Burger Kings: Unique

Acid Trip

The vertigo begins at first bite. Spicy, sweet, crunchy and creamy collide, levitating the flavor and texture profile to a state of euphoria that reflects the Acid Trip's ($9) moniker. "We went with a name that is fun and fanciful, because the burger has all these acidic components," says Andrew Bower, Nano Brew's executive chef. A buttered split-top bun covers a chipotle seasoned patty made with beef from Vince's Meats at the West Side Market, along with creamy coleslaw, tart pickled onions, balsamic reduction, Ohio cheddar cheese and spicy mayo. "The combination of texture and flavor restarts your palate each time you take a bite," Bower says. A side of waffle fries nudges the tasty creation. Wash the dish down with one of Nano Brew's craft IPAs, and we promise you'll feel pretty good. 1859 W. 25th St., Cleveland, 216-862-6631, nanobrewcleveland.com

Ohio Beef burger

We already love Flour for its Italian pastas and pizzas, but chef Matt Mytro knows that when it comes to lunch sometimes we just long for a juicy burger. So he created the Ohio Beef Burger ($11) while adding a few inspired touches along the way. Using Ohio ground beef from Blue Ribbon Meats, he builds the towering stack with melty Tillamook cheddar cheese, heirloom tomatoes, sliced red onions, horseradish pickles and bibb lettuce. House-cured pancetta and a roasted red pepper aioli give it a little more amore. "We didn't redesign the burger," he says. "We were just really thoughtful about the ingredients that we chose." 34205 Chagrin Blvd., Moreland Hills, 216-464-3700, flourrestaurant.com

Bulgogi Burger

Much to our delight, there's some culinary wizardry taking hold within the nondescript Drink Bar and Grill cocktail lounge in Old Brooklyn. A swanky ambience sets the stage to savor the Bulgogi burger ($11), a juicy Korean-American fusion of flavors. "It's a perfect pairing of East and West," says owner Brian Ochs, whose mom, Kamio Kim, developed the recipe. The bulgogi — literally meaning "fire meat" — is one-third pounds of grilled beef reinforced with a secret marinade that includes soy sauce, ginger, sesame oil and copious amounts of fresh garlic. The marinade's caramelized sugars reveal a subtle sweet barbecue taste. The burger is topped with pickled daikon (or radish), lettuce, tomato and hoisin aioli, and arrives with fries. "My mom is somewhat of an evil genius in the kitchen," Ochs says. 4250 Pearl Road, Cleveland, 216-661-7543, drinkbarandgrill.com

Sweet Potato Quinoa Burger

Just because you're a vegetarian doesn't mean you should be limited to a black bean or chickpea patty when the craving for a burger hits. Treehugger's Cafe puts an exotic twist on meatless options with its sweet potato quinoa burger ($13.95). With a patty that's baked, not grilled, the sandwich is topped with locally grown alfalfa sprouts and house-made spicy honey mustard, and served on a pretzel bun with seasonal vegetables on the side. But it's the addition of cinnamon and curry to the sweet potato and quinoa mix that really makes the dish a standout in owner Shana Trepal's eyes. "It's like you're eating a burger with Indian spices," she says. 1330 W. Bagley Road, Berea, 440-973-4277, treehuggerscafe.com

The Horseshoe

Math may not be our strong suit, but we know 3.5 ounces of bacon in an 8-ounce Certified Angus Beef patty equals a winner. Executive chef Nicholas Pejeau buys his ground bacon from the West Side Market's D.W. Whitaker Meats and flavors the beef-bacon mix with prime rib seasoning. "Everyone loves bacon," Pejeau says. (We'd double down on that sentiment.) Then he tops it with mushrooms sauteed in Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold and cheddar cheese. The Horseshoe ($12) is earthy, juicy and worthy of a nod to Lady Luck for our culinary good fortune. "The Horseshoe [casino] is one of the biggest hits in Cleveland," says Pejeau. "So is our burger." 850 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, 216-862-6268, blackdogkitchenandbar.com

