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Burger Kings

Our intrepid food writer consumed thousands of calories, traveled hundreds of miles, and visited dozens of restaurants, drive-ins, and dive bars across the state. Why? To bring you this: The definitive, ultimate, be-all, end-all list of the greatest burgers in Minnesota.

Burger Kings
Photo by Terry Brennan

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18 - Monte Carlo Bar & Cafe

Inherent Awesomeness: 23

One of the most distinct variants of the Great American Burger is urban, mid-century, and sexy, but battle-scarred, in a very Edward-Hopper-meets-Death-of-a-Salesman way. Nowhere is this variant more in evidence than at the Monte Carlo, the classic businessman’s steak house in the Warehouse District of Minneapolis. Settle in at the copper-topped bar and contemplate the majesty of the dining room—the rows and rows of glittering, glamorous bottles that back the bar. Then settle in for one beautiful burger: The meat is tender and simple, and it comes inside a grilled, slightly sweet, vaporous bun that squishes away to nothing in the hands. You’re left to contemplate an elegiac grandeur. Romantic? Very, so be sure to have this burger with a Manhattan, if not straight whisky. Monte Carlo, 319 Third Ave. N., Minneapolis, 612-333-5900

 

17 - House of Coates

Inherent Awesomeness: 25

Once a stop for the Chicago Great Western Railroad, the town of Coates still has a rural, middle-of-nowhere feel, despite being not all that far from the Twin Cities. Maybe it’s the well-worn plywood booths. Or the church-basement chairs. Or the pull-tabs. No matter. Order a burger and you’ll see why the parking lot here is always full. The fried onions on the Sewanee burger are soft as butter, the bun is big and bready and makes you feel like you’re eating a whole platter’s worth of meat. The burger itself is gorgeously charred, but tender as tears. The fries aren’t much to speak of, but if you’re taking Highway 52 anywhere, the House of Coates will forever fix in your mind that the middle of nowhere can be somewhere worthwhile. House of Coates, Highway 52 and County Road 46, Coates, 651-437-2232

 

16 - Newt's

Inherent Awesomeness: 29

Newt’s is not easy to find. It’s down an alley, then up a steep staircase. But this doesn’t seem to stop every person in Rochester from going there. Stop by on a Friday night and you’re likely to wait an hour for a table. The draw? Great burgers and a strange ju-ju that makes it feel like you’re drinking in Vermont circa 1978. There’s tragic, sepia-and-milk-chocolate colored stained-glass lighting, darkness everywhere, and—on the floor—popcorn thick as wet snow. There’s also a lot of 1920s-feeling black-and-white photos on the wall and a jukebox pumping out the Who and Neil Young. There are loads of microbrews available, and the fries arrive by the pound, in a perfect pale-golden mound: not too crisp, not too soft, lightly seasoned and okey-dokey in every possible way. And the burgers? They’re the lightest big burger in the state, which may seem like an odd compliment if you haven’t actually tasted one. The buns are white, fluffy, and almost a bit dry. They serve as the perfect foil for the beefy, airy, not overly seasoned, half-pound patties that seem to be held together by nothing but the thinnest veil of exterior char. The hardest things to do well are always the simplest. The elegant, juicy, gorgeously plain Newt’s burger proves that rule—and is worth the hunt. Newt’s, 216 ½ First Ave. SW, Rochester, 507-289-0577, cccrmg.com

 

15 - Gordy's Hi Hat Restaurant

Inherent Awesomeness: 29

Since 1960, the folks at Gordy’s Hi Hat have been doing things the same way: Hand-pattying beef that was ground that day (and has never been frozen); cutting fresh onions for their signature half-battered, half-breaded onion rings; and blending their shakes and malts with nothing but real strawberries, real raspberries, and real bananas. And that’s why, for almost 50 years, city folk have made the Hi Hat a destination stop on the way to cabins Up North. “Consistency is the key here,” explains owner (and son of Gordy) Dan Lundquist. “People say, ‘I want a cheeseburger,’ and it better taste the way it did last fall. So we do everything the same way we’ve done it for the past 48 years.” Well, except that last year they started taking credit cards. Gordy’s Hi Hat Restaurant, 411 Sunnyside Dr., Cloquet, 218-879-6125

 

