The thing with Regional Burger Styles, they’re all around you, and you probably haven’t noticed.
Sure, knowing the joints that helped shape burger history is a small part of the journey. There is much to learn and try when it comes to the diversity in styles of America’s favorite sandwich.
In this post, I’m going to focus on regional burger styles. Folks in different parts of the country have made the burger their own, sometimes by just adding a topping that’s popular in their neighborhoods.
One last thing, just cause it’s a Regional Burger Style, doesn’t mean you won’t encounter one in your neck of the woods, so keep an eye out.
The California Burger is typically topped with either avocado or its offspring, guacamole, and sometimes bacon.
It’s not to be confused with In-N-Out, even though that chain is synonymous with California burger culture. In some parts of Mississippi, a “California Burger” means you want lettuce, tomato, and onion on it.
The California burger isn’t too difficult to track down. I’ve seen the LA Burger with guac on the Bobby’s Burger Palace menu and a guacamole and bacon burger on Denny’s expanded menu.
COLOMBIAN “COMIDA RAPIDA” BURGER
One of the advantages of living in South Florida is the availability of comfort food from Central and South America. What was street food in Colombia has found a new life in Miami in the popular quick service and late-night restaurants of Miami. It’s known as “Comida Rapida,” fast food.
If you like to pile on sauces, then you will find heaven on earth in the Colombian style burger. The usual suspects of lettuce, tomato, and onion top the burger, but then it’s smothered in melted mozzarella cheese, crushed potato chips, and a variety of sauces.
The three most popular sauces are a creamy garlic mayo, a pink sauce, which is a mix of ketchup and mayo, and a pineapple sauce. I was ready to walk out the door when they mentioned pineapple sauce, but I was wrong. It works in an indescribable way that you won’t understand until you eat one of these beauties. It can be a little overwhelming on the first try but stick with it as it gets tasty and addictive.
My introduction to this Regional Burger Style was a tiny late-night spot named MAO, which is not too far from my parent’s home. My go-to for Comida Rapida is the Monster Burgers Food Truck, or on the brick-and-mortar side, Los Verdes, which has seven locations in South Florida and one in New York City.
CONNECTICUT STEAMED CHEESEBURGER
A stainless-steel cabinet holds mini trays for the hamburger patty and the extra melty cheddar cheese. The giant box cooks the burgers and cheese via steam generated from the basin full of water at the bottom, which is heated. Steaming gives the burgers a very meaty flavor along with a texture similar to a loose meatloaf. The patty is transferred onto a bun; then, the gooey cheese is poured out on top.
Jack’s Lunch from Middleton, Connecticut, is widely credited as the creator of the Steamed Cheeseburger in the late 1920s to early 1930s. Nowadays, Ted’s in Meriden, Connecticut, is considered by many to be the go-to spot to grab one.
Latin House in Kendall, Florida, serves up this Regional Burger Style as a special on certain nights.
DOMINICAN CHIMI BURGER
Santo Domingo’s street food Chimi is a well-seasoned beef patty customarily shaped to the pan de agua (water roll) that houses it. The Dominican pan de agua is similar to a French baguette in texture. The burger comes topped with tomato, cabbage, and salsa golf (golf sauce). While there is no clear explanation of how it ended up being called a Chimi (a shortened version of the favorite Argentinian sauce), there is a connection to that country.
Salsa golf, the original ketchup and mayo-based sauce that’s all over fast food in Latin American countries was the creation of Luis Federico Leloir of Argentina, the 1970 Nobel Prize winner for chemistry. As the story goes, he created the sauce to accompany the prawns he was enjoying at a golf club back in 1925. The original version was equal parts mayonnaise and ketchup with drops of cognac and Tabasco sauce.
I first enjoyed a Chimi years ago in a dusty lot where the Chimi Churri Los Primos food trailer sets up for late-night eats. While I don’t come across Chimis on restaurant menus often, it can readily be found on many food trucks in Miami, like Chimi El Tigre and Don Mofongo.
The Frita or Frita Cubana is originally from Cuba, where it was street food. It is predominantly found in Miami.
It’s a mix of ground beef (sometimes chorizo or pork is added) and spices, then topped with julienne cut potatoes or potato sticks, diced raw onions, and ketchup (rumored to be tomato paste not ketchup in Cuba) on a roll of some sort. It’s cooked on a flat top and not grilled over an open flame.