The Press burger

Rachael Spieth didn't even want a burger on the menu at Press Wine Bar. But when the owners urged her to add one to the Tremont eatery's selection of gourmet flatbreads, meat and cheese boards, and seasonal entrees, the executive chef delivered with a connoisseur's flair. "We didn't even have a kitchen," says Spieth, who tested recipes and beef blends at nearby South Side before Press opened last November. "I ate so much ground beef." Her house-secret blend for the Press Burger ($12) combines four cuts of beef and is flavorful enough to stand up to the Red Dragon cheese (a Welsh cheddar with whole-grain mustard seeds and Welsh ale), smoked tomato aioli, arugula and Vidalia onion. Juicy and delicious with a Rule 1 Cabernet Sauvignon, it's become a customer favorite. "The burger is staying forever," Spieth says. 2221 Professor Ave., Cleveland, 216-566-9463, presswinebar.com

Muffaletta Burger

Get traditional NOLA flavor with a bit of a twist. Burgers-n-Beer takes the well-known muffaletta burger ($8.95) and packs it full — literally. Co-owner Douglas Ciancibello starts with an 8-ounce Angus beef patty and stuffs it with capicola, salami, Swiss cheese and an olive spread. The burger is sandwiched between the restaurant's signature French bread and slathered in garlic Parmesan butter sauce. "What that Parmesan sauce does is enhance the meat flavor, because we add nothing to our meat," says Ciancibello. "It marries beautifully." All burgers are served a la carte, but Ciancibello recommends the French-cut sweet fries for a side. 4027 Erie St., Willoughby, 440-954-7867, burgersnbeer.com

The Cowell and Hubbard

Dynomite Burgers may be a departure from Zack Bruell's more elegant establishments, but just because you can grab a burger at the Theater District stand in less than 10 minutes doesn't mean the chef has to rush to put his own tasty twist on each one. "We don't compromise the product just because it's a fast-casual restaurant," Bruell says of the stand, which opened its windows in August. Our favorite is the Cowell and Hubbard Burger ($8) — a delicious choice topped with a pleasingly overflowing pile of fontina, caramelized onions, smoked paprika mayo and sherry vinegar — equal parts savory and special. "It's the onions," reveals Bruell. Caramelized with a list of ingredients the chef won't divulge, the onions burst with a sweet, tangy flavor that tempers the patty's beef brisket and chuck blend. 1302 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, 216-298-4077, dynomitecleveland.com

Balsamic Bleu Burger

You won't be singing the blues after chowing down on this burger. An ode to one of our favorite cheeses, Bar 145's Balsamic Bleu Burger ($11) loads up crisp baby arugula, shaved carrots and plenty of hand-crumbled Stella blue cheese. But there's one ingredient that might have the stinky cheese fighting for our affections — a sweet house-made balsamic glaze that's thick enough to resemble mayo. "We make a reduction out of balsamic vinegar by boiling it and letting it simmer until all the sweetness is left and the strong vinegar bite is out of it," says executive chef Bill Johnson. Served on a pretzel bun with a side of truffle fries, this burger is a keeper. 100 E. Erie St., Kent, 330-968-6201, bar145kent.com

Burntwood Burger

Everything about Burntwood Tavern says trendy rustic, from its reclaimed barnwood decor to its signature Burntwood Burger ($12). Topped with American cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, a fried egg and crispy hash browns, this hearty marriage of two American favorites would be just as comforting at
9 a.m. as 9 p.m. But while you might think you want to keep some separation between breakfast and dinner, the unexpected crunch of the hash brown will make you a believer. "We use great ingredients and treat them well," says regional managing partner Ian Hopkins of the entree that can be found at all five locations. "All we add is salt and pepper." Various locations, burntwoodtavern.com

One Red Door Burger

We could have picked any of the delicious burgers at Shawn Monday's casual Flip Side burger joints. But the One Red Door Burger ($10) is special: It's only available locally at the Flip Side in Chagrin Falls. Like its name suggests, the special beef blend patty was originally conceived (and is still on the menu) at Monday's One Red Door in Hudson, and marries Brie, shallots and aioli made with dates and applewood-smoked bacon on a house-made brioche-style bun. "I was trying to have a great balance of flavor — sweet, smoky and richness," says Monday. "Then you add the crispy shallots, which gives it a nice contrasting texture." 44 N. Main St., Chagrin Falls, 440-600-7274, flipsideburger.com

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