The Big Mac Riff
McDonald’s star offering—double cheeseburger, special sauce—has launched dozens of higher-end homages.
Best in class: The Classic—with iceberg lettuce, tomato, pickled onions, and brown-butter aïoli—at Mélange (Mount Vernon Triangle).
The French Bistro Burger
The double cheeseburger that currently reigns in banquetted dining rooms is staunchly rooted in the States.
Best in class: The Burger Américain—a double patty with American cheese, pickles, onions, and special sauce—at Le Diplomate (Logan Circle).
The Finer Fast-Food Burger
The contours of a drive-through burger, just with better ingredients and more creative toppings.
Best in class: The grass-fed-beef burgers—done up with add-ons such as candied jalapeños, shallots, and arugula—at Swizzler (Navy Yard).
The New-Wave Plant Burger
Many places use Impossible or Beyond Meat patties—or make their own—then add accessories such as vegan cheese and faux bacon.
Best in class: The Monkey Wrench—a beet (or Impossible) patty topped with barbecue sauce, tofu/seitan bacon, cashew American cheese, and gluten-free onion rings—at Bubbie’s Plant Burgers (Dupont Circle).
The Smash Burger
A patty smashed to lacy thinness on a griddle, usually served on a grocery-store bun. It’s less about the meat, more about the gestalt.
Best in class: The Ghostburger—with American cheese, onions, and pickles—at Ghostburger (Shaw).
The Luxe Burger
Truffles, lobster, foie gras, A5 Wagyu beef—they’ve all been spun into $30-plus burgers.
Best in class: The tomato-topped lobster burger at Central (Penn Quarter).
The Hangover Burger
Giant, messy, and almost always topped with an egg.
Best in class: The Breakfast Burger—with bacon, caramelized onions, American cheese, and an oozy fried egg—at Boundary Stone (Bloomingdale).
The Steakhouse Burger
A thick burger that’s all about showing off the quality of the ground beef, which is often fortified with trimmings from expensive cuts.
Best in class: Randy’s Cheeseburger—with a Wagyu/prime-beef patty, caramelized onions, Gruyère, and béarnaise aïoli—at Randy’s Prime Seafood & Steaks (Vienna).
The Bar Burger
Straightforward in every way—a moderately thick patty that’s often served just with lettuce, tomato, onion, and a cup of Heinz.
Best in class: The Cook’s House—with pickles, spicy mayo, bacon, and cheddar—at Franklins (Hyattsville).
The Old-School Veggie Burger
A fat patty with easily identifiable ingredients like beans, rice, and onion.
Best in class: The housemade veggie burger, with a beet tint and sweet soy glaze, at Woodmont Grill (Bethesda).
“Bacon and Blue”
The half-pounders here are destination burgers, with sourdough buns and a mix of ground chuck, rib, and brisket. Our favorite accessories: balsamic-glazed onions, applewood-smoked bacon, and a double hit of Gorgonzola, both crumbled and in a dressing.
The Burger Shack, Alexandria, Ashburn, Chantilly
It was hard to pick a favorite patty at these snug short-order spots, but if we must, we’ll go with this sandwich of Texas toast, ground Angus beef, and Swiss cheese paved with sweet grilled onion. The French fries are good, too; the fried pickles even better.
“New England Smash Burger”
The Salt Line, Navy Yard
There’s zero that’s fancy or groundbreaking about the double cheeseburger at this seafood restaurant across from Nats Park. Ground chuck. Salt and pepper. Shredded iceberg lettuce. But in this sloppy-in-a-good-way creation, they taste like magic.
Slash Run, Petworth
This rock-and-roll bar aces all things fried, so a barbecue-sauced burger stuffed with PBR-battered onion rings is an obvious choice. Less obvious is the secret ingredient: ground coffee, which adds a subtly bitter, nutty layer of flavor.
Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, Logan Circle
Think of this as the anti–smash burger. For one, it’s so tall you wonder how you’re going to make a bite happen. But when you do, the rewards are many: a just-spicy-enough melding of grilled beef, charred poblanos, pepperjack, and cayenne aïoli.
“Le Big Matt”
Emmy Squared, Navy Yard, Shaw, Old Town
This Brooklyn transplant is known for Detroit pizza, but the towering double cheeseburger—named for cofounder Matt Hyland—deserves star billing. It’s finished with American cheese, pickles, and sambal-spiked special sauce, then set on a pretzel bun.
Residents Cafe, Dupont Circle
With servers in tropical shirts and pretty people sipping fruity drinks, the garden at this globally minded cafe feels like a beach club. Its halibut burger fits right in, dressed with rémoulade, fennel slaw, and marinated tomatoes, then set on a brioche as soft as the pillow-strewn benches.
