The Midwest's Best Burgers
Our search for the best burgers
Everyone claims their burger as the best. But is it really? We researched Midwest award winners, asked our travel writers for the best they'd tried, nominated our own and came up with 130 finalists. Then we crafted a report card, hit the road and rated each one. Click ahead for our finds! We love all of these, so the list is alphabetical.
Melty, meaty and sublime
112 Eatery, Minneapolis Melty Brie and housemade sweet pickles top the only Burger ($9) on the menu at a chic restaurant with a James Beard Award rep. But the place isn't stuffy at all. English muffins do a dinner-time turn as burger buns (genius!), and you'll feel right at home dunking your fries in the tarragon aioli or a side of the kicky Sriracha mayonnaise. (612) 343-7696; 112eatery.com
Blanc Burgers and Bottles, Leawood, Kansas Kansas City's suburban foodies dig the meaty $100 Burger, a $14.95 concoction filled with red-wine-braised short ribs, but we also love the Inside Out, a $10.95 burger stuffed with blue cheese and topped with a fried egg and smoked applewood bacon. (913) 381-4500; blancburgers.com
The Blue Door Pub, Saint Paul The $6.50 Blucy is the neighborhood pub's take on Minnesota's favorite burger genre, the Juicy Lucy (made like a meat Ding Dong, with the cheese inside). Here, the char-grilled Angus beef patties dress up 10 ways; the Lumberjack comes stuffed with Gouda, bacon and a dash of cayenne then topped with maple syrup. In a word, sublime. (651) 493-1865; thebdp.com
Brasserie V, Madison, Wisconsin Fountain Prairie Farms' dry-aged Highland ground beef serves as the chef's canvas at a casual neighborhood bistro. The V Burger ($10) comes with battered onion straws, Muenster cheese, spinach, tomato and aioli on toasted Madison sourdough bread. Pair it with a dark, rich Belgian ale. (608) 255-8500; brasseriev.com
Pictured: Imported beers and European fare make Brasserie V feel like a fancy twist on a college bar, just blocks from the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
A seasonal stand and a sophisticated steak house
Christy Crème, Council Bluffs, Iowa Since 1954 locals have flocked to this seasonal hamburger stand (not to be confused with the doughnut chain) on the old Lincoln Highway for moist, lean burgers made with ground Omaha Steaks beef ($3.45). The thin 4-ounce patties appeal to diners who don't like fist-thick burgers. Don't leave without trying the homemade soft-serve sherbet. (712) 322-2778; christycreme.com
City Square Steakhouse, Wooster, Ohio Bite into a Mushroom-Swiss Burger ($9.50) topped with sauteed button mushrooms, Swiss and rosemary mustard at a sophisticated steak house in a historic district 60 miles south of Cleveland. Upgrade your side to the fries tossed in truffle oil and dusted with Parmesan. (330) 262-2489; citysquaresteakhouse.com
Pictured: Patrons at Christy Creme in Council Bluffs, Iowa, dip their fries in milk shakes.
Juicy and decadent
Dinker's, Omaha The decor hearkens to a 1970s bowling alley, and the popular Haystack Burger ($6.20) piles hand-pressed ground beef, American cheese, honey-smoked ham and a fried free-range egg on a kaiser bun. It's a well-seasoned handful that absolutely merits the Omaha's Best Burgers sign out front. (402) 342-9742; dinkersbar.com
Django, Des Moines A French brasserie with a killer wine and cheese list turns out the marvelously simple Le Cheeseburger ($9.99). It arrives hot off the grill and juicy, served on a South Union Bakery bun. Just as decadent, Django's white-cheddar-spiked Veggie Burger ($10) topped with crispy onions shatters fears about going green. (515) 288-0268; djangodesmoines.com
Pictured: Dinker's in Omaha serves amazingly juicy burgers.
Dotty Dumpling's Dowry, Madison, Wisconsin We can't decide which burger we like better at this bar near the UW campus: the Melting Pot ($7.79), topped with cheddar, Swiss, provolone, bacon and English garlic sauce; or the Basil Mozzarella ($7.29), made with fresh mozzarella cheese, pesto and homemade roasted red pepper mayo. Bump up the indulgence with cheese curds, panko-breaded onion rings or a Dreamsicle float. (608) 259-0000; dottydumplingsdowry.com
Pictured: Pesto gives an herby finish to the Basil Mozzarella burger at Dotty Dumpling's Dowry.
