America's best burger cities

Once the ultimate cheap comfort food, the burger is increasingly becoming a gourmet indulgence—often prepared with grass-fed, Kobe-style beef, topped with shaved truffles, or rendered quirky through toppings such as fried duck eggs.

Where to go to sample the best burgers? Providence, R.I., according to Travel + Leisure readers, who voted in the annual America’s Favorite Cities survey to rank 35 U.S. cities on features that delight travelers. Of course, other cities in the list have a stronger claim on hamburger history. The Los Angeles area launched the first McDonald’s and the In-N-Out Burger, both in the 1940s. Minneapolis/St. Paul, meanwhile, is famous for the Juicy Lucy, a burger with the cheese cooked inside the patty.

So whether you prefer your burger simple or stuffed with fancy ingredients, here’s where to find the best-tasting patties:

No. 1 Providence, R.I.

According to readers, pretty much everything tastes good in this New England city, with its reputation for creative, locavore chefs. It ranked No. 2 for overall dining, as well as No. 2 for pizza and No. 5 for high-end cuisine. Try the New England Grass-Fed Burger at Local 121, or swing by Harry’s Bar and Burger for 100-percent-Hereford sliders on potato rolls and 50 beer options—proof of the city’s high rankings for microbrews.

No. 2 Philadelphia

Voters may associate the historic city with other comfort foods like cheesesteaks and pizza, but it made a huge jump this year with its burgers, up from last year’s No. 22 ranking. Perhaps some thanks are due to celebrity chef Jose Garces, who tops his eight-ounce Angus burgers at Village Whiskey, off Rittenhouse Square, with maple bourbon–glazed cipollini, Rogue blue cheese, or foie gras. New restaurant Hickory Lane is also getting raves for its burger, a blend of filet mignon, short ribs, and brisket.

No. 3 Chicago

Up three slots from last year, the Windy City now ranks almost as highly for its burgers as for its winning pizza. Along with the classics served at Billy Goat Tavern (which inspired the famous “Cheezborger! Cheezborger!” skit on Saturday Night Live), you can find almost theatrical interpretations of the burger. Kuma’s Corner in Avondale, for instance, embraces a full-on heavy-metal theme: the Iron Maiden features avocado, cherry peppers, and chipotle mayo, while the Slayer has a patty topped with fries, chili, andouille, and “anger.”

No. 4 Houston

The Texas city—known for its giant, mustard-laced burgers—held the top slot last year, for such burger institutions as Lankford Grocery and the all-buffalo Bubba’s Texas Burger Shack. One hot newcomer: The Burger Guys in the Energy Corridor area, where they use Kobe-style Akaushi beef and cook their fries in duck fat; you can also top your burger with a fried duck egg for an extra $2.

No. 5 San Juan, P.R.

The romantic island city catapulted from next-to-last place last year to this year’s top 5. It’s not just the burgers, either: this year, readers applauded the local foodie renaissance, giving it first place for both its ethnic cuisine and street food. For a great burger, locals swear by a few old standbys: El Hamburger, a shack on the oceanfront drive outside the city, or El Patio de Sam, in Old San Juan.

No. 6 San Diego

The surfer town has plenty of classic-style burger places—from Hodad’s in Ocean Beach to the up-and-coming, all-grass-fed-beef chain Burger Lounge.  For something exotic, check out Tioli’s Crazee Burger, in North Park or Old Town, which offers burgers made from alligator, wild boar, or kangaroo.

No. 7 Minneapolis/St. Paul

The Twin Cities are famous for the Juicy Lucy, a decadent burger with American cheese cooked inside the patty. For a more upscale cousin, try the Vincent Burger, made with a mix of beef and short ribs and stuffed with Gouda, at Minneapolis’s Vincent—A Restaurant. (Baseball fans can also buy a Vincent at Target Field’s Hennepin Grille stands.)

No. 8 Kansas City, Mo.

Once home to the nation’s second-largest livestock area, this is a serious beef town—it even won the barbecue category this year. The city’s best gourmet burger option may be at Blanc Burgers + Bottles, which offers watercress and truffle butter as toppings. Kids and trainspotters, however, might prefer Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant, dating back to the 1950s, where the burgers are delivered by way of miniature train.

No. 9 New York City

If any town can elevate the burger to mythic status, it’s the Big Apple, No. 1 in the survey for classical music, grand theater, and high prices. Happily, one of the longtime favorite burgers in town—the half-pound Bistro Burger at the West Village’s Corner Bistro—is $8. The infamous DB burger by Daniel Boulud, on the other hand, will set you back $32. Boulud’s DBGB Kitchen and Bar on Bowery offers an in-between option with its Frenchie Burger—topped with confit pork belly, tomato-onion compote, and Morbier cheese—at $17.

No. 10 Los Angeles

The City of Angels may rank near the top for its luxury stores and diverse, stylish locals, but it’s also the mother ship for burger chains such as In-N-Out and Fatburger. One new burger in town is Hollywood’s Fukuburger, which grew out of a Las Vegas food truck and offers burgers with Japanese flavor, such as pickled ginger or wasabi mayo. For an established gourmet burger, go with the Polo Lounge Burger at the Beverly Hills Hotel—where you might also do some A-list people-watching.

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