14 - Tender Maid Sandwich Shop

Inherent Awesomeness: 32

“You want a spoon with that?” asks the nice lady behind the counter at Tender Maid. If you’ve never been here before, you’ll think she’s asking if you want a spoon with your milk shake. No, she means with the burger. It’s loose meat, meaning that it’s filled with steamed crumbles of beef, kind of like a Sloppy Joe without the sauce. Of course, you can pick up the whole burger in its wax-paper wrapper and shove it in your mouth without the spoon. If you do, you’ll experience the simple, unadorned taste that people have been wild about since 1938. But, really: Put the burger down and use the spoon. Why? When else in life are you going to get the chance to eat a burger with a spoon? Tender Maid Sandwich Shop, 217 Fourth Ave. NE, Austin, 507-437-7907

 

13 - Salut Bar American

Inherent Awesomeness: 33

To the uninitiated, Salut might seem like a French restaurant. After all, they offer glimmering fresh seafood, a fat French wine list, and distinctly Gallic dishes like escargot and tarte tatin. But to Salut regulars, the place is actually a big old burger joint with lots of benefits. Name another French restaurant that serves 120 burgers each weekday, and some 200 each day on weekends. The Salut burgers are just delicious. They’re made with fresh meat, ground daily and laced with a top-secret spice blend that lends a zesty liveliness, and are served on crusty ciabatta buns made at the restaurant’s own bakery. In fact, these burgers have a balance to them that makes them seem inevitable and necessary. The homemade, hand-cut fries don’t hurt either. But you know what’s weird? This is the one burger on this list that goes better with red wine than a beer. Must be a French thing. Salut Bar Americain, 5034 France Ave. S., Edina, 952-929-3764, salutbaramericain.com

 

12 - The Lions Tap

Inherent Awesomeness: 33

The magnificence of the modest, eat-it-with-one-hand Lions Tap burger really comes into focus only after you’ve sampled a couple dozen of the best burgers in the state. Why? Because the Lions Tap stands out for what it is not: It’s not over-seasoned, not over-garnished. You get a thin patty, seared just right so that it’s crispy at the absolute edges and tender within—a perfect counterpart to the simple, white old-school bun. It is no less than the absolute essence of the perfect American roadside burger. There’s not much point to the lame crinkle-cut fries, so feel free to skip them. And feel free to skip ketchup on the burger, too: The Lions Tap offers one of the few burgers in the state that is so good that it seems sacrilegious to put ketchup on it. The Lions Tap, 16180 Flying Cloud Dr., Eden Prairie, 952-934-5299, lionstap.com

 

11- King's Place

Inherent Awesomeness: 33

Miesville is on the highway between Red Wing and Hastings, and some days it seems the entire town, population 135, is doing one thing: Eating all-American burgers at King’s Place. Seriously all-American. Located across the highway from the Miesville Mudhens stadium, King’s is as American as baseball, if not more so. Picture an original turn-of-the-century carriage stop unrecognizably updated with a knotty-pine-paneled bar surmounted with an odd, roof-shingled overhang, a hodgepodge of contemporary beer signs, and mirrors resplendent with scenes of pheasant–hunting. Guys in construction vests split pitchers of beer, bartenders insist one television stays tuned to the Rachael Ray Show to make sure the church ladies at the big table stay comfortable, and a roll of paper towels sits on every table. Those paper towels are necessary, at least if you want to dig into any of King’s 37 burgers, the best of which are the most elaborate. The awesome Triple Play, for example, is topped with bacon, Cheddar, Swiss and pepper-jack cheese, green olives, and sour cream—yeah, there are four separate kinds of dairy on that burger. Take a gander at all the dark blue Harvestore silos that mark the location of prosperous dairy farms nearby and you’ll get the connection. This is a dairy burger in dairy country. How does it taste? Perfect. The thin burger patty has a slight, yet important gloss of char to it, though it’s still tender as anything. The bun is buttery and well-grilled. And the whole thing comes together in a way that’s so cute, lovable, and devourable that the burger may as well stand up and tap dance across the table. Sure, the fries are forgettable, but even the plain old hamburger is scrumptious, and if you want to know what the sweet, sweet taste of America is, look no further. Build your visit around a Mudhens game, and you’ll see why those 135 residents of Miesville are some of the luckiest people on earth. King’s Place, 14460 240th St. (Hwy. 61), Hastings, 651-437-1418
 

10 - Casper & Runyon's Nook

Inherent Awesomeness: 34

The Nook is St. Paul’s cult burger. People queue up outside for an hour, sometimes even two, to wait for a table to get the thing. They do this on happy, sunny days, of course, but they also do it on gruesome, blustery, rainy, and downright cold and nasty days. What could make people do such things? Because the Nook is home to the definitive bar burger: Well-charred, meaty but tender, wrapped in a soft white bun, and served with a mess of fresh-cut fries in a plastic basket. This thing just hits the sweet spot of what it means to live a real, unpretentious Midwestern life full of friends, family, community, and cold beer (when the time is right). And that’s worth standing in line for. Even in the rain. Casper & Runyon’s Nook, 492 Hamline Ave. S., St. Paul, 651-698-4347, myspace.com/crnook

