Out of this world: The best burgers in town

Memphis burgers are out of this world!

Photo illustration by Mike Brown/The Commercial Appeal

Memphis burgers are out of this world!

OK, so we're a barbecue town. That doesn't mean there aren't plenty of good burgers, too. To commemorate the 40th anniversary celebration of Huey's on Sunday -- there's a burger that's always been a local favorite -- and because, well, someone had to do it, we went on a tour of some of the best burger joints in town.

Memphis burgers are out of this world!

Photo illustration by Mike Brown/The Commercial Appeal

Memphis burgers are out of this world!

The Greek burger at Alex's Tavern rates as the best in town. Owner Rocky Kasaftes forms the patty by hand, dusts it with Greek seasoning and fries it in an old iron skillet.

Photo by Ben Fant

The Greek burger at Alex's Tavern rates as the best in town. Owner Rocky Kasaftes forms the patty by hand, dusts it with Greek seasoning and fries it in an old iron skillet.

A selection of Memphis' best burgers: the World Famous Huey Burger from Huey's (from top), a cheeseburger from South Memphis Grocery at Florida and Mallory, the sign at Lot-A-Burger on Thomas near Chelsea, and the cheeseburger from Sweden Kream on National. The best examples tend to be formed by hand and fried in a well-seasoned skillet or on a flat top.

Photo by Mike Brown

A selection of Memphis' best burgers: the World Famous Huey Burger from Huey's (from top), a cheeseburger from South Memphis Grocery at Florida and Mallory, the sign at Lot-A-Burger on Thomas near Chelsea, and the cheeseburger from Sweden Kream on National. The best examples tend to be formed by hand and fried in a well-seasoned skillet or on a flat top.

Lesson one: If the burger is named after someone, chances are high it's a good burger.

Lesson two: The cooking surface does make a

difference. An old well-seasoned flat top or skillet helps.

Lesson three: In almost all cases, hand-formed patties trump pre-formed. There is an exception, and we'll start there as that's what started this burger brouhaha in the first place.

Tops, with multiple locations around town, makes a fine burger. The skinny patties go in the store looking like a flat disk, but they leave the griddle transformed, a salted-up (don't give us a burger without enough salt) treasure. A toasted bun, melted American cheese, mustard, pickle and onion make this bad boy a long-time drive-thru favorite.

Tops obviously is proud of its hamburger. When told we tried burgers at other places around town, Linda Duckworth, who was behind the cash register at the Tops location on Union, said, "They're trying to compete with us? They can hang it up."

We both love Tops, and JB considers it the perfect example of a mustard, pickle and onion burger.

(Note from JB: Some will argue that the classic mustard, pickle and onion combo is the only way to dress a burger, but that's just wrong. The other way to dress it is with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato and onion. However, these are burgers, not pizzas that can be served half and half, so we went with each restaurant's version of everything on these burgers.)

We both agree that the best burger is at Alex's Tavern, 1445 Jackson. Owner Rocky Kasaftes buys the meat from High Point Grocery, and the patties are formed by hand, given a generous dose of Cavender's Greek seasoning and fried up in old iron skillets.

"It's kind of a joke, whether you even need seasoning since the skillets are so seasoned," Kasaftes said.

The resulting burger -- it's officially the "Greek burger" but is known to everyone as the "Alex burger"-- is bliss between a bun. Bits of crust pepper the edges, the inside is juicy, the onion cut just before going on the burger, and it's topped with fresh, local tomatoes in season.

Here are 10 other favorites culled from three days of burger tasting. We agree these are the best we tried, and hope you like them, too.

Jennifer

Sweden Kream at 1472 National has a burger that's a dream, a griddle-fried delight that's just the right size. It's a hand-formed patty, not too thick, not too thin. Toppings are messy and napkins skimpy, though, so eat this in the little dining room or take it home.

Don't be deceived by size: This is no drive-and-dine burger, and only a fool would even attempt to eat and drive with Uncle Lou's jumbo burger, which is the smallest size available at the fried chicken joint at 3633 Millbranch. The third-pound burger is a monster (though the official "Monster" burger is actually three of those patties and five slices of cheese -- good luck with that!) on a soft kaiser bun. The savory "Sauce of Love" gives this burger a kick, though it doesn't lend so much flavor that it takes away from the meatiness.

When you love a burger, you give it a worthy name. The Shirley burger at the Lamplighter Lounge at 1702 Madison is deserving of this love. It is named after longtime bartender/cook Shirley Williams. Owner Ann Bradley uses Black Angus beef, hand forms those patties and fries 'em up in a skillet, just like Rocky does at Alex's. These are similar burgers, distinguished mostly by seasoning and that you drink Natural Light at Alex's, PBR at the Lamplighter.

