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How do you pick one favorite burger gem in a city full of diamonds? I can’t mention the classic (award-winning) burger at Pangaea without giving a shout out to the OG Formoli’s Whiskey Burger. The b&b burger at bacon & butter is always a favorite, but the Juicy Lucy at Golden Bear is still props-worthy. There are so many prerequisite burgers that need to be sampled to even start a “best” conversation. That’s one of the reasons I love putting on the Sacramento Burger Battle, a charity burger cookoff where attendees get to try 15 of Sacramento’s best and cast a vote for their favorite.
Here are the first five of our current favorite burger fixes that will satisfy your Sacramento burger cravings:
Localis is the new kid on the burger block. If this list was literally NKOTB, Localis would be Joey. They might also be the last place you might expect to serve a burger, let alone an emoji fire, emoji bomb, emoji “100” worthy burger. At night, they serve up amazingly executed local, seasonal dishes with an optional 3 or 5 course chef’s tasting menu. For the purposes of this article, though, you’re going to want to get there Tuesday through Friday by about 11am to make sure you can grab one of their Spaniard Burgers before they run out.
I love how Chef Chris Dann isn’t afraid to go with nontraditional flavors for his take on a burger. He uses a locally baked, toasted ciabatta bun as a canvas to paint this burger masterpiece. The spicy romesco sauce sets the tone that you’re in for something different. The half pound, grass-fed, beef burger is cooked in their wood-fired grill oven and topped with creamy manchego cheese and fresh lettuce. Pro tip: splurge for the crispy jamon serrano upgrade for the full Spanish Burger experience and you’ll be craving it for weeks after your visit. The Waterboy
For 20 years, Waterboy has been serving up some of the best food Midtown has to offer. Although it’s mostly known as a neighborhood restaurant that features a seasonal European-inspired menu, true burger junkies know that when lunch hour rolls around, The Waterboy unleashes what is easily one of the best burgers in town.
Rick’s Deluxe Burger is what I like to call an “elevated classic cheeseburger.” Instead of wowing you with truffles or huge onion ring stacks, this burger will amaze with its attention to detail. Consistently executing a perfectly seasoned, cooked to temperature (medium rare please) 5 Dot Ranch beef patty is no small feat. And when those creamy melted white cheddar and grilled red onion flavors start working together, it’s truly something special. Lettuce, tomato, and Bubbies pickles bring a nice contrasting freshness and the special sauce they spread on the toasted bun really puts it over the top. Revolution Wines
Yes, Revolution Wines serves food! This urban winery located in midtown has been serving up tasty bites since the move to their S Street location in 2010. Their burger is a more recent discovery. It was previously only available on Thursdays as part of their $15 burger and wine pairing special. With their recent kitchen revamp, they are now serving the burger for both lunch and dinner.
The “Red” Burger from Revolution’s Chef Teddy Gibanov is one of those rare burgers that tastes as good as the Instagram photo looks. The foundation of a great burger starts at the buns, and Chef Teddy bakes my favorite brioche bun in town. After the bun is toasted, it’s topped with his “KGB Sauce”, a half pound burger with melted American cheese (hallelujah), caramelized onions, crispy bacon, lettuce and pickles. This is a juicy, classic burger that would make vegetarians think twice about their life choices (kidding, they actually offer a house made veggie patty on request).
Cask & Barrel [CLOSED]
Cask & Barrel is another relative newcomer to the Sacramento farm to fork dining scene. They’re on a mission to explore and define American cuisine through the use of the best local ingredients available. Located on Del Paso Boulevard, this fun neighborhood restaurant features a strong cocktail program which makes it perfect for a happy hour burger adventure.
Every element of the Cask & Barrel house-ground cheeseburger is carefully thought out and made in house. They grind their special beef blend in-house so that all the ground strands face the same direction. The patties are then seared on a flattop grill and topped with their house-made American cheese, made with a wheat beer that gives it the familiar gooey texture of Velveeta. Chef Glaser can tell you about the amazing detail that went into this beautiful burger, but I will say that they only make 8 burgers per day so get one sooner rather than later! Empress Tavern
Empress Tavern is located under the Crest Theatre in downtown Sacramento and unlike its vegetable-centric sister restaurant, Mother, it is a meat lover’s paradise. The menu reads like a carnivore’s carefully curated to-do list. And during happy hour, my fellow burger fiends, they serve one hell of a cheeseburger.
This is one of the only higher end, downtown restaurants serving burgers with thin beef patties and I’m all for it. My favorite style of burger these days is a smashed and griddled (on a flat top) double cheeseburger and that’s exactly what Empress Tavern is serving up.
For the Empress Double Cheeseburger, they rub the two 3 ounce burger patties with mustard and griddle them with onions similar to In-N-Out’s animal style burger, and top it off with gruyère cheese, pastrami and butter lettuce on toasted, house-baked sesame seed buns. Pair it with one of the great cocktails at the bar and you’ve got yourself the makings of a good night out. Our work isn’t done here. Check out Part 2 for 5 more must-try burgers that we scouted out.
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