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Food recs: The best burgers Kansas City has to offer

Brewer's Kitchen
Burgers at Brewer's Kitchen are made from locally sourced beef soaked in beer.

Whether you like them smashed, pub style or vegetarian, Kansas City has a burger for every taste.

"We really do love our burgers in Kansas City," says IN Kansas City food columnist Jenny Vergara. From joints like Town Topic to fine dining establishments like The Savoy, the humble hamburger is on menus everywhere.

"We can't just say 'burgers,'" food blogger Mary Bloch points out. "We've got to be a little bit more specific on that," she says, noting smash burgers are big with diners right now.

Then are pub burgers and veggie burgers, with a number of places having all three options on offer.

For those who think vegetarian burgers can't cut the mustard, Carlton Logan, a former chef and an administrator for the Facebook Group Kansas City Eats, would like a word.

"I think with the new innovations, you almost can't tell that it's a veggie burger," he says.

Below Vergara, Bloch and Carlson offer their picks for burgers done well — and medium and rare.

Jenny Vergara:

Smash burgers

  • Town Topic on Broadway Blvd Single with cheese. For over 85 years, Town Topic on Broadway Boulevard has been open 24/7, under its famous neon sign. It is the spot for smash burgers and breakfast platters. A little-known secret: Town Topic serves both shakes and Golden Boy pies. Just ask for a “pie shake” and they’ll blend a slice of pie into chocolate or vanilla ice cream for a treat so good, you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it sooner.
  • The Campground Double Smash Burger. This burger comes with American cheese, aioli, pickles and red onions on an egg bun. One of my two favorite to-go burgers in this city that holds up during the car ride home.
  • Kitty’s CafeDouble Cheese Burger. Although the pork tenderloin sandwich at Kitty’s is legendary (and a must-try if you’ve never had it), the burger here is absolutely delicious. Get a single, double or triple cheeseburger with pickle, onion and American cheese on a soft white bun.
  • Chixen Kansas City Little Chief Chicken Burger. Looking for an alternative to a beef patty? Look no further than the smashed half-pound Little Chief Chicken Burger that uses seasoned ground chicken, seasoned for flavor, before being smashed on the flat-top griddle. Once it has a good caramelized crust, it's topped with romaine lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, American Cheese, beef bacon and house sauce.
  • Cosmo Burger Double Burger. There is a reason this place is on everyone’s list! Now open with their second location inside Lenexa Public Market, Cosmo Burger is a pandemic success story. This is another burger that travels well, and my standing order is the double smash burger with cheese, grilled onion, burger sauce, and pickle on a soft potato bun — with an extra-crispy side of Tater Tots.
  • The Snack Shack on Johnson Drive Bob or Bobby Burger. Recently relocated from downtown Overland Park to Johnson Drive, the burgers here remind me of old school diners from the 1950s. Try the Bob or Bobby burger (quarter- or half-pound burger, respectively) with American cheese, grilled onion, and grilled jalapeños with the 50/50, a side of half hand-cut fries, half onion rings.

Pub burgers

  • Walsh’s Corner Cocktails Bacon Cheddar Burger. This quiet little corner bar in Waldo opened in 1978, and has remained frozen in time since. It's still a popular neighborhood spot to drop in for a strong drink at a fair price, some conversation and a burger. Belly up to the bar and order their world famous bacon cheddar burger and french fries cut by hand.
  • The Burger Stand in Lawrence Black & Blue Burger. I am hard-pressed to find a thick burger better than the ones at The Burger Stand in Lawrence. The Black & Blue Burger features blue cheese, Granny Smith apple chutney and assorted seasonal greens. The hot juicy burger, soft bun and sweet chutney with the crumbles of rich blue cheese make my mouth water.
  • Acre House Burger. Chef Andrew Longres' restaurant has finally opened in Parkville with a burger formed from eight ounces of dry aged black angus topped with aged cheddar, red onion marmalade, and spicy aioli on a housemade bun. It's served with garlic fries, all for one price. Where there are good steaks being served, there are excellent burgers to be found.
  • Earl’s Premier Cheeseburger. If the entire rest of the seafood-soaked menu at Earl’s Premier doesn’t rock your world, there is always chef Todd Schulte’s famous burger that will — I promise — hit the spot. Made with certified Angus beef on a soft golden egg bun piled high with shredded lettuce, thinly-sliced onion, American cheese and zesty hot sauce.
  • The Lunchbox Liquor & Deli Double Me Up Burger. The Lunchbox can be found inside a liquor and convenience store in the West Bottoms. Although they make a wide variety of fried sandwiches for breakfast and lunch, you have to try their Double Me Up Burger with a two-thirds-pound thick patty formed by hand from freshly-ground beef on a soft brioche bun. It's topped with ketchup, mustard, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle with your choice of cheese.
  • Cafe Europa Gourmet Market & Bakery Burger. With a new location in an old fire house on Main Street just south of the Country Club Plaza, Cafe Europa has expanded their market and bakery offerings and are now serving lunch daily. Get the thick and juicy, perfectly seasoned beef burger served on a freshly baked bun and topped with your choice of cheddar or blue cheese, along with your choice of fries, soup or a side salad.
  • The Belfry The Burger. After she left The American, but before she opened The Belfry, chef Celina Tio served up her gourmet burgers on the patio at Julian. Now, you can find the same burger as an eternal hero-item on the menu of her downtown bar and restaurant. Featuring ground-in-house beef chuck and brisket, grilled and topped with house made ketchup, housemade fries and pickles, and any cheese you like. Chef Celina recommends her smoked gouda — I’d do what she says.

