Charlotte's Best Burgers: 2017
Read about the nostalgic ones, the show-offs, the unexpected, and more
Burgers “all-the-way” from Brooks’ Sandwich House.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER TAYLOR
A BUN, a beef patty, ketchup, lettuce, tomato. At their core, burgers are all the same. You can put foie gras on top, like they do at Cowbell, or wrap them up in rice and seaweed and turn them into a sushi roll at Cowfish. You can grab a single at Mr. K’s on your lunch break, or drive a few blocks down the road to Zack’s. Whether it’s an old-school classic or new combination, what really makes a burger stand out are the memories that come with it—eating at South 21 to relive younger years, or making new friends over a more modern creation. Here are 15 burgers worthy of becoming a memory, a new way to relive to your best times.
And if you want to the chance to judge Charlotte's burgers for yourself, come to our upcoming Burger Battle event at Gateway Village on Oct 14. Attendees will enjoy an afternoon of drinks and live music while tasting–and then voting for–the best burger in the city.
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Pike’s Soda Shop
1930 Camden Rd., Ste. 2001, 704-372-0092
It’s not old even by Charlotte standards, but this burger and shake spot that opened in 2002 makes you feel like you’re back in the 1950s, with a soda counter, friendly service, and comfy booths. Leave your cell phones at home and order the American classic burger, a one-third-pound cheeseburger with bacon, lettuce, tomato, and red onion, with your choice of milkshake on the side.
4009 South Blvd., 704-525-1720
Many locals are loyal to either Zack’s or Mr. K’s, but we advocate finding time for both. As you wait in line here, you’ll debate: fries or onion rings? Blurt out your decision, then wait for yours to be the lucky number called from the microphone, ready for pickup.
This drive-in has served Super Boys to Charlotteans since sock hops were all the rage. South 21’s signature order includes two beef patties, cheese, mustard, lettuce, tomato—and a pickle spear perched atop the bun. That combination has endured for decades. There’s no reason to mess with it.
Brooks’ Sandwich House
2710 N. Brevard St., 704-375-7808
There are three places you can eat your burger here: shoulder-to-shoulder at the small counter inside, standing against a plywood table out front, or in your car. But there’s only one way to order it: All-the-way, with chili, mustard, and onions. (Don’t forget that Brooks’ is cash-only.)
4905 Ashley Park Ln., Ste. J, 704-625-1328
Everything on the menu is meant to be paired with wine here, so it’s surprising to see something often preferred with beer. Topped with bacon; a soft, somewhat sour cheese called quark; pickles; a fried egg; and a roasted shallot aioli, this burger calls for something fancy—a glass of Kingston syrah, if you ask owner and sommelier Laura Maniec.
201 N. Tryon St., Ste. 1010, 980-224-8674
The menu lists nearly two dozen burgers—most made with all-natural, hormone-free Brasstown beef—with toppings ranging from foie gras to bacon aioli. The Fukimo, however, takes burger to a new level. A salmon filet, marinated with honey and ginger and seared to a slight crisp on the outside, is topped with an Asian slaw and sesame seeds, giving the burger a good crunch. Stacked in a brioche bun, this sandwich may not technically be a burger, but it’s so good, we’ll give it a pass.
1404 W. Morehead St., 704-334-0098
The build-your-own options here include house-made pimento cheese, sliced avocado, sautéed mushrooms, and applewood-smoked bacon. Save yourself the brain power and order The Adam Bomb. Named for a former chef at the restaurant, it’s made with antibiotic- and hormone-free, grass-fed beef from Painter Hills Farm. The pepper jack-topped burger is seasoned with a creole blend from South End’s Savory Spice Shop, then stacked with grilled tomatoes, roasted red pepper, and a delicious caramelized onion aioli. With the first bite, your taste buds will dance, and you’ll understand the punny name.
Moo + Brew
1300 Central Ave., 980-585-4148
Chevre? Ah, oui. This burger joint has a pretty simple concept: burgers and beer, the beverage that goes easily with burgers. That doesn’t mean they can’t be fancy, too. The Rocket Turkey burger has a patty of farm-raised ground turkey, chevre (goat cheese), arugula, a balsamic fig spread, and roasted red pepper—everything you never thought to put on a burger, but should have.
