As long as I can remember, I have been on an ongoing journey to try all the best cheeseburgers I can. To this point I’ve had 30 burgers from this list (it is not the end all be all, as you’ll see in the list below, but is used merely as a guide), plus cheeseburgers in more than a dozen states and seven countries. I’ve had burgers from some of the best food cities in the US (including New York, Chicago, and LA), and I’ve even had burger sushi. The most valuable thing I’ve learned in my burger connoisseur-ing is that you don’t have to travel across the country (or world) to get a delicious cheeseburger when you can get many of them right here in greater Cincinnati.
I love cheeseburgers and I order them whenever I can because it’s a dish this city does so well (not literally, because if I have the choice, I’m ordering it medium). I love no-frills burgers from the diviest of bars (even when they’re served with chips), burgers topped with cheese I have to ask my husband how to pronounce, and those dressed with fancy mayonnaise people like to call “aioli.” As long as there’s beef and cheese sandwiched between some kind of bread-like carb, I’ll eat it. And chances are I’ll like it. (Bonus points if there are condiments involved.)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Cincinnati is a great burger city. But while I like most I’ve had, these burgers* stand above the rest.
Garlic Three Cheese Burger, $10
BRU Burger Bar (Central Business District)
This Indianapolis-based burger restaurant opened its doors in Cincinnati in December 2015, and serves my current favorite burger — a beef patty cooked medium with Swiss American, and mozzarella cheeses, plus roasted garlic and truffle aioli. It is cheesy, garlicky, condimenty goodness, served with fresh cut fries for an additional $2. Get the house-made ketchup and honey mustard.
Plus: great fries, outstanding condiments, good beer selection, and outdoor seating
Zip’s Burger with cheese, $6
Zip’s Café (Mt. Lookout)
Mt. Lookout’s tiny burger tavern on the square has been serving one of my favorite no-frills burgers for 91 years, so obviously they’re doing everything right. It’s the first local burger I remember having and absolutely loving (I won’t date myself, but I will say it was when I was in high school) and I continue to love it to this day. Add cheese fries for $3.25 (and get the ranch!).
Plus: always good beer on draft and the train circling the ceiling makes it fun for the kids, too
Favorite burger from one of Cincinnati’s best burger restaurants:
Gordo Burger, $11
Gordo’s Pub & Grill (Norwood)
Topped with roasted poblano peppers, mushrooms, onions, smoked bacon, Boursin cheese, and mayonnaise; served with steak fries or your choice of side for a $2 upgrade. (I recommend the saratoga chips or mac and cheese.) Gordo’s is one of the best burger restaurants around, so if you’re looking for a standard or gourmet burger, this is the place for you. If you’re feeling froggy, get the BPJ.
Plus: great beer selection and outdoor seating
Favorite burger from a restaurant known for its hot dogs:
Senate Burger, $12
Senate may be known for its hot dogs, but I continue to swear by the angus beef burger with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and caramelized onions on a brioche bun with house-made pickles. This beefy “gourmet street food” is really a perfectly executed standard burger with all the right fixins. For $7 more get the truffle fries. They’re the best fries in the city and can be shared with your dinnermate. Senate isn’t the cheapest restaurant around, but I assure you it’s delicious and worth the treat.
Plus: great beer and cocktail selection; bacon fat fries every Friday
Favorite gourmet-yet-standard burger:
Streetcar Burger, $13
BrewRiver GastroPub (East Walnut Hills)
The Streetcar Burger is dressed with American cheese, shredded lettuce, red onion, house-made kimchi tartar sauce, and house-made pickles, and it is far from being the only delicious burger on the menu (see: The Natchez and BrewRiver burgers). Served with hand-cut fries, which I prefer over the truffle fries (the latter available for $1 more).
Plus: great beer selection and beer and wine pairing suggestions on the menu; outdoor seating; brunch on Sundays
Favorite pimento cheese burger:
Bouquet Restaurant & Wine Bar (Covington)
The menu at Bouquet changes with the season, but its burger with pimento cheese has been a constant over the past year. The current edition, the Black Hawk Burger, is Kentucky grass-fed beef with house pickles, braised cabbage, melted onion, sauerkraut, and pimento cheese on a Sixteen Bricks brioche bun and a side of truffled potatoes. Give me pimento cheese on a burger any day.
Plus: good cocktails, great atmosphere, and they take reservations
Favorite brewery burger:
Grass-Fed Cheeseburger, $10
Nine Giant Brewing (Pleasant Ridge)
This brewpub doesn’t have a huge menu, but the items it serves pack a high quality punch. The burger features tomato jam, pickles, lettuce, caramelized onions, beer cheese, and secret sauce, and boy is it good. Really hungry? Pair it with the Pommes Frites — hand-cut, sea-salted fries topped with crispy herbs and served with seasonal, house-made ketchup — for an additional $5.