South Memphis Grocery at 9 W. Mallory was new to us, but we'll be going back again and again. This is another hand-formed burger, fried and served with freshly cut condiments. The Sykes family has owned the store for more than 30 years, running a small grill and deli inside the corner grocery.

Buckley's Lunchbox at 919 S. Yates is a burger I know well because this is where my daughter and my mother want to eat every time we have lunch. Not that I'm complaining. The big burger bridges the gap between the daily burgers and beer burgers reviewed here and the upscale burgers that we're not tackling for the time being. It's served on a big soft roll, juicy and flavorful.

Michael

After my last visit, Broadway Pizza House at 2581 Broad also is known as "Broadway Hamburger House." They serve a really tasty hamburger. It's very big, very thick and great for dinner or for that late-night beer-and-burger combo.

And, after my last visit, Jack Pirtle's Chicken now is known as "Jack Pirtle's Hamburger." There are several locations, but we tried their burgers at 890 Thomas. They were big, moist, succulent, delicious hamburgers.

I can keep eating Earnestine & Hazel's Bar & Grill "soul burgers" -- especially at parties held at the bar/restaurant at 531 S. Main. That's when they slice them up into quarters, which makes them even easier to eat. The patty is thin but filling and so meaty-good. The burgers come with a bag of potato chips.

Lot-A-Burger is a lot of burger. They're located at 862 Thomas and 2260 S. Third. We tried them at the Thomas spot. This is the good old-fashioned flavorful hamburger with just the right amount of lettuce, tomato and onions on a big bun.

I think of Lot-A-Burger, Top's and Sweden Kream as 1950s hamburgers -- what I remember hamburgers tasting like when I was little, stopping somewhere in Memphis on Saturdays or going to dairy bars during summer vacations. The Belmont Grill's hamburger is more of a 1970s version of a hamburger. I've eaten many of these late at night with Heineken beer at the Belmont at 4970 Poplar. The hamburger is uniquely Belmont. It tastes and looks different. It's a thick oval-shaped patty with an almost steak taste, served on an oval French baguette. The onion, pickle and tomato are on the side. It's a sophisticated hamburger, which I don't think I'll ever get tired of eating.

Now, before anybody begins e-mailing or picking up the telephone to call us, we're quickly going to add that we didn't make it to every great hamburger place. Exceptional hamburgers can be found at other spots, including Kudzu's at 603 Monroe, Dyer's Burgers at 205 Beale, Kwik Shop Grill at 711 E. Parkway, Elliott's Restaurant at 16 S. Second and R.P. Tracks at 3547 Walker.

Also, we stuck to the lunch or late-night burger places; we didn't add national franchise hamburgers like McDonald's, Wendy's and Burger King. And we didn't include fine dining restaurants that sell the ritzier high-priced hamburgers.

All right. If you want to, you can call or e-mail us and tell us your favorite hamburger places. We're getting hungry again.

--Jennifer Biggs: 529-5223

--Michael Donahue: 529-2797

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Huey's 40th anniversary celebration

2 p.m. to midnight Sunday at the Midtown location, 1927 Madison Ave., with live music inside and outside by the Settlers, Funk DeVille, DiAnne Price & Her Boyfriends and the Soul Shockers, among others. Free admission, and a percentage of sales will benefit the Church Health Center. Call 726-9767 for more information.

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© 2010 Go Memphis. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments » 33

irvuss writes:

Nice. When will the French Fry challenge begin?
Does Tops still serve crinkle cuts?
Check out Ubee's and Majestic for quality fries. However, continue your public service and do The French Fry expose that this city needs. Call if you need a hand, mouth or gut to assist.
irv

ronansmithee writes:

Huey's burger is so over-rated, there are way too many places in Memphis that have better tasting burgers. I eat at Huey's regularly and love the place, but it's true.

I'm glad that some of my favorite burger places were mentioned like Belmont Grill's burger, Soul-burgers and Shirley's burger at the Lamplighter.

Fuel Cafe on Madison has a great Bison burger. It's juicy, tasty and comes with a compliment of handcut fries.

I miss Bradley's on Riverdale, waaaaaaay better than Dyers(which hasn't been the same in 15 years or so).

cw195 writes:

in response to ronansmithee:

Huey's burger is so over-rated, there are way too many places in Memphis that have better tasting burgers. I eat at Huey's regularly and love the place, but it's true.

I'm glad that some of my favorite burger places were mentioned like Belmont Grill's burger, Soul-burgers and Shirley's burger at the Lamplighter.

Fuel Cafe on Madison has a great Bison burger. It's juicy, tasty and comes with a compliment of handcut fries.