When you visit my hometown of Miami, Florida, make sure to visit Fritas Domino, Morro Castle, Sergio’s, El Rey de las Fritas, El Mago de las Fritas and Cuban Guys for a real deal Frita experience. The restaurants are listed in order of when they were established, not alphabetically.
The full history of the Frita Cubana can be found in my book All About the Burger.
GEORGIA LUTHER BURGER
The Luther Burger is a bacon cheeseburger on glazed donuts instead of the burger buns. There’s a rumor that this was created by singer Luther Vandross when he was making a cheeseburger and was all out of bread at his home.
He was so starved that he chose the next best option available to him, donuts. While a great story, there’s no proof that anyone ever asked him about how legit that yarn was before he died.
There is a “FatKreme” burger pictured online in 2003 with Krispy Kreme Donuts as replacement buns. It’s the earliest documented proof of this burger that I found. While that may be true, the now-closed Mulligan’s out of Decatur, Georgia, seems to have been behind the creation of the name when they added the Luther Burger to their menu in 2006.
IOWA LOOSE MEAT SANDWICHES
When David Heglin opened Ye Old Tavern in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1924, tavern burgers were on the menu. Hardcore loose meat sandwich eaters insist on calling it a Tavern or Tavern Sandwich.
These “burgers” were seasoned ground beef served up on wax paper. Two years later, Fred Angell opened up Maid-Rite and named the same dish a Maid-Rite.
Nowadays, they’re mostly referred to as loose meat sandwiches and come with onions, mustard, and pickles. They are found all over Iowa, parts of Ohio and Kansas, and in Detroit, Michigan, as a loose hamburger.
MICHIGAN OLIVE BURGER
In the 1920s, Sam Blair and his Kewpee Hotel Hamburgs numbered in the hundreds of locations. One of the more popular burgers on the menu was garnished with olives. It is not known if this was the very first Olive Burger, but Kewpee did popularize it.
You can still find this version of the sandwich at Weston’s Kewpee in Lansing, Michigan, the direct descendant of Blair’s Kewpee restaurant locations. There are variations with an olive-based mayo spread or used in conjunction with the olives as a topping.
They are such a thing in Michigan that in 1991 Burger King tested Olive Burgers in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana.
MINNESOTA JUICY LUCY
Juicy Lucy is a burger patty stuffed with melty cheese; most of the time, it’s American cheese. You need to be extra careful when taking that first bite as that molten hot magma cheese oozes out.
As the story goes, a customer at Matt’s Bar & Grill asked for two hamburgers with some cheese in the middle. After biting into this new creation, he said, “That’s one Juicy Lucy.” The “i” was inadvertently left off the name on their menu.
Most Juicy Lucy purists feel that you need to enjoy them in Minnesota. So, whether you’re having a “Jucy Lucy” at Matt’s Bar & Grill or a “Juicy Lucy” at the 5–8 Club, both in Minneapolis, Minnesota, OR having the “Juicy Nookie Burger” at The Nook in St. Paul, Minnesota, you’ll be spiritually fulfilled.
Juicy Lucys are now found all over the US.
MISSISSIPPI SLUGBURGER or DOUGH BURGER
First of all, there are no slugs in a Slugburger. The name comes from the slang term for a nickel, the cost of a burger in its heyday. With that horrible thought out of the way, we can discuss it without prejudice.
Slugburgers or Dough Burgers use extenders mixed in with the meat, like bread crumbs, flour, or eggs. During World War I, and later during the Great Depression, meat was either rationed or just too expensive to buy. These fillers allowed them able to stretch the amount of beef they had.
I’m partial to the ones at Bill’s Hamburgers in Amory, Mississippi, which serves theirs with mustard and onion (cheese only by request), and Phillips Grocery in Holly Springs, Mississippi, where mustard, onion, and pickle are the standard.
If you can’t get enough of these, a Slugburger Festival is held yearly in Corinth, Mississippi, which also includes a Miss Slugburger pageant.
MISSOURI GUBER BURGER
The Guber Burger or Goober Burger (choose whichever spelling suits your fancy) was popularized in central Missouri by the Wheel Inn Drive-In. The local burger that I hear the most groans about is the Guber Burger since it has a minimal appeal to the majority of the public. The Guber Burger is a burger topped with peanut butter.
