Burger heaven 

A bevy of local spots to chomp on a hamburger

$=$5-$10; $$=$10-$25; $$$=$25-$50; $$$$=$50+

Anchor Bar 450 W. Fort St., Detroit; 313-964-9127; anchorbar.com; $: Enjoy waxed-paper-wrapped burgers, sandwiches and bar food with chunky crisp steak fries and creamy coleslaw sides. Among other items on the menu are Reubens, a steak sub, buffalo wings, popcorn shrimp and, for the few kids who wander in with their folks, chicken fingers. This is primarily a beer-and-shot joint with a several TVs generally tuned to sports, two pool tables, a jukebox, and a venue for some of the liveliest and occasionally profound conversations that you will ever hear.

Bagger Dave's 2972 Coolidge Hwy., Berkley; 248-543-3283; also locations in Ann Arbor and Novi; baggerdaves.com; $$: Bagger Dave's is more like a full-service restaurant than its fast-food, drive-in and take-away competitors. That said, Dave's burgers, fries and sandwiches are often delivered to the table wrapped in paper bags. (That's where "bagger" comes from.) Unlike most burger joints, you can purchase bottled beer ($3.75-$4.75) and wine ($5-$7) by the pour while you enjoy the sophisticated jazz playlist. Finally, the woodsy up-North interior includes a kiddy-pleasing electric train running above the two dining sections. Burgers are 3.5 ounces — one patty costs $3.79 and two $4.79 (turkey burgers are a dollar more: $4.49 and $5.49, respectively), and a generous helping of hand-cut double-fried Belgian-style Idaho fries is priced $2.39 a bag. Happy hour is 2-6 p.m.

Big Beaver Tavern 645 Big Beaver Rd., Troy; 248-680-0066; bigbeavertavern.com; $$: How does an Italian restaurant get reborn as a sports tavern? Check out what Mark Larco and company have done here. Not only do they have the burgers and fries, they have the sport and fun, including the massive Big Beaver Burger: two half-pound patties with bacon, Swiss and cheddar cheese, sautéed onions, lettuce and tomatoes. The $12.99 price tag is not as steep as it appears, since the burger comes with an "I ate the Big Beaver Burger" T-shirt, if you can finish it.

Blarney Stone Pub 27253 Woodward Ave., Berkley; 248-541-1881; $: Irish pubs, which have long been a feature of the American drinking scene, have become a worldwide phenomenon, flourishing in such unlikely venues as Moscow and Tokyo. And so it makes sense that the Blarney Stone's everyday menu is all-American pub grub. Try the order of five flavorful burger sliders ($5.95) — with pickles, onions and a tomato-mustard sauce. There are 10 other burger varieties, including, again for the health-conscious, bison.

Cheeseburger in Paradise 13883 Lakeside Circle, at Lakeside Mall, Sterling Heights; 586-532-9828; cheeseburgerinparadise.com; $, Taking its name, of course, from the Jimmy Buffett munchies anthem, the place is suitably decked out in mass-produced tropical fish art, palm-thatched trellises, seashells and regulation tiki bar stuff. They concoct all manner of fun boat drinks using Hershey's syrup, lots of flavored vodkas, rums and sticky liqueurs, garnished with baby bananas, pineapple and other fruit sculpted into freaky creatures, including a parrot wearing Ray Bans. As for the food, you can find its like in most cookie-cutter chain links.

Comet Burger 207 S. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-414-4567; $: Comet Burger's concept of the '50s is pink vinyl and stainless steel chairs, Formica tabletops decorated with little boomerangs (you'll recognize them when you see them), album covers on the walls, lots of TVs and, of course, sliders and malts. The malts alone are worth the trip. As for the sliders, they're sliders, but grilled onions improve the flavor considerably.

Detroiter Bar 655 Beaubien St, Detroit; 313-963-3355; $$: Yes, it's a bar, but it's also a grill worthy of this meat-and-potatoes town. The downtown spot packs 'em in for lunch. Expect solid bar fare, including big salads and a tasty chicken breast sandwich. The staff seems especially proud of their half-pound burger, the House Special Burger, draped with enough meat and cheese to bring tears to a vegan's eyes, including ham, bacon, American and Swiss, served with fries and a mug of beer or a pop. Bar is open 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily, except Sundays, when hours vary, but the kitchen does close for a bit, usually between 2 and 3 p.m., and then for the night at midnight.

Ellie's Grill & Coney 2033 Coolidge Hwy., Berkley; 248-691-4441; $$: Usually a popular breakfast spot, this joint's Eastern European cuisine goes beyond the "most important meal" to include such meaty meals as chevapi and, better yet, the seasoned, delicious hamburger-like pljeskavice, which is a mixture of minced pork, beef, garlic and onions richer and chewier than any hamburger you've had, just perfect with a rich cheese on top. They usually just serve it as a patty with a side of spicy rice, but they'll gladly put it on a bun it for you if you want it American-style. It's $7.95 for lunch, $8.95 after 5 p.m.