Duluth Grill, Duluth Local, organic, free-trade, gluten-free, vegetarian, flexitarian? Yep, those buzzwords rule here. Even the ketchup, lingonberry syrup and coffee mugs are locally made. All of that feels like a do-good bonus after you try the Garlic-Gouda Beef Burger($10.49). Thick buns with a hint of sweetness complement the slightly sweet and completely juicy grass-fed beef. And the roasted garlic? We couldn't get enough. (218) 726-1150; duluthgrill.com
Pictured: The Garlic-Gouda Burger at the Duluth Grill.
Harry's, Manhattan, Kansas Bacon, mozzarella and ancho chile aioli top the slightly charred yet juicy $15 Kobe Burger. Hand-pattied and served on an onion bun toasted with foie gras herb butter, it's the only burger on the menu at this date-night favorite—but that's because you'll need no other. (785) 537-1300; harrysmanhattan.com
The Hill Seafood and Chop House, Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan Yes, it's turkey, but the lean cheddar-and-apple-studded Turkey Burger is no compromise. The $9 grilled wonder of flavor looks and feels like beef. It's a destination burger served on a George Hamilton-tanned brioche alongside homemade potato chips. And the setting feels like an elegant waterfront mansion. (313) 886-8101; thehillgrossepointe.com
HoDo Restaurant, Fargo, North Dakota The char-grilled third-of-a-pound Bison Burger ($10) topped with Wisconsin cheddar proves lean meat can ooze juice. The menu at the historic Hotel Donaldson lists nearly 30 local farmers, cheesemakers, beekeepers and ranchers, so you know the dish sings with freshness in a dining room that sports local artwork. (701) 478-1000; hoteldonaldson.com
Hot Chocolate, Chicago Yes, we showed up Saturday at 11:30 p.m., and the kitchen was closing at midnight. But the little Bucktown place known for its outstanding desserts was packed, and our sunny waitress gladly brought us a simply titled Hamburger ($15). Our toppings: four-year-old cheddar, organic bacon, slices of fire-engine-red tomato, housemade pickles. She said if we'd like, we could top it with a perfectly fried egg crisped around the edges. We did like. A lot. (773) 489-1747; hotchocolatechicago.com
Lewie's Saloon and Eatery, Lead, South Dakota Cattlemen say badly cooked meat insults the animal it came from. Well, the animals that give their lives for a Lewie's Burger do not die in vain. Beef flavor permeates every bite of the hand-pattied, oddly shaped burgers ($5.25), which arrive slightly pink and steaming in a restaurant that looks something like a Swiss biker bar. (605) 584-1324
Moxie the Restaurant, Beachwood, Ohio Don't let a vanilla-looking strip mall fool you. Herbed mayo marries mesclun, tomato, onion, Adams Reserve cheddar and a 6-ounce seasoned certified Angus beef patty flawlessly on the $11.75 Moxie Burger. (216) 831-5599; moxietherestaurant.com
Nick's Hamburger Shop, Brookings, South Dakota Settle onto a stool at this 83-year-old diner, and don't worry about what to order. A server lays down a piece of waxed paper—that's your plate—and says, "How many?" We polished off two of these little fried wonders in six bites before ordering two more—and rediscovered how much more pleasant it is to chat with strangers at a lunch counter than fiddle with a phone. (605) 692-4324; nickshamburgers.comPictured: In the historic Wareham Hotel, Harry's is a favorite special-occasion steak house.
Pirogue Grille, Bismarck, North Dakota It's the best-kept secret in town. You have to sit in the bar at North Dakota's finest restaurant to order the $9 Minted Lamb Burger, made with locally raised meat and served on homemade focaccia topped with hummus and feta. One bite, and you'll become a believer. (701) 223-3770; piroguegrille.com
Redamak's, New Buffalo, Michigan The Hamburgers are cut, ground and pattied on-site then pan-fried, blanketed in Velveeta and wrapped in waxed paper ($5). They're not organic or artisanal, and the only toppings are ketchup, mustard, pickles and onion. We're addicted, and we're not alone. Along Lake Michigan, seasonal Redamak's seats 400; you'll still have to wait for a table. (269) 469-4522; redamaks.com
Pictured: The lamb burger at Pirogue Grille.
