Great burgers are one of Charlotte’s best things: We’ve got hometown burgers that beat the buns off fast-food chains.
When Thrillist.com sent writer Kevin Alexander out for a year-long, nation-wide burger search, we weren’t surprised that several Charlotte-area burgers made his list of the 100 best.
If we’re going for a burger, we want it real: Real beef, not pink slime, real buns and distinctive toppings. Pickle slices, not wedges. (How can you put a wedge on a burger?) And fries: We want fries that taste like they came from a potato, not a freezer.
Our picks for our favorite burgers in the Charlotte area, from low-end to high-end:
Cheeseburger all the way, with chili, mustard and onions. Yes, the place is small and a bit rundown. Yes, you have to eat in your car or standing elbow-to-elbow at the covered wooden table out back. But there’s a reason there’s always a line at lunch, and it’s not just the crisp, griddled edges on the patties. It’s the total: The gushy perfection of chili, cheese, mustard and beef, the wide-plank fries straight from the fryer, and the people-watching. 2710 N. Brevard St., Charlotte; 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday, closed Saturday and Sunday. $3.75; $2 for fries.
Zack’s Special. Tucked away at Scaleybark and South Boulevard, but you can’t miss the red-and-white awning and umbrella tables. And you shouldn’t miss the burger: Sesame seed bun, two patties with American cheese in between and on top for maximum cheesiness, mayo on the bottom and special sauce – less orange and more chunky than Ronald’s – on top. It’s what a Big Mac would taste like, if it were ... good. Fries are thin and nicely crispy. 4009 South Blvd., Charlotte; 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, until 9 p.m. Friday, closed Saturday and Sunday. $5.95 with fries.
3. Mr. K’s
The Big K. The burger patty is thin, but it’s cooked on a griddle and you can get it on an onion roll bun with onion, lettuce, pickles and tomato and the friendliest counter service around. We used to get it with a coffee milkshake until we discovered the Snow Ball: A scoop of Italian ice, a squirt of soft-serve ice cream and a second scoop of Italian ice. Instead of fries, go with “frings”: Half fries, half onion rings, with onion ring sauce (basically an orange/mayo mix). 2107 South Blvd., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday. $3.95, $4.35 for frings, $3.40 for a small Snowball.
Barcelona Classic. It’s so new, they were still unpacking when we stopped in. The room is huge, with lots of trestle tables. The hand-formed patty is very juicy, with plenty of browned crust, served on a potato bun with lettuce, tomato, onion, a thick layer of American cheese and their own special sauce, an orange/mayo mix with a little kick. The generous boat of fries are thin and crisp. 500 S. Main St., Mooreville; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. $8 with a side.
Single cheeseburger. Bang Bang’s burgers aren’t cheap, but they use a special blend from New York butcher Pat La Frieda that’s well-salted and supremely juicy. And it makes an entrance: It arrives on a paddle-shaped cutting board, toasted bun tilted just so for maximum Instagramming, long, curving fries spilling out of a cup and a little dish of special sauce (the usual orange/mayo/relish) with a tiny spoon. If you’re going to go big with a two-patty burger, this would be a good place to do it. 2001 E. 7th St., Charlotte; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. $9.50 for a single, $12.50 for a double, with fries.
5 Plus: Bang Bang Burger: Pimento Burger. Here’s a pro tip: Skip the cheeseburger and find out why pimento cheese on a burger is a Carolinas classic. The mix of juicy burger mingling with slightly spicy pimento cheese raises the cheese quotient to a higher level. They top it with a couple of fried pickles for crunch and vinegary acidity. $10 for a single, $13 for a double, with fries.
Skillet Burger. Instead of fighting for a dinner reservation, go for lunch, when the Davidson hot spot is more laid back and the menu includes a really great burger you can’t get at night: Two square, juicy patties with cheese in between and a sesame seed bun that’s a twist on their signature warm milk bread. They skip lettuce and tomato to focus on housemade pickles (no longer the quick pickles that Thrillist’s writer didn’t like) and sharp cheddar. The fries are thick planks sprinkled with fresh dill. They’re not the duck-fat fries served at night, but they come with a little dish of garlicky aioli for dipping. 131 N. Main St., Davidson; 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. for lunch; closed Monday. $10 with fries and aioli.