The Search for the Best Burger in Michigan

This summer, John “Gonzo” Gonzalez of MLive searched far and wide across the state for Michigan’s best burger. After six days of traveling 1,700 miles and visiting 33 restaurants, he found one thing for sure – Michigan is home to a number of great burgers! Read about John’s experience below and be sure to check out the list of Michigan’s best burgers for more.

I looked down at the end of the bar at Miller’s in Dearborn, where I saw a young man eating his second burger. “Man, you must love this place to eat TWO burgers!” I said. Still chewing, he held up his hand, flashing three fingers. “No,” I said. “I only saw TWO burgers in front of you.” He gulped down his bite and said, “I order two that I eat immediately, and then I order a third one,” he said. “Oh, I see, you order a third one to go?” “Oh no,” he said. “I’ll eat it here. I just don’t want it to get cold, that’s why I wait to order the third one.”

That’s the passion I discovered at every stop on our search for Michigan’s Best Burger 2013. Whether it was patrons, chefs, owners, managers or employees, there is a Michigan passion for a good, old fashioned burger with cheese and your favorite toppings.

We have done these searches before:

Michigan’s Best Coney Dog (American Coney in Detroit),
Best BBQ (West Texas BBQ in Jackson),
Best Ice Cream Parlor (MOO-ville Creamery in Nashville),
Best Haunted House (Erebus in Pontiac), and
Best Breakfast (Anna’s House in Grand Rapids).

But our search for Michigan’s Best Burger was by far our most extensive one. After a nomination process that involves our readers, we put up polls in all of our markets to determine the readers’ favorites. Once we have that list, I hit the road.

This time we traveled 1,700 miles, visited 33 restaurants and did it over a period of six days. We visited burger joints from Sault Ste. Marie to Detroit, Bay City to Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor to Muskegon. On some days we visited 7 restaurants in one day.

If any of you have followed our other searches, I often take along an expert or companion who helps me out. It’s not easy eating all this food. On our search for Michigan’s Best Coney Dog, I was joined by Joe Grimm (co-author of “Coney Detroit”). On BBQ, it was the president of the Great Lakes Barbecue Association, Mike Terry of Flushing. And for our breakfast search it was Mike Jensen, a retired prison cook from Saranac.

For burgers, we were joined by David Kutzko, a Western Michigan University professor of Classics (Greek and Latin) who has a huge appetite and spends a lot of time checking out Michigan restaurants. Also, we were joined by Fritz Klug, a statewide reporter for MLive and David’s former student whose intention was to tag along on our trip to the Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan. But we couldn’t shake him.

What we discovered: Michigan residents love their burgers!

Most of the burgers on our Top 10 list were cooked on flattop grills and used a blend of 80 percent lean meat, and 20 percent fat. Many used a hand press. All of them are flipped only once.

Each place had a little different method; some used a secret seasoning, others used salt and pepper, and some used no seasoning at all.

The secret was in the meat, and the preparation method. We also took into account creativity, buns and those intangibles that make you want to order a second – or third – burger before you leave!

Here is our Top 10 List:

  1. Michigan burger map. Credit: Ed Riojas/Mlive.com

    Laura’s Little Burger Joint, 47141 M-51, Decatur

  2. West Pier Drive-In, 601 W. Portage Ave., Sault Ste. Marie
  3. Miller’s Bar, 23700 Michigan Ave., Dearborn
  4. Talley’s Log Cabin Bar, 2981 County Road 612, Lewiston
  5. Stella’s Lounge, 53 Commerce Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
  6. Brown Bear, 147 N. Michigan Ave., Shelby
  7. Schlenker’s Sandwich Shop, 1104 E. Ganson St., Jackson
  8. Torch Bar & Grill, 522 Buckham Alley, Flint
  9. Schuberg’s Bar & Grill, 109 N. Michigan Ave., Big Rapids
  10. Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger, 551 S Division St., Ann Arbor

Take a look at our complete list of 33 finalists; you won’t go wrong at any one of them.

Where’s your favorite place to get a burger in Pure Michigan? Share with us in the comments section below!

As the Statewide Entertainment writer for MLive Media Group, which represents eight newspapers throughout the state, as well as MLive.com and AnnArbor.com, John Gonzalez oversees the “Michigan’s Best” series. He has led statewide searches for Michigan’s Best BBQ, Ice Cream Parlor, Breakfast, Coney Dogs and most recently, Burgers. John is based in Grand Rapids, but has worked in Detroit, Lansing, Mt. Pleasant, Flint, Holland and Bay City.  He is originally from Capac, Michigan. You can follow him on Twitter at @MichiganGonzo. 

