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Charlotte’s Growing Burger Scene

With so many great burger places around the Queen City, someone had to try out some of the best places to let you know where you can get your next scrumptious burger.

If you asked a dozen Charlotteans what their favorite burger in town is, you’d get a dozen different answers. Mostly because Charlotte has a lot of great burger joints - from high-end eateries to decades-old dives and drive-ins. With help from the two guys behind the Charlotte Burger Blog (Hereford and Angus), we set out on a mission to discover some of the tastiest burgers in the city. Join us on our journey to uncover 16 burgers in Charlotte with some of the best ingredients that can fit between two buns.

While so many of the innovative and exciting burger places in Charlotte have been founded in the past 10 years, there are also some amazing burgers and burger joints that have been around forever.

The Super Boy at South 21 Drive-In

South 21 doesn’t have to put up old stuff to be retro; they just have to not take stuff down. Its original location on Independence Boulevard has been serving more than 20,000 meals a month since 1955. Since then, additional locations that are independently owned and operated have opened in Matthews and on Highway 29 and Highway 16 in Charlotte. The Super Boy is their most iconic burger. It comes with simple toppings including lettuce, tomato, mustard and onion (of course, you can take or leave any ingredients you would like or add cheese to make it a jumbo cheeseburger). When it was featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” in 2009, Guy Fieri “beefed up” his super boy by getting it Carolina style with chili and a tangy slaw on top. No matter what toppings you choose, the beef has that great griddle flavor, and the ingredients are fresh. The super boy has become the standard by which Hereford and Angus from the Charlotte Burger Blog compare every other greasy burger in Charlotte to.

The Cheeseburger “All The Way” at Brooks’ Sandwich House

Brooks’ Sandwich House is legendary among Charlotte restaurants. Since opening in 1973 in NoDa, it’s earned the reputation of serving high quality burgers at jaw-dropping low prices. It’s been called the best burger in Charlotte on many occasions and has been featured on the Travel Channel’s “Burger Land.” Owned and operated by identical twin brothers David and Scott Brooks, this small burger joint is the same as it was when their father opened it more than 40 years ago; the only thing that has changed is the color of the building. Brooks’ is open weekdays from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. for breakfast and lunch (the breakfast is definitely worth checking out too). It’s located on North Brevard Street in NoDa. If you have trouble finding it, just look for the small red building with the line outside the door. Don’t forget to hit up the ATM before you go; they accept cash only. Once you get there, plan to wait outside until there is room to walk in to order at the counter, and then head back out to wait for your number to be called. There is a tall, long picnic table outside where patrons can enjoy their burger or they can take it to-go. To have the classic Brooks’ experience, order the burger ($3.50) or cheeseburger ($3.75) “all the way” with mustard, onions and homemade chili – the three simple and unwavering ingredients that have made Brooks’ a must-try burger joint in Charlotte.

The Zack’s Special at Zack’s Hamburgers

Named after the original owner’s youngest son, Zack’s Hamburgers is a family-run, walk-up food joint that has become a Charlotte staple since opening in 1975. The building located on South Boulevard was originally Bell’s Burgers that opened in the early 1960s and then Big-E Hamburgers in the late 1960s. Zack’s hasn’t changed much since they opened, which gives it much of its charm. Using the same recipe since they opened, the go-to burger here is the Zack’s special, which is a double cheeseburger with two ground beef patties with double American cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, Duke’s mayonnaise and special sauce (Zack’s own variety of a thousand island) on a toasted bun served with French fries.

Some burger places have taken flavors and styles from two different continents to create fascinating and delicious burger creations.

The MKG (Motor Keeps Going) Burger at The Cowfish

The Cowfish opened in 2010 by SouthPark Mall fusing two niche products seamlessly – sushi and burgers. This restaurant has become the Charlotte gold standard in playful and popular restaurants (there is almost always a wait at this beloved eatery). From their two TVs by the bar – one showing westerns and one showing Japanese monster movies – to the fun western and Japanese language recordings in the bathrooms to the food itself, Cowfish is innovative and witty. With a great burger menu and equally great sushi menu, you can’t go wrong here. One of the most popular (and Charlotte-centric) burgers on the menu is the MKG (motor keeps going) burger that was specially created by the NBA Charlotte Hornets’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The juicy dish includes a 1/2-pound turkey burger, raclette cheese, hot pepper jelly, fried leeks, spinach and mayo on a sesame bun with a choice of side. Add on some sushi on the side to complete the meal. For the more adventurous types, don’t miss out on one of The Cowfish’s most unique offerings – “burgushi,” which is the cutting-edge fusion of burgers and sushi in one dish. The best optionfor the Cowfish newbies is the ultimate “brento” bento box, which is a combo meal featuring a double-stacked version of the mini-burger of the week, sweet potato fries, Thai cucumbers, edamame and a choice of a four-piece premium fusion specialty roll.

