By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Oct 28, 2023 at 11:07 AM

’Tis Dining Month, the tastiest time of year! This means we’re dishing up fun and fascinating food content throughout October. Dig in, Milwaukee! OnMilwaukee Dining Month is served up by Educators Credit Union and Potawatomi Casino Hotel

What's in a great burger? It starts with high quality ingredients (scrimp on your beef or toppings and it shows). From there, it's about creating a balanced flavor profile and ensuring that the execution of that burger (from the toast on the bun to the sear on the burger) is on point. 

Does it matter if the burger is fancy? Or if it has a thin or thick patty?  No. In fact, if I've learned anything over my past four years on the Burger Trail, it's that a great burger takes as much thought as a dish on a fine dining menu.

Here are 10 spots (in a range of styles) that take their burgers seriously. 

Archie’s Flat Top 

The Archie burger from Archie's Flat Top X

6922 W. Becher St., West Allis, (414) 249-3207

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As I've tasted burgers across the city, I've seen good and bad examples of smash-style burgers. Many don't quite meet muster, failing to produce the caramelized coloring and crispy, lacy edges required while still providing a juicy, well-cooked patty.

Archie's is an exception. Just look at all those crispy craggy edges.  They're the tell-tale sign that someone in the kitchen is cooking hard and fast, giving that meat a good pressing as soon as it hits the grill. 

And the meat? There's definitely a difference when folks begin with fresh beef. In this case, it's freshly ground custom-blended beef sourced from Becher Meats next door.  From there, it's about the great ingredients used for the toppings including a classic burger sauce, nicely melted cheese, fresh lettuce and tomato and nicely prepared PBR onions that just might make you nostalgic for the old days.

If you're looking for a hefty two-napkin smash burger, Archie's Flat Top is definitely the place to go. Read the full review.

Bavette La Boucherie

Burger from Bavette La BoucherieX

217 N. Broadway, (414) 273-3375

It’s entirely unsurprising that Bavette’s burger makes the top of this list. The burgers, which feature house-ground grass-fed beef, stay largely the same. But the toppings change out frequently and feature inventive, seasonal ingredients. 

The featured Burger Trail burger, which hearkens back to the days when Bavette hosted Burger Night on select evenings, consisted of a half-pound grassfed beef patty topped with blue cheese, blueberry barbecue sauce and a corn, poblano, radish and cabbage slaw. It was served with a generous side of cucumber melon salad.

Since then, the burger has graduated to a permanent place on Bavette's menu (and you can now get it served with fries).  This week you'll find Bavette's burger topped with cheddar blue, bacon, tomato jam, lettuce and crispy potato strings.

Do the toppings matter? In Bavette's case, not so much. They are always balanced and imaginative, building upon the most important foundation: exceptional, well-flavored beef that's been prepared with both expertise and care. Ultimately, the Bavette burger takes a humble American staple and elevates it to a new level. Read the full review


Dairyland cheeseburgerX

3rd Street Market Hall, 275 W. Wisconsin Ave.

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No frills classic burgers are a tricky proposition. After all, aside from cheese and a few condiments, there’s nothing cloaking the quality of the meat. And Dairyland is proof that – even at a fast food joint – it's worth the effort to grind your beef in-house, season it well and train your staff to cook it right every single time.

If you want a well executed burger that tastes just like a burger should, this is among just a few in town that deliver. Read the full review.

The Diplomat

The Diplomac at The DiplomatX

815 E. Brady St., (414) 800-5816
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If a Big Mac and a Whopper had a baby – and that baby inherited all the good genes and then some – you'd end up with The Diplomac, a burger of exceedingly high quality that simultaneously conjures your fondest classic burger memories while showcasing the magic of fresh, housemade ingredients.

The Diplomac features two prime beef patties with tomato, lettuce, American cheese, "1000 Island" dressing, pickles and red onion.

Even better, these components are all made in-house, giving you a remarkable copycat burger that's even better than its inspiration. Read the full review.

Hot Dish Pantry

Hot Dish Pantry smash burgerX

4125 S. Howell Ave., (414) 231-3305

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The House Smash is a looker, from its golden bun straight down to its layers of lettuce, rosey fresh tomato and chopped onion.  The melted American cheese is almost neon orange against the caramelized beef patty, which drapes down over a layer of pickles. A sprinkling of celery salt dusts the layers with its woodsy aroma.

