Anchor Bar 450 W. Fort St., Detroit, 313-964-9127; $: Enjoy waxed-paper-wrapped burgers, sandwiches and bar food with chunky crisp steak fries and creamy coleslaw sides. For a modest $5.75, you can have a cup of soup and then select a go-with sandwich from among ham, tuna, turkey, chicken salad and grilled cheese with bacon. 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; $$: Bagger Dave's, which seats 108, is more a full-service restaurant than its fast-food, drive-in and take-away competitors. That said, Dave's burgers, fries and sandwiches are often delivered to the table wrapped in paper bags. (That's where bagger comes from.) Unlike most burger joints, you can purchase bottled beer ($3.50-$4.75) and wine ($5-$6.50) by the pour while you enjoy the sophisticated jazz playlist. Finally, the woodsy up-North interior includes a kiddy-pleasing electric train running above the two dining sections. Burgers are 3.5 ounces — one costs $3.29 and two $4.29 (turkey burgers are a dollar more), and a generous helping of hand-cut double-fried Belgian-style Idaho fries is priced $2.19 a bag.
Big Beaver Tavern 645 Big Beaver Rd., Troy; 248-680-0066; $$: 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" 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. The appetizers, which average around $6, are dominated by scores of familiar deep-fat fried items, many of which are available in the hefty Pot of Gold sampler that includes serviceable renditions of potato skins, chicken strips, mozzarella cheese sticks and onion rings. 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, $, 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. Open 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily, except Sundays, which 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; $$: Usually a popular breakfast spot, this joint's Eastern European cuisine goes beyond the "most important meal" to include such meaty meals as chevapi and, better yet, the seasoned, delicious hamburger-like pljeskavice, which is a mixture of minced pork, beef, garlic and onions richer and chewier than any hamburger you've had, just perfect with a rich cheese on top. They usually just serve it as a patty with a side of spicy rice, but they'll gladly put it on a bun it for you if you want it American-style. It's $7.95 for lunch, $8.95 after 5 p.m.
The Emory 22700 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-546-8202; $$: 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; $: 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.
The Gathering Place 3985 John R Rd., Troy; 248-689-2039; $: 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; $: 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. (It's actually delightful to drive up to the place, park in the blacktop lot, and smell the grilled onions wafting out of the building!) 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. Slathered with chili and squeeze-cheese, the chili cheese fries will earn a thumbs-up from any serious chili-cheese-fry junkie. Even seldom-ordered items show some attention to detail, such as the chili, which comes not with ground beef but actual chunks of meat in it. It may be the best chili you'll ever eat with a plastic spoon!
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 Wednesday's huge plate of meat-sauced spaghetti and 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; $: Good-size burgers for $4.50, or $4.75 with cheese? And they're not stingy on the meat, gigantic and hearty. If you have enough cash you can shoot for higher things: stuffed chicken breasts, baby back ribs or whitefish. Or, you can choose to spend those extra sheckels at their bar; they mix their drinks generously.
Kelly's Bar 2403 Holbrook St., Hamtramck; 313-873-9428; $: Slightly ramshackle bar near American Axle has been serving blue-collar patrons for years, and they've perfected the paradigm: free pool, cheap drinks and deep-fried fare. Not only is it a great joint to stop, slam some beers and be as loud as you like, they also serve a hand-formed half-pound burger topped with bacon and blue cheese that will quickly cure any hunger, especially if it comes with a side of fried, beer-battered onion rings. The regulars seem to all be characters too. (The finest kind, of course.)
Krazy Jim's Blimpy Burger 551 S. Division St., Ann Arbor: 734-663-4590; $: 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." (Then there are the unique fried goods, like fried cauliflower.) 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; $: 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.
Motor City Sports Bar 9122 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck313-875-4710; $: 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. Festooned with beer-themed posters, banners, flags and mirrors, it's pretty much everything a blue-collar bar should be, down to the tin ceilings, wood-paneled walls and the pool tables and electronic darts in the commodious back room. As far as ambience goes, it's really the people at the bar — and behind it — that make this a pleasant place. See if you can come in during the after-work rush and not end up having a word or two with the locals, or getting a friendly wave upon leaving. There's usually a spot or two at the bar to sit down — or an unusual platform in front of the bar for those averse to stools. But all eyes are on the grill in the back, where they make 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, and co-owner Nick actually says there's more than a half-pound of meat in the patty before it's cooked, because it shrinks on the grill a bit. And that extra effort is laudable: They ensure that it's an actual half-pounder when it arrives on your plate, a patty fully as big as the puffy sesame seed bun they top it off with. 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; ask for them well-done and the littler bits in the bottom of the basket will help you finish your meal with a satisfying crunch. And burger, fries and beer can all be yours for a measly $9. You won't drive by without noticing this place again.
Nemo's Bar and Grill 1384 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-965-3180; $$: 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, Ann Arbor; 734-662-9291; $$: Old Town has been a tavern since 1867. The brick walls covered in old photos and playbills, the wood floor and tin ceiling radiate its history. The menu is reliable and there's always great burgers and a Bell's beer on tap. Grab one of the two window tables and people-watch or, if you're part of a big group, pull the tables together in back, under the giant painting of the naked lady.
Red Coat Tavern 31542 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak; 248-549-0300; 6745 Orchard Lake Rd., West Bloomfield; 248-865-0500; $$: In our annual reader's poll for Best Burger, 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; $: 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; $$: This joint's burger has had laurels heaped upon it by burger aficionados, local papers, even GQ magazine — named one of 20 hamburgers "you must eat before you die." The exact blend of fat and flesh, supplied by Hiller's and delivered twice a day, is ground to the owner's specs. It probably doesn't hurt that the cheeseburgers get two slices of cheese (nine choices). Then there's the location's history and ambience — a bar since 1850, the spot is a pebble's throw from the Amtrak tracks, still using the original, elaborately carved, dark wood bar. What's more, the adult beverage selection is top-notch, with 16 drafts, including nine Michigan craft brews on tap, a bottled beer list that includes raspberry and cherry beers from Belgium, Bell's Stout, and Delirium Tremens, and 24 vodkas, mostly flavored, and mixed drinks featuring such ingredients as peppermint schnapps, raspberry liqueur and ice cream.
Tap Room 201 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti; 734-482-5320; $$: 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; $: 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. Try the Great Northern bean and vegetable Burger ($8) or the Jam Burger ($8), a half-pound of ground round with lettuce, tomato and dressing. You can wash it down with Traffic Jam's brewed-on-site beers or a Fruity Pebbles and Faygo Rock and Rye homemade ice cream.
Uptown Grille 3100 E. West Maple, Commerce Twp.; 248-960-3344: When you come in, you'll see the café that opens at 6 a.m. where they sell wine and beer, as well as drinks and casual food. After 11 a.m., they open the restaurant, with wine, beer, a full menu of burgers (six meat and two veggie), as well as sandwiches and pastas, as well as steaks, fish and desserts.
Woodbridge Pub 5169 Trumbull Ave., Detroit; 313-833-2701; $: 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. What's more, it's not only vegetarian but vegan.
Special thanks to editorial intern Natalie Wright for her assistance compiling this column. Anyplace you think we should have included? Let us know! Send comments to [email protected].