I miss Bradley's on Riverdale, waaaaaaay better than Dyers(which hasn't been the same in 15 years or so).

I miss Bradley's too. They moved to Poplar in Germantown by the Target and then moved again to just off the square in Collierville. I can't seem to find them now. Best burgers and best fries too!

cw195 writes:

I miss Bradley's too. I followed them to the Poplar location in Germantown by Target (now a Subway). They moved from there to just off the square in Collierville. Now I can't seem to find them. Best burgers and great fries too!

olivialucille writes:

Cafe 1912's blue cheese burger!

cw195 writes:

Bradley's were the best. They moved from Riverdale to Poplar in East Germantown and then just off the square in Collierville. I can't seem to find them anywhere now. Best burgers and great fries too!

ElleEmminopea writes:

The Cooky Canuck or however it's spelled has a pretty good burger. I've always wanted to try the Dyer's burger.

commonman writes:

Unfortunately, one of Memphis' best burgers can no longer be had. The TonyBurger at the grill at T.O. Fuller State Park golf course was superb. However, the state is planning to shut down the course as part of its budget cuts later this year and the grill recently shut down because of the impending facility closure. Spencer and his folks at the T.O. golf grill were great to deal with and will be sorely missed along with the tasty sandwich.

cw195 writes:

I liked Bradley's too. They moved twice since Riverdale and now I can't seem to find them anywhere. Great burgers and great fries too! Fresh hand-made! mmmm.

cw195 writes:

in response to ronansmithee:

Huey's burger is so over-rated, there are way too many places in Memphis that have better tasting burgers. I eat at Huey's regularly and love the place, but it's true.

I'm glad that some of my favorite burger places were mentioned like Belmont Grill's burger, Soul-burgers and Shirley's burger at the Lamplighter.

Fuel Cafe on Madison has a great Bison burger. It's juicy, tasty and comes with a compliment of handcut fries.

I miss Bradley's on Riverdale, waaaaaaay better than Dyers(which hasn't been the same in 15 years or so).

I miss Bradley's too. Fresh, hand patted burgers. Fresh hand sliced fries. Awesome. They moved to East Germantown on Poplar and then just off the square in Collierville. I can't seem to find them anywhere now.

Great burgers, great fries.

cw195 writes:

Bradley's were the best.

autoegocrat writes:

The corner deli at Central and East Parkway makes one of the best burgers I've ever had. Not as good as the one at Earnestine and Hazel's, but it's pretty close.

OutsideMemphis2 writes:

Fresh Slices in Cordova on Macon Road has a great burger. Hand-formed, huge, and fresh toppings. Seasoned very well, and so juicy. It's so large that you can barely finish it. But, of course, I do.

I also agree with commonman, the Tony Burger was exception. It is definitely missed.

Belmont Grill might be a sophisticated burger, but it's really a sophisticated Huey burger IMO. Not really one of the best, just good.

robertsg#246173 writes:

Please do not forget that Jerry's Sno Cones sells burgers in addition to the awesome sno cones. The meat is picked up fresh daily from Charlie's Meat Market. It is a really awesome burger any way you want it. They are open until 9:00 p.m. now.

clarktower24601 writes:

The first criteria for burger quality should be this: does the restaurant grind its own beef? Commerically prepared ground beef can contain fragments from over 100 different animals, increasing your chances for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Houston's grinds its own, and among grocery stores, Fresh Market grinds its own.

bporlando writes:

East End has a good burger.

Sowhat writes:

in response to robertsg#246173:

Please do not forget that Jerry's Sno Cones sells burgers in addition to the awesome sno cones. The meat is picked up fresh daily from Charlie's Meat Market. It is a really awesome burger any way you want it. They are open until 9:00 p.m. now.

Where is Jerry's?

tigerhigh2009 writes:

in response to Sowhat:

Where is Jerry's?

Wells Station and Reed Ave. It's over by the Wells Station Elementary school.

Not only are their hamburgers awesome, but they have the best muffalettas. I'm addicted to their snow cones, of course. Soft serve and ice never tasted so good.

Cash only though.

ChrisP writes:

in response to cw195:

Bradley's were the best.

So, cw195, how do you feel about Bradley's Burgers? ;-)

I really liked them too, though that Collierville location is (or was. Are they really gone?!?) terribly out of the way for most of his customer base. And that's coming from somebody that lives in Collierville!

Sowbug2000 writes:

Never had Bradleys....wish I could've tried it.

I like Belmont, Alex's and Lamplighter.

And I must disagree with Belmont tasting like Huey's burger....not even close to me.

I eat at Huey's all the time - love the Texas Toast Burger, but agree with the person that said its not the the "great" category.