Exactly how many irregular crispy edges does it take to make or break a smash burger?  I'm not sure; but what I do know is that the Hot Dish Smash Burger had just enough.  When pulled from the burger, the edges were like savory, salty meat candy, while the remainder of the burger offered up just the right amount of tender meatiness for every bite.

In the end, if you're looking for classic, no-frills, big burger flavor in a smash burger package, you'll find it in the Hot Dish House Smash. Read the full review.

Joe's K Ranch

Joe's K Ranch burgerX

4840 S. Whitnall Ave., Cudahy, (414) 481-1775

This popular Cudahy “supper pub” might be best known for its affordable, no-nonsense steak and prime rib dinners. But it's not a sluff when it comes to its burgers, which even hold up remarkably well – as I found – to carry-out.

The namesake K Ranch Burger was a towering piece of work that sported a cascade of beautifully melted cheese, crispy bacon, a red tomato slice and browned bits of char-grilled burger peeking out from beneath. The patties offered up a fresh, beefy flavor that was complemented by a nice balance of char-grilling. And they were nicely complemented by the toppings.

In the end, The K Ranch Burger featured a combination of crunchy, salty, sweet and spicy flavors and textures all rolled up into one beautiful burger package. Read the full review.*

* It's worthwhile to note that, since my review, it appears that Joe K's Ranch has upgraded the meat on its burger from ground chuck to Angus beef brisket. 

Mason Street Grill

Mason Street Grill burgerX

424 E. Wisconsin Ave., (414) 298-3131
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Both pub-style and steakhouse burgers tend to be larger than most, many weighing in between 10 and 16 ounces. These are also the burgers that are made or broken by the kitchen's ability to cook them to order.  In Mason Street Grill's case, they seem to have a knack for that.

In fact, their burger still lives on as the most perfectly prepared medium-rare burger I encountered on the trail -- beautifully pink inside without leaning too rare -- warmed throughout and augmented with a lovely exterior crust.  Combine that with unique-but-balanced toppings (including Muenster cheese and honey-glazed onions), and this burger is a keeper.  Read the full review.

Saint Bibiana

Saint Bibiana BurgerX

1327 E. Brady St., (414) 988-4629

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Neither the gates of heaven nor hell opened when the burger was delivered to my table on its paper-covered tray. But my salivary glands did quiver a bit as my eyes gave the burger a run down, from its golden brown seeded bun and thick-sliced pickles, to its glistening caramelized burger patties cloaked in melted cheese and resting on a bed of thinly sliced griddled onion.  And as I ate, The Bibiana Burger delivered on all it promised.

A great burger is comprised of three elements technique, composition and flavor. When you get all of that (and a bag of fries) for $13, you don’t blink. Or hesitate. You just dig in. Read the full review.

Sweet Smoke BBQ

Sweet Smoke burgerX

Food Truck
(414) 253-3553
Schedule & menus on Instagram
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The cut and quality of meat in a burger matters. In fact, Sweet Smoke's burger is proof in the pudding. Made from chopped brisket trimmings mixed with prime ground brisket and smashed to order, their burgers showcase the rich beefy flavor for which brisket is prized, as well as a faint hint of smoke from the trimmings. 

Beyond that, the burger is ultra basic, just a slice of American cheese, pickles and a beautifully butter-toasted bun; but the balance of flavors is spot on.  In fact, you might even choose to eat this one sans condiments. 

The fact that it’s only available for a few hours once a week makes the mystique of this burger even more sweet. Read the full review.

Wild Roots

Wild Roots Duck Fat BurgerX

6807 W. Becher St., West Allis, (414) 231-9081

The expectations were high for Wild Roots' Duck Fat Burger: first because house-ground meat should be superior  to its pre-ground counterparts (however customized); but also because it was fried in duck fat, an element that – when used well – has the potential to not only offer up a crisp exterior (thanks to its high smoke point), but also a rich, silky mouthfeel and complex flavor profile.

Duck fat alone does not a great burger make; but in this case it added to what was already a stellar creation. Read the full review.

Want more?

Here are 180+ Burger Trail reviews to savor.

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.