It's the end of 2012, but never too late for updating Road Tips' Best Burger List for the year. I've done some things a little different. I still have the Top Ten Burger List, as well as the High Honorable Mention and Honorable Mention selections. There's now a "Gourmet Burger" list, as well as a list of "Best Chains" combining the best local, regional and national chain burger places. There's also a listing of "Americana Burgers" - places that have been around for years and adored by locals. And I now have a list of those burger places that I wish were still around. By clicking on the highlighted link, you can go directly to the Road Tips entry on each place.
Top Ten Burgers -
1 - Duffy's Cherry Cricket - Denver. (Pictured left) Still the best. Period.
2 - Krazy Jim's Blimpy Burger - Ann Arbor, MI. It's been 8 years since I've been to Krazy Jim's and I would love to go back again at some point. But from what I remember of how great the burger was on my initial visit, I'm almost certain it is still the same.
3 - Westport Flea Market - Kansas City. After my visit earlier this year, I've been back one more time to make double damn sure the first burger I had wasn't an anomaly. The second one was just as good as the first one I had. It's the type of burger where you go, "Mmmmm..." during the first bite.
4 - Monk's Bar and Grill - Wisconsin Rapids, WI. They dropped in the poll because I had a mushroom/Swiss cheese burger there earlier this year that didn't taste all that good. But their regular cheese burgers are still outstanding.
5 - Thurman Cafe - Columbus, OH. Even with just one visit, the Thurman Cafe was still one of the best burgers I've ever had. Thick and juicy, the Thurman burger is full flavored and served with a fresh-baked bun. One of these days I'll make it back for the "Red 'shroom" burger.
6 - Booches - Columbia, MO. A long time institution near the University of Missouri campus, Booches has been open since 1884 and was once a "men's only" establishment until the 1970's. Their flat-grilled burgers are to die for.
7 - B&B Grocery - Des Moines, IA. Appearing the Top 10 for the first time last year, a couple more visits to B&B to try their burger has solidified their standing. The burgers are large, meaty and juicy. And don't forget that their sandwiches are "killer", too! (Pictured at right, a B&B Grocery double cheeseburger.)
8 - Bulldogs Grill - Wauconda, IL. A newcomer to the Top 10 list. Bulldogs Grill is a small cafe in a small town north and west of Chicago. It's definitely a destination and sort of out of the way, but the trip is well worth it.
9 - Burger Barge - East Peoria, IL. Consistency problems have plagued Burger Barge in the past, but the past few times I've stopped in has yielded the great tasting burger that I first found a number of years ago. The Illinois burger - topped with a fried egg and a slice of ham - is my favorite.
10 - Green Gables - Hudson, IL - My trip earlier this fall moved them back into the Top Ten. Green Gables also had consistency issues (thanks to an overzealous worker) a few years ago that they've since overcome. The flat grill taste of the burgers is one of the best in Midwest.
High Honorable Mention - (in no particular order) -
Sobleman's - Milwaukee, WI. Formerly a Top 10 burger, if there was an 11th place, this would probably be it. Located in a historic old tavern building just west of Milwaukee's downtown area, Sobleman's has a great burger and cold beer to go along with it.
Louie M's Burger Lust - Omaha, NE. One of my favorite burgers from the place with my favorite name for a burger joint. Lou Marcuzzo's funky little place south of the downtown area of Omaha has been cooking up great specialty burgers for years.
Tom & Eddie's - Chicago Suburbs. (Pictured left) A newcomer on the scene of hamburger joints, Tom & Eddie's is the brainchild of two retired McDonald's execs who wanted to take their knowledge of making burgers a couple steps further. Their "fast casual" concept has garnered a following in the short time they've been open. It also doesn't hurt that their burgers are damn good, too.
Lion's Tap - Eden Prairie, MN. It may be the best burger in the Twin Cities. Flat grilled and tantalizingly juicy, it's tough to beat a Lion's Tap burger.
Moonshine Store - Moonshine, IL. See below in the Americana section.
The Ritz - Arnolds Park, IA. The runner-up in the 2012 "Best Burger in Iowa" contest. After having the burger at The Ritz earlier this summer, I wondered how in the hell they could get beat out by 2/10ths of a point. Great burger, great bun, fun atmosphere. They also have excellent pizza at The Ritz.
