Miller's Bar | Dearborn, MI
Kenji Lopez-Alt, NYC/Food Lab correspondent: Seriously, it's been a great year for burgers, starting with the awesome pubby semi-modernist burger from Spur Gastropub in Seattle. I had more than my share of lamb burgers from The Breslin and found a great Pat LaFrieda patty in Columbus. The best burger of the year though? If you put a gun against my head I'd give the honor to the awesome old school griddled patty at Miller's Bar in Dearborn, Michigan. But only if you forced me to choose.
23700 Michigan Avenue, Dearborn MI 48124 (map); 313-565-2577
Mar'sel | Rancho Palos Verdes, CA
Damon Gambuto, Los Angeles Correspondent: Mar'sel at the Terranea Resort located at land's end of the Palos Verdes peninsula is making one of the best burgers I've come across in a very long time. Chef Michael Fiorelli puts together each element of the classic with an obsessive, bespoke aesthetic. He makes his two patties from the freshly ground steak trimmings (sirloin, rib eye, et al). His bun is made in house and crafted as a brioche. The onions are labored over on a low flame until they get a cinnamon brown hue that announces an intense and complex sweetness. American cheese is replaced with an aged white cheddar and the pickles are homemade from fresh cucumbers from the garden that grows just few yards form the restaurant entrance. His Thousand Island takes shape from an oven roasted tomato purée that is mixed with a homemade mayonnaise. Fiorelli has made a truly special burger that is unquestionably my burger of the year.
Sola | Chicago
Daniel Zemans, Chicago correspondent: This year, as has been the case every year since it opened, my favorite burger came from David Burke's Primehouse. But of the burgers I wrote about for AHT in 2011, the one that keeps coming back to me is the one on the dinner menu at Sola. The griddled half-pound wagyu patty, seasoned with salt and pepper, is some of the most flavorful beef in a burger around. That meat by itself on the pretzel bun from Labriola Bakery would be enough to rank this thing in my top tier, but throw in the chewy house-cured bacon, onions that have been caramelized in bacon fat and pineapple juice, arugula, and healthy dose of cambozola cheese, and you've gone of the best burgers in Chicago.
Spring Hill | Seattle
Adam Lindsley, Portland correspondent: This burger is unstoppable. It's also a ridiculous 19 bucks (only 17 bucks at brunch). While the price makes me swoon, so does the peerless quality of the burger. After the initial bite pierces the salty crust on the thick patty and releases the fatty juices pocketed within, the beef continues to stay incredibly moist for the remainder of the meal in a feat of magic worthy of Houdini. Oh, and it's topped with the best cheese on any burger anywhere: a blend of Teleme and Beecher's Flagship.
The Pink Bicycle | Victoria, BC
Erin Jackson, San Diego Correspondent: Without question, my favorite burger of 2011 was the Poutine Burger at The Pink Bicycle in Victoria, BC. Topping a burger with fries, rosemary gravy, fresh cheese curds, and a dab of garlic mayo put me on the express train to hoser heaven. It's a "bucket list burger" that everyone has got to try at least once.
Locally, the best burger I ate this year was the gouda and aioli-topped CAB Natural Burger from Sessions Public in Point Loma.
Kenny's Burger Joint | Dallas
Ewan Macdonald, Dallas correspondent: Kenny's Burger Joint makes the best burger I've yet encountered in DFW. The half-pound patties are wood-grilled, and you can immediately tell. Large and loose without being unwieldy, it's an incredible, smoky specimen that works well with both basic toppings and fancier offerings like Bearnaise or chile con queso. Full bar, friendly staff, and a fearsome serving of bacon-wrapped jalapeños round off a near-perfect burger experience. If they didn't insist on using ciabatta this might just be the best burger place going.
Redamak's | New Buffalo, MI
Todd Brock, Atlanta correspondent: Of all the raveworthy burgers I inhaled in 2011, the one I find myself thinking about most often is the Triple Cheeseburger from Redamak's in New Buffalo, Michigan. Maybe it's the no-frills presentation in grease-blotted wax paper, maybe it's their stubborn adherence to policies like cash only and not offering lettuce or tomato, maybe it's the unpretentiousness of using Velveeta so it liquefies into a molten mess of drippy, creamy gold over the juicy skillet burgers...or quite possibly it's simply knowing that the sprawling roadside shack in this Great Lakes beach town has long since shut down for winter. But ultimately, my favorite burger of 2011 is the one that I can't get again—no matter how badly I may want one (and believe me, I sure do now)—until well into 2012. Happy New Year, indeed.
Oscar's Pub and Grill | Milwaukee
Lacey Muszynski, Milwaukee correspondent: This newcomer to the Milwaukee restaurant scene is storming up the lists of many burger connoisseurs. Like any restaurant, they had some hiccups when they first opened, but now they're one of the few casual joints in MKE where you can get a consistently cooked burger to whatever temp you want. Their signature Big O burger is an homage to the owner's Mexican heritage with chorizo, grilled jalapeños and onions, and chunky housemade guacamole all under a layer of chipotle jack and gouda. It's a little spicy, a little greasy, and always fresh considering the amount of business they're already getting. The included Parmesan-seasoned fries are homemade, a rarity at this price point. Awesome tunes and veteran bartenders complete the package and make this a perfect hangout spot.
Capital Bar and Grill | Little Rock, AR
Kat Robinson, Arkansas correspondent: If the house-chopped sirloin cooked to a perfect medium rare with a charred edge wasn't enough to make the burger at Capital Bar and Grill memorable, it was the housemade pickles, the house-cured bacon, and especially the pimento cheese. CBG's burger is consistantly good; after my review I kept going back and having it again and again, along with the restaurant's Parmesan-dusted fries and complimentary fried black eyed peas. There have been a few burgers that have come close, but no other burger in the state of Arkansas (or in any of the other eight states I ate burgers in this year) beats this one.
Local 360 | Seattle
Denise Sakaki, Seattle correspondent: Not only is Local 360's house burger a wonderfully juicy and well-flavored specimen of hamburger-liciousness, the restaurant itself is a noteworthy example of socially conscious good eating. Their seasonally changing menu features dishes made with as many raw goods sourced from within 360 miles of Seattle as they can get; beyond that distance, they look for Northwest-produced goods. Their burger is topped with a locally-made spicy pepper relish that adds a kick of heat, a bit of sweet, and a delightful vinegar-based acidity that cuts through the richness of the half-pound patty. By using a preserved topping, they can keep the signature flavor of their burger year-round without having to compromise the concept behind their restaurant. The burger itself is delicious, but knowing it's made by a restaurant that puts such care into its ingredients makes it a standout burger of 2011.
Review (by Adam Lindsley): Seattle: The Sustainable and Spicy Burger at Local 360