My Burger Trail journey kicked off in January of 2017, and for over four years, I've dedicated time and energy to searching for the best, most well-executed burgers in the City of Milwaukee and beyond.
Along the way, I've put well over 100 burgers to the test, scoring each as objectively as possible using a strict rubric. What that means is – even if I subjectively love a particular burger (for its flavor profile, style or composition) – I’m bound to fairness, rather than my own particular preferences. A very high scoring burger, therefore, should be very good. But it may not be my favorite.
Top score ≠ personal favorite
It stands to reason, then, that my personal favorites have little to do with scores. Some of my picks happen to overlap the list of top scoring burgers; but there are also a number of outliers that didn’t perform well enough in one area or another to achieve a sufficient score to make that list.
A good number of these burgers showcase expertise in technique or outstanding (or housemade) ingredients. Others simply spark joy-filled flavor memories or nostalgia. But all, in my opinion, are truly delicious.
Here are my current favorites in reverse order.
3146 S. 27th St., (414) 671-2118
I started out the Burger Trail with a cheeseburger from Mazo's, a burger spot that's kept their edge thanks – in great part – to the fact that they've remained "old fashioned." They haven't compromsed on things like grinding their own meat, and that makes a difference. There have been moments in my journey where their burger was overshadowed by other, equally compelling burgers. But they've always held a special place in my heart. After all, if I've learned anything over four-plus years, it's that there's a great deal to be said for a burger that stands solid, even without reliance on frills. In fact, it's likely the utter simplicity of the Mazo's burger that makes it a true Milwaukee classic. [Read the full review]
2491 S. Superior St., (414) 747-1007
The double brisket burger at Palomino is a great example of a classic diner-style burger that's been elevated with the use of exceptionally high quality ingredients. The freshly ground brisket is juicy and beefy, and it's topped with classic ingredients like umami-filled American cheese, an amazing "secret sauce," delicious pickles and raw onions. Ultimately, it has all the the flavors of a classic diner-style burger ... and then some. [Read the full review]
8. Nite Owl Drive In
830 E. Layton Ave., (414) 483-2524
Value is everywhere at Nite Owl, and that includes their incredibly affordable cheeseburger, which will run you just a bit more than you'd pay for a quarter pounder with cheese at McDonald's. What matters even more is that their burger blows McDonald's (and a lot of other places) flat out of the water. It's worthwhile to note the Nite Owl is cash only; but if you've forgotten your 10-spot, there's an ATM at the gas station next door. [Read the full review]
7. Crave Cafe
3592 N. Oakland Ave., (414) 204-8778
At Crave Cafe, it's all about the little details, from the ultra-crisp butter-toasted brioche bun to the juicy, well-seasoned burgers. My original review featured the signature burger (which surprised me in a variety of ways); but you can't really go wrong with their mushroom Swiss burger or the Korean BBQ Burger, both of which hit the right notes with combinations of sweet, salty and funky flavors. Overall, if you're looking for a "crave-worthy" burger, you'll find it here. [Read the full review
6. Heirloom Food Truck
Heirloom MKE (food truck)
A good burger starts with high quality meat that's been treated and cooked with expertise. When that’s followed by a thoughtfully composed list of fresh, balanced ingredients – each of which brings something to the table – you have the makings of a great burger. The Heirloom burgeer is among those burgers. It stands out for its quality, for its fresh ingredients. But maybe moreso, it stands out because it's delicious.
5. Merriment Social
240 E. Pittsburgh Ave., (414) 645-0240
The burger I reviewed for this series has long since come off the menu at Merriment Social. But it's of no consequence. Every burger I've eaten there has been top notch. That includes the namesake Merriment Burger (pictured) which is decked out with American cheese, bacon, house pickles and social sauce. In fact, it's that very burger that won me over from day 1, with its juicy patty and absolutely perfect housemade Japanese milk bun. [Read the full review]
4. Oscar’s Pub & Grill
1712 W. Pierce St., (414) 810-1820
The Big O at Oscar's is among my tried-and-true go-to's. It's beefy and perfectly greasy with a generous amount of cheese. And the flavors of the toppings run the gamut from smokey and spicy to fresh and bright. If you haven't yet tried a burger from Oscar's, you'd be remiss not to put them on your list. And if you have, well, you know what I'm talking about. [Read the full review]
3. Foxfire Food Truck
Hawthorne Coffee Roasters, 4177 S. Howell Ave.
Zócalo Food Park, 636 S. 6th St., (262) 573-9893
The Foxfire burger makes my list for a load of reasons. First, it showcases two exceptional four-ounce patties of freshly ground brisket each of which offers up both rich, full flavor and beautiful texture. Secondly, it showcases exactly how simple ingredients (a fluffy sweet bun, American cheese, thinly sliced onions and pickles) can be combined to create an ultra-solid burger with a flavor that far surpasses the sum of its parts. [Read the full review]
2. Wild Roots
6807 W. Becher St., (414) 231-9081
Duck fat alone does not a great burger make, but in the case of the Duck Fat Burger at Wild Roots it adds to what is already a stellar creation.
When I tried this burger, the house-ground burger patty (yes, that matters) showcased a beautiful exterior crust and an amazingly juicy, loosely-packed interior that was also unmistakably beefy, likely thanks to its composition of 100% brisket. That beefiness was compounded by deft seasoning, including a hint of black pepper, and augmented by a perfectly fatty mouthfeel that made it a pleasure to eat, both with and without its toppings. [Read the full review]
Dairyland Old Fashioned Burgers
Zócalo Food Park, 636 S. 6th St.
924 E. Rawson Ave., Oak Creek, (262) 207-4093
The Dairyland burger is proof of a few things: First, burgers don't need to be fancy or expensive to be amazing. Secondly, you can't put a price on quality house-ground beef that's been properly seasoned. Third, there's a lot of power at work in a classic, nostalgic flavor profile.
Since my initial review, I've eaten numerous Dairyland burgers. And, since my inaugural bites, they've made a few tweaks. The bun has changed (my first wasn't seeded), and they've added a number of new burgers to their menu. But this burger still gives me all the feels.
When I bite into a burger like this, I get nostalgic. My mouth waters. And I find myself wondering if I've ever eaten something quite this good. In my mind, THAT's the sign of a truly great burger. [Read the full review]
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.