Yes, you can get burgers all over the world in any major or minor city, but there is nothing more American than biting down on a juicy hamburger at a roadside diner. There is a long disputed history of the origins of the hamburger, ranging from the Mongol Khans to the German town of Hamburg to restaurants on the port of New York. Whichever origin you prefer, you cannot deny that hamburgers are now the quintessential icon of American cuisine. I know, you’re probably thinking that you can chomp down on a Big Mac or Whopper at every other street corner back home in China or anywhere else in the world, but I promise that this list of burger joints will leave you understanding why the hamburger is an all-American staple.
There’s a best of everything in New York City. If you asked any seasoned New Yorker where to get a great burger, J.G. Melon is bound to be up there on the list. Nested in the Upper East Side, this worn bar decked out with framed images of watermelons offers one heck of a melt-in-your-mouth burger. They sear fresh ground beef on a griddle and top it with American cheese, sliced red onions, and pickles on a toasted white bun. That simple; that good.
The original Shake Shack is nestled in the charming Madison Square Park, blocks away from where I grew up. They pride themselves in being the “modern day roadside burger.” I recommend trying the Shack Stack, which is 100% Angus beef cheeseburger topped with their ‘Shroom burger, a crispy portabella mushroom stuffed with creamy melted cheese. But come on, no burger is complete without a shake! Shake Shack obviously has a list of shakes and concretes that you can choose from to pair with your burger and cheese fries. I always go for the classic vanilla.
Every so often you come across a burger that you see is glaringly overpriced. But if you look a little closer, it just may be an haute burger made with more expensive cuts of beef or stuffed with foie gras. Though there is no goose liver in Minetta Tavern’s black label burger, there is a combination prime of dry aged ribeye, skirt steak, and brisket from Kentucky served on a Balthazar sesame brioche with onions griddled in beef juice. This is one fatty flavorful $26 burger.
In-N-Out is one of California’s bragging rights. It’s a fast food chain seen at every rest stop, but the quality of their food is still undeniable. They have a simple menu, and their burgers come with lettuce, tomato, fresh/grilled onions, and a spread made of Thousand Island dressing. I like their fresh cut fries Animal Style, which means they are smothered with two slices of melted cheese, spread, and grilled onions. Though their patties are thin and grilled until well-done, I still make a stop every time I’m on the west coast.
For starters, umami is that addictive savory taste closely associated with MSG. Umami Burger offers 6-ounce American wagyu beef burgers seasoned with their secret sauce and dust, which contains porcini mushrooms and dried fish heads. Their superior beef quality is instantly detectable upon your first bite. The beef melts in your mouth and the rich flavors have a field day on your tongue. Their original burger is served with a parmesan cheese crisp and served on a soft Portuguese -inspired bun, but my favorite there by far was the truffle burger served with truffle cheese and truffle glaze.
With humble beginnings in Washington D.C., Five Guys is currently the fastest growing fast food chain in the United States. It serves a simple hamburger with a long list of free toppings you can choose from on a seeded egg-y bun. You can get the thick fries with Cajun spice, but most exciting of all is the free peanuts. Do not enter here if you’re allergic to nuts.
Steak ‘n’ Shake
Started in Illinois in the 1930’s, Steak ‘n’ Shake is still serving their diner style “steakburgers.” They are made with 100% beef, smashed and seasoned to perfection and served with lettuce, tomato, raw onion, pickles, and American cheese on a toasted white bun. With more than 500 locations in the Midwest, South, and East coast, I’m sure you’re bound to encounter one.
When I was in Denver over Presidents’ Weekend, I got to visit the same burger joint where Man vs. Food visited. Cherry Cricket is a burger joint with an extensive beer and scotch list to satisfy any drinker. They offer an assortment of appetizers, salads, and chilies, but don’t get distracted because the burger is where it’s at. After going through a long list of toppings including avocado and peanut butter, I settled with a ¼ pound little cricket beef burger cooked to medium rare and slathered with American cheese, sautéed mushrooms, and grilled onions. And damn was this a seriously tender burger. The meat in Colorado is good. Succulent, oozing with juice, and grilled to perfection. American classic.