Best Regional Burger Chains
Occasionally I crave a burger. Not too sure when or why this craving will come upon me, but I think it is something truly American in nature. (Hopefully the urge to listen to Toby Keith does not come from the same place.) The ideal is to get out your grill, pat together a few patties with your favorite spices, invite a few friends over and smell the burgers cooking as you enjoy a beer.
Unfortunately that craving does not always hit at 10 am on a football Sunday. (Which begs the question, which came first, the hamburger craving or the tailgate? It’s a much more interesting question than the chicken or the egg and most of the time, much more delicious.)
So, where do I go when I need to get a good burger? Most restaurants serve a version of a burger, and a lot of times they are good with a bunch of creative ingredients, but there is still some sort of nostalgia for the diner burger with its simple lettuce, tomato and pickle before they got mass-produced. I’m sure every town of any size has at least one gem of a restaurant that has a great burger, but for generalizing purposes, here are five places that while regional, are still easy to find in those areas and hearken back to a simpler burger time.
In-N-Out Burger. Yes, one of the main reasons to write this essay. When friends come to visit out here in California, the place to eat at the top of their list is generally In-N-Out Burger. (Also – Pink’s Hot Dogs, which will probably be the first entry in my best places to get a hot dog essay, as long as an hour long line to get a hot dog does not deter you from eating there. Yes, I said an hour to get a hot dog.) What makes In-N-Out great is its simplicity. The menu is a hamburger, cheeseburger and double versions of both to go with fries. Well, unless you count the “secret menu.” (Which I don’t since I have a fear of eating contests, which would be the only time to get four burgers on a bun at the same time.)
Burgerville. With every stop in Portland, there has to be a stop at Burgerville. If you care about where your food comes from, Burgerville shares that concern and only uses local, sustainable providers and foods in season. So, you may visit one time and the fresh onion rings are in season or maybe it’s the sweet potato fries. Another time, it might be the
delicious blackberry shakes. However, when you’re slurping your shake, don’t look too closely at your receipt, as that deliciousness is about the same caloric content as a Chipotle burrito. (Yes, the receipt has the prices to your wallet as well as the prices to your waistline.) But, all of those delicious calories are the reason it tastes so good.
Winstead’s. A Kansas City tradition, it’s a great place to grab a burger or other diner treats. The most amazing thing on the menu at Winstead’s is The Skyscraper, a delectable shake monstrosity that is meant for 2-4 people. (Which explains my fear of eating contests, when a friend challenged me to have a Skyscraper by myself. With a burger and fries. I did finish it, but I didn’t really move around much for the rest of the day.)
Jake’s Wayback Burgers. I still remember the original Jake’s location in Newark, DE. You could walk in and watch them flatten a big ball of burger on the grill and the sizzle immediately started. Not much has changed, except the fact that you can now find the burgers in many more places along the east coast and now there’s the “wayback” in the title, which depending on your point of reference, could make you think of Christopher Lloyd or Chris Berman before you eat, neither of which is good for the appetite.
Steak and Shake. Easily the chain in the most states, it feels a little out of place in comparison to these other regional places. However, this is the steakburger chain that I grew up on, and I still crave every now and again. Like the rest, it has burgers, shakes and fries, but if you go for the platter option (a choice of two sides to go with your burger) a nice change of pace is to get an occasional cup of vegetable beef soup or the baked beans. Trust me, burgers and beans are great, it’s just a mistake that “Burgers and Beans” has yet to open.
So, that’s my list of five. Are there any burger chains in your neck of the woods that you’d recommend? As a traveler, I can always use advice on a great place to grab a burger. As I never know when that craving will hit.
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About Jason McClain Jason is an aspiring novelist, which means there is a lot of time to put off writing and watch baseball or go fly-fishing, hiking and traveling. By "a lot of time", Jason means "procrastination."