By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Mar 27, 2021 at 11:01 AM

My Burger Trail journey kicked off in January of 2017, and for over four years now, 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 150 burgers to the test.

Since it’s Bar Month, I thought I’d pay homage to some of the highest ranking bar burgers I’ve tried along the way. To achieve top scores, burgers need to perform well in all categories (appearance, bun, burger, toppings and value).

In the case of these bar burgers, the clear winners are those venues that invest in high quality, flavorful beef. They’re also venues which have taken the time to pay attention to the details, including the burger’s appearance, execution and balanced application of condiments and toppings.

On the list you’ll find a variety of styles, from old school burgers to smash burgers and half-pounders to over-the-top beasts. But they all have one thing in common: they’re delicious.

And with that, I’d like to raise a glass to all the hardworking folks in the bar industry who’ve had a helluva year. This one's for you.  

10. Oscar’s Pub & Grill

1712 W. Pierce St., (414) 810-1820

The Big O at Oscar's on PierceX

I reviewed the Oscar’s classic, The "Big O," years ago. But the burger still stands up to the hype in 2021. Order it and you'll get a half-pound Angus burger topped with chipotle jack, smoked gouda, hickory bacon, chorizo, fried onions, jalapeños and a side of house guacamole. In fact, at $8.25 with fries, it might be the most delicious burger deal in the city.

Overall score: 43/50
[Read the full review]

9. Cloud Red

4488 N. Oakland Ave., (414) 231-9660

Burger from Cloud RedX

The signature at Cloud Red features grass-fed beef, thick-cut bacon, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, crispy onions and special sauce. Not only is it beautiful, this char-broiled beast sports a spunky take on the usual burger sauce. If you love a good half-pounder, you should definitely put the Ney’s Big Sky Burger at Cloud Red on your list to try.

Overall score: 43/50
[Read the full review]

8. Natty Oaks

11505 W. National Ave., West Allis, (414) 543-2255

Mexican burger at Natty OaksX

This was the last burger I reviewed in a bar before the pandemic hit, and it was a pleasant surprise. The flavors were balanced between creamy, spicy and just a bit of acidity, giving the burger a nice rounded profile with  a nice nod to Mexican flavors.  Indeed,  if nachos – or maybe a gringo-style taco – collided with a chargrilled burger, you’d get something like The Mexican Burger at Natty Oaks.

Overall score: 44/50
[Read the full review]

7. Thistle & Shamrock

3430 N. 84th St., (414) 871-3977

Thistle Burger at Thistle & ShamrockX

Kam’s Thistle & Shamrock has a number of delicious burgers on their menu. And even the most basic of them all is well worth the eating. Take their Thistle Cheeseburger, for instance. It starts with a one-third pound fresh ground steak patty that’s grilled to order, topped with your choice of cheese and served on a brioche bun with housemade "Thistle Chips" and dip. It says a great deal whe a burger is juicy and flavorful enough that it doesn't need a single condiment to boost its flavor or moisture content.

Overall score: 44/50
[Read the full review]

6.  Stubby’s Beer Bar & Gastrogrub

2060 N. Humboldt Blvd., (414) 763-6324

The smash burger at Stubby'sX

You want classic? You got it. Stubby's Double Diner Smash Burgers feature two flat-top griddled beef patties, diced onion, house pickle and cheddar, each served on a Sheboygan hard roll. And while Stubby's isn't a diner, these burgers are a Wisconsin classic in the making.

Currently, Stubby's is serving their former "double diner" as a single smash burger featuring one quarter pound smash burger, American cheese, chopped onion, & pickles on a toasted Sheboygan hard roll.

Overall score: 44/50
[Read the full review]

5. Palomino

2491 S. Superior St., (414) 747-1007

The double brisket burger at PalominoX

The double brisket burger features two quarter-pound patties, American cheese, chopped onions and pickles, and secret sauce on a brioche bun with a side of fries. It has all the charms of a classic diner-style burger, plus notable upgrades including the burger mix, which makes great use of brisket, one of the meatiest, most delicious cuts on any cow.

Overall score: 44/50
[Read the full review]

4. Club Charlies

320 E. Menomonee St., (414) 763-8548

The Big Ebs at Club CharliesX

The Big Ebs is a half-pound burger stuffed with cheddar and onions and topped with cheddar, lettuce, tomato, pickles and 1,000 Island dressing. Ultimately, it's delicious, messy and classic in its flavor. It's also a good example of what a stuffed burger can be.

Overall score: 45/50
[Read the full review]

3. Fuzzy’s Sports Pub & Grill

627 E. Main St. Waukesha, (262) 524-8899

The Mean Jean burger at Fuzzy'sX

The Mean Jean  (named for a former employee) features the guest’s choice of either a one-third or one-half pound burger cooked to order and topped with two slices of American cheese and an impressive pile of housemade haystack onions.  Order the third-pounder and you'll get a burger and fries for right around $10. Yeah, that’s a great price. And if you’re looking for a burger that delivers on a promise of greasy, over-the-top goodness, this is a nice way to spend that Hamilton.

Overall score: 46/50
[Read the full review]

2. Good City Brewing

2108 N. Farwell Ave., (414) 539-4343
333 W. Juneau Ave., (414) 539-4343

The Brew Burger at Good CityX

Good City Brewing does well with their burgers, overall, presenting well-seasoned and cooked beef and well-executed balanced toppings.  I last reviewed The Brew Burger, a half pound of beef cooked to your liking, topped with lettuce, tomato, caramelized onion, pickles, and your choice of cheese (I chose American) with Sriracha Russian sauce. It comes with a choice of curry fries, kettle chips or slaw (I highly recommend the fries).  The brew burger was last available at the Downtown brewery location; but do check the menu before you go.

Overall score: 47/50
[Read the full review]

1. Joe’s K Ranch

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

The K Ranch Burger at Joe's K RanchX

The K Ranch Burger is among the best bar burgers I’ve had in a good long while, offering up  a combination of crunchy, salty, sweet and spicy flavors and textures all rolled up into one beautiful burger package.

Overall score: 48/50
[Read the full review]

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.