Plus: it’s served in a brewery, so you know the beer selection is good
Favorite food truck burger:
Sausage Burger, $8
Renegade Street Eats and Renegade Grille (Evanston)
What started as one of my favorite food trucks has since expanded into a permanent space inside Listermann Brewery with an enormous menu — my favorite item being the sausage burger, a blend of beef and pork served with your choice of cheese and toppings. Belgian crinkle fries, twice fried for extra crispness, are available on the side for an additional cost.
Plus: it’s served in a brewery, so you know the beer selection is good
Favorite candied bacon burger:
Red Feather (Oakley)
It still sort of surprises me that such a high quality burger costs $15 (and includes fries!). I don’t like to make a habit of spending $15 on this meal, but it’s worth it when it’s topped with Boursin, candied bacon, and red onion marmalade.
Plus: takes reservations and holy cow the Whipped Ricotta to start is out of this world
Favorite high-end burger:
Boca Burger, $27
Boca (Central Business District)
It’s not every day I order a $27 burger (or ever, for that matter), but it was a special occasion and I decided to treat myself to Boca’s take on my favorite food. It was shockingly standard — cheese, red onion, tomato, and sauce maison on a brioche bun — but the quality of beef was outstanding. Served with a side of pommes frites.
Plus: takes reservations
Favorite no-frills burger:
Quatman Café (Norwood)
The first time I had Quatman’s — way back in 2009 — I wasn’t impressed. It wasn’t until I made a return visit a couple of years ago that I thought, “Holy … what was I thinking?” Quatman’s was founded in 1966 and has been serving up deliciously standard burgers for more than 50 years.
Plus: $7.50 cheeseburger, fries, and drink special every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday
Favorite no-frills cash only burger:
Quarter Pounder, $3.75
The Root Beer Stand (Sharonville)
The Root Beer Stand is open seasonally every year, from March until October, and is currently in its 60th season. The Quarter Pounder is one of the more basic burgers on the list, but despite its not being served with fries, it’s still awesome. Add a bag of popcorn to your meal for 50 cents. Note: this establishment is cash only.
Plus: the root beer is fantastic — it’s not called The Root Beer Stand for nothing
Favorite local take on a Big Mac:
Krueger’s Tavern (Over-the-Rhine)
This cheeseburger is what I like to call a Fancy Big Mac, featuring two house-ground patties, shredded lettuce, onion, American cheese, special sauce, and homemade pickles on a challah bun. A delectable standard burger with the option to add fries (with malt vinegar aioli!) on the side for $4.
Plus: decent beer selection and one of the best non-river-view outdoor seating areas in the city
Favorite burger specials:
The Temperance, $8
Nation Kitchen and Bar
I tend to go for specials whenever I have Nation, but because it’s hard to include limited menu items, I’ll talk about The Temperance instead, a traditional cheeseburger with cheddar, lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickles, and mayo on a challah bun. I’ve never met a Nation burger I didn’t like, so be sure to get one and pair it with sriracha ketchup and a sidecar of potatoes (your choice of tots, fresh-cut fries, or sweet pot tots) for $4.
Plus: The Hatchet is a meal deal including the Nation burger, fries, and a Carrie Ale, Nation’s flagship beer brewed by Listermann, for $15
Favorite lunch burger:
Burger, $11 (lunch)
I was fortunate to have tried Salazar’s (of Jose Salazar fame) burger during lunch, when it’s offered for pretty reasonable. I was surprised at its delicious minimalism, topped with only aged cheddar, bacon, and confit tomato on a “kaiser Jose” bun. This is what I mean by “mastering the basics.”
Plus: an adorably-designed Jose Salazar restaurant that now takes reservations
Favorite burger I didn’t order myself but had a few bites of and loved:
Quarter Pound Grass-Fed Burger, $10
I was in the mood for their take on a grilled cheese (white truffle honey + housemade fresh mozzarella on ciabatta), but thankfully my mom ordered the burger so that I could try it (or eat half of it — moms are great for that). Served with American cheese, pickles, onion, mayo, and lettuce, with a side of kettle chips or fries. Basic, but so, so good.
Plus: outdoor seating
Favorite burger from the oldest continuously-operated bar in Cincinnati:
Arnold’s Bar and Grill (Central Business District)
This “hamburger” does, in fact, come with cheese. Plus mayo, shaved lettuce, and onion. For $3 more, get the fries. (And ranch.)