The Emory 22700 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-546-8202; theemory.com; $$: A highlight of the lunch and dinner menu is a plate of sliders. These little celebrations sport a heap of sweet caramelized onions and a side of au jus for dipping. For something slightly lighter, try the crisp cherry walnut salad — slightly lighter only because it's topped by a mound of bacon bits that's about the size of a softball. On the side are potatoes, baked and then flash-fried crispy on the outside and sprinkled with large chunks of onion and pepper. The other side of the plate is reserved for avocado slices and mandarin orange wedges. Wash it down with a creation from the well-stocked Bloody Mary bar and it's certain the rest of the day will unfold in your favor.

Famous Hamburger 5808 Schaefer Rd., Dearborn; 313-945-0002; 3424 Fairlane Dr., Allen Park; 313-441-4100; also in Ann Arbor; famoushamburger.com; $: The hamburgers at Famous are a sight better than fast food. Come for the fries or for the bargain steak (a special), or because the meat is halal. Or, come just because it's a friendly place. The Dearborn location used to be housed in one of the city's oldest buildings, but now it has moved to an airy and commodious new spot on Schaefer Road, with quirky statuary of old-fashioned cooks and piazzolos. The Allen Park shop is no-frills, and their heaping orders of French fries will challenge even king-size stomachs. The friendly cooks will ask how you liked your meal, and they actually seem to care. They offer a dizzying variety of options.

Famous Izzy's Restauarant 22315 Little Mack, Roseville; 586-294-6750; $: This is about as serious as sandwiches get. And sandwiches that aren't just double-deckers or triple-deckers — but four-deckers so tall they have to be served on skewers. But they also serve hot dogs and burgers — giant-style. It's the home of the 25-inch, half-pound hot dog, and — get this — the seven-pound steak burger! (The menu describes as "not for wimps!")

The Gathering Place 3985 John R Rd., Troy; 248-689-2039; gatheringplacetroy.com; $: How do you explain the staying power of the exceedingly plain Troy establishment at the corner of John R and Wattles? It may have something to do with the deep-dish pizza, commendable burgers, and 16 sides from the deep fryer. As one would expect in a bar and grill, the Gathering Place features an array of drafts highlighted by the Pabst Blue Ribbon ($3).

Howell's Bar 1035 Mason St., Dearborn; 313-565-6322; $: This venerable corner bar used to cater to the old-man crowd years ago, but it has found a hip new identity amid the changes shaking up the Michigan Avenue strip in west Dearborn. Divey but clean, quirky but attractive, the bar's menu is brief but classic: Hamburger and cheeseburger and fresh-cut fries. Devotees of the hamburger will rave about it. No matter how much you want on your burger, it never costs more than $5.50, huge and juicy enough to soak through the bun (they're a reason they toast the buns lightly). So go with a friend, order two burgers, dragged through the garden, add on a pitcher of PBR for $6.50 and you have a great meal, ample drinks, and haven't even spent a Jackson. Don't forget to say thanks to the cook, Jimmy.

Hunter House Hamburgers 35075 Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-646-7121; hunterhousehamburgers.com; $: Though it was founded in the 1950s, it's no coincidence that the family that owns it bought it in the 1980s, just as Birmingham was really beginning to take off as an upscale suburb with eating and dining options. The patties mostly derive their flavor from the onions, pressed into the patty while it's still on the grill. In fact, if there's a single ingredient that sums up the burger, it's onions. Those who object to the thin patties can order a double, which comes with two patties, approximating a hamburger from a fast-food chain. The burgers are served on moist hot buns, with a glistening sheen on them. And the fries aren't tasteless krinkle-cut or all-crunch shoestring, but a pleasing medium.

Jacoby's 624 Brush St., Detroit; 313-962-7067; jacobysdetroit.com; $$: Jacoby's is one of the best places downtown for a great, no-frills, all-American (well, they are also noted for their fine German food) lunch — a wonderful place for a burger and a brew before a Tigers game or a show. Those burgers are said to be superb; but what about lunch for those of us of the vegetarian persuasion? Well, Jacoby's has one of the finest, tastiest garden burgers we've ever tasted — and we've tasted a lot in our lifetimes. Don't know exactly what they do to make it so special or so darn tasty, aside from the cheese on top (we always go with melted Swiss) and the incredible buns — but it's their secret and we're certainly not complaining. In fact, at least two MT editors claim they could subsist on nothing but these. Comes with a pickle and a side of french fries — though, lately, we've been substituting a terrific garden salad (you have numerous other choices, including Jacoby's famous potato salad, etc.) for only a buck more.

