Ohio’s Best Burgers — By Far
Calvin Trillin, one of this nation’s finest food journalists, put it aptly when he stated that, “Anybody who doesn’t think that the best hamburger place in the world is in his home town is a sissy.”
That statement is as revealing as it is humorous. Truth is, most of us love a great hamburger — and we all believe that the world’s best burger joint is the one down the road. While there is little chance of settling once and for all the Great Burger Battle, we can all likely agree that discovering new places is half the fun.
So, as you set out in your quest for the perfect patty, the sweetest special sauce, the choicest of cheeses, the bounciest of buns, please use this article as a guide. That said: Our town’s burger joint blows away your town’s burger joint any day of the week!
Midway Oh Boy (Elyria)
How can you not fall madly in love with a burger joint called Oh Boy? Located in Elyria, the Midway Oh Boy restaurant has been dispensing its rightly famous burgers for over half a century. The hamburger is of double-decker construction, not unlike the Big Boy and Big Mac. But here, the mayonnaise-based special sauce — fittingly called Oh Boy sauce — does wonders lubricating the diner-style sandwich while elevating it into the burger stratosphere. Sparingly embellished with a slice of cheese and a smattering of shredded lettuce, this is no messy three-napkin affair. Hungry diners will want to upgrade to the Special Plate, which includes fries and an odd little side salad topped with — you guessed it — Oh Boy sauce. Chocolate milkshakes are extra.
B Spot (Cleveland)
We diners are beginning to grow suspicious of over-branded celebrity chefs striving to sell us everything under the sun — and rightly so. Therefore, it’s only natural to approach Iron Chef Michael Symon’s Cleveland burger bar, B Spot, with a healthy dose of trepidation. Trying to fight back the love once that burger is in hand, however, proves much more difficult. At six ounces, B Spot aims right for the sweet spot between slim diner-style burgers and the four-finger-thick pub variety. Comprised of chuck, sirloin and brisket — supplied by legendary New York butcher Pat LaFrieda — the hamburgers explode with beefy goodness. A crusty shell from the griddle locks in juices. Purists should opt for the Plain Jane (lettuce, tomato and onion), while the rest of us run for the Lola burger, outrigged with bacon, cheddar, fried egg and pickled onions. Other renditions come topped with pastrami and slaw, corned beef and kraut, and flipsteak and Cheez Whiz. Tack on orders of slender rosemary-scented fries, golden brown onion rings, and “Bad Ass” milkshakes, spiked with booze.
Kewpee Burger (Lima)
Sweet, adorable little Kewpee. No, not the creepy naked doll, but the savory little meat pie. In its heyday, this old-school hamburger chain boasted hundreds of locations, making it one of the largest outfits going. Today, all but a few are gone, making the Lima, Ohio, spots living legends. True fans will direct you to the downtown Deco gem, built in the late 1920s and still going strong. Unheard of for a fast food-style diner — heck, any restaurant — is the fact that Kewpee grinds its own beef fresh from locally raised cattle. The result is a burger with bona fide beefy goodness bun to bun. Griddled rather than grilled, the square burgers are topped with fresh condiments and bundled up in the famous wax paper wrapper bearing the company slogan: “Hamburg, pickle on top! Makes your heart go flippity flop!”
Swensons Drive-In (Akron/Canton)
Wesley “Pop” Swenson opened the original Swensons restaurant way back in 1934. Little has changed about his burger and burger restaurant in lo these many years (apart from sprouting new locations). For starters, Swensons is still an old-fashioned-style drive-in, which means carhops deliver the food on a tray that gets affixed to the exterior (or interior in winter) of your car door. The dreamy Galley Boy is the go-to burger here, boasting two fresh patties that possess faint hints of sweet brown sugar. The double cheeseburger sports the ideal burger-to-bun ratio, gooey Velveeta-like cheese, and two — count ’em two! — secret sauces. Dirt cheap and faster than the drive-thru, Swensons proves daily why it has lasted for 75 years. Tip: Do not back into your parking spot because at Swensons, turning on one’s headlights is the equivalent of yelling “waiter!”
Terry’s Turf Club (Cincinnati)
If not for the eye-catching jumble of vintage neon signs, one could easily mistake Terry’s Turf Club for an unremarkable hole-in-the-wall dive. And that would be an unforgiveable sin as Terry’s is crafting some of the tastiest burgers in Southwest Ohio. Not that the joint doesn’t possess a certain homey, lived-in appeal, what with the vintage beer-shaped cooler, heaps of ephemera covering the walls, and peanut shells doing the same for the floors. But folks don’t come to Terry’s for the atmosphere: they arrive in droves for the meaty and robustly seasoned burgers, dished up unceremoniously on paper plates. As great as the burgers are, it’s the special sauces that set Terry’s apart. Toppers like mango curry and burgundy wine with mushrooms make the burgers sing like Bieber. Don’t take our word for it — consider the stamp of approval issued by Food Network’s Guy Fieri, who praised the joint on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” Fresh-cut fries, ice-cold beer, and fun and friendly service round out the things locals love about this Cincy gem.
Tank’s Bar and Grill (Dayton)
Spend a few days in Dayton and more than a few locals are bound to ask if you’ve had a chance to visit Tank’s for a hamburger. Duck if you haven’t. This loveable, dog-eared joint offers all the charms of a backyard barbeque with friends — friends that know how to cook, that is. Regulars come weekly for the killer breakfasts, while true ground beef aficionados make the trek for a juicy two-fisted Tankburger. A half-pound of hand-formed burger bliss, these beauts are big, messy flavor bombs, especially when crowned with bacon, mushroom and onion. Not that you’ll have much room to spare in the old belly, but consider tacking on an order of the humorously named Couch Potatoes, Tank’s killer version of chili-cheese fries.
The Rossi Bar & Kitchen (Columbus)
Now, most Buckeyes will tell you that the best burger in Columbus resides in German Village, at the storied Thurman Café. And those folks aren’t crazy. But there’s a bit of a burger battle brewing in hipster Short North, where the sharp-dressed Rossi has been winning the hearts and stomachs of Buckeye burger fans. Located in the heart of the main drag, Rossi continues to woo hungry locals and tourists alike thanks to lovingly prepared bistro fare dished up in a classy chassis. Fans of the classic Club 185 cheeseburger will enjoy the upgraded version served here, loaded with lettuce, onion, tomato, pickles and mayo. These seductive, mouthwatering masterpieces are expertly cooked and sided by a paper cone of Rossi’s fresh-cut fries.
Photography by Scott Beseler
Burgundy wine with mushroom burger at Terry’s
Midway Oh Boy
Terry’s Turf Club double stacked
B Spot burger
For more foodie inspiration, Find It Here at Ohio.org.