Fast Food

The absolute best burgers in America

Shake Shack opened its first Los Angeles location in April.

Shake Shack opened its first Los Angeles location in April.  (AP File Photo)

What makes one better than the rest? 

There are burgers made with pricey grass-fed ground, grilled with care, and others packed, charred, and served in grease-covered paper. Both sides have their die-hard followings. No matter the cut of your beef, what truly counts is individuality. "It should taste completely of itself,” Hamburger America director George Motz told the New York Times last year. The burger that tastes like no other, the one (or in this case 25) that elevates it beyond simply a piece of meat and condiments between a sliced bun.

These burgers are the ones you go out of your way to get. You'll wait in line like Chef Dale Talde does to fork over a few bucks for a Shack Burger from Shake Shack, or sit down for the Manly from Umami Burger's menu that Top Chef winner Ilan Hall can't live without. 

You can order some of these burgers at divey old bars, at a drive-thru, or while everybody else ponders what dish to get on the four-star menu that features what you've heard is one of the best cheeseburgers in town. That's what you're there for.

1. The Manly Burger at Umami Burger, Various Locations

& now it's time for social hour! 3pm-6pm ���� #umamiburger �� @thecozysweaters

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Chef Ilan Hall, winner of the second season of Top Chef and owner of The Gorbals — a restaurant with its own onion-laden take on what a burger can be — names Umami Burger as his go-to place for burgers. "In terms of special burger," he said, "I think Umami does it for me." While Umami Burger built a kind of success with its ability to brand its restaurants, now spread up the west coast and out into Chicago and New York, the actual burgers they serve are neither overpriced or underrated. We go with the Manly Burger here, with its house beer-cheddar cheese, bacon, onion strips, and homemade ketchup and mustard spread, it is the kind of burger that truly lives up to its name. (You could also try to make it at home, but nothing beats the real thing.)

2. The Shack Burger at Shake Shack, Various Locations

 

Chef Dale Talde, proprietor of restaurants like TALDE in Brooklyn, knows the secret to Shake Shack's critical and popular acclaim: "I love that I can eat one and think, 'Yeah, I could eat three more of these." Growing from a temporary food stand in Madison Square Park into the publicly traded burger empire they've become, Shake Shack helped tap into the desire for unique, quality burgers for the generation that grew up on fast-food meat but now wants something more and has the disposable income to prove it. The burgers are a phenomenon unto themselves, from the classic cheeseburger to the peppers-and-bacon-laden Smokestack, so savory as to compel you to eat the entire thing in five bites but devoid of the grease that will make you regret it later.

3. Black Bean Burger at Champs Diner, Brooklyn, NY

The black bean burger at Champs Diner in Brooklyn is a favorite of Chef Adamn Geringer-Dunn, an owner of Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Co. His reasoning: "I order the black bean burger from Champs Diner then add chili, tempeh bacon, and avocado. I get the experience of a big messy burger but I don't hate myself after." It's the kind of vegan burger that even the most dedicated carnivore could find a place for in their lives. The restaurant isn't exactly your regular kind of diner, so it only makes sense that their premium burger offering isn't your usual kind of diner burger. Champs is an all vegan diner, but that only means more care has been taken to overcome that deficit.

4. Cheeseburger at Hinano Cafe, Venice, CA

 

Hinano Cafe comes highly recommended from Chef Josiah Citrin, owner of Mélisse in Santa Monica. "I've been going to Hinano for years," he said. "Growing up in Venice, it's one of the places I'd go to after surfing. It's a great place to get a nice tasty burger and cold pint of beer." Growing up in Venice, it's one of the places I'd go to after surfing. It's a great place to get a nice tasty burger and cold pint of beer." A long day at the beach requires the reviving powers of a great burger. Luckily, Hinano Cafe is just blocks away from Venice Beach. It looks just like the way you would imagine such a cafe to look: sawdust floors, round spool tables, and a replica yellow car hanging over a pool table. Pair a tall, frosty mug of beer with their $5 customizable burger, and you'll feel comfortably at home in the dimly lit surfer's den.

