Milwaukee’s Best Burgers


I have a love-hate relationship with “best of…” lists.  I love to read best of lists but the only real reason most of them are made is to sell magazines and newspapers.  People love lists, and are more likely to by Milwaukee Magazine or the Journal when they have their “Best Restaurants” lists.  So maybe this list will generate more visits to EatWisconsin, which is a good thing.   I am sure I am missing some (I have never had the Beer Belly’s Belly Buster, which garners high praise from Getto and many others) and I am sure my selection for what burger I consider the best will probably surprise many.  Here are some of my favorites:

Sobelman’sUp until a few weeks ago I had never had a Sobelman’s burger, described as many as the best in the City. Before a concert I had some time to kill so I went to Sobelman’s (in the name of research, of course), settled in at the cozy bar, which is a former Schlitz Tavern and ordered a Capital Brewery Winter Skal and a “Sobelman” burger.  They have plenty of other options including traditional burgers, a jalapeño burger, and other bar fare like a Friday Fish Fry, Wings, Mozzarella Sticks, Chicken Sandwiches, etc.  But I came here for a burger and I got a great one.   The Sobelman Burger is 1/3-pound of black angus beef, three cheeses, jalapenos and fried onion on a perfectly sized bun, specially made just for them.  Its served with fries for about 6 bucks.  The burger was flavorful, juicy, and perfectly cooked.  The mixture of cheeses and the fried onions and jalapenos gave the burger a great overall flavor and a little bit of heat.  I absolutely loved this burger and I am already craving another as I type these words.   This burger deserves all of the accolades it receives.

Culver’s  – Culver’s is the king of butterburgers if you are looking at quantity alone.  The chain that started in Sauk City, Wisconsin has grown to have 330 restaurants in 16 states and they are still growing. I once saw Craig Culver speak at a retail business seminar and I was amazed at his enthusiasm and how approachable he was.  Unlike the surly spoiled teenagers that work at the big chains, I have always found Culver’s employees to be friendly, helpful, and attentive.  The food is always great.  I have even argued that their Fish Fry is as good as or better than ones at “better” and more expensive restaurants.   The Culver’s butter burger, along with most of their menu items may be mistaken for standard fast food fare, but it is a far higher quality than places like McDonalds or Burger King with their frozen hockey puck patties.  The burgers are fresh, never frozen, and they have a great menu of non-burger items, but we are speaking about burgers here and Culver’s offers a great butter burger, served many different ways and to be honest, you cannot go wrong with any of them.  My favorite is either the Patty Melt or the Butter burger with bacon and cheese.

Solly’s Grille  – Solly’s Grille in Glendale is so famous they receive national recognition for their butter burgers and were featured in the documentary “Hamburger America.  Just read this thread on eGullet to see what people say about Solly’s.  I really like their burgers, which are cooked and served with gobs of butter, so much so that there is usually a puddle of it on the small plate on which the burger is served.  These go down smooth and are very very good.

Mazo’s Fine Foods – Mazo’s is probably the least known of the “best” burger joints in town.  Located on S. 27th Street, just south of Oklahoma, Mazo’s is in an old, nondescript building.  The interior is old and in my opinion kind of depressing in a 70s kitchen kind of way.  That doesn’t matter as the burgers are phenomenal.  The meat is ground on-site and is cooked to whatever temperature you want.  It’s also served with your choice of two sides, including homemade soups, fries, cottage cheese and some other stuff.  Opt for the soup and fries.  Nobody should be eating cottage cheese with their burgers.

Kopp’s & Elsa’s on The Park Quite possibly the coolest architecture (and most non-functional) Kopp’s buildings are all very interesting but uncomfortable to eat at (think concrete benches and tables that you stand around).  The burgers are known throughout the area as some of the best and I cannot argue otherwise.  The butter burgers are large and full of flavor.  I almost always have mine with fried onions.  The Kopp’s on Port Washington Road in Glendale is the original site of the Milky Way drive-through, said to be one of the restaurants that inspired Arnold’s on Happy Days

Owner Karl Kopp also owns Elsa’s on the Park, which serves a different style of burger, which I would describe as an upscale pub burger.  These are also phenomenal.  It sometimes feels strange eating a burger at this place with the upscale decor and clientele, but if you look around, many people are also enjoying the great burgers.  Go for the Au Poivre (spiked with peppercorns, soaked in burgundy sauce) or the APV Burger II (adding blue cheese and bacon to the Au Poivre) both of them are nothing short of outstanding.

