Looking for new spots to try? Lori Fredrich has dished out her top five picks in 20 different dining categories, from brunch to BBQ and everything in between.
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.
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 five spots that take their burgers seriously.
1. Wild Roots
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.
2. Sweet Smoke BBQ
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.
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.
4. HotWax by Meat & Co.
Visually, the HotWax Burger is a delightful mess. Bright orange cheese oozes over the rough edges of the dark burger patties followed closely by a slightly pink wash of burger sauce. Silky caramelized onions drape temptingly over the side as fresh pickle pieces popped out from beneath a visually toasted bun.
When a burger looks like that, it better be good. And this one was. The beef was flavorful with an exterior crust and tender, well seasoned meat. The toppings were balanced (and the onions were actually caramelized!) and the bun was a great fit.
In a city whose burger game has grown steadily stronger over the course of the last five years, HotWax is definitely a contender. Read the full review.
5. Saint Bibiana
1327 E. Brady St., (414) 988-4629
A simple, well-prepared burger is a thing of beauty. But, as I’ve noted on numerous occasions, it can be tricky to pull off. The fewer the toppings, the more the burger depends on the quality and flavor of the meat. And – when you look beyond the meat – the remaining ingredients need to be on par. They need to taste great and offer a balanced flavor profile. The Bibiana Burger scored well on all of those counts. This two-napkin burger easily ranks among the top burgers in the city. Score: Read the full review.
Here are 180+ Burger Trail reviews to savor.
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.