Restaurants

Everything New Under the Bun

Oozing melted cheese, the crunch of a fresh pickle, and perfectly charred patties inside a house-made roll—all the reasons the burger is king in Boston right now.


From top left: JM Curley, Boston Burger Company, Mr. Bartley’s. Middle row: Waypoint, R.F. O’Sullivan & Son, Drink. Bottom row: 5 Napkin Burger, Craigie on Main, Tasty Burger. Photos by Tim Kennedy

Edited by Jenna Pelletier, with additional reporting by Liz Bomze, Spencer Buell, and Courtney Hollands

Bao Wow
Shōjō
It’s not much larger than a slider, yet the Shojonator packs more flavor into its petite package than many burgers twice the size. Spice, smoke, and umami—from ingredients including a Velveeta-like “kimcheese,” smoked hoisin barbecue sauce, sriracha aioli, and grilled Applewood bacon—mingle together gloriously between the beef and halves of a fluffy house-made bao bun. Think it sounds like too much? Rest assured that it’s actually just right. In fact, you’ll probably want two. 9A Tyler St., Boston, 617-423- 7888, shojoboston.com.

Surf and Turf
Waypoint
Good news for fans of the hard-to-procure “secret” burger at Alden & Harlow: Its cousin at chef Michael Scelfo’s newer, seafoodfocused spot is always on the menu and, dare we say, even more delicious. Dripping down the sides of the stacked Creekstone patties you’ll find tonnato, that mayonnaisey Italian condiment that hints at the briny, savory side of tuna and anchovies. The sandwich is brought to the next level with cheddar schmear flecked with Benton’s bacon; crisp slaw; and an unusual but delicious celery-seed bun. It’s served alongside a heap of salty, deeply golden fries that are worth seeking out on their own. 1030 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-864-2300, waypointharvard.com.

The Italian condiment tonnato adds coastal flair to Waypoint’s burger. / Photo by Tim Kennedy

Double Take
Bar Mezzana
Next time you’re heading to this sleek Italian seafood spot, you may want to stop right at the bar. That’s where chef/co-owner Colin Lynch serves his double cheeseburger, which reads like an ichthyophobe’s safety net but is executed with as much precision as his off-the-hook crudo program. Simply put: This is one of the best burgers in Boston, packaged up with classic, thoughtful fixings— crispy onions, gooey Taleggio and American cheeses, shredded iceberg, pickle chips strategically anchored under the beef—and a soft griddled bun that soaks it all in. 360 Harrison Ave., Boston, 617-530-1770, barmezzana.com.

My favorite is the classic burger with grass-fed beef, American cheese, bacon, and chipotle-lime aioli from Bred, in Lower Mills. I like the friendly and fast service that the shop provides.
My Perfect Patty | Mayor Marty Walsh

Simple Stunner
Back Bay Social
When you’re using beef this good, it’s a sin to cover it up with gobs of toppings. Modestly adorned with a thin layer of caramelized onions and a slice of aged Vermont cheddar, the burger at this beloved Back Bay haunt is all about the pedigreed meat: namely, Pat LaFrieda’s buttery blend of grass-fed Angus, dry-aged rib-eye, and short rib. Maybe that’s why the restaurant hasn’t taken it off the menu since it opened eight years ago. 876 Boylston St., Boston, 617-247-3200, backbaysocialclub.com.

Burger Time
From patties for pennies to the origins of the gourmet burger: a history of ground beef in Boston.1884
Mary Lincoln mentions a “Hamburg steak” in Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book; 16 years later the hamburger is officially born down the road at Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut.1951
Dan Sullivan Sr. debuts Sullivan’s concession stand on Castle Island, selling “hamburgs” and other fast-food fare.1960s
Famous for its 15-cent hamburgers, McDonald’s enters the local market, installing its Golden Arches in Lowell and Fitchburg.1963
Julia Child (a regular at Savenor’s butcher shop, naturally) delves into how to properly cook a hamburger on season 1 of the WGBH-produced The French Chef.1980s
Eagle’s Deli debuts its Challenge Burger— with a whopping 5 pounds of beef, 20 slices of cheese, 20 strips of bacon, 5 pounds of fries, and one dill pickle.2004
Helping usher in the gourmet burger craze, chef Michael Schlow rolls out the Radius Burger at his now-shuttered restaurant. Piled high with cheddar, fried onions, and horseradish–black pepper sauce, it lives on to this day at Tico.2018
The rapidly growing Hingham-based burger chain Wahlburgers— now with locations in 17 states, plus Canada— signs an agreement to sell its fresh Angus brisket, chuck, and short-rib patties in more than 1,300 stores.