  • http://www.culvers.com/restaurants/madison-heights/ Caleb

    Culvers madison heights

  • Cheryl Carlson

    Bubbas in downtown Traverse City has the best burger

  • Kristyn

    Unfortunately, you missed the place that has the best burger in the world. Not an exaggeration. My friends in Toronto come to Grand Rapids twice a year for the massive craft beer selection and they stumbled upon the best burger they’ve collectively ever had at Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids. They brought me over there during one of their visits and I was blown away. Whenever I ask people in the area if they’ve ever been there, most just nod and say “the burger? Best ever” and those that haven’t been are amazed when I take them there to try it. I guarantee you will rewrite this list if you go there. It’s just called “the burger” and if you order it with the truffle fries, it’ll be a climatic explosion in your mouth.

  • Bevin

    You completely missed Traverse City – home of 2 awesome burger joints! Bubbas and Slabtown Burgers! What the heck?!

  • Shelly

    Googs Pub & Grub!! Holland, Mi

  • Sherri

    Redemacks in New Buffalo has the best burgers I have ever tasted besides In and Out Burgers in California~ they grind thier own meat daily and have honed the burgers to a craft. Check them out~ You can only pay cash and they seat 600. Shakes are wonderful as well!

  • Paula miller

    Sidetracks in Ypsilanti has the best burger! I also agree with Blimpy Burger in Ann Arbor.

  • Cindy

    You missed the entire NW part of N. Michigan. If you are going to do a complete comparison, you really need to include the ENTIRE state, not just where there is the “most” population. That being said, glad to see Shuberg’s in BR made it and the Brown Bear in Shelby.

  • Doris

    Sherri, I believe this is about the best burgers in Michigan? Bonnies place used to be the best in Lansing but it has closed sadly…. We are on the hunt for the best burger in our area again. Best Steak House is really good but they have closed for remodeling for a year!

  • Steve

    Don’s Drive In-Traverse City… Great burgers and the ONION RINGS ROCK !

  • Steve

    Also I forgot to note your reports were far better on the best BBQ and Coney Island… details and specifics as to why each joint was selected. Guess all that meat slowed you down :-D

  • Mike

    The Ogden Club on 10th Ave in Menominee- Blue cheese /bacon burger. Also, the Buck Inn on US 41 in Escanaba- many choices.

  • Jarrod

    Pretty decent list. If you want a no-frills burger that’s consistently perfect, look no further than Schlenkers in Jackson. Small, U-shaped counter, fresh fries, sirloin burgers that look like they were painted by Norman Rockwell. Nothing fancy, no gimmick, just perfection.

  • Judy

    Should have had a burger at Heck’s Bar in Pinnebog, Michigan. Fantastic burgers and fries.

  • Jim

    Goog’s!!!, Holland, MI….for crying out loud Gonzo..take a road trip to Holland.

  • Kelly Barman

    Did anyone try Antlers in Sault Ste Marie?

  • Joan

    The Brown Bear in Pentwater Michigan has the best burgers I have had. I ate on the balcony overlooking downtown Pentwater. Awesome burger.

  • pam

    SwanysPub & Grub St Johns….fresh baked buns, toasted, fresh meat…yum

  • VJ

    Ludington: Jamesport Brewing Co. – Jamesport Bacon Cheeseburger – I believe the beef is marinated in their oatmeal stout, topped with marinated portobello mushroom, bacon, cheese. A worthy candidate for your list !

  • Jenna

    Best burger in the country…a Thad Burger at the Avalon Bar in Hillman, Michigan

  • http://amm552000@yahoo.com Ann

    1. Millers Bar in Dearborn MI, our family recipe.

    2. Don’s Drive-In, Traverse City MI. Great burgers and malts!

  • JUDITH CADEAU

    please remove me from your mailing list I am tired of asking

  • JUDITH CADEAU

    please do not send me any e-mails from this point on .

  • sande

    Kelly, I have to go to Antlers each time I come to the Sault!!!! Fantastic food.. and for pork ANYTHING, Abners!! Their breakfast is the best with their sausages and ham.. But Antlers is great for dinner!