Horseradish Bourbon Burger
Big Buns Damn Good Burger Company, Ballston, Rosslyn, Reston
Ketchup and mustard aren’t really a thing at these fast-casual spots. Which is just fine when it comes to this punch-packer—with Muenster, bourbon-spiked mushrooms, tomato jam, and a jolt of horseradish.
Garden District, 14th Street corridor
This snug beer garden has long been a burger destination, thanks to its straightforward cookout-style patty. It’s not too thick, not too thin, and served with old-school toppings: juicy tomato, pickles, lettuce, and special sauce.
The Green Pig, Clarendon
There are bacon cheeseburgers, and then there are bacon-bacon cheeseburgers. At this Southern-accented bistro, you’ll find the latter, with bacon both crumbled into the patty and draped on top a mix of cheddar and smoked Gouda. A housemade brioche and cornichon-studded special sauce finish it off.
“Red Apron Original”
Red Apron, Capitol Hill, Union Market, Fairfax
Butcher/chef Nate Anda has perfected his own 25-percent-fat beef blend that he says is ideal for a double smash burger. The caramelized meat is showcased with Thousand Island, bread-and-butter pickles, American cheese, iceberg lettuce, and onion on a challah bun.
“French Onion Burger”
Open Road, Arlington, Falls Church
The secret to this hickory-grilled patty—an homage to cheesy, bubbly French onion soup—lies in the aïoli. The garlicky mayo is stirred with housemade steak sauce, an umami-rich elixir conjured from, among many other things, tamarind, anchovies, molasses, allspice, and golden raisins. Gruyère cheese, a Lyon Bakery brioche, and two kinds of onions—crispy and caramelized—complete the burger, which we like to order a juicy rare.
Social Burger, Vienna
It’s largely a choose-your-own-adventure menu at this tiny strip-mall place: You can DIY burgers with toppings such as chimichurri, red-curry mayo, and fiery ghost-pepper jack cheese. Still, we gravitate to one of the few house-designed creations: two thick patties gooey with cheddar and stacked with bacon, fried jalapeños, sautéed onions, pickles, and special sauce.
Unconventional Diner, Shaw
Smash burgers can lean dry, but not at this French/American restaurant, where the ultra-juicy patties have a whopping 30 percent fat. The burger is a great balance be-tween cheffy and low-brow: buttery caramelized onions and housemade dill pickles, but also American cheese and a Martin’s potato bun. It figures—chef/owner David DeShaies was inspired by the fast-food chain Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers.
“Pimento & Cheese Burger”
The Girl & the Vine, Takoma Park
One of chef Rob Theriot’s favorite snacks growing up was his mother’s pimento cheese—it’s made its way onto almost every menu he’s created. At this sandwich-and-wine spot, he adds his spicy version to a griddled double patty with bread-and-butter-style jalapeños, pickled green tomato, cheddar, shredded lettuce, and aïoli.
Sunshine General, Brookeville
What’s up with all the cars parked outside this tiny wedge-shaped store? Wander inside—past the shelves crammed with every-thing from corn nuts to fly-fishing gear—and you’ll see a crowd huddled around a counter in the back. Two women juggle several orders at a time (even at 2 pm on a Tuesday), and most are burgers. It’s easy to taste what the fuss is about: thick patties on sesame buns layered with perfectly ripe tomato, crunchy lettuce, and top-notch bacon.
Buffalo Chicken Burger
Eat Brgz, Capitol Hill
Burgers get the customizable treatment at this mod fast-casual joint. Customers pick proteins mixed with a choice of seasonings, veggies, and cheeses to form flavorful, griddled creations. The house blends are great, especially this Buffalo-wing-inspired chicken patty studded with celery, carrots, and blue cheese. It even comes with a side of ranch.
“Big Papa Deluxe”
Bun Papa, Alexandria
When it comes to burgers, “the bread is the most important of all,” says Markos Panas, the mind behind both Bread & Water Company bakery and this new burger-and-hot-dog pop-up inside it. A divisive opinion, sure, but there’s no arguing the quality of his buttered and grilled brioche bun here. Other details that set the double cheeseburger apart: Angus beef that’s chopped, not ground, plus housemade dill pickles and special sauce.
Pogiboy, Dupont Circle
Ex–Bad Saint star Tom Cunanan and former Kaliwa chef Paolo Dungca turn out fast food with a Filipino accent at this counter inside the Block food hall. Fast food, of course, is a relative term. In these chefs’ hands, it means beef from Maryland’s Roseda Farm that’s ground in-house every day and spiced with adobo, then smashed into skinny patties on the griddle and gilded with cheddar and caramelized onions.