Bring a Bib
R.F. O’Sullivan & Son
To fully experience this laid-back Somerville institution, you simply have to get a little messy. The dozens of burger options on the menu—from the Paddy-O-Melt with sautéed onions and cheddar to the blackpepper- crusted Black & Blue—may have different fixings, but they always have one thing in common: the same thick-as-can be, succulent yet expertly charred sirloin patty. Don’t worry—we won’t tell anyone you have meat drippings on your chin. 282 Beacon St., Somerville, 617-491-9638, rfosullivans.com.

Late-Night Fix
Roxy’s Grilled Cheese
It’s almost midnight and you’ve got a hankering for something savory. Will it be a burger, grilled cheese—or both? Slathered with fiery housemade pimiento cheese, the Justin’s Burger from this queso-focused quick-service spot offers the best of both worlds, with an extra kick from creamy chipotle mayo and Grillo’s pickles. For the avo-obsessed, the equally perfect Muenster features a grass-fed chuck patty adorned with a big scoop of house-made guacamole. 292 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-945-7244; 485 Cambridge St., Allston, 617- 202-5864; roxysgrilledcheese.com.

Two is better than one: The Wagyu burger at Drink. / Photo by Tim Kennedy

A Better Bar Burger
Drink
Bring up the burger at Barbara Lynch’s craftcocktail den, and your bartender’s eyes may light up in the same way they would if you’d ordered a rare scotch. Buttery, juicy, and rich as can be, the luxed-up spin on a Big Mac— featuring a perfectly grilled Colorado Wagyu patty (make that a double) and melted American cheese—pairs beautifully with a couple of Old Fashioneds. Add an order of the bar’s thick-cut fries with malt-vinegar aioli to make this the happiest of happy meals. 348 Congress St., Boston, 617-695-1806, drinkfortpoint.com.

Les Sablons closed on August 2.

Escoffier-Approved
Les Sablons
Oooh la la: Here we have classic Parisian flair, in burger form. Available only on Sundays at this Harvard Square restaurant, the LS Brunch Burger piles on the luxury with a generous cut of nutty, stretchy Comté cheese, soft and buttery caramelized onions, and slightly crisp brioche, all crowned by a fresh, runny egg. In other words, it’s bistro cuisine on a bun, and absolutely worth getting out of bed early on a weekend for. 2 Bennett St., Cambridge, 617-268-6800, lscambridge.com.

The High-Low Masterpiece
Little Donkey
Leave it to the Ken Oringer–Jamie Bissonnette team to play fast and loose with the fast-food-burger formula and deliver a brilliant, ordinary-be-damned mash-up of haute cuisine and guilty pleasure. On the one hand, you have dry-aged beef gilded with foie gras; on the other, Buffalo-sauced pickles, yellow American, and fried jalapeño “chips”—not to mention Lipton onion-soup-mix mayo. The ultimate guilty pleasure, indeed. 505 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-945- 1008, littledonkeybos.com.

The Wagyu burger at The Marshside in Dennis is my favorite burger. It is amazing beef, cooked to perfection with cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, and Boar’s Head bacon, all wrapped beautifully in a pretzel-roll bun. Just a handful of onion rings are the perfect complement.
My Perfect Patty | Jack Connors, Hill Holliday Founding Partner

Hot Mess
JM Curley
When your server at this Downtown Crossing eatery asks if you want the only burger on the menu “Filthy Andy–style,” just say yes. You’ll be rewarded with a cheddar-topped 5-ounce patty, pickles, griddled onions, and house-made Russian dressing served open-face on a seeded bun and absolutely smothered with zingy coleslaw and fries. Smoosh it all together for a sloppy symphony of sorts, with rich, salty notes from the perfectly seasoned beef and sweet heat from the mustard seeds and chipotle mayonnaise in the Louisiana-style slaw—extra points for the bun, which stays intact till the last glorious bite. For the animals among us, the filthier “Cody Style” variation adds a second patty, fried egg, and bacon (#savage). 21 Temple Place, Boston, 617-338-5333, jmcurleyboston.com.

Everything but the Kitchen Sink
Boston Burger Company
Until the munchies-inspired 420 Burger, we never knew we could hanker for a burger piled high with mozzarella sticks, fried mac ’n’ cheese, onion rings, fries, and bacon. But such is the magic of Boston Burger Company: Its signature vinegar-tart dressing deftly cuts through the salty fat of the fried toppings, allowing the smoky, juicy beef to shine as it should. Balance is key, and even with all the extras this counter-service stalwart heaps onto its patties, it always sticks the landing on the right side of the line that divides craveable burgers from made-for-Instagram gimmicks. 37 Davis Sq., Somerville, 617-440- 7361; and other locations; facebook.com/bostonburgercompany.

