If juicy, sizzling hunks of meat are not your thing, you are either vegetarian or un-American. Thankfully, I am neither. Although I am a fancy dining critic, I love to chow down on burgers. It has never been a better time to be a burger lover. Quality blends, artisanal toppings, and intricate combinations have blossomed. Nearly everyone offers decent burgers these days, from expanding fast-casual chains to high-end, award-winning restaurants.
As National Burger Month reaches its conclusion and National Burger Day is celebrated on May 28, I humbly offer my first top 10 South Florida burger list. Like anything food-related, it is entirely subjective and open to debate. It skews toward Broward and Palm Beach counties, because that is my main turf. I accumulated notes from a year of eating professionally. I couldn’t eat every burger in town, but I tried to hit all the major chains and players. My main criterion was the burger itself, including toppings and buns but not sides or drinks. Preparation was crucial. If my medium-rare order turns out medium well, that’s a deal-breaker for me.
What separates great from good or average? In general, I’m a purist who prefers simplicity. I like burgers that are juicy but not greasy, and I believe those who press down and smoosh burgers on the grill should be charged with a food misdemeanor. I tend to favor burgers that are flame-broiled, char-grilled or wood-fired instead of cooked on a flattop grill. I believe the only meat that should be placed atop a burger is crispy bacon, not pulled pork, pancetta or (God forbid) pastrami. I believe burgers should have no more than three toppings, and perhaps a condiment, because anything more clutters and overcomplicates. There are exceptions on this list, because rules are made to be broken.
In alphabetical order, my top 10 are:
Beaker & Gray, Miami — It’s a hipster haven in trendy Wynwood where chef Brian Nasajon gets creative with bar bites and global tapas, but the burger ($16), offered at lunch, brunch and late night, is excellent. The lunch version features American Wagyu beef, smoked Gouda, beer-soaked tomatillo and housemade pickles. The brunch and late-night version, also available at dinner on Tuesdays, features bacon jam and caramelized onion aioli. Of the 23 burgers I tried at this year’s South Beach Wine & Food Festival Burger Bash, Beaker & Gray’s lunch burger was my favorite. 2637 N. Miami Ave., Miami, 305-699-2637, BeakerAndGray.com.
Char-Hut, multiple locations — I hadn’t been to Char-Hut in years, but when I walked into the Davie location, it felt like slipping on a comfortable old sweater. When I chomped on the 8-ounce Big Bite burger ($8.99), a blend of chuck and brisket, I did a double-take. That charbroiled flavor. That soft, poppy-seed kaiser roll. It was outstanding — perfect medium rare, juicy but grease-free, blanketed in white American cheese. You order at the counter, watch your fresh patty hit the grill, then tell the staff which toppings and condiments you want. There’s also a choice of buns. Char-Hut was founded in 1976 by Joe Cammisa, and his sons Michael and Tony now operate three stores (Davie, Pembroke Pines, Tamarac). There are also two franchised locations, in Fort Lauderdale and Coral Springs. 9000 W. SR 84, Davie, 954-474-9312, CharHutInc.com.
Charm City Burger Company, Deerfield Beach — Voted best burger by SouthFlorida.com and SunSentinel readers in 2016, this is a case where I agree with the masses. This funky little burger joint has seriously good meat, ground fresh daily by Sunshine Provisions in Hallandale Beach. I’m partial to the Cowboy ($6.95), a 1/3-pounder with cheddar, peppered bacon, mushrooms and grilled onions. 1136 E. Hillsboro Blvd., 954-531-0300, CharmCityBurgerCo.com.
Ends Meat Eatery, Hollywood — (UPDATE: CLOSED IN SUMMER 2017) Easy to miss in downtown Hollywood, this year-old restaurant from chef-owner Kevin Dreifuss recently revamped its menu to focus on affordable comfort food, adding tacos, rice bowls and sandwiches. The Mitch HedBurger ($13), has been a fixture from the beginning, a tasty, seasoned beef patty made from a blend formulated by Burger Beast blogger Sef Gonzalez, topped with house-cured bacon, horseradish cheddar, onion jam, arugula and aioli on a sesame-seeded Martin’s potato roll. (UPDATE: ENDS MEAT HAS CLOSED, but the memory of its tasty burger endures). 1910 Hollywood Blvd., 954-391-7400, Facebook.com/EndsMeatEatery.
