of fries is immortalized with a picture on the wall, and more than 1,000 have won the honor. The enormous burger, super-juicy but not too messy, is so popular that Big Juds gets 20 to 25 orders a day. A two-pounder is $3 extra.
1289 Protest Rd., Boise; 208-343-4439 bigjudsboise.com
Kuma's Corner, Chicago, Illinois
When this bar opened, it was all about beer and heavy metal, but soon the burgers (almost all named for bands) got Chicago talking — particularly the Slayer: a bunless patty on a pile of fries, topped with chili, andouille sausage, cherry peppers, onion, cheese and, according to the menu, "anger."
2900 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago; 773-604-8769
Farm Bloomington, Bloomington, Indiana
Senator Richard Lugar has served this espresso-chili-rubbed bison burger on Capitol Hill to show off his state's lean, grass-fed buffalo meat. The burger comes on an "everything" bun with artisanal cheese and thick-cut peppered bacon. The meat is from a ranch 10 miles away.
108 E. Kirkwood Ave., Bloomington; farm-bloomington.com
Hickory Park Restaurant Co., Ames, Iowa
Diners often line up for an hour for a seat in one of the church pews at this Iowa institution. For barbecue fans, the burgers are worth the wait: The beef or pork patties are hickory-smoked. The menu has fifteen burgers, but the Garbage, topped with ham and sauerkraut, is by far the most popular.
1404 S. Duff Ave., Ames; hickoryparkames.com
Conventional wisdom says that one should never crush a burger with a spatula, but that technique is exactly what has drawn crowds to this small Midwestern chain for nearly 70 years. Razor-thin patties made from ground steak are seared on a flattop grill until the edges are crisp.
10 locations in Kansas and Missouri; winsteadssteakburger.com
W.W. Cousins, Louisville, Kentucky
Some people can't have enough options. This Louisville landmark is for them: At the center of the restaurant is a 40-item burger toppings bar that's so complex, there's a map above it to guide you to the tartar sauce, sliced green olives, parmesan and whatever else suits your fancy.
900 Dupont Rd., Louisville; ilovecousins.com
Mason's Grill, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
The owner here spent two years searching for the perfect finishing touch to this surf-and-turf burger: a sourdough bun from a Houston bakery. The patty in between is stuffed with jalapeños before being sautéed and blanketed with even more jalapeños, Gulf shrimp and a half-cup of jack cheese.
13556 Jefferson Hwy., Baton Rouge; 225-756-8815
Owls Head General Store, Owls Head, Maine
Owners of this old general store won't reveal their secret burger-assembly process, but the loosely packed burgers are insanely juicy — they literally fall apart in your hands (yes, they require all seven of those napkins). You can get one to go and eat it at Owls Head lighthouse, just down the road.
2 S. Shore Dr., Owls Head; 207-596-6038
Mother's Federal Hill Grille, Baltimore, Maryland
Cardiologists may disagree, but burger lovers think this 8-ounce beef patty — stuffed with cheddar, dipped in an ale batter and deep-fried — is worth the obvious health risks. On the upside, there are a few veggies involved: The patty is topped with lettuce, tomato and onions, plus chipotle mayo.
1113 S. Charles St., Baltimore; mothersgrille.com
Christopher's Restaurant & Bar
The burgers are soaked in a bath of Sam Adams lager, garlic, Montreal steak seasoning, salt and dry mustard, then charred on the grill and served on an English muffin with white cheddar and Applewood smoked bacon.
1920 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge; christopherscambridge.com
Hunter House Hamburgers, Birmingham, Alabama
Everyone in Detroit can tell if you've just come from Hunter House: A trip to this throwback burger joint leaves you smelling like grilled onions for the rest of the day. The place sells only one thing: sliders topped with pickles, mustard and tons of grilled onions.
35075 Woodward Ave., Birmingham; hunterhousehamburgers.com
Vincent - A Restaurant, Minneapolis, Minnesota
For the uninitiated, a Juicy Lucy is a Minneapolis specialty: a burger with a surprise stash of Velveeta in the center. At his white-tablecloth restaurant, chef Vincent Francoual upgrades the sandwich for fancier palates, stuffing Angus beef patties with smoked gouda and braised short ribs.
1100 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis; vincentarestaurant.com
White Trolley Cafe, Corinth, Mississippi
Back in the day, slugburgers, a local specialty, sold for a slug, or a nickel. They're still only 85 cents, and are made the same way: by mixing ground beef with fillers (at White Trolley, pork, soybeans and flour) and deep-frying the patties twice. They're smallish, so most people order two.
1215 Hwy. 72 E., Corinth; 662-287-4593
Blanc Burgers + Bottles, Kansas City, Missouri
This winner is the burger equivalent of the tunnel-of-fudge cake: a rich patty — with tenderloin, rib eye and New York strip — stuffed with blue cheese that oozes out when you bite in. The chef at this modern joint serves the thick patty with bacon and an onion ring on a soft onion-brioche bun.
