Burger Kings: Where Patty Meets Meat

1. market burger

The towering heap of braised short ribs, balsamic slaw, four-cheese bearnaise sauce and a beer-battered onion ring piled on top of the Heck's Cafe Market Burger ($13.50) may make it look like a fork-and-knife affair, but owner Fadi Daoud insists it's best eaten with your hands. "You have to get a little bit of everything," he says. Sides of spicy mustard sauce and green chimichurri aioli add tang, but what pleases our taste buds most is the juicy patty — a signature beef blend placed directly into a flame rather than onto a grill. "When you cook on an open flame, all of the excess fat drips out," says Daoud. "The meat juices stay within the patty." 2927 Bridge Ave., Cleveland, 216-861-5464, heckscafe.com

2. Crouching Burger, Hidden Bacon

Take one look at the Rail's upside-down cow logo, and you know you're in for a little something different. The Asian-inspired half-pound Crouching Burger, Hidden Bacon ($10.25) is a meat-lover's treat. Locally raised, hand-pulled pork tops the burger, while slabs of thick-cut bacon squeezes between the burger and bottom bun. "We have a lot of burgers on our menu, but we wanted to have one that was large and over-the-top," says owner Mike Mariola. The Asian influence comes from its crispy wontons and the restaurant's signature plum barbecue sauce. "It's a funny named burger, but a lot of people ask about it," says Mariola. 3265 W. Market St., Akron, 330-864-7245, therailburger.com

3. Fat Doug

Sometimes burgers can be a little scary, especially when you're facing down a charcuterie-inspired monstrosity such as Fat Doug ($9). This
B Spot deli on a burger, slopped with coleslaw, pastrami, Stadium Mustard and Swiss cheese, is the epitome of menacing. "It's one of those burgers that sounds like people are afraid of it," says Lauren Henn, manager of the Eton-Chagrin outpost of the Michael Symon chain. "They ask •Why all that stuff on it?' But when they have it, they love it." With palms coated in slaw juice and full stomachs, we can attest that overcoming your fear and tackling the meat-topped gargantuan is more than worthwhile. Various locations, bspotburgers.com

4. Gut Bomb burger

There are two ways to eat Local Tavern's chili-drenched Gut Bomb burger ($9.95). You can try the two-handed pickup approach — because you only live once. Or, if you want to leave with a clean shirt, we recommend the more civilized knife and fork. The meaty chili is made with molasses and wheat beer to give it a welcome tanginess, while the sweet and spicy pepper relish and cheese sauce added to the patty up the whole game — and the messy factor. After a while, the tavern fries become less of a side and more of a part of the dish. "It's sloppy," says sous chef John Hayes. "But that's one of the best parts about it." 29007 Chardon Road, Willoughby Hills, 440-943-5925; 9470 Mentor Ave., Mentor, 440-943-5926

5. The Spicy Cuban Burger

If you can't decide between pulled pork, ham or beef for dinner, then don't. The Spicy Cuban Burger ($9.95) from Fat Head's Brewery and Saloon satisfies all your carnivorous cravings — with a little added kick. A hefty helping of hand-pulled pork that's been smoked for 12 hours partners up with a burger finished with a slice of ham, Swiss, honey mustard and pickles. If that's not enough, the whole thing gets doused in the restaurant's popular Killer Sauce — each batch uses a case of habanero peppers. "There is a lot going on," says chef and owner Derek Wilson. "There is a lot of flavor in this sandwich." 24581 Lorain Road, North Olmsted, 440-801-1001, fatheadsbeercleveland.com

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