  • cathy

    you need to try the riverside family restaurant in freeland mi. we even have a burger we call the gonzo burger!!!! we have a great cowboy burger and bacon cheese burger. The boss often brings special burgers she will run all month long. if you ever are looking for the best pie ever we have that too!!! Their are about 30 different types to try, and get this they are all homemade:) Come see us next stop!!!!

  • Matt N.

    I’ll second Redamack’s in New Buffalo. You just need to take a look at the line out the door on a Saturday night to see how great this burger is.
    Years ago I was traveling in Washington DC and at a comedy club the comedian asked where our group was from. We said New Buffalo Michigan and he said ‘REDAMACK’S’.

  • Gretchen

    Take a good road-trip for the BEST burger in Michigan…it’s at the Hut Inn in Calumet! Their steakburger is nothing short of fabulous… This is in the tip of the Upper Peninsula.

  • Michele

    Mikey’s Burgers in Howell and Brighton are awesome! Their fries are terrific too. The Red Dog Bar in Milford also has great burgers. Both places use only fresh meat and flattop grills.

  • Pam

    Too bad you did not travel further to New Buffalo in the southwest corner of the state–Redamak’s is the best, and has been for many years!

  • Doug

    Antler’s in the Sault has been closed for 5 years. Abner’s is also closed and the building has been torn down.

  • Fran Stefanski

    Wimpy’s in Lexington, Mi. The best slider around!!!

  • Tom Corey

    As usual missed the lower Thumb area. In either order: 1 a GarBurger at Gar’s Bar in Marine City. 2: The RaftBurger at the Raft Bar in Clay Twp. Mi

  • Chan Huff

    I was not a bit surprised that our West Pier Drive-in was not in the top ten for Hamburgers in whole State of Michigan. Wow! Number two and I’m so proud this little place of such good taste. Was surprised that Barnacle Bill’s of Twas City off I-23 wasn’t listed, too!

    Thanks for the great plug for the girls at the West Pier in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

  • Cindi

    Been a while but best as I can recall it is Millers fer sure!!!

  • Bob Happy

    NEMOS on Michigan Ave. HAS the best burger in Michigan!

  • sheila

    Basement Burger Bar, Farmington Hills

  • Linda

    Doris, New Buffalo is in Michigan. Redamak’s is very popular but a stop in NB has to include The Stray Dog. Their burgers are the best.

  • DON LYNCH

    REDCOAT TAVERN. ROYAL OAK!!!!!!

  • Patti

    We love Millers but were recently introduced by friends to Sandy’s Off the Beach, located on 5 Mile Rd just west of Beach Daly in Redford, MI. The burgers are the best we have ever eaten and their sweet potato fries w/special sauce……delish!!! Go hungry!!! :)

  • http://WWW.redamaks.com Melissa

    You have not had the best burger in Michigan until you have been to Redamaks in New Buffalo which yes is in Michigan.
    If your going to list top 10 in all of Michigan then I would suggest that you travel all of Michigan before you make up such a list.

  • Lirio G.

    You have to try Jay’s stuffed burgers in Plymouth, they are amazing!!! I tried today the Old Orchard and my husband tried the Detroiter. The BEST burger I’ve ever had.

  • Patty

    Ike’s in Crystal – Montcalm County- the best burger I have ever had. It is a ice cream parlor too so awesome ice cream for dessert!

  • Dan LaLone

    Marley’s Bar & Grill in Manistique has a great burger in a turn of the last century bar. The have a very unusual method of preparing their burgers. Millers is also very good

  • John B

    Our Burger Club has rated the burgers from over 13 top burger joints in the Metro Detroit area. We use a 20 point rating scale that starts with the burger but includes the bun, toppings, & fries. It is is 20 point scale. Out top five choices as of today are:
    1. The Luxe Bar in Birmingham
    2. The Burger Basement in Farmington
    3. The Mercury Bar in Detroit
    4. The Sidetrack in Ypsilanti
    5. Casey’s in Ann Arbor
    The next six favorites were close to each other in the rankings
    Millers Bar – Dearborn, The Garage in Northville, The Jolly Pumpkin in Ann Arbor, The Red Coat Tavern in Royal Oak, the Red Hawk in Ann Arbor and Nicco & Valli in Plymouth.
    We venture out again next week.

  • csusio

    My vote goes to West Pier Drive In, Sault Ste. Marie. Awesome and authentic burgers, fries, and malts!

  • Dan

    Larson’s Bar in Monroe, MI