4710 Jefferson St., Kansas City; 816-931-6200
Ford's Drive-In, Great Falls, Montana
Visiting this 1954 drive-in reminds you of what a burger should be: reasonably sized (3-ounce patties), reasonably priced, and paired with a big milkshake (Ford's makes 50 kinds). Follow the lead of some regulars and get peanut butter as a topping.
1301 Central Ave. W., Great Falls; 406-452-7972
Twisted Cork Bistro, Omaha, Nebraska
The chef at this bistro takes full advantage of tasty Midwestern meat, building patties from all-natural local ingredients: pork shoulder and flat-iron steak from nearby Hollenbeck Farms. No one needs fancy toppings here — the good stuff is all inside the patty: paprika, fennel and aged white cheddar.
10730 Pacific St., Omaha; twistedcorkbistro.com
Kilroy's, Las Vegas, Nevada
CLOSED-This off-the-strip joint is famous for its burgers, but locals go for the patty melt instead: a grilled-cheese sandwich with a burger in the middle. The patty is an 85/15 blend of fresh ground chuck topped with grilled onions, jack and cheddar, wedged between two slices of grilled, well-buttered rye.
4340 S. Grand Canyon Dr., Las Vegas; 702-367-3184
Gilley's PM Lunch, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
This little red 1940s diner started as a lunch truck, but it's rooted in place now and customers line up until 2:30 a.m., hoping for one of the 10 counter seats. The lure: juicy, loosely packed burgers with a side of poutine, a French-Canadian specialty of fries covered with gravy and cheese curds.
175 Fleet St., Portsmouth; gilleyspmlunch.com
Stage Left, New Brunswick, New Jersey
The brazenly named burger at this Jersey bar, housed in a swank restaurant, draws skeptics but in 18 years has yet to disappoint. Scraps of pricey steak from the fancy side of the restaurant are mixed into Angus beef patties; they're charred over a wood grill and topped with aged cheddar.
5 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick; stageleft.com
Clancy's Irish Cantina, Farmington, New Mexico
This Irish bar got its unlikely name when the owners moved here from Colorado and reopened it in an adobe building. The burgers are as quirky — they're served between tortillas with a sauce of local hatch green chiles boiled with pork shoulder, potatoes, garlic and cumin, then smothered with cheese.
2703 E. 20th St., Farmington; clancys.net
Burger Joint, New York, New York
Be warned: This place is tiny, crowded, hard to find and ruthless about burgers. You'll have ground beef on a squishy bun, and you'll like it. The charred patties taste like they were made on a backyard grill. So, in a city without yards, everyone keeps coming back for more.
Le Parker Meridien, 119 W. 56th St., New York City; 212-708-7414
Raleigh Times Bar, Raleigh, North Carolina
North Carolina is no place for a burger lover: State law demands restaurants cook burgers to at least medium — no pink allowed. But at this bar in a century-old building, the chef grinds his own meat daily, so you can get deliciously simple half-pound patties medium-rare, just as nature intended.
14 E. Hargett St., Raleigh; raleightimesbar.com
Hi-Ho South, Fargo, North Dakota
Ask anyone in Fargo for a great burger spot and they'll most likely recommend this downtown favorite. The just-greasy-enough burgers, served on a buttered bun with fried onions, are the result of over half a century of practice: The Cariveau family has been slinging them since 1960.
3051 25th St. S.W., Fargo; 701-280-9505
Terry's Turf Club, Cincinnati, Ohio
This raucous bar is full of contradictions — there are peanut shells on the floor, for example, but filet mignon on the menu. And the super-popular burgers come on paper plates, yet the toppings are straight off a fine-dining menu, including foie gras, scallops with lychees, and Iberian ham.
4618 Eastern Ave., Cincinnati; 513-533-4222
Johnnie's Grill, El Reno, Oklahoma
During the Depression, thrifty Oklahomans stretched their meat by making half-beef, half-onion burgers. Johnnie's is more generous with the meat now, but the tradition lives on: Onions are pressed onto burgers and caramelize as they cook. The thin patties are topped with mustard and a warm bun.
301 S. Rock Island, El Reno; 405-262-4721
Skyline Restaurant, Portland, Oregon
The burger at this former drive-in overlooking Portland is nothing fancy; it's just plain good — so delicious that renowned food writer James Beard declared it one of the best he'd ever tasted. The quarter-pounder comes on a buttered, toasted bun with tomato, pickles and mayo.