Jake's Crossroads Bar & Grill 2704 Oakwood Blvd., Melvindale; 313-928-9639; $: It may not be the best burger you ever ate in your life, but with 7 ounces of Black Angus beef and a crusty bun, it's definitely one of the finer bar burgers out there. This basic neighborhood blue-collar bar also serves up a tasty, enormous steak sandwich, plus nightly specials like Friday's beer-battered cod. All are way above your barroom average, with extra-large portions and prices that could attract even those who aren't barflies.

Joey's Meat Cutter Inn 2638 Orleans St., Detroit; 313-393-0960; cuttersdetroit.com; $: Good-size burgers for $5, or $5.25 with cheese? And they're not stingy on the meat, gigantic and hearty. If you have enough cash you can shoot for higher things. Or, you can choose to spend those extra sheckels at their bar; they mix their drinks generously.

Krazy Jim's Blimpy Burger 551 S. Division St., Ann Arbor: 734-663-4590; blimpyburger.com; $: Where Packard meets South Division lies arguably one of the best burger houses in the country, where they're made on the grill right in front of you. And it's an Ann Arbor institution spanning six decades, right down to its R. Crumb-influenced menu. It's $4.30 for Jim's ultimate cheese sandwich, and just $5.62 for the veggie burger. A half-pound burger costs just $5.10, or $5.70 with cheese. To give you an idea how finely you can tune your burger, one patron recommends the "triple with blue cheese, black olives, yellow peppers and a fried egg — on a Kaiser roll." The burger stop's slogan? "Cheaper than food." Cafeteria-style setting means no tipping; read the "instructions" before ordering; open until 10 p.m. every day except Sunday (8 p.m.).

Miller's Bar 23700 Michigan Ave., Dearborn; 313-565-2577; millersbar.com; $: Classic, no-frills practices survive at Miller's, where table service has been paperless for years — all on the honor system. Unless you want to be known as an outsider, don't ask for a menu or a tab. Just order the burger and a beer. When you're done, tell the bartender what you got. The system works, in part, because the prices are so reasonable, there's hardly any reason to lie.

Mister Spots 808 S. State St., Ann Arbor; 734-747-7768; mrspots.com; $: A longstanding Ann Arbor classic, Mister Spots has been filling the bellies of its loyal patrons for more than 25 years. Made famous for Philly-style sandwiches, all beef used is USDA choice rib-eye steak. Chicken options are equally satisfying and are served with the house special sauce. Though primarily a steak and hoagie joint, Spots does burgers well. Served on a Kaiser roll and made with Angus beef, the 1/4-pound burger is a deal at only $4. There is also a 1/2-pound version and both come with plenty of fresh toppings. Sides such as potato and macaroni salads are available, and fries come by the sack. The award-winning Buffalo-style chicken wings are fantastic, both boneless and traditional. If you like things spicy, try with the signature "suicide" sauce. Even former U-M and current New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady can't resist a trip to Spots when in town. His autographed picture hangs on the wall with a message thanking Spots for getting him through school. That may not be an exaggeration; the food is that good.

Motor City Sports Bar 9122 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck 313-875-4710; second location at 21231 Mound Rd., Warren; 586-755-4750; $: This little joint may not look like much from the outside, but the somewhat rough exterior conceals an old-fashioned Hamtramck bar that harks back to an earlier age, when people poured in at the end of a shift change for burgers and beers. And what keeps them streaming in are burgers and fries that any restaurant would serve with pride. The burgers are absolute two-hander, three-napkin monsters, not too dry, not too moist, cooked perfectly to order. Each burger has a half-pound of beef on a puffy sesame seed bun. Seldom does something this good and satisfying come in a plastic basket on a bed of wax paper. And the fries are nothing to sniff at either: Thick, steak-cut fries topped with just the right amount of fine-grain salt.

Nemo's Bar and Grill 1384 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-965-3180; nemosdetroit.com; $$: Formerly in the shadow of the old Tiger Stadium, this place was a sports bar years before it was cool. The old-fashioned pressed-tin ceiling and sports memorabilia everywhere add to the atmosphere. Plus, the hamburgers can't be beat.

Old Town Tavern 122 W. Liberty St., Ann Arbor; 734-662-9291; oldtownaa.com; $$: Old Town has been a tavern since 1898. The brick walls covered in old photos and playbills, the wood floor and tin ceiling radiate its history. The menu is reliable and there's always great burgers and a Bell's beer on tap. Grab one of the two window tables and people-watch or, if you're part of a big group, pull the tables together in back, under the giant painting of the naked lady.

