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.
The Cuban import
The Frita Cubana, El Mago de las Fritas
The Frita Cubana is a Cuban invention, a burger born during the 1940s, when it was commonly sold from street carts. But it doesn't even exist there anymore, and so El Mago ("the magician") in Miami is a treasure for fans of this style of burger, which Motz describes as an "unbelievable taste bomb." The Frita is basically an American hamburger with chorizo spice, a sweet sauce, and shaved fried potatoes served on a Cuban roll. "You can get American cheese on it, but that's for the kids," says Motz. "What's unique is that when they cook it on the flattop, they squirt on that secret sauce so that it caramelizes to create a steaky char." Pair it with a batido fruit milkshake, and you've time-traveled to old Havana.
$3.50; doubles for $5.50
Credit: George Motz
El Mago de las Fritas
5828 SW 8th Street, Miami, FL 33144