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’s – Up 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)