We don't have beef with the gussied-up burgers that are everywhere these days, but the classics are classics for a reason.
We can't overstate the glory of a simple, old-school patty, made fresh and served hot, in a roadside joint that probably hasn't updated its decor (or its prices) in at least half a century.
So when you're in the market for a slice of true Americana, look no further than these seven landmark-level classic burger joints:
① Louis' Lunch in New Haven, CT
Any discussion of classic burgers must start with Louis' Lunch, which claims to have invented the hamburger back in 1900—so it's worth trying to for the historical importance alone. The burger and its construction are notably unique: The patties are cooked in antique vertical broilers, topped with onions, tomatoes and sharp cheese spread, and served between two slices of toasted Pepperidge Farm white bread.
② White Manna in Hackensack, NJ
This neon-lit burger stand—housed in a building manufactured by Paramount in the 1940s—helped make sliders part of the burger lexicon. Mini portions of beef and thinly sliced onions are smashed flat and steamed on a griddle, then tucked into a squishy Martin's potato roll. Go on and take two—they're small.
③ Charlie's Hamburgers in Folsom, PA
Just a hop, skip and jump outside of Philadelphia, this no-frills burger shack has been flipping patties since 1935. Choose one of the specials: The Bunny comes slathered with molten American cheese, tomatoes, diced onions and spicy mustard; the Charlie's got cheese, tomato, ketchup, fried onions and pickles. Flip a coin; you can't go wrong with either.
④ Dyer's Burgers in Memphis, TN
Say it with us: Deep. Fried. Burgers. Fried in 100-year-old grease, no less. This Memphis institution has been using the same deep skillet of fat to cook their thin, crispy burgers since 1912 (okay, so most of it is drained and topped off with fresh oil nightly, but let's not get caught up in semantics). Forget about your arteries and fill up on what the staffers refer to as a daily dose of Vitamin G (grease, that is).
⑤ Johnnie's Grill in El Reno, OK
To truly understand onion burgers, a Depression-era invention created to stretch precious beef rations, travel no further than El Reno, a classic Route 66 town that's arguably the onion burger capital of the country. Johnnie's opened in 1946 and hasn't changed their technique—smashing a small mountain of sliced onions into the beef patty while it cooks, resulting in a juicy, caramelized mess—ever since.
⑥ Hi-D-Ho Drive-In in Alamogordo, NM
This White Sands-area drive-in has been open since 1952, and they'll be the first to tell you that they don't peddle fast food—everything's cooked to order. The Tiger Burger, an oversize double-meat cheeseburger named after the local high school mascot, is worth the wait, especially when topped (as is New Mexico custom) with a heap of green chilies.
⑦ The Apple Pan in Los Angeles, CA
This beloved old-school L.A. diner has a U-shaped counter and two signature offerings: the Hickory Burger, which comes slathered in a tangy hickory sauce, and the Steak Burger, which receives a hefty ladle of a chunky secret-recipe relish. A slice of homemade apple pie truly completes the experience.
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