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.
REGIONAL BURGER STYLES
The California Burger comes typically with either avocado or its offspring, guacamole, and sometimes bacon.
Do not confuse it 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 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 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. Then they cover the patty 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 wrong to think the pineapple sauce was. 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.
MAO, a tiny late-night spot was my introduction to this Regional Burger Style. It 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 steam rising from the basin full of water at the bottom of the box cooked the burgers and melts the cheese. Steaming gives the burgers a very meaty flavor along with a texture similar to a loose meatloaf. After the patty is put on a bun; it is followed by the gooey cheese.
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 INFO
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 mostly available 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 is 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. The rumor is that this burger was created by singer Luther Vandross when he 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.
The seasoned ground beef burgers came on wax paper. Two years later, Fred Angell opened up Maid-Rite and named the same dish a Maid-Rite.
These burgers are loose meat sandwiches. They come standard with onions, mustard, and pickles. You can find them all over Iowa, parts of Ohio and Kansas, and in Detroit, Michigan, as a loose hamburger.
MICHIGAN OLIVE BURGER
Kewpee is responsible for the popularity of the Olive Burger.
In the 1920s, Sam Blair and his Kewpee Hotel Hamburgs numbered in the hundreds of locations. Their olive burger caught on with their customers.
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. Two variations include an olive-based mayo spread and another 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 with melty cheese inside; 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. “That’s one Juicy Lucy,” were his first words after biting into this new creation. The name on their menu mistakenly left off the “i.”
Most Juicy Lucy purists feel that you need to enjoy them in Minnesota. So, whether you have 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 will be spiritually fulfilled.
Juicy Lucys are now a popular burger style that is available all over the US.
MISSISSIPPI SLUGBURGER or DOUGH BURGER
First of all, you will not find slugs in a Slugburger.
The name comes from the slang term for a nickel, the cost of a burger in its heyday. Now, 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. The beef was just too expensive to buy during World War I and the Great Depression. Rations also spread meat thin across the country. 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.
The yearly Slugburger Festival in Corinth, Mississippi, includes a Miss Slugburger pageant.
HOW TO COOK A SLUGBURGER
MISSOURI GUBER BURGER
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. Not familiar with it? Well, it’s a burger with peanut butter.
Missouri’s The Wheel Inn Drive-In popularized the Guber Burger or Goober Burger (choose whichever spelling suits your fancy).
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. Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern features the My Sister’s Place version.
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 burger style 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 would enjoy 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
The Theta Burger is born at some point between the 1930s and 1940 when the 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.
It is now at The Mont near the university since Town Tavern shut its doors. Of course, you can find a Theta Burger at The Mont and 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. Ground beef was expensive during the Great Depression. 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 style, and that includes George Motz who makes a pretty mean version of the fried onion burger.
A Patty Melt is the perfect example of a burger sandwich. Whether or not a Patty Melt is a burger is always a popular topic. I still feel that a Patty Melt is 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.
PATTY MELT PURISTS
Never toast the rye bread, it must cook on the griddle. At least, most purists believe that. 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. Most folks consider Tiny Naylor to be the sandwich’s papa. Tiny 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 (the restaurant namesake) now owns the Du-Par’s chain, which has a tasty 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 replaces Cheez Whiz with cheddar cheese, and the Fritos with homemade chips is a variation of the Bean Burger.
This burger style is not my cup of tea.
TENNESSEE DEEP FRIED BURGER
When it comes to deep-fried burgers, Dyer’s’s in Memphis, Tennessee is the first spot that comes to mind for most people.
Their claim to fame? They’ve never thrown out the grease they use to fry the burgers. Dyer’s strains the *Vitamin G, daily.
What they do at Dyer’s is smash down a patty until it’s’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.
Boy, was I wrong to think it is the greasiest meat patty known to man? 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.
DYER’S ON HAMBURGER AMERICA
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 (the original) 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 crown (top bun). The butter melts and cascades down all the sides of this now sumptuous dish. I may be overselling its beauty, but one viewing is not enough.
The Butter Burger is mostly an in and around Wisconsin thing, although the Culver’s chain has been spreading its name statewide.
How to make a Butter Burger varies. There is the Solly’s Grille method, using butter straight up as a topping on the burger, or the butter on 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 partially filled with water and onions. The patty cooks as the onions in the water boil. 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.