Of-the-moment smashes, classic doubles, international influences—burgers sustain us through good times and through uncertainty. Some chefs turned to burgers to stay afloat during 2020’s restaurant shutdown. Others have spent decades perfecting their patty grind and beef-to-bun ratio.
The roll-up garage doors aren’t affectation. The owners of Homegrown also run a roadside burger joint that still bears a marked resemblance to the service station that used to be here. Homegrown’s commitment to conscious sourcing is apparent in the grass-fed patties topped with a ruffle of organic bibb and a slice of tomato. These are uncomplicated burgers, appealingly messy and perfect to eat outside beneath the former pump awning with a chocolate malt or local beer. The fries: Assertively sprinkled with house seasoning.
Every neighborhood should be so lucky to have a burger restaurant that doubles as a family brunch destination, even an amiable cocktail hangout. One that serves up patties of bison, lamb, jerk chicken, beer-battered cod, and grilled eggplant alongside beef. A menu that goes in so many global directions it can set off alarm bells, but each burger creation—from a veggie stack with grilled haloumi to one inspired by a banh mi—is reliably on point. The fries: Crispy kennebec potatoes.
When you order a bar burger—the kind that comes wrapped in checkered paper in a red plastic basket—it should always taste like this. The King’s Hardware burger stands out precisely because it adheres perfectly to our burger archetypes. Thick coins of pickle perk up an ideal meat-to-bun ratio, and that classic pink sauce layers sweet over savory. Linda Derschang’s Ballard bar has more elaborate burgers on the menu, but the classic version is platonic perfection with a side of Skee-Ball. The fries: Perfectly good, but are you really going to pass up the tots?
Before Dan Crookston took over Ballard’s bare-bones house of badass sandwiches, he had dreams of opening a burger shop. The smash burger that launched those restaurant ownership dreams is now on the menu—a pair of quarter-pound dry-aged patties, housemade pickles, and unrepentantly processed slices of American cheese. Instead of a house sauce, he swipes on his own yellow mustard, a bright peal of flavor consistent with the overall sandwich menu. The fries: Here, potatoes get baked, then fried into the mighty creation known as “skins and ins.”
Ballard, Capitol Hill, White Center, Climate Pledge Arena, T-Mobile Park
Savvy specialty burgers at Marcus Lalario’s multi-joint burger shop come topped with bacon, blue cheese, and pickled figs, or maybe queso and roasted Hatch chiles. Non-stadium locations stay busy with a rotating roster of burger collaborations—limited-time creations from local chefs and business owners. But even the standard Lil and Big Woody sandwiches upgrade traditional burger protocols. The fries: Skin on, slender, even better with a sidecar of milkshake for dipping.
A striking Laotian menu includes khao soi, chicken laap, and co-owner Khampaeng Panyathong’s mom’s sausage recipe. None of which prepares you for this: Taurus Ox makes, indisputably, one of the best burgers in town, a pair of proper smash patties, two versions of the condiment jaew, house-cured pork jowl in place of bacon. It’s cross-culturally clever and drive-across-town good. The fries: Nonexistent—this is Lao food. Sub in some pork rinds or pungent papaya salad.
This scrappy trick shot of a burger shop produces great teetering meat-and-bun cascades, their defining elements unchanged since 2008—charbroiled and house-ground, thick, crinkly pickle coins, bun dusted with cornmeal. The Last Gasp, one of the rowdiest members of the special burger lineup, wedges a hot link beneath the patty, then adds bacon and a topper of fried egg. The fries: Not as exciting as the tots.
Kirkland, South Lake Union, University District
The NYC chain that’s somehow both a lifestyle and an economic indicator now has three locations across Seattle and Kirkland. While the concretes and chicken burger have their devotees, the original ShackBurger rocks an impeccable bun-patty-topping ratio. The fries: Classic crinkle-cut.
It’s a burger completely at home on a menu of tortas and chilaquiles: spicy sausage mixed into the patty, a cloud of guacamole that puffs out from beneath a brioche bun sporting a crust of crispy cheese. Ketchup and mustard rep more traditional burger flavors. The fries: Gigantic fried wedges too large to describe as jojos, and about 50 times better thanks to the house seasoning.
When a first-rate butcher shop run by a culinary school grad brings the full force of its talents to bear on a house burger, well—the result should be this incredible. A one-third pound patty, juicy and well-peppered, commands a grilled brioche bun. The cheese of your choosing flows outward over mild pickles and beneath unobtrusively gourmet spring greens. A burger this well-conceived doesn’t need pork, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from adding a crisped packet of belly. The fries: Thrice fried in rendered pork fat and tossed with garlic.
