Tier One. This is the highest rank, so a Tier One burger must be a very good exemplification of everything a great burger should be. The meat should be hot, juicy, and fresh tasting. Condiments should be interesting and also fresh. The bun should be soft. Overall, the ingredients should work together to provide a great experience.
Tier Two. A great burger experience, but just not quite at the level of a Tier One.
Tier Three. An enjoyable burger that feeds the need, but isn't the date you want to be seen with at prom.
So, here are some of my thoughts on what is fitting into the various categories here in our fair city.
I definitely have to put Taphouse 41 on this list. This is one of the new offerings in the space formerly occupied by Champps and brought to us by the group that owns Minerva's. However, if you are expecting the same offerings you get at 11th and Phillips or any of the outposts, you won't find them. Small place, maybe 40-ish seats. The menu is burgers (including a chicken and vegetable option) and sides. Period. Lots of different bourbons to try and a nice craft beer list, but not as extensive as JL Beers. The burgers are fresh, well-seasoned, and cooked on a flat top, so you get delicious charred edges. The toppings are sublime, and include offerings like sunny side up eggs, house made pickles, and a house made onion jam. Seriously inventive, well thought out, and extremely well executed. On a quick note, I absolutely have to hand it to the folks who started with Minerva's and turned it into an empire. Taphouse 41 really shows what these guys can do and I am looking forward to more.
JL Beers gets a Tier One nod. Although these aren't the biggest burgers in town, and they do not have the chef-inspired spins and presentation that you will find at Taphouse 41, JL offers a damned find burger, Vincent. The ingredients are always fresh and the buns are like pillows. I would like to see more specials and I would love to see a runny yolk, but these are consistently tasty burgers.
Little Coalinga. If you find this an odd choice, you just haven't been there. The burgers are always hot and tasty. There are some inventive options on the menu like the jalapeno burger. On the side, Jane and Jean produce what have to be some of the best french fries in town. I realize the fries are some sort of frozen product cooked in a fryolator, but I think they are always just right. That marvelous dive bar atmosphere must be the secret.
First, a choice you might not have heard of or considered: Pomegranate Market. Turns out there is a little bistro over on the south side of the store. They have a salad bar and a counter where they offer fresh foods like salads, sandwiches, and even burgers. Granted they are organic buffalo or goat burgers, but they are delish. The best part of the burgers are the buns. These are a special recipe Pomegranate has their friends at Great Harvest bake for them. Last time I checked, you couldn't buy these special buns to take home.
Gateway Lounge. The Gateway makes an awesome burger, specifically the Monster Burger. A really nice combination of a flat-topped burger with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, lettuce and secret sauce. The SSS tells me the fries are good. I wouldn't know. I always order tots. TOTS!!
The Attic makes a pretty respectable burger. These are thick, half-pound patties, which are cooked done. I like the Basic Attic burger with cheese, and then lettuce and tomato, Heinz 57 and french fried potatoes, a big kosher pickle and a cold draft beer. But, another great option is the Old Smoky with fried onions and barbecue sauce.
I also enjoy a good burger at McNally's from time-to-time. As a matter of fact, I had one of my all time favorite burgers in Sioux Falls at McNally's when they had a super awesome lamb burger. And then they forked it up. Still good burgers though, and the best pull of Guinness in town doesn't hurt.
Oggie's over in Tea has some interesting burger choices. I've generally enjoyed my sojourns over there for a burger.
Believe it or not, I have to put a local Burger King on the list-- specifically the one on North Minnesota Avenue and West Russell. Every once in a while, I get a powerful hankering for a Whopper with Cheese and that location kicks out good product.
I am giving Granite City a Tier Three rating, only because they should be a Tier Two burger, but instead decided to start making "improvements" to their menu, which at one time included pretty respectable burgers. Past tense. Most notable fork up was switching out their barbecue sauce on the Bedda Chedda. Pay attention, Granite City. Champps used to be all the rage and then sort of fizzled and slipped into total suckage. You folks are showing the same symptoms.
Five Guys. I just don't get this place. What's the huge attraction? Sure, the burgers are fairly well-made and juicy. But the fries suck, and what could be a better burger suffers from total overkill. I get the same sick, dirty feeling after eating here that I feel after having two glazed donuts.