With that being said, Happy 40th Hueys!

tigeralumni writes:

I just had the burger at Au Fond Farmtable in Cooper Young and it is fantastic! Plus it comes with those really skinny fries which are really yummy!

mtblake writes:

Huey's burger may be a little overrated, but there is something distinctly "Memphis" about Huey's. I grew up in Memphis (live in Nashville now), but I always know I'm home when I bite into a Huey burger...same with E&H's or the P&H Cafe. It's not so much the taste of the burger as the environment I think, the history. The toothpicks at Huey's, the piano bar at E&H's - they all somehow make the burger taste better. Like the way BBQ always tastes better on the banks of the Mississippi, hotdogs always taste better at Wrigley, and pizza always tastes better in Brooklyn. There is something distinctly different about all of Memphis' best burgers that is signature and makes them special...but each one lets you know you're in Memphis: a place where dive bars are still "cool" and simple, good food never goes out of style.

timomart2 writes:

While the burger selections in this town are great, the hot food is too. I started a blog to highlight some of the hottest and best food in Memphis. Check it out at http://www.burnmymouth.com

Join out facebook page from the link on our site and we will keep you updated as we try more places.

LeftCoastMemphonite writes:

I have been a big fan of Alex's burgers for more than 30 years. Not having the opportunity to enjoy them when I want is one of the major regrets I experienced when I moved to California. Rocky has always made his customers feel welcome and the ambiance of Alex's has no equal. I'll be in town in 2011 and look forward to seeing Rocky again, and I will definitely be scarfing-down some Alex burgers when I get there. I hope Rocky still has the 2 jukeboxes. What a trip down memory lane . . .

carjo writes:

it is a crime to leave Burger King's char broiled hamburgers off this list, they are on par for taste with any of these local hyped places mentioned.

However I have fond memories of Alex's on Jackson where a friend of mine, after we both got out of the army in '56, used to go there every afternoon for two months drinking two pitchers of beer just to celebrate being home after being away for two years stationed in Europe. He got lucky and was in Paris and I was in Germany.

I'm sure that information just thrills the hell out of you all.

mkf writes:

Murphy's has a great burger. My fave hands down! it is their well seasoned old griddle, Lawry's and the nicely toasted bun. mmmmmmm

cw195 writes:

sorry about the posts. It kept saying error and wouldn't show comment. Guess there was really no error.

eadsfoodie writes:

Burgers are my favorite food.. thanks for writing about your favorite places - I now have a few new places to try... love Tops

Have you guys ever tried the burger at Molly's? It has green chilies, mushrooms and swiss cheese... YUMMY..... my new favorite

pdd1216 writes:

Jerry's SnoCones has really great burgers!

iagreewithmyself writes:

in response to OutsideMemphis2:

Fresh Slices in Cordova on Macon Road has a great burger. Hand-formed, huge, and fresh toppings. Seasoned very well, and so juicy. It's so large that you can barely finish it. But, of course, I do.

I also agree with commonman, the Tony Burger was exception. It is definitely missed.

Belmont Grill might be a sophisticated burger, but it's really a sophisticated Huey burger IMO. Not really one of the best, just good.

Fresh Slices is my favorite burger, and has been since they opened. I walked over there shortly after they opened on Overton Park many years ago and ordered the Deluxe Bacon Cheeseburger. It was monstrous! I'm large and split the burger with my sister. We hate that we have never tried anything else at Fresh Slices (in midtown) because we know that the burger will make us so happy! Two strips of thick bacon, cooked to your preferance, cheddar cheese on top, seasoned well... it was pefect. I enjoy many of those other places, but FS has won me over.

rd1970 writes:

Bradleys is the best burger in Memphis. The owner makes you feel like he has known you for years even if its the first time you been there. He always has fresh hand pattie burgers and fresh cut fries. I miss this resturant. Wish he will open up another one soon.

baucums writes:

in response to tigerhigh2009:

Wells Station and Reed Ave. It's over by the Wells Station Elementary school.

Not only are their hamburgers awesome, but they have the best muffalettas. I'm addicted to their snow cones, of course. Soft serve and ice never tasted so good.

Cash only though.

Plus, you can call in your hamburger order at Jerry's, and by-pass those long lines.

DTripper writes:

I am a little late to the picnic here, but I want to give a shout out to Mortimer's for their Stuffed Burger. I'll admit there are a lot of great burgers and it's all a bit subjective, but this one is like none other I've experienced. It's two patties basically welded together with cheese inside. The fixins are always crisp and fresh and the meat and cheese (Gouda in my case) is fantastic. Your doctor would not recommend these as part of a healthy lifestyle, but I try to fit one in once a month or so.

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