 

9 - Buster's on 28th

Inherent Awesomeness: 34

You worry sometimes about the changing of the guard: Will the new generation maintain the traditions of their elders? When it comes to burgers, the answer is a resounding yes!  Opened only since last year, Buster’s is a great, already-classic burger joint by and for the microbrew generation. Slip into a dark, cozy wooden booth and order one of the 100 or so microbrews—or one of the more than two dozen tap-beer offerings (including all of the local Surly beers)—and prepare to be dazzled. The burgers here have a deep, well-charred, truly steak flavor, and are complemented by fresh, substantial buns from the notable A Baker’s Wife’s Pastry Shop, which happens to be around the corner. Bite into a Buster’s burger and you find the implicit promise of so many burgers made real: It’s a steak—for cheap (if you call $9 for a half-pound burger cheap, which I do in this case because the gorgeous burger comes with a robust pile of truly gorgeous French fries). Nice work, Buster’s. The hipsters are doing it for themselves. Buster’s, 4204 28th Ave. S., Minneapolis, 612-729-0911, busterson28.com

 

8 - Vincent: A Restaurant

Inherent Awesomeness: 34

The Vincent burger was Minnesota’s first really great gourmet burger, arriving in Minneapolis at the same time chef David Bouley was making national news with his foie-gras stuffed version in New York. Well, Vincent’s burger is still worthy of national news: Stuffed with braised short ribs and smoked Gouda, the Vincent burger takes the idea of the classic Jucy Lucy and gilds, refines, and stiffens the spine of the thing until it’s a lunch entrée worthy of a great chef. Oh, what a beauty this thing is. It’s seared till glossy bits of char speckle the rich beef, which burble inside with that particular savory, rich meatiness that food types call umami (a Japanese word meaning something like “a  rainbow of glorious, indescribable ultra-meat,” which is exactly what this burger is). It comes with crisp, McDonald’s-style fries and is nothing short of an absolute must for any self-respecting food nut in this state. Vincent, 1100 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, 612-630-1189, vincentarestaurant.com

 

7 - Capitol Grille

Inherent Awesomeness: 34

I tried every single big steak-house burger for this roundup, and the Capital Grille was the absolute shocker: It’s stupendous. The meat was rich, thunderously beefy, and sweet; the brioche bun was the ideal complement, while the savory French fries, graced with truffle-oil and gran padano cheese, were exceptional. Each bite of the burger was more astonishing than the last. It was as good as great carpaccio, as good as great steak tartare: lush as a berry, profound as an exceptional Barolo. Could it seriously be this good? Yes. As I tried burger after burger for this story, the Capital Grill’s only grew in stature: It really was richer, livelier, and sweeter (not in terms of sugar but in terms of an irresistible wealth of flavor). As chef Jeff Ansorge explained, it also may be the purest gourmet locovore burger in town. The grass-fed beef is from Thousand Hills Cattle Company in southern Minnesota, ground-up with a certain amount of bacon from Fischer Farms in Waseca. The meat is mixed with Walla Walla or Vidalia onions, grilled, and served on a housemade brioche bun. “I tried to do a little more—localize it, and highlight every piece of it,” Ansorge told me. Mission accomplished. Capital Grille, 801 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, 612-692-9000, thecapitalgrille.com

 

6 - Bar Lurcat

Inherent Awesomeness: 36

There’s a certain chain that makes a claim to serving butter burgers. They know not of what they speak. The real butter burger, the king butter burger, the only butter burger worth eating is the stupendous little slider at Bar Lurcat. To make this adorable little critter, chef Adam King sweats lots of onions in butter with loads of fresh thyme, then combines those onions with a specially ground meat, and forms them into wee little patties which are grilled till they crisp. These patties are then tucked into well-griddled potato rolls graced with a swipe of red-wine-shallot butter. The result is the best techniques of French cooking combined with the best ideas of American fast food. Order two sliders, pair them with some of the state’s best French fries—gold beauties so crisp outside and so tender inside that it’s almost like they’re candy-coated—and know it doesn’t get any better than this. Unless you add fresh, hot doughnut holes. How could a restaurant so French-sounding have achieved this trifecta of American road-food perfection? Bar Lurcat, 1624 Harmon Pl., Minneapolis, 612-486-5500, damico.com