The Ding Dong Style Burger at Pinky’s Westside Grill

Pinky’s Westside Grill was founded on the west side of Charlotte by Greg Auten (formerly of the Penguin in Plaza Midwood) in 2010. Converted from an old garage called Triple G Automotive, and still featuring an old VW bug on the roof, Pinky’s has a funky, mashed-up style – both in décor and menu options. A second location opened in Huntersville in 2013. One of the most funky menu items they feature is called the ding dong style burger, which includes crunchy peanut butter, honey-cilantro slaw and hot Sriracha sauce atop a burger of your choice. The peanut and spice give the burger its Thai characteristics but when combined with the sweet honey, it creates an explosion on the taste buds. The sweet and the spicy play well off each other, and the slaw provides an additional sweetness and crunch. And to top it off, you get to snicker when the server comes to your table and says, “Who has the large ding dong?”

Many think of burgers in their simplest form – meat, cheese and toppings slathered on a bun. While many Charlotte staples have found an art form using traditional ingredients, other Charlotte eateries are taking it to the next level with complex flavors and calculated burger creations.

The Southern Prime Crunch Burger at The Liberty

Located in the heart of South End on South Boulevard, The Liberty opened in 2009 as Charlotte’s first gastropub serving high-quality food and drink. When they opened, their goal wasn’t to be the best burger joint in town, but in 2011 when they tied with Brooks’ Sandwich House as the best burger in the Charlotte Observer Burger Bracket, they were proud of the accolade and continue to identify with it to this day with the large sign outside that says “Best Burger in Charlotte.” With so many great burger restaurants in Charlotte, it’s a tall claim, but no burger aficionado in this town should overlook The Liberty. The must-try burger here is the southern prime crunch burger, which is served on a toasted brioche bun with the burger patty, herb aioli, crisp lettuce, tomato, pimento cheese, jalapeño bacon, onions and hand-cut chips. It’s amazingly juicy (with a bun that can stand up to that juiciness), and the spicy and gooey pimento cheese really adds the burst of flavor that makes this burger a favorite. The homemade chips on the burger add a crunch that just puts the burger on a whole another level.

The B&G Burger at Block &Grinder

Before opening Block & Grinder in 2013, owner Jed Kamp ran the New York Butcher Shop off of Selwyn Avenue. He decided that he wanted to run a business with a little more freedom so he created Block & Grinder, which incorporated a butcher shop into a restaurant allowing him to create true “butcher block to grinder” steak burgers. This farm-to-table concept extends to other items on the menu as well including all natural beef, wild game, pork and chicken as well as local produce, artisan cheeses and bread. While the menu has many upscale options, the burgers have a deceptive simplicity. There aren’t a lot of ingredients in them, yet their flavor is complex. The signature burger is the B&G burger made with local Salem Hills farm beef grind served on a toasted brioche bun. The burger comes plain, but you can add whatever toppings you would like such as house-cured maple bacon, cheddar, gruyere, gorgonzola or pimento cheese, fried duck egg, shiitake mushrooms and more. Block & Grinder is one of the premier restaurants in Charlotte that can accurately cook a burger to the exact temperature that you order. Charlotte still lives sometimes in the shadow of a former law that made rare and medium-rare burgers illegal. Even some of the great places will cook your burger a step above what you order, but you’ll never experience that at Block & Grinder.

Some of the most amazing burgers in Charlotte are being served up street side in food trucks. You don’t have to look too hard to find a great meal on wheels in the Queen City.

The Adam Burger at Auto Burger & The Fry Guys

Auto Burger & The Fry Guys is the brainchild of two guys (Andrew Lackey and Erik Hendrickson) in a 1981 Ford E-350 Step Van, who have been serving amazing burgers with fresh ingredients and surprising combinations since 2012. We found them parked by NoDa Brewing Company for one of the Wednesday run clubs (although you can find them at Food Truck Friday in South End most weekends and around town for lunch most weekdays), and that’s when we discovered the Adam burger. This amazing ground turkey burger is topped with sautéed spinach, a five-cheese blend, a “made-in-truck” balsamic raspberry aioli and bacon. The bacon seemed like it was straight from the butcher and was cooked to the perfect crispiness level. The cheese blend included goat cheese, bleu cheese, Monterrey Jack, parmesan and cream cheese. The raspberry aioli and bleu cheese were an interesting but satisfying blend.

