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Central Standard

Food Critics: The Best Burgers In Kansas City In 2016


Whether it’s thin and crispy or thick and juicy, the burger is a great blank slate for all sorts of toppings and flavors. And don’t forget veggie burgers; in this meat-friendly town, it’s entirely possible to find a hearty and satisfying meatless patty.

From the greasy to the gourmet, KCUR’s Food Critics search out the best burgers — and sides that aren’t fries — in Kansas City.

Here are their recommendations:

Jenny Vergara, Feast Magazine:

  • The Burger Stand at The Casbah in Lawrence. If you are looking for a classic beef burger, it does not get any better than the Kobe burger. It’s made with American Kobe beef, pickled red onions, truffle butter and tomato-aioli sauce.
  • If veggie burgers are more your thing, The Burger Stand has a marvelous selection: The romesco (lentil patty with feta cheese, toasted almonds, green beans and roasted red pepper sauce); the black bean (jalapeño pepper-jack cheese and roasted poblano salsa);  the Spicy Shiitake (a shiitake and cremini mushroom patty topped with habanero cream cheese and sliced avocado) and the Garbo ( garbanzo bean patty with sweet dill relish, citrus-garlic aioli, Vermont cheddar and tomato).
  • Third Street Social is the new restaurant in downtown Lee’s Summit, and aside from it being a stunning remodel of the historic Arnold Building, the menu is tasty and clever. The Social Cheeseburger comes as a single, double or triple burger. Or if you are feeling wild, get the Animal Style Burger, a play on the sauce that made the In-N-Out Burger chain famous (ketchup, mustard, mayo and a little relish). This burger comes with mustard-seared patties topped with Thousand Island dressing.
  • Helen’s JAD (Just Another Dive) in North KC serves up some really solid burgers. These are not dainty burgers; they’re thicker backyard burgers. One of the most unique is the Northlander; it’s made with Angus beef, chopped bacon, mushrooms, American cheese and green olive aioli. It’s salty and briny, and you can’t seem to stop eating it.
  • Café Europa has a brunch burger that is a monster, but delicious. The Roadhouse Style Brunch Burger features two beef patties griddled with onions and cheddar cheese, and you can add a fried egg for an extra dollar.
  • Burg and Barrel does a lot of burgers: every topping you’d want, every kind of style of burger. If you’re looking for a creative burger, that’s a great place to go.

On my list to try:

  • The Hank Burger at Hank Charcuterie in Lawrence. Two quarter-pound patties, cheddar cheese from Alma Creamery, comeback sauce, bread and butter pickles, caramelized onions, bacon and Farm to Market brioche.
  • Pip’s Burgers Food Truck. Pip’s Burger is a classic, 6-ounce ground short rib burger served on a brioche bun with sharp cheddar cheese, sliced hothouse tomatoes, shredded lettuce, sliced red onion and Pip’s sauce.
  • Tay’s Burger Shack features grass-fed beef burgers.

Sides other than fries:

  • At Ollie’s Local, you can substitute chips or fries with chicken wings. Choose from your choice of sauces (sweet and spicy, BBQ, ridiculously hot, Thai peanut, Jamaican Jerk or Parmesan and herb)
  • The Oliver serves their “O Burger” with borracho beans, which are delicious. Borracho means drunk, and it refers to the beer in the cooking liquid, and it’s usually cooked down with bacon or pork.
  • Blanc Burgers offers kale chips with seasoned Parmesan and lemon garlic dipping sauce that’s really good. I’ve also ordered their fried cheese curds as a side with my burger before.
  • Bleu Burger in Lee’s Summit offers roasted Brussels sprouts with their burgers.

Mary Bloch, Around the Block:

  • The burger at Blvd Tavern is my current favorite. It is just a standout: fabulous red wine shallot jam, Swiss and peppercorn mayo. Great bun-to-meat ratio.
  • Gram & Dun has an awesome, juice-dripping-down-your-arm-burger. Imperial wagyu beef, braised bacon, red onions that have been steeped in cola, smoked American cheese, special sauce and a homemade salt-and-pepper bun.
  • Q39 has a solid, juicy burger with burnt ends, spicy pickle slaw and a classic sauce.
  • The burger at Bluestem is great. It’s cooked perfectly and served with Gruyere and bacon onion jam.
  • The burger at Cleaver and Cork is topped with fried cheese curds, sweet onion mustard and porcini aioli. The meat comes from the Local Pig; the whole thing works really well together.
  • The Pigwich food truck also serves a great hamburger.

Credit Anna Sturla / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
The veggie burger at Q39.

