The journalist Charles Kuralt once said that the United States could be navigated if one used hamburger joints “the way a navigator uses stars.” Imagine a constellation with points in Los Angeles, Miami, Washington, D.C., New York City, and every place in between. These burger locales—from upscale restaurants in Las Vegas to roadside New Jersey diners—offer luxe (truffle topped), wacky (peanut butter spread), and classic (griddled) versions of hamburgers to folks like us who can’t seem to get enough; here are 13 of our favorites.
The Apple Pan
Los Angeles, California
Part burger joint, part time capsule, this West LA standby has been serving its Hickory Burger, smeared with barbecue sauce and nestled into a grilled bun with iceberg lettuce and pickles, since 1947. Not much has changed from the time when Clark Gable regularly took his lunch break at the Apple Pan’s U-shaped counter while filming nearby at Paramount Pictures. If it was good enough for Gable, it’s good enough for us.
(310/475-3585; 10801 West Pico Boulevard, 90064)
Ben’s Chili Bowl
The Trinidadian immigrant Ben Ali found American food bland, so in 1958 he founded Ben’s Chili Bowl, in an old movie theater in D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood. The chili burgers—griddled quarter-pounders covered with a dark, tangy blend of meat and spices—soon generated a following (past and present fans include Miles Davis and the Clintons); today the family-owned restaurant is a source of pride in the African-American community, having survived the area’s toughest transitions.
(202/667-0909; 1213 U Street Northwest, 20009)
Bobby’s Burger Palace
Many locations in the Northeast
Chef Bobby Flay may be the best known as a master of the grill, but his shopping mall Burger Palaces prove he’s no slouch at the griddle either. His regional burgers, like the Napa Valley (with watercress, goat cheese, and Meyer lemon honey mustard) and the Santa Fe (with melted Monterey jack cheese, pickled jalapeños, and blue corn chips), are all cooked on a flat-topped griddle and come with sides like sweet potato fries and beer-battered onion rings.
Las Vegas, Nevada
The 37 topping options (including black truffles and grilled lobster) at Hubert Keller’s extravagant Las Vegas Burger Bar are only the beginning. Patrons can also choose the kind of beef (Black Angus and American Kobe are among the offerings), the bun, and the cheese (eight different types are available). A Kobe burger with foie gras and madeira sauce may sound over the top, but, hey, it’s Vegas.
(702/632-9364; 3930 Las Vegas Boulevard South, 89119)
DBGB Kitchen and Bar
New York, New York
The French chef Daniel Boulud revolutionized the burger in 2001 when he stuffed sirloin with braised short ribs and foie gras at his elegant DB Bistro Moderne in midtown Manhattan. Now, at the more casual DBGB Kitchen Bar, in the East Village, his designer burgers are available for downtown diners too. The Piggie, a grilled patty crowned with pulled pork and jalapeño mayonnaise on a freshly baked corn bread bun, is hard to beat.
(212/933-5300; 299 Bowery, 10003)
In 1952, Lovie Yancey opened the first Fatburger, in East LA, and now outposts of the chain exist as far away as Dubai and China. Fatburger’s namesake hamburgers—juicy, five-ounce patties tucked into toasted buns—have even inspired unlikely franchise owners like the rapper Kanye West and Orlando Brown, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens.
El Rey de las Fritas
Several locations in Miami, Florida
Just when you thought the American burger couldn’t be improved on, behold the Havana-style Frita, a beef and chorizo patty piled high with a tangle of freshly fried potato sticks and a squirt of piquant ketchup on a square Cuban roll. El Rey’s version, when washed down with a papaya batido (shake), might be good enough to start a revolution.
(Flagship location: 305/644-6054;1821 Southwest 8th Street, 33135 )
New York, New York
It’s little wonder that eating at Shake Shack, the restaurant maven Danny Meyer’s burger hut in Madison Square Park, can mean waiting—stomach growling furiously—in an hourlong line. The custom-blended beef burgers with American cheese, squishy buns, crinkle-cut fries, and thick shakes in flavors like black cherry and peaches ‘n’ cream add up to a inimitable and luscious, albeit gut-busting, experience.
(212/889-6600; Madison Avenue and East 23rd Street, 10010)
Some like their burgers stacked tall; others prefer them flattened with thin, crisp edges. For the latter, there’s no source better than the Colorado-based chain Smashburger, where you can build your own burger, choosing additions like a fried egg, spicy chipotle sauce, guacamole, and sauteed onions.
At the nearly 75-year-old Solly’s, a homey brick diner in suburban Milwaukee, the thing to order is the Sollyburger—a sirloin patty crowded into a soft bun with stewed onions and served in a pool of sweet Wisconsin butter.
(414/332-8808; 4629 North Port Washington Road, 53212)
Los Angeles, California
Umami, sometimes called “the fifth taste,” is the flavor of glutamic acid, an amino acid in foods like Parmesan cheese, oven-roasted tomatoes, and shiitake mushrooms, all of which are featured toppings for the eponymous burger at Umami Burger, just off LA’s Miracle Mile. The owner and self-taught chef Adam Fleischman introduced the concept to the city when he added the restaurant to his roster of nightspots earlier this year.
(323/931-3000; 850 South La Brea Avenue, 90036)
The Wheel Inn
A hamburger drizzled with melted peanut butter sounds like a postmodern experiment in American cookery, but over the past 50 years the Wheel Inn has become famous for its delicious “guberburgers,” created on a whim by the restaurant’s founder, Lyman Keiper. Slathered with Skippy and dressed with lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise, guberburgers are the best when paired with the restaurant’s signature drink, chocolate Pepsi (Hershey’s syrup and cola over ice).
(660/826-5177; 2103 South Limit Avenue, 65301)
Hackensack, New Jersey
This New Jersey landmark was dubbed “the Diner of the Future” when the original was unveiled, at the 1939 world’s fair in Queens, New York; today the tiny restaurant, decked out in red, white, and silver, has lost none of its appeal. Customers sit at a sliver of a counter and watch the cooks assemble sliders (patties, strings of onion, and petite potato buns) right on the griddle. It’s performance art at its most delicious.
(201/342-0914; 358 River Street, 07601)