Capitol Hill, West Seattle
Can beef qualify as a secret weapon if you’re talking about burgers? The 28-day dry-aged barley-fed ground chuck from Ephrata’s Klingeman Family Farm ensures juicy beef flavor, even against an assertive backdrop of frisee and pureed Mama Lil’s peppers. Beecher’s Flagship comes standard. All these striking details yield harmony. The burger’s also on the menu at Harry’s Beach House on Alki. The fries: Fried with fresh rosemary and sage, then sprinkled with pecorino.
The burger Taylor Thornhill devised at Bateau has been an off-menu secret, a pandemic take-home kit, and now has a permanent home at the bar next door to Renee Erickson’s steak house. Between the dry aging and the careful butchery program, it’s hard to find a patty that’s better cared for; now it’s topped with frisee and a dash of green goddess dressing. The fries: Classic frites, naturally, served with aioli.
The concise burger menu—just singles or doubles—looks different, more unruly, since Renee Erickson’s Sea Creatures restaurant group acquired the six-location chain from Josh Henderson. The grass-fed patty’s not as lean as it once was, and tomato slices show up only during tomato season. Organic buns hold a time-tested combo of shredded iceberg, American cheese, housemade pickles, and a mayo-riffic sauce. Great State now spans seven locations, and its double-patty Boss Burger is also on the menu at Erickson’s new bar, King Leroy (which shares a kitchen with the Great State by the Spheres). The fries: Crispy, golden crinkle-cuts.
It’s hard to define this restaurant near Golden Gardens—a pizza specialist, a brunch staple, a neighborhood restaurant that likes to flex. One thing’s for sure, though: The smash burger’s unreal. Thank chef Jason Stoneburner, a partner here, for touches like house ketchup with notes of tamarind and shoyu, and the onions seared to crispy extremes. Just don’t ask about the provenance of that cushy bun; it’s a house secret. The fries: Massive, memorable waffles.
Japanese-style burgers that swap slabs of katsu in for traditional beef patties? This local chainlet, now eight locations strong, elevates a brilliant idea above mere Instagram bait. Breaded and fried pork, beef, chicken, or tofu underpin towering burgers that feel like a Mountain Dew commercial between two buns. Along with crunching piles of shredded cabbage and approximately half a red onion, each burger also sports thoughtful flavor combos, like pepper jack, wasabi mayo, and tonkatsu sauce. The fries: Dusted with nori flakes for an extra dose of savory.
Loving Dick’s is an emblem of Seattlehood, available to both lifers and transplants, be they scraping or affluent, sober or buzzed. It’s an emotion not necessarily based on the contents of that paper sack (which sports stats on employee benefits and scholarships). The hyperlimited menu is undoubtedly fast food: thin patties of fresh beef, gooey American cheese, lettuce, mayo, soft bun, and the gentlest of pickle relish. Iconic drive-ins don’t build a 70-year legend on crappy burgers. The fries: Essential to the Dick’s experience.
Maximillian and Jennifer Petty didn’t intend to open a burger shop, but once the neighborhood embraced their pandemic pivot, there was no going back. Max Petty’s iterative exactitude means every burger on the menu’s been tested, tweaked, ground, and reground. Challah buns bookend two house-ground patties that mix beef and bacon, plus some citrusy secret sauce, smoked cheddar, and red onion (caramelized and raw). You don’t notice all those undercurrents of technique—just that this classic flavor profile somehow packs extra punch. The fries: Crispy, shoestring, and sprinkled with herbs.
The ageless watering hole’s tavern burger has long been a legend, and feels just right when consumed within those peeling beadboard walls, beneath old photographs and beer signs. Strip away the atmosphere and it’s still a pleasant, paper-wrapped ode to classic drive-throughs, its slim charbroiled patty bolstered by American cheese and take-charge pickle coins. The fries: Skin on and generously salted.
Interbay, Phinney Ridge
The kitchen’s Lincoln Log stack of bacon, used for burger toppings, practically needed its own press agent in the early-aughts era of food TV. But there’s more to this 25-year-old burger shop than the retro decor suggests. The house sauce has an unexpected kick of smoke and spice, adding personality to burgers roughly the size of a birthday cake. The fries: Pale in comparison to the well-seasoned onion rings.
Ballard, Capitol Hill
The smell of truffle meets you at the door like an invisible maître d. Kevin Chung’s duo of burger restaurants lavish the house fries with truffle oil and fills the burger menu with intelligent excess: brawny, eminently juicy patties adorned with anything from candied bacon to cave-aged gruyere, starters like short rib poutine, and a snickerdoodle milkshake flecked with bacon. The fries: Actually, more garlicky than truffled.
The signature burgers at Scott Staples’s fast-casual hangout display the subtle finesse of his previous life in high-end dining. One channels a Philadelphia cheesesteak, another piles cheddar, frizzled onions, and roasted Fresno chiles atop a one-third-pound patty. Uneeda’s $7 classic burger remains an astonishing value, but it’s worth shelling out an extra buck for some cheese. The fries: Sweet potato or regular.