The Foundry, Pompano Beach — Served in a large, casual dining room with a lively bar, the Foundry’s wood-grilled burgers are kissed with the sweet smoke of Florida oak. The bun may be a bit bulky, but the signature Foundry burger ($16) is delicious, topped with subtle Gruyere, thick salty bacon and sweet onion marmalade. 2781 E. Atlantic Blvd., 754-205-6977, thefoundryfl.com.
Gilbert’s 17th Street Grill, Fort Lauderdale — The star of the show at this family eatery, run by the lovely Lenore Gilbert, is an 8-ounce hockey-puck-shaped burger of certified Angus beef. It is flame-grilled with excellent crunchy char, and offered in numerous varieties. I am partial to the cheddar burger with sauteed mushrooms and caramelized onions ($12.95), or the Havarti burger with bacon on a toasted, garlic-buttered English muffin ($14.95). The fries are good, but the addictive sweet potato fries are better. 1821 Cordova Road, 954-768-8990, Gilberts17thStGrill.com
Grease Burger Bar, West Palm Beach — When in Grease, do as the Greaseans do: Down some craft beer and booze, then sop it up with a juicy, sloppy, 10-ounce burger that will leave you licking your fingers. I love the Brinkman ($11.95), with bacon, grilled onions, pepper jack, jalapenos and sriracha mayonnaise. And for a change of pace, I like the Palm Beach Illustrated A List ($11.95), basically a Caprese salad over meat: fresh mozzarella, pesto, tomatoes and onion. Man does not live on bacon cheeseburgers alone. 213 Clematis St., 561-651-1075, GreaseWPB.com
Le Tub, Hollywood — Le Tub is a polarizing place and not your typical service-with-a-smile restaurant. But I still love its 13-ounce meat mountain of a burger, charred on the outside and juicy on the inside. You can top it with American or Swiss. It's served simply with lettuce, tomato and a slice of raw onion on the side. That's it. No fancy artisanal toppings, just squirt bottles of ketchup, mustard and mayo. Once deemed the best burger in the country by GQ Magazine, Le Tub failed to make Burger Beast blogger Gonzalez's recent list of top 35 burgers in South Florida. It has had its bobbles, with flashes of inconsistency, but I'm still on Team Tub. 1100 N. Ocean Drive, 954-921-9425, TheLeTub.com
Shake Shack, multiple locations — We don’t have In-N-Out burger on the East Coast, but New York restaurateur Danny Meyer has given us the next best thing. His Shake Shack empire has locations in Boca Raton, Miami Beach and Coral Gables. The burgers, comforting morsels of goodness, are antibiotic- and hormone-free, wrapped in wax paper and served on non-GMO potato rolls. The burgers ($5.39 single, $8.39 double) are topped with a special sauce that evokes In-N-Out, the elusive West Coast chain that has only branched as far east as Texas. We’ll survive. 1400 Glades Road, Boca Raton, 561-923-0847; 1111 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach, 305-434-7787; 1450 S. Dixie Highway, Coral Gables, 786-470-3701, ShakeShack.com.
Tucker Duke’s, Boca Raton and Deerfield Beach — Chef Brian Cartenuto has won episodes of “Cutthroat Kitchen” on Food Network, and he took home a $10,000 prize from this year’s Burger Bash at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. His two Tucker Duke’s locations feature burgers that are big and busy, but undeniably good. I love his onion rolls, and I love the Spicy Lola ($12), with English cheddar, bacon, red onion confit, spicy jalapeno jam and potato sticks. 1658 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton, 561-717-8153; 1101 S. Powerline Road, Deerfield Beach, 954-708-2035, TuckerDukes.com
Honorable mentions: BRGR Stop, 4301 Coconut Creek Parkway, Coconut Creek; Burlock Coast Seafare & Spirits, 1 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Drive, Fort Lauderdale; Sonny’s Famous Steak Hogies, 1857 N. 66th Ave., Hollywood; 32 East, 32 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach; Yard House, multiple locations.