The Pork Belly Patty Melt Burger at Masterbacon: Bacon Response Unit

Masterbacon is a food truck based out of Concord that focuses on the candy of all meats: bacon. Nearly everything they serve on their inventive and ever-changing menu uses bacon as an all important ingredient. One of their most popular offerings is the pork belly patty melt burger, which is the merging of two sandwiches on their regular menu – the belly damgoud grilled cheese and the Angus bacon burger. The pork belly patty melt features smoked pulled pork belly, gouda cheese spread and crispy bacon (the belly damgoud grilled cheese) with a ground short rib and chuck angus patty (the angus bacon burger) all between two pieces of buttery sourdough bread. The pork belly patty melt is just one of the many interesting creations you can find at Masterbacon. They’ve been known to use bacon where bacon’s never gone before like in bacon wrapped lobster rolls, bacon ice cream, baconpancakes and bacon fried cheesecake. You’ll find them at Cabarrus County Food Truck Friday most weekends and around town in Concord and Charlotte throughout the week. And follow them on Facebook to stay updated with their next bacon-themed adventure – Crispy’s Bar and Grill (coming soon).

 For those of you craving a late-night snack, head to these after-hours burger joints for a tasty treat before you head to bed.

The Sleeper Burger at Mattie’s Diner

The beloved 24-hour silver and red diner at NC Music Factory dates back to the 1948, when it was originally manufactured by Fodero Dining Car Company in Newark, New Jersey. When it was completed, it was installed in Cranford, New Jersey, and then moved to Bound Brook, New Jersey, where it became the Bound Brook Diner. It was there until 1999. In the early 2000s, Matt King and Steve Estes decided to move the historic diner to Charlotte and spend nearly a decade restoring it. It opened in 2010 at the NC Music Factory as Mattie’s Diner. In addition to the building’s unique history, one of the coolest things about Mattie’s is that they’ll cook almost anything you want even if it’s not on the menu. If you want a burger with a French toast bun, just ask and they’ll make it as long as they have the ingredients. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t order from the menu, which offers amazing options as well, but so many customers have asked for strange requests from the crew at Mattie’s over the years that there is a “secret” menu of amazing combinations. A favorite from that list is the sleeper, an 8-ounce burger patty, tater tots, mac ‘n’ cheese, jalapeños, American cheese, homemade Cheerwine-based barbecue sauce and bacon. You may be thinking there is no way that all of these ingredients can all work together, but they do. Also, as the name states, you’ll be ready for bed or a nap after eating.

The Full Blown Hemi Burger at the Diamond Restaurant

Since 1945, the Diamond has been a staple in in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood. It started as the Diamond Soda Grill, a community restaurant serving up southern staples and hospitality by the James family, before it was sold to a Greek owner Gerry Pistiolis in 1984. Postiolis kept the ol’ home cooking concept of the restaurant alive for years. In its most recent reincarnation as the Diamond Restaurant, which opened in 2011, the owners, who came from the former rendition of the Penguin, paid homage to the Diamond’s culinary history and 1950s décor while also incorporating many elements from the former Penguin menu including the classic burgers. The godfather of burgers here is the full blown hemi, which is made up of three patties totaling a pound of meat. Try it southern style with chili, mustard, onions and coleslaw. Add cheese and bacon to go all the way. The best part is they’re open until 4 a.m. on the weekends so you can get the juicy burger to satisfy your late-night hunger.

After your late night expeditions, stop by these Charlotte burger restaurants to help soak up the fun you had the night before.

The Hangover Burger at Bang Bang Burgers

Recently named “Charlotte’s Best Burger” by Creative Loafing at the first annual Charlotte Moo & Brew Festival, Bang Bang Burgers is a newcomer to the Charlotte burger scene having just arrived in the Elizabeth neighborhood in 2013. Owner Joseph Huang (originally from Taiwan but raised in the U.S.), brings creative concepts to the menu including Asian-style items like the cheeseburger eggroll to quintessential American burgers like the popular hangover burger as well as new experimental burgersfeatured each week. As one of their bestsellers, the hangover burger starts with a solid foundation of high-quality Black Angus short rib and chuck produced by New York City’s own Pat La Frieda that is then topped with ingredients sure to soak up any alcohol left from last night including cheddar cheese, a fried egg, grilled onions, potato bacon hash and Bangburger sauce allstuffed in between a freshly baked brioche bun produced by Dukes Bread in Charlotte. The meat at Bang Bang Burgers is always cooked to a temperature of medium unless otherwise requested, which gives it just the right level of flavor, tenderness and juiciness. Do yourself a favor, and check out the new kids on the block!