5 - Convention Grill & Fountain

Inherent Awesomeness: 38

Cynics call nostalgia the longing for a time that never was. The neat trick of the Convention Grill is that it makes you nostalgic for an American past of wonderful diners serving perfect fries, malts, burgers, and Happy Days cuisine—and then it actually delivers them as good, if not better, than they were in their heyday. The Convention Grill burger is hand-pattied, never-frozen, and boasts a glorious, flat-grill-given char; the deeply golden, hand-cut fries are super fresh and wholesome; and the Kemp’s ice-cream shakes and malts couldn’t be any thicker or more perfectly encapsulate what’s great about Midwestern living. Convention Grill & Fountain, 3912 Sunnyside Rd., Edina, 952-920-6881

 

4 - The Black Forest Inn

Inherent Awesomeness: 37

Without question, the Black Forest’s burger is the most underappreciated in Minnesota. It gets no respect. Why? Perhaps it’s a familiarity-breeds-contempt thing: The German restaurant has been there for so long (since 1965) that people have gotten used to taking its food for granted. That should stop. The place has a burger for the ages: beefy as a roundhouse punch, gorgeously well-charred, served in a big, thick, house-baked bun that’s unlike any other in the state. This thing is the king of the heavyweight burgers. The fries aren’t kidding around either: Ultra-crisp, russety-brown, very fresh hand-cut beauties that are just right for sitting alongside such a weighty, earthy, oniony, truly significant burger. The Black Forest Inn, 1 E. 26th St., Minneapolis, 612-872-0812, blackforestinnmpls.com

 

3 - Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant

Inherent Awesomeness: 38

If there is one burger in Minnesota that could be called the Chef’s Chef’s burger, it would be the Cobb Salad burger at the Dakota. Jack Riebel is one of those chefs who every chef in town knows and respects, but he doesn’t get a lot of public recognition. He ran the lunch at the dearly departed Goodfellow’s for 10 years, and while there, he created a burger to honor his fellow chefs: The Cobb Salad burger. He would take the trim from various high-end cuts—strip loins, rib eyes, and such—blend those with chuck, and cook it. Then he would top the burger with Goodfellow’s famous pico de gallo tomato relish, a special guacamole created by one of his Latino line cooks, and an onion relish that he credits to Isaac Becker, who is now chef and co-owner at 112 Eatery. He added smoked bacon, hard-cooked egg, and—because it’s a burger—some buttermilk battered onion rings. It became the off-the-menu sensation that every chef in town was clamoring for. “When Tim McKee [of La Belle Vie] was opening Solera, he’d call ahead: ‘I’m bringing in eight cooks, we need eight Cobb burgers. Can you do that?’” Riebel told me. McKee made Riebel promise that if he ever opened his own place he’d put the Cobb burger on the menu. Since Riebel took over the kitchen at the Dakota three years ago, his Cobb burger has been on the menu. It’s magnificent: A sturdy, beefy, gorgeously charred patty is rested on a slab of grilled Pugliese bread and surrounded by everything mentioned above, as well as a chiffonade of thinly cut Bibb lettuce leaves. All the various relishes and toppings come together to make every bite lively, fresh, and vibrant, but they never obscure the basic campfire meatiness of the burger at the core. The Dakota serves a mean basket of fries, too. If you want to know how five-star chefs make burgers for other five-star chefs, look no further. Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant, 1010 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, 612-332-1010, dakotacooks.com


2 - The Bulldog N.E.

Inherent Awesomeness: 38

When the Bulldog opened it’s northeast location, it quickly shot to the top of every burger-hound’s list: Best burgers ever! Achingly tender, gooey almost, but in a delicious, not a repulsive way. The Bulldog’s burgers were buttery, lush, and almost fruity in a particularly sweet, meaty way. Whoa! Then, the place went through various upheavals of chef and meat supplier, and the “whoa” factor vanished. Well, here’s the great news: The Bulldog burger is back! When I visited, the Kobe beef burger was in ideal form: Beefy and tender as a top-dollar steak house’s filet mignon, complemented by all the things you want in a good neighborhood bar: Hand-cut French fries (salty, crisp, and irresistible), scads of microbrews, and—in case you want to take the night into the realm of complete madness—a new line of gourmet cupcakes. The Bulldog N.E., 401 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, 612-378-2855, thebulldogmpls.com

 