Boston Burger Company’s 420 Burger is topped with your favorite fried foods. / Photo by Tim Kennedy

The Hangover Cure
The Wheelhouse
Not for the faint of heart, the Wheelhouse’s gloriously greasy Breakfast Burger piles everything you love about the morning meal— right down to the coffee grounds—into a bun. Chef Jon Chase dusts earthy dark roast and a garlicky-sweet spice rub onto the sandwich’s two Kinnealey Meats chuck patties, then throws bacon, American cheese, and a gooey fried egg on top for the ultimate indulgence any time of day. Warning: may be nap-inducing. 63 Broad St., Boston, 617-422- 0082, wheelhouseboston.com.

Bukowski Tavern probably has the number one burger in town. That being said, I absolutely love the burger at Row 34. I like the atmosphere there, and I love that you have the option to get a fried oyster on top. And Hojoko has a spicy tuna burger that is a must-try.
My Perfect Patty | Olivia Culpo, model and former Miss Universe

Guten Appetit!
Bronwyn
Once available only on Mondays but since upgraded to daily menu status, the Bronburger at chef Tim Wiechmann’s Germaninspired beer hall is topped with crispy pork belly and studded with bacon—and that’s not even the best part. What really ties the thick patty, rich Comté cheese, and tangy kraut together is Wiechmann’s unusual, yet preternaturally delicious, pretzel roll: Plush and chewy, it has just enough heft to support the decadent contents. Another twist on the tried-and-true formula? Golden home fries rather than the typical shoestrings. 255 Washington St., Somerville, 617-776-9900, browynrestaurant.com.

The Landmark
Mr. Bartley’s
If it’s good enough for Jackie O, Robert Plant, and Charlie Baker (just a few of the many notables who have eaten here), it’s good enough for us. Hard-core culinary snobs may scoff at its touristy reputation, but this familyrun Harvard Square institution wins us over every time with its quirky atmosphere and over-the-top creations that playfully salute politicians, sports stars, and other celebs— everything from a “yuuge” Trump Tower double burger with cheddar and barbecue sauce to a Beyoncé “Hot” covered in hot sauce, jalapeños, and bacon. While the toppings change as fast as pop culture, the patty remains the same: choice chuck, ground daily and griddled on the well-seasoned flat top. 1246 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-354-6559, mrbartley.com.

Taste of the Tropics
Little Big Diner
It’s all rice bowls and ramen at this Newton Centre noodle den, save for a handful of bangup small plates, including its LBD Flat Patty. Here, the kitchen plays a solid game of contrast, dressing the grillcharred chuck with a hot ’n’ sweet pineappleonion sambal; cool, creamy mayo; a tender leaf of Bibb lettuce; and crunchy batter-fried onion strings. And what better way to enhance this burger’s tropical profile than by sandwiching the whole thing on a plush King’s Hawaiian bun? 1247 Centre St., Newton Centre, 857- 404-0068, littlebigdiner.com.

My go-to is Wheelhouse’s Chuck Norris burger. It’ll knock you and your mate out: two patties, cheese, grilled onions, and bacon with onion jam. Best thing is, you can get it starting at 7 a.m.—I have had it for a couple of breakfasts since the end of the season.
My Perfect Patty | Aron Baynes, Celtics center

Prized Patty
Craigie on Main
It’s a modern classic for a reason. Almost a decade after chef Tony Maws first put his Craigie Burger on the bar menu, local carnivores still line up to nab one of the 18 umami-packed patties produced every night. Often sold out by 6 p.m., the coveted burger is everything you want in the form: perfectly cooked local beef (a blend of brisket, short ribs, hanger steak, bone marrow, and suet for maximum flavor-fat ratio) sprinkled with miso as a flavor booster and accompanied by house-made, well, everything— from the pickles to the ketchup. 853 Main St., Cambridge, 617-497-5511, craigieonmain.com.

Craigie on Main burger

Craigie on Main’s beloved bar burger sells out almost every night / Photo by Tim Kennedy

The People’s Burger
Tasty Burger
What makes the Big Tasty a winner? The griddled patty is crisp but juicy. The salty American shingle doesn’t just sit on the patty; it seeps into it like a well-seasoned condiment. The requisite veggies—lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles—are fresh and crisp. The fromscratch sauce tastes particularly “special.” And the house bun is appropriately squishy. With smart sides—a combo of fries and onion rings!—killer drinks (don’t miss the housebrewed raspberry-lime rickeys), and hometown charm, this local chain is the ultimate crowd-pleaser. 1301 Boylston St., Boston, 617- 425-4444; and other locations; tastyburger.com.