235 N. Tryon St., 704-342-1193
The ground beef at this restaurant in The Dunhill Hotel comes from Krenz Ranch. You’ll find that name elsewhere on the menu, too—Matthew Krenz is the executive chef, and his family owns the ranch. Get the half-pound burger—you can trust eating it cooked medium. Top the burger with pimento cheese for a delicious bite that might require an extra mouth.
200 W. Woodlawn Rd., Ste. A, 980-237-1880
The seats at the counter are hard plastic, but comfortable. Any other material would be quite an investment for the owners of Chubz Famous Chiliburgers. It’s about as difficult to keep the flavorful, beef-heavy chili on top of the burgers as it is to not overeat here.
Order at the counter to the right, a burger topped with chili and all the fixin’s, then hop up into one of those hard seats at the bar. See what other guests have written in chalk along the short strip of blackboard between the dining counter and the kitchen, scribbles and doodles. When one of the owners, Antonio Watson, yells “Order!” and grabs his spatula, a show begins—part comedy, part kitchen dance.
He hurls well-meaning insults to Steve Kalik, the man who started this place in a strip mall on Woodlawn near I-77 in 2013 and brought Antonio on as a partner. Wisecracks fire across the stove in response to kitchen orders. With each ring, there’s a debate over who should answer the phone. An iguana in a cage near the window pays no mind. It’s the kind of place you can come alone, but you’ll still find yourself in good company. Antonio wraps your chiliburger in paper to help you hold it, and as he passes the paper basket across the chalkboard messages, he gives you some advice with his nose-crinkling smile.
Two hands to hold the basket, so heavy with a soft bun, juicy burger, melting cheese, and oozing chili. Your side of onion rings, too, which comes with your choice of dip—ketchup, Chubz sauce, honey mustard, or barbecue, all made here.
This time, you don’t need the reminder. You pick up the burger: two hands. —Kristen Wile
512 Brandywine Rd., Ste. 500, 704-503-9945
Yes, we know, we’re always telling you to go here and order fresh seafood off the daily catch list. But let’s talk about the burger. Chef Jim Diecchio reserves some of the beef fat from the restaurant and gives it to Carolina Artisan Bread, maker of the hamburger buns for RockSalt. Ever had bread with fat that melts in your mouth as your chew it?
Dogwood Southern Table & Bar
4905 Ashley Park Ln., Ste. D, 704-910-4919
It’s one of those specials you don’t know about until someone in the know tells you. And once you’re in the know, you’re there… a lot. From 5 to 6:30 p.m., this SouthPark spot serves a $5 burger at the bar. No, wait, they serve a $15 burger for just $5—a half-pound patty made with ground sirloin and served with a side of fries. Just don’t tell all of your friends; we enjoy being able to get a seat.
Most folks skip right over the rest of the menu and look straight to the barbecue platters at this ever-expanding barbecue spot, but the burger deserves a look. A blend of chuck and brisket, the Roadhouse comes with your typical ketchup, mustard, lettuce, tomato, and cheese, but add the sliced brisket for an additional two bucks and you won’t feel bad about ordering a burger at a barbecue restaurant.
1812 South Blvd., 704-332-8830
Meat-free fare at a gastropub? It may not be traditional, but the veggie burger at this casual restaurant is an impressive dish. The color of the grilled, black bean-based patty inside a brioche bun mimics that of ground beef. It doesn’t try to imitate beef, though, instead relying on a heavy dose of seasoning for flavor. Pickled jalapeños, arugula, pico de gallo, and pepper jack cheese add even more oomph.
Stories that will make you a smart burger consumer:
Is a Burger a Sandwich?
We asked seven Charlotte restaurant pros
The Ultimate Charlotte Burger
Building your own burger? Do it the local way with our dream burger, using only ingredients from the Charlotte area.
Beef at Ground Level
The cuts and the ratios that make each burger different.