In this series, we’ll be hiking the burger trail to find the latest, greatest and most delicious burgers in Milwaukee. Click here for an explanation of the criteria used to rate each burger. Where have we been? Check out the complete catalog of burger reviews here.
2659 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
The Vanguard is among the most laid back spots in the city. At its heart, it’s a sausage-slinging neighborhood bar that never really takes itself too seriously. Not surprisingly, it’s also a great spot to chill out and catch the Packers game or a pro wrestling match.
Open for lunch, dinner and late-night eats seven days a week (along with brunch on Sundays), there's nary a time (barring the middle of the night) when you can’t get your fix of creative, well-executed sausages, fun sides and a nice selection of beverages (alcoholic or not). It’s also an unexpectedly friendly spot for those who prefer vegetarian and vegan fare.
I’ve eaten many a sausage from The Vanguard in the past three years. And although I technically knew it had a burger on the menu, it never even occurred to me to give it a try. However, when I started the Burger Trail series, I heard from a number of readers who said I needed to get there and try it out.
And sure enough, there was a burger waiting for me. But, as I should have expected, it wasn’t made of beef.
Thee Dirty Burger features a sausage and beer patty, bacon, lettuce, onion, tomato, pickle, OK sauce and Velveeta on brioche ($8). The burger is also available with a veggie patty or styled with a variety of city-themed toppings like the "Milwaukee" with cheese curds, cheddar and Cheez Whiz or the Tijuana with sour cream, salsa, jalapeno and cheddar.
Pro tip: Visit between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday and you can get a free soda and small fries with your burger at no charge.
Set aside your fancy expectations. Thee Dirty Burger isn’t really dirty, but it isn’t delivered to your table on fine china either. In fact, it comes in a paper boat that’s nestled on a cafeteria tray with anything else you may have ordered. But let’s not be judgey. After all, it looks pretty darn good with its little lid flipped open, flaunting its griddled brioche, melted orange American cheese, artistically placed pickle slices and, yes, a scattering of bacon bits. Were those on the menu? Nope. Did I care? Nada.
As you’ve probably gathered from past reviews, I find it pretty difficult to argue with brioche. After all, it’s delicious and slightly sweet. And, in this case, that sweetness was a boon for the burger, which was chock-full of salty delicious umami goodness.
I’ll be honest. I wasn’t sure how I felt about a sausage and beer patty replacing my all-beef burger. But, this was a flavorful sucker. It was pretty salty, but also robustly flavored, featuring a bit of kick and a nuanced hint of beer flavor. Without the bun and toppings, it would have been purely a sodium-filled flavor bomb, but in combination with the other ingredients, it was pretty darn good. And it made me crave a nice frosty beer on the side.
About those toppings. One of the best things about this burger is that it’s big on texture. There’s crunchy raw onion, crisp briny pickle and those crackling little bacon bits. Add to that a big umami burst from the cheese, nice tang from the sauce and the fresh crunch of lettuce and tomato, and suddenly there's a downright party going on right there in your mouth.
Eight bucks for a burger? Yeah, I’ll pay that. And I’ll do it again, especially when the burger is this full of flavor. Add that weekday meal deal, and you’ve got yourself a seriously well priced lunch.
In the end – traditional or not – Thee Dirty Burger from The Vanguard is filthy good.
The Vanguard is open daily from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
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.