If America has a national sandwich, it's unequivocally the hamburger. But deciding what particular combination of ground beef, seasonings, toppings, and bun is the best is sheer folly once you bite in and discover the various regional and even hyper-local variations from across the country that all go by the name burger. So to guide us through this varied landscape – and provide us with a short list of truly notable entrants from across the country – we enlisted the help of George Motz, noted host of Travel Channel's 'Burger Land,' and author of 'Hamburger America' (and producer of a film by the same name).
Motz says there are a few key components to any great burger, but the most important is that it's made of freshly ground, single-source beef. He's also especially fond of shining a light on classic spots that frequently go unmentioned in gourmet top tens. "When you walk into a burger restaurant, and all they're talking about is their beef blend or how much they love their butcher, you know you're in the right place," he says. In that spirit, here are 18 dining spots that Motz says make burgers that deserve special recognition – some classic, some exotic, some bizarre, all delicious – and that should be on any devotees burger bucket list.
Chicago's best kept secret
Top Notch Beefburger
Top Notch is a classic old diner from the 1930s that should be in guidebooks. But because it's about a 30-minute drive south of downtown, the diner isn't even on the radar of most Chicagoans – Motz has to drag natives there himself when he visits. He says the success of this particular burger lies in its size and unparalleled freshness. "They have sides of beef in a walk-in cooler, which was once pretty standard," Motz says. "You became your butcher." His favorite is the super king-size, which is a flat but juicy three-quarter-pounder with a pile of onions and American cheese on a classic bun. "Fresh ground beef that goes from the back to the front in a few minutes makes a huge difference for flavor."
Credit: George Motz
Top Notch Beefburger
2116 W 95th Street, Chicago, IL 60643