The Wheel Inn Drive-In’s version involved ladling or spooning warm peanut butter sauce that has an almost soup-like consistency. Unfortunately, they went out of business, and no other Guber Burger-centric restaurant has taken its place.
There are restaurants across the US that add a smear of peanut burger for a similar effect or others that serve variations on the theme, like My Sister’s Place in Grand Marais, Minnesota. They kick it up a notch by topping the peanut butter with some mayo. Their version is featured on the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern.
I’m not the biggest fan of salted peanuts, so the thought of salted peanuts mixed with Miracle Whip topping a burger is horrifying. Some folks will try to sell you on the whole sweet and salty or crunchy and soft angle of it, but I’m not buying.
Regardless of my thoughts, people love it. You can find this unusual grub at Matt’s Place Drive-In in Butte, Montana.
NEW JERSEY-STYLE SLIDER
The origins of the New Jersey-style slider go back to a burger cooking method pioneered by White Castle’s Walt Anderson. You take a ball of beef, smash it on the flat-top grill with a spatula, and top it with onions, which cook via the steam rising through the meat.
White Manna in Hackensack, New Jersey, cooks up their one ½-ounce burgers in this way. When you ask for a double, you don’t get two individual stacked patties. That’s because they smash two balls instead of one to make a three-ouncer.
If you visit the White Rose Diner in Linden, New Jersey, they serve a larger three-ounce slider. They are also the originators of the Jersey Burger, which adds Taylor Ham, a bologna-esque sliced pork product popular with the people of New Jersey.
NEW MEXICO GREEN CHILI CHEESEBURGER
The Green Chile Cheeseburger is just that, a cheeseburger topped with chopped green chiles or a green chile sauce.
The most famous story involving the Green Chile Burger takes place in 1945 at the Owl Bar & Cafe in San Antonio, New Mexico. Scientists from the Manhattan Project were rumored to be enjoying them nightly after long days working on the atomic bomb.
Its popularity has spawned a New Mexico Green Chile Cheese Trail. There you can make your way around the state from one spot to another, sampling this specialty at various burger joints. And yes, the Owl Bar & Cafe is still around.
OKLAHOMA CITY THETA BURGER
At some point between the 1930s and 1940, the Theta Burger was born when a place called Town Tavern created a signature burger for the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority at the University of Oklahoma. The burger features a hickory BBQ sauce, pickles, mayonnaise, and shredded cheddar cheese.
When the Town Tavern closed, the scoreboards with the OU football game information were moved to The Mont near the university. Of course, you can find a Theta Burger at The Mont and at Johnnie’s Charcoal Broiler locations near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
OKLAHOMA FRIED ONION BURGER
If you’re into grilled onions, then the Oklahoma Fried Onion Burger has your name all over it. During the Depression, ground beef was expensive. At this time, burgers had just turned the corner after their revived popularity, sparked partially by White Castle.
According to John T. Edge, Ross Davis would smash onions into his burgers to give his customers more bang for their buck with a bigger patty. His restaurant, the Hamburger Inn, was located at the intersection of Route 66 and Highway 81 in Oklahoma. Due to its convenient proximity, other establishments in the El Reno area began serving the fried onion burger.
I know many folks who swear by this burger, and that includes my burger mentor George Motz. George makes a pretty mean version of the fried onion burger.
A Patty Melt is the perfect example of a burger sandwich. A topic that comes up often is whether or not a Patty Melt should be classified as a burger. I’ve always felt that a Patty Melt was a burger, not so much a sandwich if that makes any sense.
The “official” ingredients are simple: Burger patty, rye bread, Swiss cheese, and grilled onions.
I can’t say that I ever remember eating a bad one anywhere, and I’ve had my fill of them in many cities and states. Assuming all the proper items are in place., it’s almost impossible to mess one up.
I do encounter variations on the cheeses (American or cheddar), or occasionally on the bread (sourdough or Texas toast), but rarely on the protein. However, I’ve had a “Turkey” Patty Melt.
Rye bread is never to be toasted, only griddled on the flat-top is what most Patty Melt purists believe. The Patty Melt should taste like the child of a great burger and a grilled cheese sandwich.