Charcoal Grill – I really like their burgers, though my last one was 1) not the right burger I ordered and 2) Cooked past the medium rare I ordered it 3) Served with old fries, and 4) seasoned with this nasty so-called Cajun spice.  It sucked.  I ordered it carryout and discovered all this when I got back to work, so I just had to suck it up and eat it.  Otherwise I really enjoy the burgers here, especially the black and blue (bacon and blue cheese) burger with some jalapenos on top.  The California burger with avocado is outstanding as well.  Lets hope my last experience was an isolated incident.

Chili’s A surprising entry into the best burgers list is from all places, Chilis.  The bacon and blue cheese burger was large, cooked to a medium rare perfection, and very well seasoned.  I loved this burger and if you are ever stuck at eating here, give it a try.

The Wicked Hop A few years ago the Wicked Hop opened its doors on the corner of St. Paul and Broadway. Since that time the place is almost always packed with people enjoying great tap beers, mixed drinks, and what I can only describe as the one of the best burgers  in Milwaukee.  You build it yourself with a great variety of cheese and toppings.  My usual is to get it with Blue cheese, jalapenos, and bacon.  I think that this burger is somewhat unknown among a lot of Milwaukeeans and it rarely gets mentioned in any best of list.  Maybe its because I prefer pub-style burgers to butter burgers, but this burger is flawless whether you are enjoying it at dinner or wolfing it down to soak up all the beer you drank earlier in the evening.  

My top 5 rankings are as follows…let the debate begin.

5. Mazo’s burger with fried onions
4. Kopp’s cheeseburger with fried onions
3. APV Burger II at Elsa’s on the Park
2. The Sobelman at Sobelman’s
1. Wicked Hop Burger (with bacon, jalapenos, onions and blue cheese)

Other best of lists for burgers:
Citysearch 2006 & Journal Sentinel


9 thoughts on “Milwaukee’s Best Burgers

  1. While I do like Culver’s they often times had the burnt grease crust around them -ick. But do agree they make a good patty melt. I can’t even stomach the Kopp’s burgers – very greasy and they have a funny after taste.

    I really like Hooligan’s Burgers (my husband had a great Guiness BBQ Sauce Burger this weekend) and I love the cheddar Bacon Burger from the Chancery.

  2. I really like the Chancery Burgers as well, especially the French Kiss. I haven’t had a Hooligan’s burger in like 5 years but I remember them being really good. While I enjoy Solly’s burgers, I do think they are a tad overrated and I think a lot of people just get a kick out of how much butter is on there.

    I have also heard that Fuzzy’s in Waukesha has a great pub-style burger, which I will need to investigate. I will probably be posting a review of Fuzzy’s breakfasts soon.

  3. Mazo’s used to be better. The burgers have less flavor now than they did years ago, and they’ve changed the buns. I don’t think mine was toasted last time, though it may have been an oversight. They’re still quite good, though, and I stop by every time I’m in town. I like to get plain burgers with good, flavorful meat, and not be distracted by toppings (except, perhaps, a little bit of butter, though I was not impressed by Culver’s).

    My parents love Nite Owl — it’s down on East Layton across from the airport — but I never cared for their burgers. For a quick carryout burger, Kopp’s has them beat (but the burgers are of a similar size and texture).

    There used to be a place called Al’s a few blocks farther up Layton that served little burgers on wheat buns… now, those were good. Closed years ago, though.

  4. It’s hard to rank great burgers. Sobelman’s, Solly’s, Kopp’s, Culver’s, Mazo’s, etc. are all superb in their own way and all very different. I guess if I was entertaining someone that loved a good cheeseburger and they could only have one, I’d take them to Sobelman’s. Atmosphere counts a little too and Sobelman’s is a fun place.

