Milwaukee's Top Burgers
Milwaukee is a meat and potatoes town, with burgers and french fries being perhaps the most popular variation on that theme. No matter what kind of burger you like—smashed, buttered, pub-style, grilled—there are all kinds to choose from. Here are some of my favorite burger picks around MKE.
Solly's is the unofficial king of butter burgers, probably because of how much they use. Dozens of pound blocks of butter rest next to the griddle, and they go through at least that each day. Every burger gets a thick smear of butter—at least a couple tablespoons. It melts quickly from the heat of the burger and toasted bun and pools around the burger on the plate. (If you're not into that much butter, you can ask for a light smear or even none at all.) Original Solly burgers come with stewed onions and cheese if you like. But Solly's has branched out in the burger world and now offers everything from jalapeno burgers to a massive 2/3-pound Cheesehead burger.
This south side staple has been going strong since 1934. The menu is simple: burgers, cheeseburgers (with either Swiss or American), patty melts and a grilled cheese. Without any bells and whistles, the key is quality, which is why Mazo's grinds their own beef every day. The patties are griddled and placed on a substantial, fluffy bun. Each burger comes with two sides; skip the frozen crinkle cut fries and go for the crispy American fries topped with a pat of butter, and a cup of homemade soup. Get a shake there or complete the 27th St. nostalgia tour with a stop at Leon's across the street.
The burger at Merriment Social has been making huge waves since they opened just over a year ago. Their original burger, called the Merriment now, has two thin patties of beef, double American cheese, bacon, homemade thin pickles and a creamy sauce that's heavy on the mustard. It's a hefty little hockey puck of a burger, and always super juicy. A couple new burgers have recently graced their menu, including a Mexican-inspired version with a jalapeno popper, hot peppers, pork carnitas and avocado mayo; and a rendition with crispy cheddar, beer cheese, caramelized onions and sweet mustard mayo. They all come with homemade garlic fries that are mighty delicious. I, for one, herald this recent burger menu expansion.
I grew up eating Kopp's burgers and custard, so for myself and many other Milwaukee natives, it's comfort food. Elsa Kopp created burgers that were thin and as big as your face, and now her portrait watches over each location. Each bun receives a pat of butter before the patty goes on, injecting just the right amount of dairy goodness into the sandwich. If you're not a pickle fan, make sure you order it without them, or you'll get a token pickle chip on the top of the bun anyway. If you're ever unsure where to find Kopp's, just follow the smell of fried onions to your nearest location.
The quirkiest place on this list, Nite Owl is only open during the summer, and closes each day when they run out of burgers. That usually happens around 6pm, though it can be earlier or later depending on how busy they are. Though the sign says “drive in,” there is a small dining room with walls plastered in old newspaper clippings and memorabilia. The beef patties are hand-packed and dwarf the bun they come on, so don't make the mistake of ordering a double or the beef-to-bun ratio will be out of whack. Double slices of American cheese, fried onions and pickles are all you need on these burgers, with maybe a Superman shake to wash it down.
This burger joint shouldn't be overlooked just because it's in Cudahy. True to its name, they do burgers, plus a few sandwiches, hot dogs and apps for good measure. The 1/3-pound burgers come in a variety of styles, from the Bayou burger topped with andouille sausage and chipotle-lime mayo to the Elvis with cheddar, peanut butter, fried banana and candied bacon. There's also a monster burger called the Mistake with double patties, cheese, BBQ pork, bacon, onion rings, fried egg and multiple sauces and veggies. You can get tots on the side which is awesome in my book, and wash it all down with a shake.
Oscar's serves up a true pub burger: a thick, 1/2-pound griddled patty on a pillowy bun in a neighborhood tavern setting. The Big O is their best seller, and it's topped with ground chorizo sausage, smoked gouda, chipotle jack, fried onions, jalapenos and bacon, plus a side of homemade guacamole. The guac is meant for spreading on the burger, but I like to dip their homemade parmesan-sprinked fries in it instead. The prices are really reasonable and the bartenders are friendly. In nice weather, sit out on the large back patio that overlooks the Menomonee Valley.
If you're looking for a good smashed burger, this is the place to get it. The 1/4-pound burger patties are flattened with a spatula on the grill, giving them a deep, crispy crust (think Culver's style, but larger). The Bomber burger is my burger of choice here, with a single patty topped with a cheese stuffed, deep fried portobello mushroom cap. You can upgrade your burger with organic, grass-fed beef if you like, something that most places don't offer anymore. Instead of fries, get a basket of buffalo chicken egg rolls, a perfect guilty pleasure. Check out their stand at Miller Park for the best burgers at the game.
Though its second location on Layton Ave. closed (I can't imagine competing against Kopp's across the street), the original Glendale location of Dr. Dawg is still going strong. While they focus on Chicago-style hot dogs, the burgers are top notch for fast food and beat out some sit down restaurants too. They're big, hand pattied and cooked to requested temperature, a rare feat most places. There's only one build-your-own option, but most standard toppings are free. Bacon lovers, take note: Nueske's is used here. Get the homemade garlic rosemary fries or a side of buffalo-like Dawg sauce for dipping.
Anyone who used to go to North Avenue Grill and get discouraged by the long waits, try again, because they recently reopened after an expansion and remodel into the storefront next door. There's more seating and the kitchen is bigger so food comes out faster. If you can pry yourself away from the all-day breakfast (it's hard, I know), 1/2-pound, juicy burgers await. The Jalapeno Popper burger deconstructs the snack food into a creamy jalapeno sauce, cheddar jack cheese and fried jalapeno slices and puts them all on top the burger with bacon for good measure. Burgers here come with some of the best homemade fries around. And unlike most diners, you can get a beer with your burger here.
Sobelman's has built a massive following for both over-the-top bloody marys and burgers. Marquette students especially have a soft spot in their heart for the pub—and their newer campus location. The Sobelman is the classic burger here and is topped with American, Swiss and cheddar cheeses, a round of thin bacon, and fried onions and jalapenos. Many people order it as a double, but that's a little much for me personally. There is also a location in Mequon, and presumably more coming in the suburbs with their recent decision to franchise.
OK, so Goodkind only has burgers on Tuesday nights, but they're so good they deserve to be on the list. Each week is a different creation. The most recent variation was called the Aussie, with fried egg, pineapple and bacon relish, beet ketchup, heirloom tomato, cheese and micro sprouts. That was all atop a Carlisle beef patty, which is where Ardent chef Justin Carlisle gets all his beef—it's his parents' farm. They also often use beef from Ney's Big Sky, another local purveyor that sells at area farmer's markets. The best part about burger night? You can wash them down with some of the best cocktails in MKE.
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