Who knew sliding a beef patty onto a bun would start a food culture that's just as American as, well, apple pie?
The beloved burger has been filling bellies for decades — moving from the fast-food sensation of the ’50s and ’60s into the more recent limelight of chef-driven cuisine.
The burger is all grown up and has out-sophisticated its usual trimmings of pickle, mustard and neon-orange cheese. Try chipotle mayonnaise, chutney and goat cheese instead. The question of “Where's the beef?” is so yesterday, as more and more chefs load up the buns with prime-grade, locally sourced grass-fed beef.
Whether an economical quick bite all the way to a sit-down gourmet experience, our love affair with the burger continues. So where are some of the best burgers in town?
We asked nine local chefs where they go to get their fix (aside from their own restaurants) when they have a hankering for a burger. Here’s what they shared with us.
Jean-Robert de Cavel (chef/owner of Jean-Robert's Table)
Favorite burger: Big Sur at ZBGB
There are so many things to love about the burgers at ZBGB: black Angus prime aged beef, house-baked buns and even house-made condiments like ketchup, pickles and aioli.
De Cavel doesn't go to fast-food restaurants (ever), but when he's in the mood for a burger, he goes for the Big Sur. In addition to the beef, this burger is stacked with ingredients like avocado, goat cheese, chipotle mayo, and, of course, lettuce and tomato.
“The buns are delicious. Everything about it is delicious,” he said.
ZBGB: 1438 Race St., Over-the-Rhine. 513-744-9242; zbgb.co
Jackson Rouse (executive chef at The Rookwood)
Favorite burger: Burger of the Day at Dutch’s
There are two things you should know about the burgers at Dutch’s: They're offered on Burger Night every Thursday night, and they’re never dull. The offerings range from the “I like it a latke” burger, with beer-charred spring onion and potato latke topped with a ramp chimichurri, to the “Veni Verde Vici” burger, a beef burger topped with chicken and garbanzo bean chili, ramp and turnip verde and Amish cheddar.
It’s not surprising Rouse picks Dutch's as his favorite burger spot. “Their burger of the day is on point,” he said. Rouse adores the “quality of the seasonal ingredients, and the minimal approach to let the ingredients shine.”
Dutch's: 3378 Erie Ave., Hyde Park. 513-871-1446; www.dutchscincinnati.com
Megan Ketover (pastry chef at Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza)
Favorite burger: Burger entree at Red Feather
The burger gets full entree status here, and Ketover is a big fan. “My absolute favorite burger is at Red Feather,” she said. “It's addictive — always perfectly seared and seasoned.”
Red Feather’s scratch kitchen completes the beefy centerpiece with house Boursin cheese, candied bacon, red onion marmalade and french fries.
“Everything on their menu is so good, so I never want to order ‘just the burger,’” she said. “But they make burgers to perfection, so it's hard to resist.”
Red Feather Bar and Kitchen: 3200 Madison Road, Oakley. 513-407-3631; www.redfeatherkitchen.com
Jose Salazar (chef/owner of Salazar OTR and Mita's), Elias Leisring (chef/owner of Eli's BBQ) and Michelle Brown (executive chef at Jag’s Steak and Seafood)
Favorite burger: Zip’s Burger with cheese at Zip’s Cafe
This neighborhood institution turns 90 this year, and it keeps on ticking. Perhaps it’s the use of quality beef from Avril-Bleh, or the warm service, or simply the vibe, but it's got the vote of three chefs.
Salazar likes Zip’s for its simplicity and “deliciousness.”
“They use high-quality meat and all the ingredients come together just right. I’m also a big fan of melted American cheese, and their burger comes loaded with it.”
Leisring also appreciates the simplicity.
“They really prepare it very basically, and let the ground beef be itself — simple toasted bun, mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion and cheese,” he said. “That's a cheeseburger, and they do the best of representing all of that and with phenomenal consistency.”
Brown did not hesitate to pick Zip’s as her favorite burger joint.
“I always order the Zip’s Burger with cheese,” she said. “I love griddled thin burgers versus burgers with too much meat.” (She also happily orders the cheese fries to go with it.)
Zip’s Cafe: 1036 Delta Ave, Mount Lookout. 513-871-9876; www.zipscafe.com
Hideki Harada (executive chef at Kaze)
Favorite burger: Red & Bleu at Nation Kitchen & Bar
This neighborhood spot in Pendleton serves up Harada's favorite burger: the Red and Bleu. Six ounces of beef come with trimmings of blue cheese, chipotle mayo and beer-caramelized onion. The ciabatta buns from Sixteen Bricks Artisan Bakehouse — and Nation’s ambiance — also have Harada's attention.
“I really like the bun. It withstands that juiciness and doesn’t just fall apart,” he said.
Nation Kitchen & Bar: 1200 Broadway St., Pendleton. 513-381-3794; www.nationkitchenandbar.com
Frances Kroner (executive chef at Sleepy Bee Cafe)
Favorite burger: Lamb burger specials at The Littlefield
Kroner goes to The Littlefield for her favorite burger, and it's not even on the menu. This Northside bourbon bar and restaurant offers lamb burger specials that are “incredibly juicy,” served with chutneys or relishes.
“The burger always pairs well with their stellar cocktail list — and their patio, where you can frequently find me and my family,” she said.
The Littlefield: 3934 Spring Grove Ave., Northside. 513-386-7570; littlefieldns.com
Johnny Chu (restaurateur at KungFood Chu’s AmerAsia)
Favorite burger: Three-Cheese Burger at Wunderbar
The Three-Cheese Burger at Wunderbar is a big deal for Chu. He can’t resist the trio of cheeses (smoked gouda, Swiss and cheddar), along with the thick burger patty and house-made pretzel bun.
“Every bite you take, your teeth sinks in different levels of deliciousness,” Chu said. “I like to dip my burger in their special crafted Dusseldorf mustard and curry ketchup sauce.
“I am forced to chew, because the burger itself is massive,” he added.
Wunderbar: 1132 Lee St., Covington. 859-815-8027; www.wunderbarcovington.com
Grace Yek writes about food for WCPO Digital. She is a certified chef-de-cuisine with the American Culinary Federation, and a former chemical engineer. Questions or comments? Connect with her on Twitter: @Grace_Yek.