Food

These Are the 40 Best Burgers Around DC

How many have you tried?

From top: Slash Run’s “Barstool Rodeo,” Pogiboy’s smash burger, Bun Papa’s “Big Papa Deluxe,” Emmy Squared’s “Le Big Matt,” La Betty’s “Betty Burger”. Photo by Jeff Elkins

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”

Melt, Leesburg

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.

Patty Melt

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.

“Barstool Rodeo”

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.

“Dive Burger”

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.

Fish Burger

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.

“The Standard”

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.

Bacon Cheeseburger

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”

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.

Double Cheeseburger

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.

Bacon Cheeseburger

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.

Smash Burger

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”

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.

“BBQ Burger”

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.

“The Southern”

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 Burger”

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.

“Bogan Bun”

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 Burger”

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.

Veggie Burger

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.

“Betty Burger”

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.

“Brunchie Burger”

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.)

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Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.