Quickie Burger Bar and Grill 800 S. State St., Ann Arbor; 734-222-4555; quickie-burger.com; $: Open on weekends until 4 a.m., you'll find this campus staple packed with those looking for their late-night fried food fix. Beer-battered mushrooms and onion rings, sweet potato fries and sausage gravy-covered fries make the appetizers a huge draw. The burgers, however, are the main reason to stop in. Ranging in size from the 1/3-pound "Minor Cheeseburger" ($5) to the mammoth, full-pound "Double Major Cheeseburger" ($8), the burgers at Quickie are served on a whole-wheat bun with a secret sauce and a choice of five different cheeses. Extra toppings include egg, jalape�os, chili, peppers and sautéed mushrooms, among others. For a healthier option, veggie burgers, fresh salads and even a spinach and artichoke dip are available (and delicious). Beer, wine and cocktails are available along with shakes and malts in every variety with flavors such as mango and mint being especially unusual. And for those craving something off the griddle, breakfast is served all day.

Red Coat Tavern 31542 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak; 248-549-0300; 6745 Orchard Lake Rd., West Bloomfield; 248-865-0500; $$: In our annual reader's poll for Best Burger in Oakland County, the Red Coat comes out on top year after year, with its list of 20 add-ons, from burnt onions to olives to smoked Gouda, and five types of bread, including grilled rye or pumpernickel. The thick, juicy succulent two-handers require extra napkins. This place is crowded every day at lunch and dinner — and usually in between. There is a full menu, and not just bar food. Add the new location in West Bloomfield and you've doubled your pleasure.

Red Knapp's Dairy Bar 304 S. Main St., Rochester; 248-651-4545; redknapps.net; $: Excluding the prices, Red Knapp's Dairy Bar probably hasn't changed much since it opened in 1950. Small children sip their thick malted milkshakes made from hand-dipped ice cream and spin on the chrome stools that surround two U-shaped bars while traffic on Rochester's Main Street rolls by outside. The burgers are big and simple half-pound, hand-formed patties on bakery-fresh buns. The floors are checkered black-and-white and doo-wop music fills the space. This place is so '50s you might almost feel out of place without a ducktail and a pack of smokes rolled up in your sleeve.

Sidetrack Bar and Grill 56 E. Cross St., Ypsilanti; 734-483-1035; sidetrackbarandgrill.com; $$: This joint's burger has had laurels heaped upon it by burger aficionados, local papers, even GQ magazine — named one of 20 hamburgers "you must eat before you die." The exact blend of fat and flesh, supplied by Hiller's and delivered twice a day, is ground to the owner's specs. It probably doesn't hurt that the cheeseburgers get two slices of cheese (nine choices). Then there's the location's history and ambience — a bar since 1850, the spot is a pebble's throw from the Amtrak tracks, still using the original, elaborately carved, dark wood bar. What's more, the adult beverage selection is top-notch.

Tap Room 201 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti; 734-482-5320; taproomypsi.com; $$: Downtown Ypsilanti's oldest drinking establishment has an atmosphere that's relaxed and casual, catering to a diverse clientele. It can get crowded and rowdy on a weekend night, where throngs gather amid the original woodwork and tin ceiling. With dozens of kinds of bottled beers and nine drafts, you'll find the right beer to go with that broiled 1/3-pound burger.

Traffic Jam & Snug 511 W. Canfield, Detroit; 313-831-9470; trafficjamdetroit.com; $: Although not even close to being vegged-out, Traffic Jam and Snug restaurant has some pretty interesting food of their own, not to mention, much of it is made in house. They're serving a "Tex Mex Lentil Burger" ($8), "Catherine's Black Bean Burrito" ($10), or you can always try the "Jam Burger" ($8), a half-pound of ground round with lettuce, tomato and dressing. You can wash it all down with Traffic Jam's brewed-on-site beers or a Fruity Pebbles and Faygo Rock and Rye homemade ice cream.

Woodbridge Pub 5169 Trumbull Ave., Detroit; 313-833-2701; woodbridgepub.com; $: The most popular items on the menu (as on all menus) are the burgers. They're a succulent half-pound of certified Angus, dressed up with white cheddar or goat cheese or caramelized bacon or portabellas, delivered rare if you ask for rare. The "Stevers McFever" is their superior black-bean burger: The patty holds together well with a convincing-looking finish to it. When it's topped with sliced avocados, marinated tomatoes, caramelized onions and — for a fine-dining accent — a balsamic glaze, it approaches the perfect burger.

Thanks to editorial interns LaKeidra Bronner and Dylan Lawrence for their assistance researching this article.

See any errors or omissions? Let us know! Call 313-202-8043 or e-mail mjackman@metrotimes.com.

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