1 - Matt's Bar

Inherent Awesomeness: 38

If there was one ringer in this bunch, one place I was absolutely certain would make the final cut, it’s Matt’s, the venerable south Minneapolis bar that either invented the Jucy Lucy—or just perfected it. (If you’re an out-of-towner, the Jucy Lucy—purposefully misspelled—is made by crimping two beef patties around a filling of cheese and cooking it all until the cheese becomes like molten lava. This tastes loads better than it sounds.) Sure, the thought did cross my mind: What if Matt’s was off its game? What if they didn’t make the cut? There was no need to worry—it would have been like going to Paris and finding the Eiffel Tower missing. This place is as critical to the heart of south Minneapolis as Lake Nokomis. A recent visit found Matt’s in all its glory: The guys at the bar were a mix of the old and cowboy-hatted, the young and dreadlocked, and the middle-aged and computer-bag toting. They were all eating Jucy Lucys and half-orders of thin, pale fries. There was even a recent Chicago transplant at the bar: “All the burgers downtown are $10,” he said. “I have a problem with that. My employees told me, ‘Go to Matt’s.’ I’ve been here three times in five days. You put crack in these things or what?” Spoken like a true out-of-towner. Crack? Please. Matt’s Jucy Lucys are bigger than crack. It’s all about the grill. For about 15 minutes, Matt’s Jucy Lucy sits up on the hot, ancient, always-in-service grill and sizzles, sizzles, sizzles until it gets crisp and well-charred on the outside. That makes all the difference. Matt’s has been making these well-charred, unspeakably delicious Jucy Lucys, the best in the state—the best, no doubt, in the world—since, legend has it, 1954. Matt’s Bar, 3500 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis, 612-722-7072, mattsbar.com


Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl is a senior editor at Minnesota Monthly.

* Click here to watch Dara discuss her hamburger-eating adventures and Burger Methodoloy with Twin Cities Live hosts Rebekah and John.


Comments may be edited for length, clarity, or appropriateness.

Old to new | New to old
Comments, page 1 of 5 1 2 3 4 Next »
Jun 24, 2008 01:51 pm
 Posted by  JStone

Tender Maid in Austin .. Growing up there it was a Saturday afternoon tradition to stop by for a Tender Maid. Still do when I return during the holidays etc.....

Jun 24, 2008 02:08 pm
 Posted by  some_guy

What about the FLAMEBURGER on Central???

Jun 24, 2008 09:35 pm
 Posted by  Tom

What about the 5-8 Club?
What about Joe's Garage or Andy's Garage

Jun 26, 2008 11:14 am
 Posted by  mn4life

Yeah, the 5-8 Club's Jucy Lucy is amazing. it's jucy-er than Matt's, actually.

Jun 28, 2008 12:20 pm
 Posted by  Mont-ster

The 112 burger is not on the list?!? Ike created the Lurcat burger, gets partial credit (onion relish) for the Dakota burger, and gets no mention for his near-perfect gourmet burger at his current restaurant. That's crazy talk...

Jun 29, 2008 08:09 pm
 Posted by  terl

My vote's for Dakota. The Jucy Lucy is a MN myth. Sorry, but it barely qualifies. Crap produce don't amount to much.

But I have to be frank, the best burgers are rarely found in the US. Sorry folks. Try across the border. On a visit to Montreal, I tired a couple of places recommended by a local. Those freedom frie makers know what they're doin'. Plus their buns are up to par.

Jun 29, 2008 10:41 pm
 Posted by  MSPFoodies

We love the burger at Vincent's (its a steal at happy hour prices). The 112 burger rules and you can't go wrong with a Jucy Lucy (at either Matt's bar or the 5-8 club). There's no mention of the Turkey Burger at Edina Grill - if you haven't tried it, you should make a special trip just for it.

Jun 30, 2008 02:48 pm
 Posted by  Dara

Hi Everybody,
Thanks for coming by and reading! To your questions, I did try the burgers at 112, Ike's, the 5-8, Andy's Garage, Joe's Garage, and tons more for this story. However, this was a sudden death challenge, and if I hit the place on an off day, they didn't make the cut. When I went to Ike's the burger was flabby, mushy, and off. At the 5-8 they were served dry and cold.

Jun 30, 2008 02:53 pm
 Posted by  Dara

Well, this is going to have to be a two-parter, the computer won't let me go on and on! Ahem.

At 112 the meat seemed characterless, and I just thought the burger was underwhelming, compared to the mighty competition. By the way, Andy's Garage is pretty much gone, the one in the Midtown Global Market is closed now too. I didn't make my criticisms of the ones that didn't make it part of the story

Jun 30, 2008 02:56 pm
 Posted by  Dara

because that didn't seem fair (I'd tend to visit a place three times before being critical in print) but, logistically, there was just no way to do this piece with three visits per prospective burger star, so I instituted the Sudden Death Challenge. Was it the best way to do things? In an imperfect world, yes. I'd say ideally I'd love to do this story by setting off a time-stopping device,

Comments, page 1 of 5 1 2 3 4 Next »
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