Dinkers Bar - Omaha, NE. I was sort of embarrassed that I hadn't heard about Dinker's before this year. This cash only establishment makes a great burger and their sign out front says, "Omaha's Best Burger". I don't know about that, but they're definitely in the top 3 when it comes to best burger in Omaha and one of the top places I've found in the Midwest.
Solly's - Glendale, WI. Also a former Top 10 burger, Solly's "Butter Burger" is an artery-hardening burger of goodness. I haven't been in Solly's for a couple years and I really need to do a better blog entry than the original one I have. I think there's a couple other places in Milwaukee that have a better burger, but Solly's is a longtime favorite of Milwaukeans.
Smoking Harry's - Creston, IL. If you can get past the fact that this little bar in the small town of Creston, south of Rockford, is not very fancy and only features a long bar in what was probably the living room of an old farm house, then you can enjoy one helluva burger. Smoking Harry still sneaks smokes in the bar when patrons aren't there, so you may smell cigarette smoke in the establishment. But don't let that deter you from enjoying a great burger served on a wonderful bun.
Creekside Bar and Grill - Davenport, IA. I still think their mushroom/bacon/Swiss cheese burger (pictured at right) is one of the better ones I've had in my travels. I wish they would have a flat grill instead of a flame grill, but the burgers are still top notch. It's still one of the biggest secrets in the Quad Cities.
Rusty Duck - Dexter, IA. The winner of the "Best Burger in Iowa" contest in 2011, this small steakhouse west of Des Moines makes their burgers by grinding up excess cuts of steak meat. The Ultimate Cheeseburger is huge, so you need to bring a healthy appetite - or another person with you!
Blue Door Pub - St. Paul, MN. The cheese-stuffed "Juicy Lucy" is the signature burger of many Twin City burger joints. There are places that are more famous for their cheese-stuffed burgers, but - in my opinion - none are better than the Blue Door Pub.
Stella's - Bellevue, NE. An old favorite in the Omaha area. Stella's has been in business since 1930 making great burgers. It's a small place that caters to blue collar workers, company executives and some of the top brass at the nearby Offutt Air Force Base.
Starlite Room - Cedar Rapids, IA. (Pictured left) The oval shaped burgers at the Starlite Room have been satisfying the hunger of Cedar Rapidians for years. The half-pound, flat-grilled "Super Cheeseburger" could be the best burger between Interstate 35 and the Mississippi River in Iowa.
Zombie Burger - Des Moines, IA. George Formaro's fun and hip burger joint features a number of funky and eclectic burgers made from smashed patties - sorry, BASHED patties - and South Union Bakery homemade buns. A double burger is my norm, but a triple is do-able.
AJ Bombers - Milwaukee, WI. Right up there with Sobleman's for the best burger in Milwaukee, AJ Bombers has a char-grilled burger that isn't overpowering in smoky taste. The juicy burger is definitely helped by a great tasting bun - one the of hidden characteristics of a great burger. Prepare to use at least six napkins when eating an AJ Bombers burger.
Town Hall Tap - Minneapolis, MN. A surprising find of a great burger joint on the south side of Minneapolis. Town Hall Tap is the offshoot of the Town Hall Brewpub. With it's open windows, large bar and outside seating, Town Hall Tap is a great summertime place to have a burger and a cold beer. The burger is just excellent.
Honorable Mention - (also in no particular order) -
Serious Burger - Appleton, WI. The owner's legal troubles now behind him, Serious Burger is still going strong in the Fox Valley region. I just had a burger there earlier this fall and it was still as good as the first visit I had.
Top Notch Beefburgers - Chicago. A legendary Chicagoland burger joint for the past 70 years. The ground round steak they use is a different taste and one that thousands have enjoyed for years.
Cafe Bolero - Chicago. A Cuban restaurant with a great burger? Yep! The burger with mixed up chunks of jalapenos, onions and cheese is very good. (Pictured at right)
The Nook - St. Paul, MN. The owners suffered a devasting fire two years ago, but they've rebuilt and reopened serving an excellent "Juicy Lucy" burger. It's only second to the Blue Door Pub in the Twin Cities.
