Burger Jones, Five Guys, Smashburger

The Twin Cities can has cheezburger?

If you think a burger's just a ground-beef patty slapped between bun halves, you probably don't live in Minnesota. Here we take our burgers as seriously as Easterners do their pastrami and Southerners do their barbecue. We can probably blame this fixation on the brevity of our summers. When the weather turns warm enough to enjoy without extreme bundling, we do everything we possibly can outside, including eating and cooking. So as soon as the snow melts, and often before, we dust off our spatulas and fire up the grill.

Local burger connoisseurs have a collective understanding that each variable—meat type, grind, seasoning, and cooking method, for starters—clearly differentiates the beefy best from their ho-hum brethren. And many of us believe the greatest burger of all is the one you grill yourself. So if a restaurant plans to lure us from our backyards, parks, and patios, it had better be prepared to bring it.

And they have. Dining out around Minnesota, you'll find burgers in nearly every possible variation: patties plain and fancy; made from ground chuck or steak, Angus or Kobe; grilled, griddled, or broiled. In some rural locales, they still serve the meat crumbled, like sauce-less Sloppy Joes. You'll find burgers topped with peanut butter or miso/caramel-glazed bacon, and dozens of iterations on the burger's single greatest innovation since its invention: the cheese-stuffed Jucy Lucy.

Sonic
Nick Vlcek
Sonic
Five Guys
Nick Vlcek
Five Guys

Location Info

Map

Sonic

1960 Suburban Ave.
Maplewood, MN 55119

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Maplewood

Five Guys Burgers and Fries

3873 Gallagher Drive
Edina, MN 55435

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Edina

American Burger Bar

354 N. Wabasha St.
St. Paul, MN 55101

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: St. Paul (Downtown)

Burger Jones

3200 W. Lake St.
Minneapolis, MN 55416

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Golden Valley

Smashburger

3900 Silver Lake Road NE
Columbia Heights, MN 55421

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Columbia Heights

Vincent - A Restaurant

1100 Nicollet Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Category: Restaurant > French

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

Chef Shack

Mill City Farmers Market, 704 S. Second St.
Minneapolis, MN 55401

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

The Blue Door Pub

1811 Selby Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55104

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Macalester/Groveland

Matt's Bar

3500 Cedar Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55407

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Powderhorn

Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant

1010 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

Convention Grill & Fountain

3912 Sunnyside Road
Edina, MN 55424

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Edina

Bulldog NE

401 E. Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55414

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: University

Cafe and Bar Lurcat

1624 Harmon Place
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Category: Restaurant > Seafood

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

Town Talk Diner

2707 1/2 E. Lake St.
Minneapolis, MN 55406

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Seward/ Longfellow/ Minnehaha

Barbette

1600 W. Lake St.
Minneapolis, MN 55408

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Uptown/ Eat Street

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We may never know which Minneapolis eatery deserves credit—Matt's Bar or the 5-8 Club both claim the honors—but the deliciously melty, protein-packed duo is a true Minnesota original. In fact, the gourmet Lucy from Vincent Restaurant, which is stuffed with braised short-rib meat and smoked Gouda, was chosen to represent Minnesota in Food Network Magazine's recent feature on the country's 50 best burgers. Compared to Montana's cheeseburger deluxe (snooze!) or Mississippi's Slugburgers (stretched with pork and soybean fillers?), it seems the burger fairies have spoiled us rotten.

Despite the already competitive market, the Twin Cities have recently experienced a veritable burger boom, with three chains (Sonic, Five Guys, and Smashburger) and two independents (Burger Jones and American Burger Bar) attracting the most attention. And we've been judging them by a strict rubric: A great burger starts with never-frozen meat, preferably shaped by hand, not machine. The patty should have robust flavor, tender texture, and a touch of crispy char. And it's always served on a fresh-baked bun—oh, and a side of excellent fries or a creamy milkshake doesn't hurt, either. The newcomers had their work cut out for them.

SONIC
1960 Suburban Ave., St. Paul (among others)
651.379.9898
www.sonicdrivein.com

The 50-year-old, Oklahoma-based fast-food company Sonic opened its first Minnesota outpost last summer and quickly swelled its local ranks to five (a sixth franchise is scheduled to open in a few weeks). But while Sonic may be the country's largest drive-in chain, its burgers really aren't worth the bother. The basic Sonic Burger seems largely indistinguishable from those served at McDonald's—even with lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise on top, the patty still tasted like soggy cardboard. I also tried a Bacon Cheeseburger Toaster, but even two slices of Texas toast couldn't make up for the boring patty. Sure, it's a novelty to have your food delivered by a guy on rollerblades, but I've never understood the appeal of eating in a stationary car. (First off, the spilling. Second, if you're looking for privacy, take your food home.) Sonic's real draw is its drinks—an amazing array of slushes, malts, and icy-creamy combos that marry the two, including the drinkable creamsicle, Orange CreamSlush. Now you know why Sonic trademarked the phrase "Your Ultimate Drink Stop," not "Your Ultimate Burger Stop."

FIVE GUYS
3871 Gallagher Dr., Edina
952.893.5489
www.fiveguys.com

This Virginia-based chain founded by Janie and Jerry Murrell and their four sons (hence the name, Five Guys) keeps things simple with its short, focused menu and no-frills ambiance. Its first Minnesota franchise feels a bit low-brow for its Edina commercial park digs, just off France Avenue near 72nd Street. Without its red-and-white light fixtures and tile walls, it might almost be mistaken for a warehouse. The ordering line is divided from the dining area by a wall of 50-pound potato sacks and big boxes of peanuts (diners are encouraged to help themselves and throw the shells on the floor). When I visited Five Guys, a Minnetonka youth baseball team took over several tables, and one of the dads tossed peanuts to a kid who caught them in his mouth, trained seal-style. Sure, the atmosphere was a bit circus-like, but I didn't mind. I'd just overheard another customer say she thought the burgers were better than those at the West Coast burger champ, In-N-Out. Could Five Guys really top a Double-Double, Animal-Style?

At Five Guys, two patties come standard on a "regular" burger ("small" indicates just one, though nothing on the menu seems to suggest this). The cooks stand over the grill and flip the burgers, flattening them with a tool that looks like a finishing trowel. The meat stays moist and has a straightforward, beefy flavor, which is unfortunately overshadowed by a mediocre, smooshy bun. Another downside: Five Guys only offers American cheese, a pet peeve of mine. (To me, the salty, plastic stuff places a distant third even to its ultra-processed counterparts, Velveeta and Cheez Whiz.) But Five Guys' skin-on fries are superb and abundant—a small order could easily satisfy four.

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