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 dozens and dozens of them—in more than a dozen states and several 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 my favorite food and 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 popcorn), burgers topped with cheese I have to ask my husband how to pronounce, and those dressed with fancy mayonnaise people like to call “aioli.” I like my burgers pretty traditional, with the occasional flare. 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 excellent 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. (Don’t skip on the fries; they’re fantastic.) Get the house-made ketchup and honey mustard.
Worth noting: great fries, outstanding condiments, good beer selection, and outdoor seating
Zip’s Burger with cheese, $6.50
Zip’s Café (Mt. Lookout)
Mt. Lookout’s tiny burger tavern on the square has been serving one of my favorite no-frills burgers since 1926 (92 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 $3.50 (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.
Worth noting: great beer selection and outdoor seating
Favorite gourmet-yet-standard burger:
Streetcar Burger, $13
BrewRiver Creole Kitchen (East End)
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.
Worth noting: great beer selection and beer and wine pairing suggestions on the menu
Bonus: BrewRiver also serves “elevated taproom food” at BrewRiver at Sonder Brewing in Mason, where you can get the Streetcar Burger for $9. Add a side of hand-cut fries for $3/small or $5/large.
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 no-frills burger:
Quatman Café (Norwood, Mason)
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. (There’s a reason for that.)
Pro tip: $7.50 cheeseburger, fries, and drink special every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday
Favorite no-frills cash only burger:
Double Cheeseburger, $3.25
The Root Beer Stand (Sharonville)
The Root Beer Stand is open seasonally every year, from March until October, and will open in Spring 2019 for its 62nd 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 and so are the footlongs!
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, Dijonnaise, and homemade pickles on a challah bun. A delectably standard burger with the option to add fries (with malt vinegar aioli!) on the side for $4.
Worth noting: decent beer selection and one of the best non-river-view outdoor seating areas in the city
Favorite gourmet-yet-order-at-the-counter burger:
Frenchie Fresh, $10.50+
There are a number of Chef’s Choice options to choose from, so whether you’re in the mood for Kansas City Beef with garlic and herb cheese and bacon, or if you’d prefer to keep it simple with American, lettuce, tomato, and onion, Frenchie Fresh has what you need. You can even build your own! Served with your choice of Frenchie fries, tater tots, or a side salad.
Plus: build your own options!
Favorite monthly burger specials:
Nation Kitchen and Bar, prices vary
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.
Pro tip: The Hatchet is essentially an adult Happy Meal including the Nation burger, fries, and a Carrie Ale—Nation’s flagship beer brewed by Listermann—for $15
Favorite lunch burger:
Burger, $12 (lunch only)
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 tomato on a “kaiser Jose” bun. This is what I mean by “mastering the basics.” Add an egg for $2 more.
Worth noting: an adorably-designed Jose Salazar restaurant that takes reservations
Favorite Burger Madness burger:
The “Sally” Burger, $9.49
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 $10. Yes and yes. For $8.50, you can get The “Sally” Burger as is any time of the week.
Plus: awesome ranch dressing
Favorite food-truck-turned-brick-and-mortar-restaurant burger:
All-American Burger, $8
Renegade Grille (inside Listermann Brewing, Evanston)
This burger is simply chargrilled deliciousness topped with your choice of lettuce tomato, red onions, pickles, ketchup, mustard, mayo, and American, Swiss, or provolone cheese. They also have a burger of the week every week, so follow Renegade on Instagram for more!
Pro tip: pair the burger with a pound of some of the city’s best wings
Favorite classic café burger:
Habits Style, $10.50
Habits Café (Oakley)
You’ll get the classic run through the garden (lettuce, onion, tomato, mayo), and the Habits Style beef burger is also topped with your choice of cheese (American, cheddar, Swiss, pepper jack, or provolone). (Try the garlic mayo.) Served with your choice of side. Want to treat yourself? Get the ostrich burger for $11.95.
Pro tip: you have to try the ranch, and the Habits “Cincinnati Classic” Potato Rags to start
Favorite suburban burger:
Paxton’s Grill (Loveland)
1/3 pound burger with cheese on a kaiser bun and garden on the side on request. Add fries for an additional $1.59. (Served with chips and a pickle spear.) Get the ranch dressing.
Worth noting: outdoor seating and happy hour pricing (select apps for $6!) from 3–6pm Monday–Friday
Favorite suburban burger that totally took me by surprise:
Bucks Burger, $11
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 burger from “Cincinnati’s Best Chicken” restaurant:
The Holzman Burger, $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 (regular or cajun style) was delicious. Served with your choice of side.
Plus: all-you-can eat peanuts while you wait for your food
Favorite pimento cheese burger:
Burger, prices vary
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 Farm Wagyu Burger, is Kentucky grass-fed beef with melted onion, sauerkraut, pickles, and pimento cheese on a Sixteen Bricks brioche bun and a side of truffled potatoes. Give me pimento cheese on a burger any day.
Worth noting: good cocktails, great atmosphere, and they take reservations
Favorite sister restaurant burger:
The Burger, $9.95
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.
Worth noting: trivia night offered at all of the above, and outdoor seating
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.
The Jeff Ruby Burger – The Precinct (Columbia Tusculum), $22
For two years I’d planned on having a Jeff Ruby Burger off of the bar menu at The Precinct, and I finally got it. It was an excellent blend of dry-aged beef topped with Wisconsin cheddar, caramelized shallot jam, and peppercorn mayo on a brioche bun, served with Boardwalk Fries. $22 may be a high price tag, but it was well worth a try.
Boca Burger – BOCA (Central Business District), $27
I know. $27 for a burger. But it was a treat and it’s my favorite food, so I had to try it. 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.
Burger – Red Feather (Oakley), $15
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.
Gas Light Burger – Gas Light Café (Pleasant Ridge), $6.75
For $6.75 you can get a well above average 1/2 pound 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.
Arnold’s Burger – Arnold’s Bar and Grill (Central Business District), $11
Serving up a custom beef blend from Avril Bleh and buns from Sixteen Bricks, the Arnold’s Burger features American cheese, lettuce, red onion, and Arnold’s burger sauce. Add fries for $4, an egg for $1, and/or bacon for $2. (Plus that ranch.) It is also available on the lunch menu—sans the extras—for $8.50.
The Rookwood and Cafe de Wheels, two of my all-time favorite burgers.
Featured image: Grass-fed Cheeseburger from Nine Giant
*This list only includes cheeseburgers that I have personally had from local restaurants (or small regional chains)