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 no-sauce exception
Plaza Burger, Plaza Tavern
As a rule, Motz isn't big on adding sauce to an otherwise juicy, flavorful burger – "They're usually pretty lame, tomatoey, and sugary," but this meaty burger, served on a wheat bun with cheese with a delectable secret sauce, is the rare exception. It's a white, sour cream-mayo concoction, with a hint of garlic and celery salt, that tastes almost like pungent Greek tzatziki. Tavern owner Dean Hetue says he bought the recipe from the Plaza's original owners, who'd opened the place in the 1960s (officially, the sauce was created in 1964)."This sauce actually accentuates the burger flavor instead of masking it," says Motz. "I'm sure Dean will laugh at me for even trying to describe it."
Credit: George Motz
319 N Henry Street, Madison, WI