Best veggie burgers:

  • Blanc’s lentil burger: curried lentils, vegetables, spiced yogurt, cucumber onion salad and more on a Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat bun.
  • The black bean burger at The Burger Stand at The Casbah. They’re great about switching out the condiments. I ask them to put the habanero-cactus jam and avocado that comes on the Fire Burger on the black bean burger.
  • Howard’s Grocery andCafé’s veggie burger: French green lentils, red beans, rehydrated porcini, brown rice, quinoa, carrots, garlic, nutritional yeast and vegan Worcestershire sauce. It’s topped with a house burger sauce.
  • Houston’s is made with black beans and brown rice. It doesn’t fall apart, which often happens with veggie burgers.

Best sides other than fries:

Charles Ferruzza, The Pitch:

  • The exterior of the 54-year-old Humdinger Drive-In has changed very little since the place opened in 1962 at the very height of the Kansas City drive-in craze. It still boasts a sign, “Ever Eat Here?” and 14 different kinds of hamburgers, ranging from a $1.19 “kiddie burger” to a half-pound triple cheeseburger for $6.49. There’s also a taco burger, a pizza burger and a chili cheeseburger. The burgers are big, juicy and topped with your choice of onion, sliced tomato, shredded lettuce, American cheese and pickles. Cash only … just like 1962.
  • Back in the day, Fritz’s Chiliwas an outpost of the iconic Dixon’s Chili and still serves that menu. But the moderately-priced cheeseburgers at Fritz’s are big and delicious and made to order.
  • I’m a sucker for the Original Tom Burger at the Green Room in Westport. The burger patty is seared in Worcestershire sauce and butter and topped with American cheese, bacon and mayo. It’s a real lovely fattening burger.
  • The Hi-Boy Drive-In in Independence is legendary in this community. Spotlessly clean, friendly, great old-fashioned burgers and really thick milkshakes. I think they have the best milkshakes in Kansas City.
  • For veggie burgers, my all-time favorite is Eden Alley. It’s a meaty kind of veggie burger; it doesn’t taste like chopped vegetables or anything horrible like that. It tastes like you’re biting into something with the heft of meat.

Listener recommendations:

  • The Brownfield Burger at the Green Room. It’s by far the simplest burger on the menu; it’s just like a traditional burger and it’s got a great bun-to-meat ratio.
  • Johnny Ray’s Drive-In in Lee’s Summit is just like a step back in time. It’s small, with a horseshoe counter with stools and a few booths. I always get the double steakburger, which comes with crinkle fries and a drink. Very consistent.
  • Johnny’s Donuts on Prospect is like a 1950s diner-type place. Thin patties. I think it’s a great-tasting burger. They’re very minimal on what they put on it, if I recall (just mustard and pickle). And I really like the bun; it’s just a good flavor. And while you’re there, don’t forget to pick up some of the donuts because they’re outstanding, too.
  • Great burgers (and gyros) at Max's Burgers & Gyros.
  • The Smokestack Burger from Beer Kitchen: topped with burnt ends, jalapeño straws, and more.
  • Tay's Burger Shack in Northtown is great: organic meat and homemade pickles
  • Town Topic has the best burgers in KC.
  • At Burgers by Biggs in Lawrence, I like the Black and Blue burger. It has blackening spices and blue cheese. The onion rings there are some of the best around.
  • The sweet potato quinoa veggie burger at Westside Local.
  • Herrera's Tenderloin Grillon Southwest Boulevard; my friends think it has the best burger in KC. I get the cheeseburger, which comes with tomato, onion, horseradish and homemade hot sauce. They also have a tenderger (a tenderloin cheeseburger).
  • The Lamb Burger at Hank Charcuterie in Lawrence.
  • One of my favorites is Julian. Chef Celina Tio grinds her own meat, the buns are brioche and the fries are hand-cut; it’s wonderful. It’s a thick burger and it’s just phenomenal.
  • The steak burger at The Majestic ($5.50 with fries at happy hour).
  • The Rambo burger at Rambo's Chicken & Burgers on Independence near Prospect.
  • The Burger Stand, hands down! Growing up vegetarian? Good luck! But thanks to them, my family gets four veggies options to pick between.
  • The best bang-for-your-buck burger is at Grandstand Burgers in Merriam. It's a teeny-tiny building that you would miss if you blinked, but don't judge the book by its cover! Fantastic burgers, great onion rings and fried mushrooms, and, of course, French fries. My favorite lunch!
  • Burg and Barrel is fantastic; good selection of burgers and numerous specialty and microbrew beers on tap. Very good appetizers, too.
  • The Sweet Cheeses burger at Red Door Grill. The meat is from McGonigle’s (a combo of brisket, short rib, etc). This one is real simple; it’s topped with a cheese fritter (fried cheese) and Gruyere, and bacon. The meat is amazing, the bun is amazing, and then you’re got fried cheese and bacon on it. It’s just phenomenal.

Jen Chen is associate producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to her at jen@kcur.org.