PLNT Burger, Multiple area locations
Good Stuff Eatery chef Spike Mendelsohn’s second burger chain has lofty ambitions: to rival operations like In-N-Out while bettering the environment with vegan (Beyond Meat) burgers and shakes. Will it work? So far, so good. There are eight locations—and counting—inside area Whole Foods stores. We’ll happily dig into a savory, crisp-edged double stack with faux American cheese and relish-heavy special sauce, preferably sided with crunchy sweet-potato fries.
Buck’s Fishing and Camping, Chevy Chase DC
This rustic-cool mainstay serves a burger that tastes straight off a backyard grill—if your grill came with a highly skilled chef. The fat, lightly charred, dry-aged-beef patty is done up with sweet barbecue sauce, Gouda, and grilled onions.
Holy Cow, Del Ray
The fast-casual burger joint specializes in all kinds of decadent toppings, from Brie and truffle honey to cream cheese and fried jalapeños. We’re partial to accenting our Angus beef with this combo of melty pimento cheese, cornmeal-crusted green tomato, and rémoulade.
“Livin’ on the Veg”
Swizzler, Navy Yard
If you’re bored with black-bean burgers and not into tech “meat,” let us introduce you to the slender, spiced patty at this burger shop/food truck. It’s crafted from sweet potato and tahini, then capped with avocado, cheddar, shallots, and arugula.
Bacon Mac and Cheese Burger
Tunnicliff’s Tavern, Capitol Hill
It’s a bipartisan vote: This mammoth creation, a staple on the open-late bar’s menu since the ’90s, is delicious. And popular—each year, the own-ers tell us, the place sells 30,000 of the brisket/short-rib patty heaped with bacon and smoked-Gouda mac and cheese.
Shouk, Mount Vernon Square, Union Market
There’s a reason that chef Carla Hall raved about this vegan burger on Food Network’s Best Thing I Ever Ate. Ran Nussbächer, who has opened two DC vegan Middle Eastern restaurants (with more on the way in Montgomery County), doesn’t try to mimic meat. His patty is a blend of legumes, mushrooms, beets, and scallions cooked on a griddle and tucked into a pita with arugula, charred onion, pickled turnips, and a jammy tomato. Extras include herby hot sauce and pickled cabbage, but it’s pretty perfect as is.
Lucky Buns, Adams Morgan, Union Market
You can close your eyes, point at the menu, and come up with a double-patty winner at Alex McCoy’s funky burger bars. The most popular, for good reason: this bacon cheeseburger, inspired by travels in Southeast Asia. Creamy chili-and-sambal-laced sauce brings heat, while soy-bacon-XO jam packsan umami punch.
Mintwood Place, Adams Morgan
Chefs have come and gone, but little has changed about “the burger” in the eight years since this French/American bistro opened. “I would be run out of town,” says chef Harper McClure, whose only modifications are swapping in premium Seven Hills Farm beef from Virginia and a bun from DC’s Bread Furst bakery. Everything else—the wood-grilled patty topped with lightly pickly lettuce, Neuske’s bacon, and Tabasco-tinged Marie Rose sauce—is, thankfully, still the same.
Randy’s Prime Seafood & Steaks, Vienna
A veggie burger at a steakhouse? We were skeptical, too—until we tasted this toasty black-bean/quinoa patty cloaked in Havarti, chipotle mayo, and avocado. (Hey, we didn’t say it was virtuous.) It’s stacked on grilled icebox bread with balsamic-marinated tomatoes, pickled beets, and crunchy greens.
La Betty, Mount Vernon Square
You might know the family behind this laid-back dining room more for their excel-lent breads at the neighboring bakery A Baked Joint and Georgetown’s Baked & Wired. So of course the sit-down restaurant’s burger features a standout bun—a light and fluffy pain de mie with a nice egginess to it. It holds together a cast-iron-seared “big boy” patty made with house-ground, dry-aged beef, plus tomato, onion, lettuce, and pickle.
Duke’s Grocery/Duke’s Counter, Dupont Circle, Foggy Bottom, Woodley Park
We tend to be excessive brunch orderers—coffee, a mimosa, and a Coke, please—so this towering concoction fits the bill. The famous-for-a-reason Proper Burger—two juicy patties, two zesty sauces (sweet chili and garlic aïoli), pickles, Gouda, and blistered onion—gets a morning upgrade with add-ons like bacon, avocado, and/or a runny egg. (Obviously, we do them all.)