On the menu of classic American foods, the hamburger is a signature entrée. Though it’s unclear exactly where or when the burger was first created, it rose to fame at the 1904 America’s World Fair in St. Louis, and hasn’t stopped earning raves since. While simple in concept – beef, bun, cheese, fixings – it has been endlessly innovated upon. The beef itself can take on any number of forms, from Angus to grass-fed to hormone-free, and toppings can include fancy cheeses, spicy sauces, classic ketchup, a fried egg or even (yes) peanut butter. The nation’s best cities for this satisfying dish offer the best of no-frills favorites and unusual twists, while making sure the meat is juicy, the cheese is dripping and the bun is toasted. That’s just the American way.
If you want a burger unlike any you’ve ever had before, stop by Denver’s Cherry Cricket. Wacky but surprisingly tasty burger toppings include grilled pineapple, sauerkraut, an egg any style and peanut butter. For a taste of Denver’s acclaimed brew scene, try Highland Tap and Burger, where inventive burgers – including one with root beer pulled pork and another with white truffle aioli – are best paired with an excellent Colorado draught. Better yet, mix booze and burger by ordering the Chili Cheeseburger, featuring milk stout chili.
The Big Easy knows how to serve up more than Creole and Cajun specialties. Just outside the French Quarter, the nautical-themed Port of Call serves a half-pound burger topped with a heap of shredded cheddar cheese as thick as the meat itself. As a signature touch, the burger is paired with a baked potato that can also be topped with cheese, as well as sour cream and chives. Of course, New Orleans isn’t complete with a pit stop to a restaurant run by local culinary legend John Besh, which makes Lüke another must-visit. The burger here comes piled with caramelized onions, Swiss cheese, tomatoes and bacon from Allan Benton, a smokehouse master in Tennessee who sources many of the nation’s finest chefs. This being N’Awlins, two things you can expect at all the top burger spots are a lively atmosphere and friendly Southern service.
In trendy L.A., even the burgers are innovative and hip. In the heart of Hollywood at the classic Roosevelt Hotel, 25 Degrees serves burgers with fixings such as crispy prosciutto, chipotle, arugula and even yellowfin tuna. Order a custom burger or select from one of four expertly crafted standard offerings. Father’s Office, another favorite, is beloved for its unusual "Office Burger," featuring dry-aged Niman Ranch beef piled high with caramelized onion, bacon, arugula and two potent cheeses: gruyere and maytag blue. The restaurant is strict about not allowing any substitutions, but when the food is so delicious as is, who would want to make an alteration? As is common at L.A. restaurants, Father’s Office also pairs its fare with a fine selection of craft brews.
If you haven’t yet, it’s time to add "burger" to your foodie list of Manhattan must-eats. In the bohemian West Village neighborhood, the gastro-pub Spotted Pig features whimsical pig statues and pictures and offers one of the city’s finest burgers – chargrilled, topped with Roquefort cheese and served with a pile of crisp shoestring fries. Another top spot, Burger Joint, is a bit of a surprise: a small divey joint tucked inside the luxe Le Parker Meridien hotel (there’s also an outpost on 8th Street). Order the "works" from the lively counter for a juicy burger stacked with onions, tomato, lettuce, mayo, mustard, ketchup and pickles. Of course, these are just a couple standouts from among an astounding array of burger finds here. And in foodie New York, it’s hard to go too wrong.
As one would expect of this Southern California city, San Diego has mastered burgers that are sustainable, local and healthy(ish). Burger Lounge, with several locations throughout the city, uses grass-fed, single-source beef, which it serves with farm-fresh veggies and organic cheese. Even the bacon is "nitrite free," and those who are gluten-free can order a special bun or nix the bread for a lettuce wrap. Carnitas’ Snack Shack, meanwhile, uses pastured beef from Niman Ranch, vegetables from local farmers markets, and specialty bread baked locally. Not all establishments follow this mold, though: At Hodad’s, a laid-back spot in Ocean Beach, straight-up burgers, cheeseburgers or bacon cheeseburgers come in a basket with fries or onion rings.
In this city of indulgence and sensationalism, it’s only natural that one of the most talked-about restaurants in town, the Heart Attack Grill, serves a "quadruple bypass burger" with nearly 10,000 calories – and, as an extra Sin City flourish, has waitresses dressed as nurses who slap patrons who don’t finish their meals. While it’s best for health purposes to split the monster burger, it’s tasty enough to justify some (limited) indulging. Of course, Vegas also has a classy, internationally influenced side, and the burger scene reflects this, as well. One favorite is I Love Burgers, where gourmet selections with grass-fed beef feature ingredients such as kimchi, truffle cheese and onion marmalade. This popular restaurant has two locations: one in Town Square and one at The Palazzo.
Don't miss this article from Hopper on the five best burger restaurants in Las Vegas to see the city's best burger joints
Houston isn’t the only Texas city that knows how to do a burger up right – Austin, too, is well worth scouting out. Here, Lone Star State cattle country meets hipster culture at restaurants such as Hopdoddy, where black Angus beef, ground in-house daily, is hormone and antibiotic free. The toppings are also a nice mix of the traditional and the hip, ranging from steak sauce to brie cheese. Casino El Camino follows a similar formula of the traditional with an edge. The burgers are pure Texas: charbroiled Angus beef with toppings such as Serrano chilis and jack cheese. But the ambience, replete with dark lighting, gargoyle statues and a blaring jukebox, signals this is definitely music-loving "keep it weird" Austin.
Philly burgers have quickly become almost as popular locally as the classic cheesesteak sandwich (but only almost). At PYT, one of the hippest spots in town, a pretzel burger stacked with cheesesteak meat pays homage to the city’s signature dish. The restaurant is also known for inventive, calorie-soaked creations such as a burger with chocolate covered bacon on a glazed donut bun – and the beer-battered onion rings make for a splurge-worthy side. Another beloved spot, Good Dog, serves a signature burger stacked with Roquefort, a distinctly flavored sheep milk blue cheese.
This Texas city has long been known as one of the nation’s best locales for a satisfying, meaty burger and it continues to deliver the goods. Christian’s Tailgate is a particularly fine representation of what the city has to offer: its hearty burgers, served in red plastic baskets, are extra-juicy and piled high with melted cheese and additional fixin’s such as swiss mushrooms and (a Houston standard) spicy chili. Lankford’s Grocery, featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, is another greasy-spoon fave where beefy burgers come dripping with cheese and can be adorned with everything from habanero sauce to a fried egg. Lankford’s has a sign that reads "We are not fancy, but we are MMMM MMMM good." The same could be said for Houston itself.
Just how much of a Windy City institution is Billy Goat Tavern? It inspired an entire skit on Saturday Night Live, which poked fun at the restaurant owner’s penchant for screaming out "Cheeseborger! Cheeseborger! Dooublecheese!" Established in 1934, Billy Goat still serves a mean cheeseburger that, while not as fancy as some other offerings in town, gets the basics right. Also earning kudos is Kuma’s, a dive bar where thick burgers on pretzel-bread buns have names inspired by metal bands (the "Black Sabbath," for instance, is a spicy offering with chili, pepper jack and blackening spice). Between its satisfying burgers, pizza and hot dogs, Chicago may just be the best spot in the nation for hearty comfort food.