The #1 Burger To Order at Every Major Dine-In Chain, According to Chefs
Much like most omnivorous American diners, chefs love a good burger. Be it a steakhouse or a fast-food drive-thru, chefs love all different kinds of destinations when cravings hit. While fast-food chains are a frequent go-to for comfort food cravings, the same is true of dine-in chains that happen to make a mean burger.
We already told you which chains chefs turn to for tacos, Italian food, and fried chicken—and when it comes to burgers, sometimes they opt for something a little more full-fledged, and full-service, than your standard fast-food fixture. And when it comes to optimal burger orders at full-service restaurant chains, these are the ones that reign supreme.
There's a lot to love about Red Robin, from the fact that the chain actually grills its burgers to its birthday freebies. It also offers fantastic value deals, and new menu items have been smash hits. Chefs definitely take notice because the burger-centric chain is a favorite among cooking experts.
According to chef Michael DeLone, owner of Nunzios in New Jersey, his favorite chain burger is the Gourmet Cheeseburger at Red Robin. Topped with tried-and-true additions like relish, red onion, mayo, cheddar cheese, and lettuce ("shredded, because there isn't any room for leaf lettuce on a burger"), it's a classic that doesn't get old. He notes that you can swap out the patty for Impossible burgers, chicken breast, or turkey, and customize with whatever cheese you'd like, but he's a purist who sticks with beef and cheddar. "Despite the extensive menu options, I never stray from ordering it,' he says, even going so far as to reverse engineer the chain's pickle relish so he could recreate it and keep a jar in his fridge at home.
Norah Clark is another Red Robin fan. An experienced chef with widespread stints at places like The Ritz Carlton in Orlando, she says she's always had a soft spot for a good old-fashioned burger. Chief among them, she adds, are those at Red Robin. "Their Banzai Burger, with its teriyaki-glazed patty and grilled pineapple, is a delightful twist that keeps me coming back. It's a perfect blend of savory and sweet, a testament to how creative burgers can be."
It's not all cheesecake—and low-key amazing bread—at the Cheesecake Factory. Despite the fact that this ubiquitous chain can be a dietitian's nightmare, there's certainly no shortage of enticing menu options to choose from. This includes burgers, which are a go-to for Rafael Gonzales, executive chef of the JW Marriott Houston Downtown. "When going to the mall or movies, we end up at Cheesecake Factory," he says. "It has something for everyone. When I go I only order two things: the BBQ Ranch Chicken Salad and Bacon-Bacon Burger."
Of the latter, Gonzales praises the extra-meaty burger for its texture and flavor. "The burger is cooked well and the bacon is not crispy (not a fan of very crispy bacon), but seared, juicy and has flavor." As tasty as it is, though, he suggests splitting it with someone, since the portions are decidedly not small, and he likes to leave space for cheesecake.
Considering its penchant for other meaty comfort foods, like fajitas and steaks, Chili's is a clear staple when it comes to burgers as well. It's the top choice for Adam Polisei, executive chef of Union New American in Tampa, which is really saying something considering he describes himself as "pretty serious about the almighty cheeseburger."
"I am a fresh-ground smash burger snob, but there are a couple of options that have remained on my list of places where I get a burger when I'm out," he says, citing the Big Mouth Bites at Chili's as his number one. "A super soft bun, bacon, sautéed onions, and ranch dipping sauce with a giant ice-cold beer. There was a Chili's in the same parking lot as the apartment complex that I lived in when I was a young sous chef and had just met my wife. Now, Chili's is my go-to whenever I travel and need a quick bite in the airport."
While most customers flock to Denny's for breakfast at all hours of the day, some opt for burgers. Just ask Rick Mace, owner and executive chef of Tropical Smokehouse in West Palm Beach, who loves the chain for its unique diner-style take on the classic order.
"One thing that I look for on restaurant menus is a classic patty melt," he notes. "This diner staple can still be found today in places like Denny's, that have flat grills and always keep rye bread handy." He describes the "mid-century" burger as a beauty of griddled rye, sweet caramelized onions, and melted Swiss cheese wrapped around a well-seasoned patty. "While some may argue that the patty melt is a sandwich, not a burger, for me, it is both, but definitely a burger at heart."