Photograph by Dina Litovsk, Redux
Photograph by Dina Litovsk, Redux

The Best Burgers in America: A Definitive Guide

In honor of National Burger Day (May 28), Denver Nicks consults man, machine, and expert to find the best hamburgers in the United States.

Shove over, apple pie. There is no food more typically American than the hamburger.

From its humble beginnings as a scrappy street food, the burger rose to a position of global dominance as the most instantly recognizable sandwich on Earth. Its influence—like that of the United States, which is generally considered the hamburger's birthplace—is felt the world over.

Today McDonald’s, founded in the U.S. in 1940, has at least one star on the map in more than a hundred countries. Hey, if you can get a burger in the tiny Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan, you can probably get one anywhere.

And though each nation puts its own spin on the culinary icon—from adding beetroot in Australia to chimichurri in Argentina—the United States of America is still its native land. 

Rating (and finding) the best burgers in the U.S. is a subjective matter, so it's not enough to simply declare my favorite burger (which I've already done). Just in time for National Hamburger Day (May 28), I got input from three unique yet complementary sources. 

The Man

My friend Bruce Niemi is not a chef, nor a food writer, just a regular guy who—as is obvious from his Instagram stream—is a self-taught hamburger connoisseur. A sandwich as plebeian as the hamburger deserves a spokesman from among the masses.

Like any serious burger lover, Bruce is incapable of identifying his single favorite burger, but here, he's narrowed it down to three:

The Machine

The folks at Yelp were kind enough to give us an exclusive look at their burger data. Though the company is a bit cagey about the wealth of data in its more than a hundred million online reviews, they agreed break out a list of the “highest rated businesses in the Burgers category” for us at National Geographic Travel.

And so here, without further ado, and in descending order, are the best burger joints in the U.S. according to Yelp:

10. Mr. Mamas in Las Vegas, Nevada
9. Detroit Coney Grill in Tempe, Arizona
8. Rockfire Grill in Mission Viejo, California
7. 5 Ate Cafe in Spring, Texas
6. The Morrison in Los Angeles, California
5. Famous Burgers in Rancho Cordova, California
4. PDX Sliders in Portland, Oregon
3. Glee Donuts & Burgers in Fountain Valley, California
2. Neighborhood Eats in Atlanta, Georgia
1. Bros Sandwich Shack in Avon, North Carolina

The Expert

Author of the book Hamburger America and host of the Travel Channel show Burger Land, George Motz stands on firm ground when he calls himself “America’s foremost hamburger expert.”

Motz has eaten (probably literally) tons of burgers, but, like Bruce Niemi, couldn’t bring himself to rank them. He was, however, able to whittle down his list to eight must-try American burger experiences, with a couple of mouthwatering descriptions thrown in for good measure.

  • The Carolina Slaw Burger at Duke’s in Monroe, North Carolina
  • The Green Chile Cheeseburger at Santa Fe Bite in Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • The Bean Burger at Chris Madrids in San Antonio, Texas. “[This burger] has never really traveled beyond city lines," Motz says. "Invented at Sills Snack Shop, this beauty is a cross between an enchilada plate and a cheeseburger.” 
  • The Loosemeat Sandwich at Taylor’s Maid-Rite in Marshalltown, Iowa
  • The Butter Burger at Solly’s Grille in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “Solly’s makes a straightforward thin-patty burger but adds a three-pound dollop of soft, creamy Wisconsin butter to the bun. Be prepared to have butter dripping down your forearms,” warns Motz.
  • The Steamed Cheeseburger at Ted’s Restaurant in Meriden, Connecticut 
  • The Fried-Onion Burger at Sid’s Diner in El Reno, Oklahoma
  • The Cuban Frita at El Rey de las Fritas in Miami, Florida

There you have it—amazing burgers from Miami to Portland, Milwaukee to San Antonio, and places in between. If that doesn’t get your stomach growling and tickle your travel bone, I don’t know what will.