Burger Kings: Fun Bun

1. The Palo Alto

While it's easy to get overwhelmed with the options at this new Lakewood burger joint, creating your meaty masterpiece from owner Izzy Schachner's mix-and-match menu is half the fun. Pick your bun (choices include a whole wheat base made from nearby Breadsmith), your protein (try the BBB, a burger-bacon blend) and your "Streat Style" (a collection of cleverly named and complementary toppings), which yields a whopping 260 different combinations. We're partial to the Palo Alto ($9.50), a California breeze of avocado, balsamic-marinated tomatoes, goat cheese, house-made garlic aioli and arugula. Push it over the edge by ordering it on the totally unexpected gluten-free cornmeal masa waffle. "We had one woman scream, •This is the best thing ever,' " says Schachner. "It's a different way to eat a burger and people appreciate the unique experience." 16300 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-226-0056, streatburger.com

2. Lamb burger

After Lucky's Cafe owner Heather Haviland found out her protein supplier had difficulty selling lamb because of its gamey reputation, she made it a goal to develop something to get people to reconsider the meat. That something is the delicious lamb burger ($13.50) made with cilantro, lemon and orange zest, and coated in a rich Mongolian barbecue sauce that caramelizes the patty as it's finished off in an oven. She then tops it with fresh tzatziki and feta cheese and serves the burger in baked-to-order naan that has a hint of sweetness from the yogurt used in the dough. "It's insane," Haviland says. "It's the perfect blend of sweet and salt." 777 Starkweather Ave., Cleveland, 216-622-7773, luckyscafe.com

3. Lola Burger

A shining star at breakfast, the English muffin takes on an afternoon role in Lola Bistro's lunchtime entree, the Lola Burger ($10). "It's a Michael Symon inspiration," says chef Joe Swan. "Texturally it matches very well, and it holds onto the sauce in a different way." The special sauce (a mix of house-made mayo, Lola's own chili-based ketchup and classic dill pickles) gets paired with a custom-blend patty made of short rib, brisket and sirloin, a slice of cheddar, house-pickled onions, bacon and an optional fried egg. "The combination of ingredients and the attention paid to preparing it is what really makes it a great sandwich," says Swan. 2058 E. Fourth St., Cleveland, 216-621-5652, lolabistro.com

4. Ohio CAB Burger

Japanese-American mash-ups are familiar territory for Jonathon Sawyer's Noodlecat, so it's no surprise that one of our favorite examples happens to be the Ohio CAB Burger ($3). Ohio Certified Angus Beef gets an Asian steam bun treatment for this slider-sized wonder. The fluffy melt-in-your-mouth bun surrounds the patty topped with a spicy house-made ketchup, Asian-style mayo, lettuce, sugar pickles and caramelized onions. "We'll still do a traditional [Japanese dish], but put our own cultural influence into it," says executive chef
Mike Keyerleber. "And, what's more American than burgers?" 234 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, 216-589-0007, noodlecat.com

5. Luther Burger

This one's so bad for you it has to be good. Burgers 2 Beer tosses out the standard hamburger bun for its Luther Burger ($8.99), replacing it with a grilled Krispy Kreme doughnut. When developing the menu, owner Elie Chamoun was looking for something different, something sweet. The pastry's glaze combined with the savory burger, crisp bacon and American cheese beckons us to take another bite. "It's a combustion of sweet and salt," says Chamoun. "One second you're tasting something, and [the next] second you're tasting something else." 6323 Wilson Mills Road, Highland Heights, 440-446-1234; 1938 Euclid Ave., Suite 100, Cleveland, 216-574-4800, b2bcleveland.com

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