Plus: good beer selection and live music from the courtyard
Favorite Burger Madness burger:
The “Sally” Burger, $8.99
Arthur’s Cafe (Hyde Park)
On Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, you can get unlimited toppings (gourmet toppings are excluded) for no additional charge on a 5 oz. lean beef patty plus french fries for under $9. Yes and yes. One of the best, most delicious deals in town.
Plus: awesome ranch dressing
Favorite classic café burger:
Classic Habits Style, $9.25
Habits Café (Oakley)
Topped with your choice of cheese (American, cheddar, Swiss, pepper jack, or provolone), lettuce, tomato, onion, and mayo. (Ask for the garlic mayo.) Served with your choice of side. Want to treat yourself? Get the ostrich burger for $1.25 more.
Plus: you have to try the ranch, and the Habits “Cincinnati Classic” Potato Rags to start
Favorite suburban burger:
Paxton’s Grill (Loveland)
I really enjoyed this 1/3 pound burger with garden on the side and fries for an additional $1.59. (Served with chips and a pickle spear.) I especially loved the ranch dressing.
Plus: outdoor seating
Favorite suburban burger that totally took me by surprise:
Bucks Burger, $9
Bucks Tavern (Landen)
Whenever I make my way north I try to work in a trip to Bucks Tavern. I love the Bucks Burger, which is fresh ground beef dressed with lettuce and tomato. On my most recent trip I added onion straws. It was awesome.
Plus: amazing condiments, especially the house-made honey mustard
Favorite neighborhood bar burger:
Brew House (Walnut Hills)
What Brew House lacks in frill, makes up for in a delicious, way-above-average bar burger. Really, you can’t go wrong with any of the burgers (especially the Tally Ho Burger), so go with whichever strikes your fancy. Make it a platter with fries and cole slaw for $4 more.
Plus: great beer selection and to-go beer options, too, including growler fills; outdoor seating
Favorite sister restaurant burger:
The Burger, $8.95 (+ $.50 for cheese)
915 Pub & Grill (Ft. Thomas)
Anderson Pub & Grill (Anderson Twp.)
Oakley Pub & Grill (Oakley)
Zola Pub & Grill (Covington)
The first time I had The Burger from Oakley Pub, I loved it. It wasn’t until later that I learned its sister restaurants also serve this premium angus chuck burger with your choice of cheese. Minimal frills and served with waffle fries.
Plus: trivia night offered at all of the above, and outdoor seating
Favorite burger from “Cincinnati’s Best Chicken” restaurant:
The Holzman Burger (regular), $10.99
The Silver Spring House (Symmes Twp.)
Of course I got a cheeseburger from “The Chicken Joint.” Don’t judge me. And I’ll tell you what: this one-third pound Holzman beef patty burger was delicious. Served with your choice of side.
Plus: all-you-can eat peanuts while you wait for your food
Favorite hole-in-the-wall burger:
Gas Light Burger, $6.75
Gas Light Café (Pleasant Ridge)
This is far from the fanciest burger on the list, but for $6.75 you can get a well above average standard cheeseburger with “deluxe fixins,” chips, and a pickle. If you’re in the mood for fries (like I always am), it’s $2.25 to upgrade.
Plus: fries are of the crinkle persuasion (one of my favorites)
Favorite outside-the-box burger:
The Donut Burger, $7.95
Bard’s Burgers & Chili (Covington)
I’ve never actually been to Bard’s, but I’ve had The Donut Burger and, while it’s something you probably shouldn’t eat often, it’s definitely something you have to at least try. I don’t typically like a lot of flavors in one dish, but a hot, crispy donut works great as a bun. Not too sweet, but the perfect flavor and consistency to complement the beefy goodness.
In Memorium: The Rookwood and Cafe de Wheels, two of my all-time favorite burgers.
*This list only includes cheeseburgers that I have personally had only includes burgers from local restaurants (or small regional chains)
Featured image (left to right, top to bottom): Senate Burger (Senate), Quarter Pound Grass-Fed Beef Burger (panino.), Grass-Fed Cheeseburger (Nine Giant), Quarter Pounder (The Root Beer Stand), Burger (Salazar), The Donut Burger (Bards Burgers & Chili), Sausage Burger (Renegade Grille), Burger (Bouquet), Burger (Red Feather), Cheeseburger (Brew House), Krueger’s (Krueger’s Tavern), Boca Burger (Boca), Garlic Three Cheese Burger (BRU Burger Bar), Bucks Burger with onion straws (Bucks Tavern), Streetcar Burger (BrewRiver GastroPub)