Grinnell Steakhouse - Grinnell, IA. This "grill-your-own" steakhouse just off of Interstate 80 south of Grinnell has a mighty fine char-broiled burger that they cook up in the kitchen. It's meaty, juicy and flavorful.
Jack's Locust Street Tap - Davenport, IA. One of my all-time favorite dive-bar hangouts has a great burger. But you have to go during the day, Tuesday thru Friday because that's when Karen works and no one else can make them as good as she does at Jack's. I need to do a better blog entry on Jack's than the one I have now.
Burger Jones - Minneapolis. Owned by the same people who run the world-famous Manny's Steak House, Burger Jones is an upscale burger joint that features good burgers, a great beer selection and good service. Why anyone in the Twin Cities want to go to a Red Robin when they can get a much better seasoned burger at Burger Jones?
Dotty Dumpling's Dowry - Madison, WI. While I don't think they're as good as they were in their old location, Dotty's still makes the best burger in Madison. They have a great beer selection and their jambalaya is actually pretty good, as well.
Major Goolsby's - Milwaukee, WI. (Pictured at left) One of the top sports bars in Milwaukee, their flame-broiled burgers are big and juicy. A long-time mainstay at Summerfest, a Goolsby cheeseburger just melts in your mouth.
Two Mits - Elkader, IA. See American section below.
Charlie Beinlich's - Northbrook, IL. This little longtime burger joint/tavern almost looks out of place with all the upscale stores that are around the immediate area. Their burger is very good - the best in the northern shore suburbs of Chicago.
Alfie's Inn - Glen Ellyn, IL. And old time supper club-style place, Alfie's ground sirloin burger is one of the best in the western suburbs of Chicago.
Duffy's Tavern - Utica, IL. An long time, old style tavern in Central Illinois that serves a great burger along with a good selection of cold beer. It's a destination point for many motorcyclists and you may have to wait for a table on a warm day.
Hackney's - Glenview, IL. The original Hackney's on Harms features their excellent "Hackney Burger" served on dark rye bread. I'm partial to the original, but actually all the Hackney locations make a very good burger.
Oddfellow's Burger Kitchen - Ames, IA. A newcomer to the restaurant scene in Ames. Their green chile/cheeseburger (pictured right) I had on my first visit was outstanding. I'm hoping they're able to make a go of it.
O'Connell's Pub - St. Louis. Still the best of the best in St. Louis, a town that really isn't known for burgers. This old style tavern/eatery serves up an excellent burger in a place that probably hasn't been updated since the 30's.
Paradise Pup - Des Plaines, IL. A little place near O'Hare in suburban Des Plaines, I think they use a little too much cheese on their burgers. But it's a gourmet cheese that helps the overall taste of what is already a very good burger.
Blue Moon - Madison, WI. Locals in the Madison area will debate what is better - Dotty's or the Blue Moon. I'm still sort of partial to Dotty's, but I don't think you can go wrong with a Blue Moon burger.
Gourmet Burgers -
Atwood Cafe - Chicago. (Pictured left) I've tried a number of gourmet burgers over the years, but I was just floored by the taste and quality of the burger at the Atwood Cafe in downtown Chicago. It's not cheap, but the taste of the burger was one of the best I've ever had. If I included gourmet burgers in my Top Ten burger list, Atwood Cafe would probably be in the top three.
Merriman's Market Cafe - Waikoloa Beach, HI. If the burger at Atwood Cafe is the No. 1 gourmet burger on my list, Merriman's burger would be 1A. The thing that still sticks out in my mind is how fresh the tomatoes were that were on the burger. I've never had tomatoes that tasted as good as the ones I had in Hawaii.
DMK Burger Bar - Lombard, IL. DMK burgers are outstanding. I've only eaten at the western suburban location, but I'm certain the other location is just as good.
I ♥ Burgers - Las Vegas. This was a great find by one of my colleagues. Nestled into a corner of the shopping area at the Venetian, the Standard burger with a fried egg, pepper jack cheese and roasted green chilies that I got was just outstanding. I ♥ Burgers is on my "must eat at" list when I get back out to Vegas next month.
