The hamburger has grown up a lot over the last three decades, becoming the US equivalent of a steak-frites on some of the classiest menus. The format of grilled patty on a bun has proven so versatile that chefs push the envelope with such variants as tuna and even falafel. We won’t pick a food fight by claiming these spots are the best in New England, but each one makes a burger well worth the trip. -- Patricia Harris and David Lyon/Globe correspondents Next
Stanley’s Famous Hamburgers
Polish immigrant Stanley F. Kryla opened his hamburger joint in 1932. The Stanleyburger, as he called it, remains a modest patty of freshly ground beef served on a soft bun with grilled onions and tangy sweet pickles. It can be gussied up with tomato, mushroom, bacon, cheese, or pepper, but the original remains a standard. Grab a seat at the counter and watch the grill cook at work.
Seafood Center of Maine
This modest Route 1 fry shack is locally famous for its clam cakes made from a ‘‘top-secret recipe.’’ We would guess that the recipe includes a lot of chopped sea clams, some cracker meal, and something to make them stick together. The patty is lightly breaded and deep-fried. The restaurant’s clam cake burger consists simply of slipping said clam cake onto a toasted soft bun and serving it with good cole slaw. Order at the counter that looks into the open kitchen and have a seat at one of the tables. The clam pieces can be a little tough, but this is a rare fish burger you can really bite into.
Joey Garlic’s Pizzeria
We were surprised when Connecticut magazine selected a pizzeria as serving some of the state’s best burgers. We have yet to try their pizza, but we can attest that Joey Garlic’s does serve a mean burger. The basic version consists of a half pound of freshly ground USDA Choice chuck served on a buttered and toasted soft bun. A stack of lettuce, tomato, and pickle chips sits on one side, a mound of fries on the other. The meat is so fresh (and noticeably salted) that the burger is intensely beefy. Diners who like it sloppy can add free toppings that range from fried mushrooms, onions, or peppers to a fried egg, and drown the patty in Gorgonzola dressing or what the restaurant calls ‘‘chipotle bacon slather sauce.’’
Mr. Bartley’s Gourmet Burgers
A stalwart of Harvard Square since 1960, Bartley’s is the quintessential college town burger joint. They keep up to date with cute names for the burgers that change with the election returns and pop-culture trends.
Brew City Grill & Brew House
Somehow it doesn’t seem surprising that a bar with 155 beers — 40 of them on tap — would also have an amazingly complex choice of burgers. You can select among American Kobe, Angus, or Piemontese beef, or farm-raised buffalo. The menu suggests that there are 38 trillion variations, once you factor in the toppings, but we advise sticking to the signature burgers. There really is something delightfully juvenile about the Crunch Time, which tops an Angus burger with beer-based barbecue sauce, crisp ridged potato chips, and pepperjack cheese. It’s sloppy and fun. The Piemonte, on the other hand, is a model of sophistication with its milder and sweeter beef, fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, and a slather of basil pesto on a ciabatta roll.
Christie’s offers a popular menu of small plates that it describes as ‘‘global tapas.’’ But amid the pad Thai, lobster quesadilla, and soba noodles with tofu, the kitchen also makes an all-American hamburger as well as a vegetarian burger. The beef burger is topped with melted provolone cheese and a tangy tomato jam. It is a simple marvel.
Far from the tourist-haunted Old Port, this little neighborhood bar and restaurant on artsy Munjoy Hill is one of those secrets that Portland gourmands mostly keep to themselves. The burger is one of the leanest yet tastiest pieces of beef most of us will ever encounter. The beef is free-range, grass-fed Scottish Highland supplied by A Wee Bit Farm (operated by a retired South Boston police officer) in Orland, Maine. The kitchen keeps a pile of caramelized grilled onions and mushrooms working on the edge of the grill and the cook mixes some of the sweet and tangy blend right into the patty. The burger is grilled to a nice external char and served on a soft but not spongy bun accompanied by a side of warm potato salad tossed in an herb-laden vinaigrette. It’s aptly called the Bistro Burger.
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