Burger Kings: Gussied Up

1. the gandolfini

Chef Lanny Chin was revamping Lago's menu when he recalled a decadent $55 burger he once had. "I can be kind of a child. So I said, •Let's do a $56 burger,' " Chin says. And he did — to worth-every-penny perfection. To create what would become the Gandolfini, Chin had to masterfully mix his favorite Italian flavors with diner sandwich staples, then take it to the extreme. Taleggio took over for standard cheese, while house-cured prosciutto replaced bacon. A patty formed with sirloin, brisket and ground chuck sits underneath hunks of fried lobster and a foie gras mousse. Even regular iceberg lettuce gets tossed aside for arugula dressed in truffle oil. "I wanted it to feel luxurious, and nothing says luxury in Italian cooking more than truffle oil," Chin says. But if those grand ingredients aren't enough to convince you to break the bank, consider its accompaniments — house-made truffle chips and a white chocolate truffle milkshake — each almost as good as the burger itself. 1111 W. 10th St., Cleveland, 216-862-8065, lagoeastbank.com

2. Surf and turf burger

The giant steak knife on the plate is your first clue: The Nauti Mermaid's surf and turf burger ($12) is almost too big to eat with your hands. But persevere — even if you have to squish the brioche bun a bit — and open wide. Each bite offers a different taste: The juicy beef patty dominates in one, the house-made crab cake in another. "You're going to leave here with a full belly," says co-owner Jeffrey Hassan. He improved the entree when he bought the restaurant three years ago by using real crab and freshly ground beef. True to Hassan's restaurant experience in Florida, the key lime aioli that tops the whole thing is made with Nellie and Joe's Famous Key West Lime Juice. 1378 W. Sixth St., Cleveland, 216-771-6175, thenautimermaid.com

3. The Chop Burger

The Warehouse District may have lost a steakhouse when Cleveland Chophouse changed ownership and shortened its name — to simply Cleveland Chop — but it gained a great spot to snag a burger. Sink your teeth into the Chop Burger ($12), and you'll see why. A Certified Angus top sirloin patty shares a bun with bitter arugula, sweet barbecue sauce, crispy onions and a tasty compote that kicks this burger to high gear. "It blows people's hair back," says sous chef Bobby Garner of the caramelized onions, bacon, Gruyere and blue cheese creation. Try it with the fries, which are drizzled in a cider gastrique — a sauce that's as sugary as honey but with a strong, spicy finish. 824 W. St Clair Ave., Cleveland, 216-696-2467, clevelandchop.com

4. Grilled Ohio Lamb Burger Le Foot

Jonathon Sawyer's loss is our gain. When the Greenhouse Tavern chef and his partner Brian Goodman created the Grilled Ohio Lamb Burger Le Foot ($17) for the Burger Bash at the New York City Wine and Food Festival back in 2010, they returned home as runners-up. Still the entry has been drawing raves with locals for its cheese fondue. The pungent Epoisses de Bourgogne melts to a creamy topper that's complemented by a shallot mignonette. "It's hard to incorporate acidity into a burger," says Goodman. "The American way to do it is to place ketchup on the bun. The mignonette is a much nicer transition." 2038 E. Fourth St., Cleveland, 216-443-0511, thegreenhousetavern.com

5. Paris Burger

One step inside Larchmere's Bon Vivant reminds us of visiting a cozy Parisian cafe. But one bite of the restaurant's Paris Burger ($12.50)
and we're ready to apply for dual citizenship. Created with the help of French chef Virgenie Socchard, the burger is decked out with a poached pear, caramelized onion compote, arugula and distinctly French influences in the form of hot Dijon mustard and melted Brie. "It's casual and fun," says owner Joe Hanna of the entree that comes with crispy pommes frites topped with garlic aioli. "It's something that Americans are comfortable with but with a French twist." 12706 Larchmere Blvd., Cleveland, 216-862-8931, bonvivantlarchmere.com

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