Band Box Diner’s burger and hand-cut fries Photo by Tony Nelson

Top 10 under-the-radar burgers you need to try

We’ve become burger obsessives here in the Twin Cities. And it makes sense. A burger is arguably the most satisfying meal you can get for the least money.

Most savvy chefs have at least one on their menu, because people want them, and they sell. But cheffed-up burgers tend to get all the press for what was once the humblest of meals. A $15 price tag has become the norm.

Presenting 10 lesser-known burgers at lower price points, with flavor and presentation that sail sky-high.

10. Firelake

However you feel about Firelake and their sometimes-forced branding of “Minnesota” cooking, you should know that they do wonderful things with burgers. Truly wonderful, excellent things.

Push aside “Lena’s Meatballs” in favor of a buffalo burger with caramelized onions and local AmaBlu cheese, or the Backyard Cheeseburger with local beef, white cheddar, and pickles. Always cooked to medium-rare perfection, always served with hand-cut fries.

Peppers and Fries’ burger

Peppers and Fries’ burger

Mall of America
2100 Killebrew Dr., Bloomington

Downtown Minneapolis
31 S. Seventh St., Minneapolis

9. Burger Burger

Imagine our surprise when Burger Burger, the Shake Shack copycat in the Mall of America, turned out to be righteously and truly good. Their claims of grinding meat daily (the key factor in burger greatness) are buoyed by a transparent window out front. See? A guy is grinding the meat.

Go and be presented with the elegant integrity of the modern fast-casual burger: Hot, juicy, with white American cheese dripping ostentatiously, it comes medium rare on the perfect squishy bun. And now that Shake Shack has finally arrived, we actually have a tough time choosing between the two. When in doubt, know this: Burger Burger’s is cheaper.

Mall of America
321 South Ave., Bloomington

8. Sandy’s Tavern

A cross between a bar and your weird uncle’s rumpus room, Sandy’s Tavern on the Richfield stretch of Penn is like a home away from home — and the burgers are surprisingly juicy, simple, and high quality. The TV will probably be blasting, and you’ll have to enjoy a game of pool because the table is smack in the middle of the room. But fork over a mere five bucks or so for a surprisingly good bite (fries extra), and you might find yourself leaving home a little more often.

6612 Penn Ave. S., Richfield

7. Peppers and Fries

It’s true that lots of people know about this quiet Lake Street sleeper, but too many don’t, so we’re here to beat the drum a little louder. Peppers and Fries is a bona fide neighborhood hang, where everyone is welcome, including the kids. The sports memorabilia decor leaves a little something to be desired atmosphere-wise, but you’ll forget all about it once you bite. These are your dad’s burgers — no tomato jam, crispy shallots, or curry ketchup here. This is the kind of place where you talk to your buddy about the game or politics, and not about the food, but then you’ll get in the car and say, “Damn. That was a really good burger.”

3900 E. Lake St., Minneapolis

6. Kelly’s Depot Bar

“My dad’s sitting at the end of the bar and my mom just ran out for something,” our bartender tells us from her post at Kelly’s Depot. This family-owned Lowertown Irish drinking institution has been around since long before this stretch of downtown was any sort of destination.

We like Kelly’s for its everyday vibe, free parking, and behind-the-bar grill. They put out an impressive number of dishes from that flattop, but the gods intended you to order a burger, and this is as straightforward a bar burger as one can get — prodigiously juicy, griddled bun, unmistakable flattop seasoning, your choice of grilled or raw onions. It’s so classic the basket liner runs with grease when you’re done.

241 E. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul

5. Hi-Lo Diner

We have said that if Hi-Lo Diner did nothing more than serve burgers and fries, it could make a successful go of it. Our favorite bite to date at the stunning old-now-new deco diner has been the house-ground “diner beef blend” burger, with pickles, American cheese, and secret sauce.

Charmingly presented in a neat, paper-lined basket on a glossy, buttered, and grilled bun, this burger is just as good as any of today’s premium fast-casual famous national brands (In-N-Out, Shake Shack, etc.). They’re available in single- or double-patty iterations and served with the first crinkle-cut fry we’ve ever truly loved.

4020 E. Lake St., Minneapolis

4. Lowry Hill Meats

At first glance, you might think that the Wednesday-only quarter pounder at Lowry Hill Meats is some marketing gimmick designed to have you chasing your tail and wondering if it’s Wednesday yet. But this butcher shop takes delivery of just one steer a week, which means their ground beef stock is limited. Think about that. Limited ground beef. Here, that ingredient isn’t just some gross throwaway. This burger is treated like the specialty it is, served with house-made pickles, house-made American cheese, a pork fat bun, a slice of ripe tomato, and good lettuce.

If it’s not Wednesday, buy a pound of ground beef and make a burger at home. You’ll marvel at your new burger-making skills. (The true magic is in the beef.)

1934 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis

3. Anchor Bar

The Anchor Bar gets major points for its value. Where else can you get a $5 third-pound burger? The fact that they’re served, every time, with hand-cut fries means they get further praise. Superior’s delightful dive is reason enough to take a slight detour on your way up north, at this halfway mark between the Twin Cities and the North Shore. Burgers are all cooked to medium, dripping, and straightforward, for that simple flavor you crave — or go for olive and cream cheese on the cashew burger if you’re game for something different.

413 Tower Ave., Superior, Wisconsin

2. King’s Place

For their utter commitment to burgers, King’s Place in Miesville, Minnesota (population 125) gets top honors. The no-frills burger joint near Hastings is destination-worthy from the TC, and offers 60 varieties of burgers — all very good, each falling in that sweet $5 range.

These burgers are dainty — you could easily eat two — and that’s not a bad thing because who can choose between peanut butter, bacon, and mayo, and/or coleslaw, hot dog (yup — on top), and American cheese?

14460 240th St. E., Miesville

1. Band Box Diner

Arriving on the plate like a piece of modernist art, the burger at Band Box Diner is unfettered, classic Americana, like everything else you see, feel, and taste at this real-deal diner, est. 1939. In these modern times, the stoves have been under the capable hands of one Brad Ptacek, chef, short-order cook, all-around nice guy. The burger comes on a fluffy, not squishy bun; the meat gets char from the grill — in itself a departure from the flat-top smash burgers of “now.” It’s topped with mandoline-sliced onions and tomatoes, thin enough to read the menu through, and crinkle-cut pickles. Hand-cut fries are the clincher: thin like McDonald’s, but real, like the place itself.

729 S. 10th St., Minneapolis