5. Cheeseburger at Corner Bistro, New York City

Chef Eddie Montalvo, one of the expert chefs partnered with the app Munchery, made no hesitation to recommend Corner Bistro, saying, "It is a phenomenal burger that's just a stone's throw away. And you have to get the fries." When you're in New York City, whether you're strolling down the slanted roads of Greenwich Village or warehouse-laden Long Island City, Corner Bistro is the place to go. There are a few other sandwiches on their menu, but there's no denying that the burgers are the main attraction. You can go with the classic Bistro Burger, but if you're feeling a particularly brazen burger experience, the Chili Burger, made with their homemade chili, is the only thing that rivals the burgers. 

More from Men's Journal

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How to Make America's Best Ribs at Home

The 50 Best Sandwiches In America

 The 101 Best Beers in America

6. Double Cheeseburger at Petey's Burger, Astoria, Queens, New York

The Queens burger franchise Petey's has a big fan in their neighbor chef Michael Psilakis, of restaurants like Kefi. "Petey's is a great addition to Astoria," he said of their new location, "and a welcome one at that. With its speedy service and tasty burgers, fries and shakes, Petey's has quickly become a favorite in the neighborhood." One of the most approximate experiences an East Coast resident can have to the duly glorified In-N-Out Burger of the West Coast, Petey's Burger is where you want to be. Petey's adheres to that same "old fashioned" fast-food creed: quality doesn't need to be sacrificed for speed and convenience, and burgers should never be frozen. It's a restaurant built on an obsession with fries, burgers, and shakes — not quite a relic of the past, but a place with values cultivated as though they were centuries old.

7. Cheeseburger at Miller Union, Atlanta, GA

 

Miller Union is so inundated with unique, finely crafted dishes that you could be forgiven for overlooking their hamburger. In fact, it's only served on the Atlanta restaurant's lunch menu. It's a simple composition, but it's the high quality of ingredients that puts it over the edge: a thick patty of grass-fed beef with sharp cheddar that oozes down its side, piled with the works between a sesame seed bun. It's easily one of the best burgers in town and a must for those in need of a great lunch burger.

8. Mini Hamburgers at White Manna/ White Mana, Jersey City & Hackensack, NJ

These are truly the All-American burgers of the East Coast. Served out of small red-and-white diners, as old as the word itself, White Manna (Hackensack, NJ) and White Mana (Jersey City, NJ) are no thrills and all flavor. They have a shared beginning, first owned by the same entrepreneurial pioneer of the diner as concept, but are now separate entities. After you order a plate of their sliders at either, you'll forget the name White Castle ever existed. The flavor and quality is simple and effortless, and there's definitely room for two of these establishments in the North Jersey area.

9. Animal Style, In 'N Out Burger, Various Locations

 

What more is there to say about the In-N-Out Burger than what's already been said? Their dedication to excellence through quality and simplicity is unquestioned. They have a secret menu that everyone likes to brag that they know about, but what need is there beyond the burger and the cheeseburger, the single and the double? It's a restaurant that's inspired a million other burger restaurants and franchises and still remains the king. It's as ubiquitous in southern California as Palm Trees and, and for the world of burger's sake, let's hope that doesn't change any time soon since there are few things greater than ordering the mustard-cooked "Animal Style" burger from the "secret" menu.

10. Triple Meat Whataburger, Various Locations

Whataburger is a mythic, centrally located conglomeration of burger restaurants sporadically dotted throughout the southern United States. Their strength comes from a commitment to a high-quality, fast-food experience, but they leave a little more room for variation. You can get your Whataburger stacked three patties high or with jalapeños or bacon. You can go for a melt or even get a honey barbecue chicken sandwich or a green chile double. The possibilities are wide open, but the quality is consistent, making Whataburger a head above your run-of-the-mill burger chain.

Check out even more of the country's best burgers.