A juicy, hot, fresh fast-food burger can really hit the spot. When you get the craving for a cheeseburger, haul of fries with ketchup, and milkshake or cone, time is ticking. But what if it hits when you're in unfamiliar territory? When you need a fast-food burger, you want to ensure it's excellent.
Whether on the road or just feeling adventurous, these are the best regional burger spots to try—or even plan a road trip to check out. These might be fast-food spots, but most of them earn their stripes by using high-quality whole, fresh ingredients that make the difference from that first delicious bite to the last.
Where to find it: Wisconsin, the Midwest, and beyond
For Midwest locals, there's no better fast-food burger than the ButterBurger at Culver's—followed by an icy frozen custard, of course. Unlike those custards, the pressed-and-seared meat at this joint is never frozen. The burger is cooked to hot perfection on the grill, and these dairy experts use fresh Wisconsin butter to lightly toast the bun. That and a slice of local cheese make for one seriously perfect burger.
Where to find it: Oregon, Washington
This Pacific Northwest-based burger chain has yet to expand beyond the borders of northern Oregon and southern Washington, but in metropolitan Portland, it might as well be McDonald's. However, the beef used in these burgers had a different lifestyle than the meat Mickey D's has been known to grind. All of the red meat that Burgerville grills up is locally raised Pacific Northwest beef, and it's pasture-raised on open grasslands, grass-fed, and antibiotic- and hormone-free. Combine that with its seasonal fruit milkshakes using Oregon fruit and the Walla Walla onion rings, and you'll see why a meal at Burgerville is an Oregonian's dream.
Where to find it: California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah
Founded in the Baldwin Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, In-N-Out is today one of the most recognizable fast-food burger chains in the country. The chain's reach stretches to seven states, but whenever a burger-loving person visits its home state of California, In-N-Out is on the list.
And, yes, plenty of naysayers argue that Animal Style is overrated, but have you seen the lines at the long, winding drive-throughs? People keep lining up because every ingredient is delivered fresh every day, and the beef on that Animal Style burger is mustard-grilled for that classic, unmissable salty-tangy flavor. Plus, unlike many other fast-food joints, In-N-Out provides a working wage and benefits to all employees. It's all part of the restaurant chain's values.
Where to find it: Los Angeles
While we're on the subject of California burgers, it's time to let those of you who don't live in Los Angeles in on a little secret. That secret is HiHo Cheeseburger. The four-location mini-chain is one of the only fast-casual spots in the world where you can get a 100% grass-fed and grass-finished Wagyu burger for less than $10. Plus, the potatoes used for the french fries are non-GMO, the buns are baked from locally milled wheat daily (no preservatives added), and there's no high-fructose corn syrup in the buns, either—or in the shakes, pickles, and ketchup. As if all that wasn't enough? There's a housemade, gluten-free, vegan patty for vegetarians.
Where to find it: New Mexico, Arizona, Texas
This one stands out because the burger includes an ingredient you don't usually see on menus outside of New Mexico and Arizona: Hatch green chiles. Hatch green chiles are an essential ingredient in New Mexican cooking. They're so popular that using both varietals—red and green—is a common topping called "Christmas," whether it's on burritos, tacos, or nachos. Blake's sticks with the more traditional green chile, which is also less spicy, and smears it on the burger alongside some gooey cheese, fresh and never-frozen beef, lettuce, tomato, and all the fixings. Once you have one, you'll get the hype.
Tucker's Onion Burgers
Where to find it: Oklahoma
This one is a regional specialty to Oklahoma, but don't discount it on account of being a single-state burger chain. Both Tulsa and Oklahoma City have strong food, hotel, and art scenes. Give Oklahoma a chance on your next road trip, and swing by Tucker's to get into the onion burger thing. As the name suggests, these burgers include the restaurant's "perfectly caramelized, crispy-on-the-edges onions." That something extra has remained the star ingredient since the 1920s when onion burgers became an Oklahoma staple.
Where to find it: Michigan
Continuing the super regional focus, Halo Burger is only found in Michigan. There are just eight locations, but this brand is one to watch. Dating back to 1923, Halo is one of the oldest burger chains in the U.S., often referred to as the home to "Michigan's best burger."
The joint's original take was fresh, never-frozen beef, which comes char-grilled and served with tomatoes, lettuce, and mayonnaise. Now, it's served "the works" with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise on a fresh-baked bun. It's simple and utterly delicious. If you're feeling adventurous, go for the Olive Burger—a cheeseburger with a layer of sliced green olives. Get that and a side of the Halo tots, and you're on your way to being a native Michigander—at least for a meal.
Where to find it: Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota
Another relatively small, local chain, this one stretches to eight locations across three states. The quality of its 100% beef burgers is summed up in its slogan: "More Good Food for Your Money." If you're in and around Minnesota or either of the Dakotas, pull up for a double (or even a triple) homestyle burger, which comes with a 1/3-pound beef patty (or patties), mayo, onion, lettuce, tomato, pickle, and ketchup. Replace the fries with cheese curds or fried pickles for a real sense of place.
Where to find it: Mississippi
Founded by two brothers who worked almost round the clock to get their restaurant off the ground, Ward's boils down to two items: Big One and Lil' One. These two size options refer to burgers, yes, but the main selling point at Ward's is that the burgers are doused in signature chili, cheese, and sauce. The burgers can be served up in combos.
There are other items (chili dogs, for example) and healthier fare like salads and chicken wraps, but when you're in Mississippi, do it the Ward's way. While the burger chain is only in Mississippi, it's got locations all over the state, so once you're within the borders, you're likely to bump into one without trying. The chain also makes homemade root beer on-site, so grab a mug to wash that chili down.
Where to find it: Ohio
Drive-ins are few and far between these days, but Ohio's signature Swensons is still going strong. Founded in 1934 by Wesley T. "Pop" Swenson, who insisted on using fresh-ground beef, Swensons made a name for itself. To this day, the restaurant proclaims itself as America's best cheeseburger. Try it for yourself to decide, but the signature double cheeseburger with special sauce is award-winning. In place of fries, try a side of Potato Teezer, a crispy, deep-fried, gooey mix of potato, cheese, and mild jalapeños.