Blanc Burgers + Bottles - Kansas City. Blanc Burgers is branching out into Omaha and their burgers are just outstanding. They also have an outstanding selection of beers to choose from. Expensive, but damn well worth the price.
Bru Burger Bar - Indianapolis. (Pictured right) A newcomer to the restaurant scene in Indy, Bru Burger Bar combines great gourmet burgers made from a mix of natural-raised sirloin, chuck and brisket, and a list of great craft brews. The burger and the service was just outstanding.
Jack Fry's - Louisville. Still sort of a pretentious and somewhat snooty place, they have a great burger at Jack Fry's. I've been there a couple times to order the burger and both times I sort of got looked down the nose by the server when I ordered the burger. Getting past that, it's tough to beat the taste.
Stack'd - Milwaukee. Although it is somewhat expensive, the Stack'd grass-fed beef burgers are very good. This trendy place also has a great beer selection and their onion rings are pretty damn good, as well.
Best Americana Burgers -
Hinkle's - Madison, IN. Located in a small historic town along the Ohio River, Hinkle's has been serving White Castle-style burgers for nearly 80 years. It's popular with the late night crowd as they stay open 24 hours a day on Friday and Saturday. The history and quaint nature of the place is worth at least one trip.
Canteen Lunch - Ottumwa, IA. (Pictured left) People from Ottumwa are fiercely loyal to their little 12-seater diner that features loose-meat beefburgers. The secret to a Canteen burger? Order them "moist".
Powers Hamburgers - Fort Wayne, IN. Another White Castle-clone that dates back to the 1930's, Powers Hamburgers is an institution in Fort Wayne. They're small and have a pretty good taste.
Maid-Rite (Mr. Dan's Sandwich Shoppe) - Newton, IA. Of all the Maid-Rite-style sandwich shops out there, I'm partial to the one in my hometown of Newton, IA. This is the longest continuous Maid-Rite in existence, even if they're not technically a Maid-Rite any longer.
Nick's Hamburgers - Brookings, SD. Students at South Dakota State University have known for years that Nick's makes the best burgers in town. And they keep coming back even years after they graduated from college to have a burger at Nick's. They've recently remodled and upgraded their little place, but they didn't take the charm out of the place.
Taylor's Maid-Rite - Marshalltown, IA. Debates about who has the best Maid-Rites have raged for years. Taylor's was the third Maid-Rite in existence (behind the original in Muscatine, IA - now closed, and the one in Newton,IA) and many still think it's the best.
Moonshine Store - Moonshine, IL. (Pictured right) Not only is the Moonshine Store a big slice of Americana, their Moonshine burger is worthy of a High Honorable Mention. These flat-grilled, thick and juicy burgers are excellent. But you have to get there before 12:30 because the grill turns off at precisely then.
Gross' Burgers - Danville, IL. A few people may be turned off by the outward display of patriotism - and don't let the name of the place fool you. The smashed burgers cooked on a flat grill have a unique taste and are pretty damn good.
Frank's - Zeeland, MI. Frank's has been serving delicious burgers since 1940. Once a popular teen hangout in the 50's and 60's, Frank's now caters to the baby-boomers now in their 60's and 70's. We were, by far, the youngest people in the place when we were in there.
2 Mit Burgers - Elkader, IA. Much better than the original Pete's Hamburgers in nearby Prairie du Chien, WI, these flat top, boiled burgers are moist, juicy and flavorful. It's a completely unique burger.
George's Buffet - Iowa City, IA. George's is a unique type of tavern near the University of Iowa campus. Starting out as a speakeasy in the 30's, then starting to sell beer after Prohibition, they called themselves a "buffet" to ward off the temperance crowd that picketed beer joints. The burgers are actually nothing special, but it's worth the trip for just the old time dive ambiance.
Triple XXX - West Lafayette, IN. Named after brand of root beer and not a porno movie house, Triple XXX has been serving burgers since 1929. Their "chop steak" burger is actually ground sirloin grilled on a flat grill that has been seasoned with years and years of cooking burgers for students at nearby Purdue University.