1313 N.W. Skyline Blvd., Portland; 503-292-6727
Royal Tavern, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philly's famous cheesesteak joints are only blocks away, but many beef lovers flock to this laid-back bar instead. Regulars have nicknamed the addictive burger "the royal." The thick patty comes on a brioche bun with caramelized onions, bacon, gouda, chili mayo and pickled hot peppers.
937 E. Passyunk Ave., Philadelphia; royaltavern.com
Haven Brothers, Providence, Rhode Island
This place doesn't exist at lunchtime — the silver trailer pulls up next to City Hall at 5 p.m. daily, as it has since 1893, when it was a horse-drawn cart. Customers line up until 4 a.m. for the double-decker Murder Burger, with chili, cheese, bacon and mushrooms.
Fulton St. and Dorrance St., Providence; 401-861-7777
Nu-Way Lounge & Restaurant, Spartanburg, South Carolina
Pimento cheese, a cheddar-and-sweet-pepper spread, is a common burger topping in the South, but many places just slap on a premade version. Here, real-deal, house-made pimento cheese, piled between the patty and a big, soft sesame bun, sets the burger apart — and draws crowds at lunchtime.
373 E. Kennedy St., Spartanburg; 864-582-9685
Hemmer Brothers, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
CLOSED-Fed up with the lack of fresh-ground burgers in Sioux Falls, three brothers set up shop a couple of years ago selling simple, quality burgers with wacky names. The best-seller? The Squealer: Bacon ground right into the patties, so it's in every bite — with all the more room for other toppings.
230 S. Phillips Ave., Sioux Falls; 605-334-3301
Rotier's, Nashville, Tennessee
At this family-owned joint, a Vanderbilt favorite, cooks don't bother with salt or pepper in the beef patties: Legend has it that the burgers get all their flavor from a big old piece of steel — the restaurant's 64-year-old flattop grill. The seared patties land on poppy-studded French bread.
2413 Elliston Place, Nashville; 615-327-9892
Perini Ranch Steakhouse, Buffalo Gap, Texas
This ranch is a long way from anywhere, but that hasn't stopped serious carnivores from driving (and hiring private jets) to try chef Tom Perini's cowboy cuisine. His Angus beef burgers are topped with mushrooms, chiles and cheese and served with a knife and fork, just like a steak.
3002 Hwy. 89, Buffalo Gap; periniranch.com
Acme Burger Company, Salt Lake City, Utah
CLOSED-Until recently, small, regional fast-food chains (each known for its own "fry sauce") ruled the burger scene in Utah. But this new high-end restaurant is shaking things up with patties like this spicy lamb with harissa sauce on a sweet-potato bun.
275 S. 200 W., Salt Lake City; 801-257-5700
The Shopping Bag, Burlington, Vermont
The $5 half-pound burger at this corner grocery — made with Montreal steak seasoning and meat fresh from the butcher counter — was created and named for a police officer who stops in often. When word first got out about it a few years ago, the deli was barely able to keep up with demand.
166 North St., Burlington
Ray's Hell-Burger, Arlington, Virginia
Ray's has no advertising. There's no need — the strip-mall spot, marked by a tiny sign, is always mobbed. Regulars don't mind the lack of fries — they come for serious burgers: beef patties served blackened, with a peppercorn crust, or "Diablo," doused with chipotle pepper sauce.
1725 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-841-0001
Lunchbox Laboratory, Seattle, Washington
Customers kill time in line by admiring an old lunch-box collection and deciding which of eight patties and 50 toppings to get. Some take the easy route and pick one of the chef's daily combos, like the Dork Burger: 40% duck, 40% pork and 20% "secret." Rumor has it, the last bit is cured meat.
1253 Thomas St., Seattle; lunchboxlaboratory.com
Hillbilly Hot Dogs, Lesage, West Virginia
This roadside eatery started as a hot dog stand in 1999 but later expanded to table seating (in old school buses) and massive burgers. The famous 10-pounder, which feeds 40, arrives on a 25-inch bun with 35 slices of cheese, 35 slices of tomato, two heads of lettuce, three onions and a pound of pickles. Cooking time: 45 minutes.
6951 Ohio River Rd., Lesage; 304-762-2458.
Great Dane Pub, Madison, Wisconsin
A brewer here dreamed up the ultimate beer-lover's burger: two patties (beef and bratwurst) topped with cheddar, stout-caramelized onions, Applewood smoked bacon and pilsner mustard, and served on — here's the kicker — a soft pretzel bun. It's Wisconsin in sandwich form.
Five locations around Madison; 608-284-0000; greatdanepub.com
Terry Bison Ranch, Cheyenne, Wyoming
This may be the only burger in America that comes with a train ride. Every Sunday at this working ranch, diners board an old-fashioned locomotive to visit the herd while eating, you guessed it, bison burgers for lunch. The freshly ground meat is served straight up, with no seasoning.
51 I-25 Service Rd. E., Cheyenne; 307-634-4171