Picks of the day
Roquette Burger Bistro, Charlevoix, Michigan With its Bacon Jam Burger, this lunch-only cafe tops a lean-yet-flavorful patty made of locally sourced beef and bison with a slab of Brie, a smear of bacon-onion compote and a thatch of peppery arugula ($10). So in one bite, you get smoky-sweet-peppery-creamy perfection inspired by the farms that surround this popular tourist town. (231) 237-9016
Scotty's Lakehouse, Fishers, Indiana Meat, eggs and produce from nearby farms flavor 15 specialty burgers ($12-$13.50 each) at this family-friendly spot on Indianapolis' northeast side. The No. 9 boasts sauteed red onions, local baby Swiss, Scholars Inn Bakehouse sourdough and chipotle-Thousand Island dressing. Wash it down with a Hoosier-made brew, and finish it off with the Lemonheads that come with your check. (317) 577-2900; scottyslakehouse.com
Stack'd Burger Bar, Milwaukee Pack breath mints or order a crème de menthe-spiked grasshopper shake if you're trying the German Stack: a beer-brat patty stuffed with jalapeños and blue cheese, topped with tangy sauerkraut and stone-ground mustard, and served on a chewy pretzel roll ($10). Skip the fries in this Third Ward restaurant in favor of Harry's Fried Potent Pickle Coins, a salty, greasy revelation dunked in spicy ranch dip. (414) 273-7800; stackedbar.com
The Thurman Cafe, Columbus, Ohio Try to think of the two-hour wait for a table in German Village as time to work up your appetite for the $9.99 three-quarter-pound Thurman Burger, known for its sliced ham, sauteed mushrooms and onions, mozzarella and American cheeses, banana peppers and mayo. (614) 443-1570; thethurmancafe.com
Pictured: Fans of Roquette Burger Bistro follow the little cafe on Facebook to find out what's sprouting on local farms (and how that'll top the day's burgers).
Westport Flea Market Bar and Grill, Kansas City, Missouri Interior decor is not its claim to fame—calling it weathered would be accurate—but for 30 years, patrons have flocked here to order one of three burgers: a 5.5-ounce Mini ($6.49), a 10-ounce Burger ($7.99) or a Patty Melt ($7.65). Pick from five cheeses and fall for the McGonigle beef with the first hot bite. (816) 931-1986; westportfleamarket.com
Pictured: Curly fries snuggle alongside the Patty Melt at Westport Flea Market Bar and Grill in Kansas City, Missouri.
We tested 130 burgers for this story; these beg for top spots, too.
The Cozy Inn (pictured) Oniony sliders in Salina, Kansas, are a 90-year-old tradition. (785) 825-2699; cozyburger.com
The Greenhouse Tavern Melted raclette reigns in Cleveland. (216) 443-0511; thegreenhousetavern.com
Rusty Duck Juicy charbroiled ground steak satisfies in small-town Dexter, Iowa. (515) 789-4142
Stella's Bar and Grill Prepare for greasy goodness in Bellevue, Nebraska. (402) 291-6088; stellasbarandgrill.com
Duggan's Irish Pub Try the curry-sauced Big Chief in Royal Oak, Michigan. (248) 549-3659; dugganspub.com
Palmer Place A half-pound Angus on the rooftop patio? Paradise in La Grange, Illinois. (708) 482-7127; palmerslagrange.com
FarmBloomington An espresso-chile rub flavors the bison Lugar Burger in Bloomington, Indiana. (812) 323-0002; farm-bloomington.com
Sobelman's Fried jalapeños top a drippy mess in a classic Milwaukee bar. (414) 931-1919; milwaukeesbestburgers.com
Burger report card
We rated every one with these goals in mind.
Take a look. When your burger arrives, how does it look? 1 looks like a fast- food burger; 10 is photo-shoot worthy.
Taste it. Take a few bites. Tell us, how would you rate the quality of the meat? What kind of patty is it?
Judge doneness. Was your burger cooked properly? Does it come cooked-to-order, or is it one-way only?
Gauge the heat. How hot is it? 1 is "Did they cook this yesterday?" and 10 is "This baby just came off the coals."
Rate the bread. How do you score the bun? 1 is a kid's fast-food burger; 10 is homemade artisanal goodness.
Top it off. What comes on your special burger? How would you rate the quality of the toppings?
Consider cost. Rate the value. 1 is "I can't believe I just paid $10 for this"; 10 is "I would pay $15.95 for this anytime."
Have some perspective. How does this specialty burger stand out from burgers you've had in the past?
The final tally We asked our writers to look at all of the categories and to give a final rating. Only burgers with 9.5 and higher made our top list.
Pictured: Simple burgers satisfy at Django in Des Moines.
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® May/June 2012.)