Best of the Chains -
Schoops - (Pictured left) The Northwest Indiana-based chain of hamburger joints have been serving up their flat-grilled style of burgers since 1948.
Five Guys Burgers - Huge juicy burgers and a sack full of thick cut French fries, it's no wonder Five Guys is one of the fastest growing burger chains in the nation.
Whataburger - It's been years since I've been to a Whataburger, but it remains one of my favorite of the "made-to-order" fast food places. A Doublemeat with cheese continues to call my name.
Fuddruckers - Although they've gone through some hard financial times over the past few years, and they've closed a number of locations, Fuddruckers is still tough to beat. Big juicy burgers with a great "fixin's" bar.
In 'n' Out - The West Coast icon. I try to hit an In 'n' Out when I make it out to Las Vegas for trade shows. It's probably my favorite of them all.
Smashburger - This Denver-based chain of burger joints where they smash the burger patty to give it a nice crusty outer shell will top over 200 locations in the U.S., Canada and Costa Rica in 2013. While I'm still not big on smashed burger patties, Smashburger is very good.
Meatheads - Based out of Bloomington, IL and now with 10 locations (and soon to be 11) in Central Illinois and the Chicagoland area, these guys are in direct competition with Five Guys. The burgers at Meatheads are pretty good, not as good as Five Guys, but a very good alternative.
Runza - I loved the old Kings Food Host burgers and the closest place I've found to their burgers are the ones at Runza. Runza's burgers are one of the best kept secrets in the Midwest, but you can only find them in Nebraska.
Don and Millie's - Found in Omaha and Lincoln, Don and Millie's also has a burger that is similar to the old Kings Food Host burgers. I like to stop at Don and Millie's from time to time to get one of their juicy, made-to-order burgers.
Rest in Peace -
Newstead Tower - St. Louis, MO. While this place is now closed, I understand that the burger they served at Newstead Tower is now available at its sister restaurant, Five Bistro. The burger featured locally sourced hormone-free beef and was an outstanding burger.
The Kitchen - Stillwater, MN. I had the chance to get a burger at The Kitchen in the Twin Cities suburb of Stillwater before they closed up. It was just fabulous. Unfortunately, I had the chance to go back and found that they had closed down.
Cardinal Lunch - Newton, IA. Growing up in Newton, IA, the Cardinal Lunch was attached to the Stockton's grocery store and it was a treat to get one of their flat-grilled burgers where they basted the face of the bun with a butter sauce and grilled it next to the burger. There was no taste like it.
The Overrated Burgers -
Nitty Gritty - Madison, WI. I've been there twice. The first time, they overcooked the burgers so bad that it was inedible. (Pictured right) And that's not to mention the large hair I found dangling from a piece of one the burgers I was served. The second time was not much better. I can't see what the deal is about the Nitty Gritty.
5-8 Club - Minneapolis, MN. Cheese-stuffed "Juicy Lucy's" are the rage in the Twin Cities and the debate rages as to who has the better of the two who claim they have the original - 5-8 Club or Matt's Bar. The two times I've tried 5-8 club, the cheese cooked right out of the burger. Matt's would have made this list, as well, as they are just so inconsistent on the visits I've had. But the last time I went in there a couple years ago, I had a great burger. So, I guess it's hit or miss.
BLT Burger - Las Vegas, NV. I've probably eaten at BLT Burger at the Mirage five or six times, and only because of convenience. The first two times I had their burger, I thought it was good, but not the best. After subsequent visits, I wondered why anyone would be willing to spend that kind of money on this average of a burger. Chef Laurent Tourondel needs to focus on his specialty - French bistro food - and not worry about putting his name on an overpriced and very average burger.
Cheeseburger in Paradise - Middleton, WI. A chain of about two dozen restaurants owned by singer Jimmy Buffett, Cheeseburger in Paradise is nothing more than a money grab for unsuspecting tourists. Usually found in locations near malls or area attractions, the burgers are far from paradise.
Cozy Inn - Salina, KS. "Where's the beef?!" You need to check out my entry on the Cozy Inn and see the puny amounts of misshapen beef patties they tried to pawn off as a historic piece of Americana.