Veggie burgers

  • Kind Food Co. Bac’N Mushroom Meta Burger. Their signature veggie burger is so good you won’t miss the meat. Their Bac’N Mushroom Burger is grilled, then topped with grilled mushrooms, crispy coconut bacon, fresh lettuce, tomato, red onion and awesome sauce, served with waffle fries. The burger is dairy free and 100% plant-based, with a gluten free bun available.
  • Pirate’s Bone Burgers Beet Burger. Having recently closed their Midtown location, Pirate's Bone Burgers is still operating from their restaurant in the Crossroads, serving up 100% plant-based burgers and some of the best french fries in the city. Try their beet burger, made in-house and grilled, then topped with avocado spread, pickled cabbage with sesame seeds, house aioli and greens.

Mary Bloch:

  • Room 39 answers the call issued years ago by the James Beard Foundation for chefs to make a more sustainable burger by using 30% less beef. Chef Ted Habiger crafted a blended burger made of mushroom, beef and beet. It was so well received, it’s still on the menu. Slightly purple in color, it’s got a great texture and flavor.
  • Brewer’s Kitchen's regional beef is ground fresh daily, they offer great toppings and — most importantly — they cook burgers to the exact temperature I ordered. I love the Drunken Cheeseburger with homemade ketchup and mustard (both made with beer), lettuce, tomato and a touch of mayo.
  • The Savoy at 21c's chef Joe West perfected the smash burger while in the kitchen at the Savoy. When he left for Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a couple of years ago, fans feared it would be taken off the menu or altered. But, while Brandon Brumback made the menu his own when he came onboard, he didn’t touch the burger. It’s as addictive as always.
  • Tailleur is a relatively new restaurant. Owner Heather White told me they tinkered with the burger to come upon the current iteration — it's outstanding. Thick, medium-rare on a brioche bun, with arugula, honey cider onions, truffle aioli and Brie. What’s not to love? It's a great combo served with pencil-thin fries.
  • Meat Mitch's smash burger is the perfect answer to the age-old question: Who gets a burger at a BBQ restaurant? Brisket is blended in with the chuck, giving it a richer flavor.
  • Blvd Tavern's eponymous burger has always been one of my favorites, with fries that are equally good. Served on a brioche bun with red wine shallot jam, bacon, truffle aioli and cheddar, it’s consistently a winner.
  • Westport Cafe has a thick burger called the Royale. With an Herb de Provence bun, raclette cheese, balsamic mayonnaise sauce, white onion, boston lettuce, cornichon, and locally grown tomatoes, it’s a lot to get your mouth around, but give it a try.
  • Canary's smash burger seems to be under the radar, though maybe this shout-out will change that. With french onion, cheese curd, horseradish aioli, it’s among the best.
  • Corvino Supper Club has a special burger with a housemade bun, charred onions, homemade pickles and Muenster cheese. Vegetarians can order it with a Maitake mushroom instead of beef, and it’s every bit as satisfying.

Carlton Logan, Kansas City Eats:

  • Corvino Supper Club has one of my favorite cheeseburgers because of the house-baked bun, charred onions and one of my favorite cheeses for a burger: Muenster.
  • Chixen KC – Chicken Burger. This ghost kitchen located near Southwest Boulevard now serves 100% chicken smash burgers with no preservatives. My favorite is the Mini Chief, a quarter-pound Chixen burger with romaine, tomato, onion, pickles, beef or turkey bacon, American cheese and Chixen sauce.
  • Strip’s Chicken – Pork Burger. Strip's serves chicken strips and such, but they also have a pork burger. The Ribwich Burger is modeled after a famous chain’s rib sandwich. It's prepared with either pork or Angus beef, with a strawberry BBQ sauce, cheese, pickles and red onions on a toasted potato bun.
  • UNK’s Burgers make me feel like I’m eating at home with family. They feature quarter-pound burgers with simple toppings and funny names like the Basement Boy, the Judy and, my favorite, the Sweet Auntie, with bread and butter pickles. Turkey and veggie burgers are also available.

Listener recommendations:

  • Dave's Bakery on Independence's historic square serves its burgers on housemade buns.
  • The Easy Inn is where KCUR announcer Paul Nyakatura goes for smash burgers. If you go on Thursday, they're buy one, get one free.
  • The Classic Cup offers a half-pound of Kansas wagyu beef on a brioche bun with Tillamook cheddar, tomato and onion.
  • Bizz and Weezy's Confections now has a cafe menu offering two burgers: The Weezy and a cheeseburger.
  • Leeway Franks in Lawrence is better known for its sausages, but their burger is two quarter-pound patties with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and secret sauce on a Kaiser bun, with your choice of a side.
  • Ms. R's Cafe lets you have your choice of single, double or triple hamburgers and cheeseburgers. You can also get single or double turkey burgers at this family-owned soul food restaurant.
  • Portia's Cafe's cheeseburger is recommended, and they will cook your fries to order. Mary Bloch says they should always be extra crispy.
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