You can now find Patty Melts on menus across the US, but it was initially a California creation. It is believed that the papa was Tiny Naylor, who owned a chain of Biff’s and Tiny Naylor restaurants in the late 1940s and 1950s in California.
Tiny passed in 1959, but his son Biff (yes, the restaurants were named after him) now owns the Du-Par’s chain, which has a great Patty Melt on the menu. His granddaughter Jennifer, now a caterer, was formerly an executive chef for Wolfgang Puck.
Also, read my A Little Patty Melt History with a Recipe
Pimento Cheese, the beautiful marriage of shredded cheese, mayo, and diced pimento peppers, is a favorite topping on many foods in the South and, most importantly, on burgers.
Finding a restaurant that serves a Pimento Cheese Burger can be as easy as just finding one that has pimento cheese on the menu. Burgers will follow shortly after.
You’re more likely to encounter them when driving around the South in the US. I still fantasize about the fantastic Pimento Cheese Burger from Boyce General Store in Alvaton, Kentucky.
SAN ANTONIO BEAN BURGER
The San Antonio Bean Burger makes its home mostly in and around San Antonio, Texas. Refried beans, Cheez Whiz, crushed Fritos, and diced onions top the best-known version of this burger.
The Tostada Burger at Chris Madrid’s, where the Cheez Whiz is replaced by cheddar cheese and the Fritos by homemade chips, is a variation of the Bean Burger.
TENNESSEE DEEP FRIED BURGER
When it comes to deep-fried burgers, Dyer’s in Memphis, Tennessee, is the first spot that comes to mind for most people. Dyer’s claim to fame? They’ve never thrown out the grease they use to fry the burgers. The “Vitamin G,” as it is known, is strained daily.
What they do at Dyer’s is smash down a patty until it’s wafer-thin, then drop it ever so gently into the prehistoric oil. It will sink and then float to the top to signify that it’s good to go. I was confident that I would be having the greasiest meat patty known to man, but I was wrong. If you need more of that Vitamin G, you can ask to have it dunked, bread and all.
Just over the Tennessee border in Tompkinsville, Kentucky, you will find Dovie’s. They submerge their burgers in soybean oil, giving it a crispy exterior. Just drop the term “squozed” to them, and they drain your patty of all the excess fat.
UTAH PASTRAMI BURGER
Whoever thought of topping their cheeseburger with pastrami deserves a monument. There is no official creator. However, in Salt Lake City, Utah, with their Greek diners and restaurants, burgers covered with pastrami, thousand island dressing, and cheese do not sound out of the ordinary.
Crown Burgers was flying the flag for pastrami burgers in 1978 when they opened in Salt Lake City. Back then, only a few sold each day, but now it’s their top-selling item.
WISCONSIN BUTTER BURGER
The first time I laid eyes on a Butter Burger, I was innocently watching George Motz’s documentary Hamburger America; in it, he profiled Solly’s Grille in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
I had never seen anything like it before. Just like all great burger spots, they use a fresh, never frozen beef patty. After doing the customary sandwich set up, they finish it up with a massive smear of butter and then the top bun. The butter melts and cascades down all the sides of this now majestic dish. I might be overselling it, but I rewound and watched it a few times to take in what I was seeing.
The Butter Burger is mostly found in and around Wisconsin. Although the Culver’s chain has been spreading its name statewide.
How a Butter Burger is made varies. The method popularized by Solly’s Grille (who also created it in 1936); just having the butter as a topping on the burger, or the butter can be added to the burger patty itself.
The one tip I can leave you with when you encounter a Butter Burger is to eat it fast, or you’re going to have a giant mess on your hands. I’m also pretty sure it’s in the burger-eating handbook that all butter pooling at the bottom of your plate automatically becomes a burger dipping sauce.
WISCONSIN POACHED BURGER
The Poached Burger from Wisconsin is another Regional Burger Style. Pete’s Hamburgers has served this delicacy since 1909 in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. Pete’s is only open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from May to October. The exact day of the month they open varies by the year based on the weather.
Here’s how to make a Wisconsin Poached Burger. You smash a four-ounce ball of beef on a deep flat-top grill. The griddle is partially filled with water and onions. The burger patty cooks in the boiling water with onions. The end product is a very juicy patty. Your only options when it comes to toppings is with or without onions, with no cheese whatsoever.