    Some “fancy” restaurants serve great burgers too. I had one at North Shore Bistro not long ago.

    Just had a Juicy Lucy at the 5-8 in Minneapolis. Very yummy.

    There are some interesting burger reviews in “500 Things to Eat Before It’s Too Late: and the Very Best Places to Eat Them.” Green chile burgers are popular in New Mexico and they are so tasty!

  5. I remember when Booby Flay was studying for his Culinary Arts Degree at” The University of Kutcharitaville” back-in the 1980s. He was graduating the same year that I had began my Culinary Education at Kutchie Pelaez’s Highly Acclaimed World Famous “University of Kutcharitaville in Kutchie’s Key West”. That’s where we learned the “Fine Art of Broiling Cheese Burgers to Perfection”. Although we were never taught, the secrets of how to prepare Kutchie’s Goody Goodys, “the World’s Greatest Cheese Burgers in Paradise”. Neither did we learn “Kutchie’s Secret Recipe for The World’s Greatest Key Lime Pies”. All the Trade Secrets and Copy-Righted Products were heavily guarded. It was all considered the personal and intellectual properties of Kutchie Pelaez, The University’s Founder. However, we did receive a great Culinary Education in our studies at the University. Professor Kutchie Pelaez has forgotten more about the Food Business than Most Chefs will ever know. Now, that’s a fact. And he is about the Sexiest Professor that you could ever love to learn from. All the Graduates of the University are immediately absorbed into the Food Industry before or shortly after graduation. My degree from The University of Kutcharitaville has opened many doors for me as well as many great career positions. Look at Bobby Flay, Adman Richman, Anthony Bourdain, Giadade De Laurenths, Guy Fieri, Dennis Thomas, Mario Batali, Yankee Jack, James Oliver, Teri Levi, Alton Brown, Nigella Lawson, Paula Dean and Rachael Ray to name but only a few of the Kutcharitaville Graduates that I am aware of. Need I say more. Thank you “Professor Kutchie”, you have given me as well as thousands of others the Opportunity to have Fantastic Careers as well as a Great Way of Life. You should be very Proud of Yourself to say the least…..We will always remember the Most Important Thing that you ever taught us above everything else, “That If God Be For You, Then Who Can Be Against You”. Words of Wisdom from a True teacher, Words of True Love and Making The World A Better Place In Witch To Live. And A Far Greater Place In Witch To Enjoy Great Food. And like you always said, “Life Is Too Short To Eat Bad Food!”

    with the greatest respect,………………….Jennie McMasters

  6. It just doesn’t get any
    better than seeing the gorgeous “Mrs. Anita Pelaez” over at her and her
    husband “Captain Kutchie’s” place..Some Folks Also Call Him..”The
    KutchMan others call him The Kutchmon!”…Most Just Call Him “The Most
    Interesting Man In The World”….(Anita and Kutchie Pelaez’s Key West, Key
    Lime Pie Factory and Grill)…Just watching the lovely couple baking together all those Yummy
    Key Lime Pies at their Key Lime Pie Factory and Grill in Asheville.
    …It’s always worth the trip to visit them in they’re Historic Key Lime
    Pie Factory and Grill…It should be on everyone’s bucket list for
    sure..And The World’s Best Key Lime Pies!..YUM-YUM-YUM….­­.”Talk About
    World Class” What An Understatement!…….AA­­HHHHH!….The Magic Of The
    Lovely..”Mrs. Anita Pelaez” And Her Delicious Key Lime Pies Baked With
    Pure Love…Always……40 Years And They’re Still Going Strong….

    ….May GOD Continue Blessing “Anita And Kutchie Pelaez” and They’re World
    Famous Key Lime Pie Factory And Grill Where The Personalities, Ovens And
    Smiles Are Always Warm And Inviting. “Kutcharitaville” You’re The Best We Love You!….

    …Now You Know Who Is The Hottest!…And Baby Let Me Tell You, Mrs. Anita Is No Act…She’s The Real Thing Baby!…

    ….Located Near The Biltmore House And Estate…..
    ….Who Could Ask For Anything More?…Anita’s Key Lime Pie…(Hell Yes!)

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