My number one favorite cheeseburger in the Cincinnati area will always be Zip’s Café. At least I’m pretty sure that’s the case. While my list is always ebbing and flowing*, it seems as though that classic established has remained atop my list since the beginning of time … err, since cheeseburgers have been tickling my fancy as such. And thankfully Cincinnati has a pretty legit burger scene.
It should be noted that I’ve always preferred my burgers with just cheese (though sometimes I’d add mayo, lettuce, and onion); dipped in ketchup. Yes, a burger connoisseur can eat plain-ish burgers because—in my opinion—it’s all about the quality of the meat; not about how much junk you can fit between two buns (that’s what she said). Also, if a restaurant can master the original, then it’s gotta be good.
That’s not to say, however, that I’ve not learned to branch out some. As you’ll notice in my top 5 specifically, 3 of those 5 are on the “gourmet” spectrum of burgers (Numbers 2, 3, and 5 for reference). And, fortunately for me, Date has helped me doing that branching out. As much as I like to think my formerly picky self has evolved into someone who likes to “try everything once”, he leads me to believe otherwise. But it’s because of him that I’m even less picky than I was this time last year. So, yeah! I digress a lot. Anywho … onward!
- Zip’s – I always get a Zip’s burger cooked medium with cheese (and lettuce, onion, and mayo) add fries, cheese sauce, and ranch on the side. This particular burger, in my opinion, is the absolute best as far as “standard” cheeseburgers are concerned, and it sets the bar for how other “standard” cheeseburgers should taste—unfair as that may be. Other dishes of note include: double Zip’s burger with cheese, onion rings, and chili. I’ve also heard the veggie burgers are good, but I wouldn’t dare, so if you or someone you know is a vegetarian, there you go.
- Senate – I can’t say enough great things about this restaurant generally, but specifically about the burgers. The Senate burger is always cooked to perfection (medium) and deliciously adorned with cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, house made pickles, tomato, and aioli, situated between a delicious brioche bun. The quality of the all-angus beef burger is fantastic, and I always eighty-six the tomato. If you like fries, I can’t recommend the truffle fries enough. Other dishes of note include: poutine (yum!), duck fat fries, and any of the hot dogs featured on the menu (specifically the Trailer Park Dog and Hello Kitty 2.0) or the hot dog of the day.
- Gordo’s – I just tried Gordo’s for the first time within the past year. I originally tried the Fairfield location, which I liked, but my experience has been much better in the 3 times I’ve been to the Norwood location since. Each time I’ve opted for the Gordo burger, which comes with roasted poblano peppers, onions, smoked bacon, mayo, and boursin cheese (yum!). I’ve really liked the burger all four times I’ve had it, but it was finally cooked to the temperature of my liking (medium) my last time being there. This is only a minor problem, though, seeing as the meat is great enough even if it’s cooked medium well. It’s also pretty thick, so I understand cooking it to the proper temperature can be dicey. Gordo’s serves steak fries, which are my least favorite kind of fries, but the burger is well worth it.
- Café de Wheels – My other favorite “standard” cheeseburger. The bun is probably my favorite part, as it is grilled to absolute perfection. I don’t typically like when my bun is fussed with (that’s what she said), but The Burger Truck can fuss with my bun as often as it’d like. Served with American cheese, lettuce, spicy mayo, and caramelized onions, this Wheel’s Burger has outstanding flavor and is one of the perfected originals. It’s also served out of a vehicle, and that’s pretty much my style to a T.
- Terry’s Turf Club – It’s almost obligatory that this place is mentioned in my top 5, but it really is very good. And it wasn’t until I tried the Halloumi cheese that this place would even reside with such illustrious company. Halloumi is outstanding as either an appetizer or as a topping on this delicious burger (which is the build-your-own type). Or, in my case, you can choose to have it as both: I typically eat a piece of Halloumi before my meal arrives, and I leave one piece to eat with my burger, which I usually have topped with American cheese, lettuce, onions, and mayo at no cost. The fresh cut fries are outstanding. Get those. Also beware of the meat juice rolling down your arms as you eat the burger. I wish I’d had this warning, so you’re welcome.
It is worth mentioning that there are a few really great places that fall just below the quality of Terry’s Turf Club burgers: Oakley Pub, Arthur’s, Habit’s Café, and Three Meat Burger are all worth bringing up for various reasons. First off, Oakley Pub offers a really outstanding burger (on special on Wednesdays during “Burger Mania”) for minimal cost. Additionally, Oakley Pub is a bar, so the burgers are perfect to have with a beer (or three) or while watching sports on one of the many big screen TVs.
While most people rave about Burger Madness, I am particularly a fan of Mini Madness at Arthur’s (same fixins on a burger as Burger Madness but with a smaller patty and on different days). The latter gets little love in my eyes, and I’ve had issues with the former being WAY undercooked on my lunch break in the past (meaning I had zero time to send it back to be cooked to medium temperature, and I had to pick around a pretty rare piece of beef to eat my burger. Not awesome). Arthur’s is also good for those who crave variety, and for people in the group who are [lame and] looking for more than just burgers.
Like variety at Arthur’s, Habit’s Café is perfect for those looking for an extensive menu. But for those looking for a great burger, this can absolutely be your place. I like to build my own and really like both the beef burger and the ostrich burger with provolone cheese, a side of mayo, onion, lettuce, and a side of teriyaki sauce. Sweet potato fries on the side are awesome for a change, too.
I think Three Meat Burger gets mentioned based on the mere linger factor alone because the meat was just so much different than what I’m used to. The specific patty that I ordered featured beef, lamb, and chicken. Dumb Name. Good burger.
Other notable burgers include: Gabby’s Café, Silver Spring House, Van Zandt, and Virgil’s Café. All are very good, and are located in pretty great restaurants all around, especially Virgil’s. I loved the atmosphere and dining experience there.
I was surprisingly (and most notably) disappointed by both Quatman’s and City View Tavern for various reasons (mostly because they were sorely overcooked, but also because my company could have detracted from the entire experience). I’m not opposed to giving either another try based on their notoriety alone, but I could very easily live without ever frequenting either again.
*And because it’s so early in the year (it’s only week 10, y’know), I plan to hit up quite a few more burger joints before my “mission” comes to an end (for now) for 2013. This list may very well appear much differently by the time week 52 rolls around. Stay tuned. I’ll be sure to keep you posted.