The humble hamburger is beloved for its simplicity. Cook a ground beef patty, put it on a bun with your choice of toppings and you have tasty meal. However, chefs across the country have built upon that solid foundation to invent unique, mouthwatering creations. Those who are enrolled in culinary arts programs can find their own twists on the classic burger by learning about some of America’s best.
Messy, yet irresistible
One way to create a dish that stands out is to pile on unconventional toppings. By breaking free of the old standbys of American or cheddar cheese, lettuce and tomato, many restaurants have established their own identity and attracted numerous loyal patrons.
That is certainly the approach taken by Kuma’s Corner, the Chicago-based burger specialists that the Daily Meal called the best in the U.S. Since opening in a small corner space in 2005, the restaurant has expanded to four locations, bringing along a menu full of creative items named after heavy metal bands. The High on Fire piles roasted red pepper, prosciutto, grilled pineapple, a sweet chili paste and sriracha on a pretzel bun. The Slayer does away with bread entirely, setting the patty on a bed of chili, andouille sausage, cherry peppers, caramelized and green onions, shredded Monterey Jack cheese and french fries.
A-Frame in Los Angeles crafts food based on the eclectic culture and cuisine of Hawaii. Accordingly, Chef Roy Choi created a big double cheeseburger full of Asian-inspired flavors. The burger features aged cheddar, sesame seed mayonnaise, roasted tomato, Maui onion, butter lettuce and sesame leaf, all stacked upon a brioche bun.
At Minetta Tavern in New York City, you can order a straightforward cheeseburger with cheddar and onions. On the other hand, you can opt for the Black Label burger, featuring an over eight-ounce blend of dry-aged ribeye, skirt steak, short rib and brisket. It’s topped with caramelized onions, tomato and lettuce and served on a brioche bun with pommes frites.
Gourmet spins on a favorite
Rather than pouring on the toppings, some burger purveyors have sought to bring a touch of elegance and sophistication to the unassuming sandwich. These burgers may not be as complex or visually imposing, but they keep things interesting with high-quality ingredients.
One of the most renowned chefs to take this approach is Sang Yoon of the Los Angeles-based gastropub, Father’s Office. The celebrated Office Burger features blue cheese, gruyere, applewood bacon, caramelized onion and arugula. According to Travel and Leisure, the restaurant keeps no ketchup on hand as it would only cover up the flavors of those tasty ingredients.
At the Brindle Room in New York, diners enjoy Sebastian’s steakhouse burger which presents exceptional ingredients in a straightforward and traditional way. The Food Network explained that the patty combines fresh beef with white fat and beef neck that has been aged for 30 days. Cooked to medium in a cast-iron skillet, it is placed on a simple white bun with American cheese, caramelized onions and a house-made hot sauce.
At Chicago’s Au Cheval, chef and owner Brendan Sodikoff serves a simple but delectable burger that Bon Appetit declared the best in the country in 2012. A single cheeseburger features two four-ounce prime beef patties, while a double comes with three. They are served with American cheese on a toasted bun with a sauce combining lemon juice, mayonnaise and Dijon mustard and house-made pickles. The burger can get more involved if you prefer by adding a fried egg, bacon or foie gras.
As with many of these meals, the fame of Au Cheval’s offerings frequently results a crowded restaurant. Speaking to Eater, general manager Erika Golz offered some advice to eager diners.
“If you want to come in and grab a burger, avoid prime time hours on nights, especially weekends,” she said. “Try and swing in here for a quick lunch or a late night meal if you don’t want a long wait.”
Whether you prefer a burger that is overflowing with exciting toppings or a more restrained variety that employs high-quality ingredients, your options abound. With a piece of beef (or a vegetarian substitute) and a bun, there is seemingly infinite room for chefs to put their culinary academy training to work. By drawing on different cultural traditions or introducing other intriguing variations, you can develop the next sandwich that has diners lining up out the door.