The Kickstand Burger at Kickstand Burgers-N-Bar

Since 2010, Kickstand Burgers- N-Bar has been making a name for itself in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood in Charlotte by serving up gourmet burgers and a wide selection of craft beer. As it is aptly named, Kickstand has a cycling theme (nice since Charlotte’s cycling community is so strong) with menu items like the cross country burger, the trek and the morning ride as well as their signature burger the kickstand. The kickstand is served with a freshly ground custom beef blend  topped with sundried tomatoes, onions, basil, garlic, cranberry chutney, caramelized onions and baked brie (lettuce and tomato available upon request). Finish it off with fries, tots or Kickstand’s popular fried pickles. You may feel like going for a bike ride after eating this yummy burger. One of our favorite things about Kickstand is that they also serve the booty burger that was created with the help of the crew from 24 Hours of Booty, a 24-hour cycling event that raises funds for cancer research. All year-round, $1 for every booty burger sold supports 24 Hours of Booty charities.

Bacon Cheeseburger on Steroids at Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar

The homegrown burger joint Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar originated in Charlotte’s Dilworth neighborhood in 2007, but the chain now has more than a dozen locations with plans to open more. Despite its growth, Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar continues to win the hearts and appetites of Charlotteans with signature burgers like the bacon cheeseburger on steroids. With bacon mentioned four times in the description on the menu (bacon lovers rejoice!), the bacon cheeseburger on steroids is sure to make a great hangover remedy. The upscale burger is seasoned with bacon salt and topped with three pieces of jalapeño bacon, three pieces of applewood smoked bacon, Monterey Jack cheese, housemade bacon mayo, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, onion and pickles served with a side (try the hand-cut fries). With all that bacon, there’s no need for breakfast. Just come at lunch, and you’ll get two meals in one.

Beyond the traditional beef and turkey burgers, there are a handful of Charlotte  restaurants serving up delicious veggie options that will tempt vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike.

Crispy Beet Burger at Nan & Byron’s

Featuring American cuisine with a southern twist, the concept for Nan and Byron’s came from Grant Wood’s well-known 1930 “American Gothic” painting of the man and woman (Nan and Byron) holding a pitchfork in front of a farm. From the creators of 5Church, the concept is a bit different but the quality and creativity of menu options is just as exquisite. While burgers aren’t the focus of the menu at Nan and Byron’s, they definitely shouldn’t be overlooked. Guests can build their own beef burger or try a vegetarian option like the grilled Portobello burger or our pick: the crispy beet burger. The fried beet slices are the show stealer on this burger that’s dressed with Boursin cheese, arugula red onions and avocado. You won’t be expecting the flavors to work so well together, but they do, and they may just make you reconsider ordering your next burger with meat. Vegetarian or not, you need to try this burger.

The Fire & Brimstone Burger at Luna’s Living Kitchen

Centered on the art of nourishment, Luna’s Living Kitchen in Atherton Mill in South End specializes in the art of living foods with a focus on raw, vegan, organic and plant-based cuisine. Seasonal produce is purchased multiple times a week from localfarmers ensuring the freshest ingredients are always used. With three “burgers” (none actually have meat) on their menu, Luna’s is the place to go to for local fresh flavors like you’ve never experienced. Try the fire & brimstone burger for a fresh but fiery flavor. The gluten-free quinoa-millet veggie burger is spiced with chipotle sunflower hummus, onions, cucumber, guacamole and a homemade hot sauce and served in your choice of bread or wrapped in a collard green leaf with one side item. Add on a smoothie or juice for an extra burst of energy. Who knew eating a burger could feel so good?

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The Charlotte Burger Blog consist of two guys, Hereford and Angus, who are on a relentless quest to eat burgers at every place they’re served in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the surrounding area. For more insight on burgers in the Queen City and the crazy guys that review them, head over to the Charlotte Burger Blog at charlotteburgerblog.com Learn more about the Charlotte food scene at charlottesgotalot.com