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. 

  • Peter Carlson

    All of these have nothing on Johny Dogs in Munising. A hot dog joint but with awesome burgers.

  • Guest

    Turks Inn
    11139 Cleveland St, Nunica, MI 49448

  • Steph

    The last time I was at Miller’s it was not very good. They have slipped over the past 10 years.

  • jim

    blimpy burger hasnt been open for over a year and isnt opening again until next year

  • Randy Burbach

    Greasy, disgusting and utterly delicious “the burger that made New Buffalo famous”

  • Leels

    I believe you missed “Ray’s” in Grand Haven.

  • Leels

    if i could like this twice then i would.

  • BigDinTC

    Add Harrington’s by the Bay in Traverse City…. The Best of the Best in TC.

  • Debbie

    304 S. Ashley, it’s open! Yea! By Fleetwood Diner.

  • John Prater

    Paradise in the U.P. has a great bar & grill that serves a GREAT burger. On a trip 5 years ago, my 7 year old niece had one of their burgers and every trip to Mackinaw, we have to go to Paradise for a burger. They toast their buns on the grill so they are crisp on the burger side, and soft on the outside. A very good spot for whitefish too.

  • steven mcqueen

    I agree w Melissa. Redamaks.

  • Debi Walker

    Although now living in TN., Ever chance I get to go home to MI., I do and its always a trip to our favorite place…Avalon Bar in Hillman,MI… Thad has the BEST Burgers around..among other amazing dishes….Try it out you won’t be sorry…..

  • Mellisa

    Hello,
    What a great way to spend seven days. I would like to personally invite you to come try our cheese burger at Hartland Glen Golf Course. We are in Hartland MI. Next summer please stop in and give us a try. You will not be disappointed. I hope you make it in next season. We cook on a char grill but we have an amazing secret twist that will make you scratch your head wandering how is this cheese burger so juicy and full of flavor.
    See you next season, ask for Mellisa am the food and beverage manager there.

  • Psalm

    Five Guys is better than Millers

  • Tony

    How did Bates not make this list!? This article cannot be taken seriously and the author is a chump.

  • Laura

    Dan’s Tavern in Clinton. Not Clinton Township, the Clinton by Saline and Ann Arbor. Mouthwatering.

  • Marti

    You also skipped the Thumb. The Blue Water in Caseville has olive burgers that are hard to beat. They are served with home made french fries….not frozen! Caseville is home to “Cheeseburgers in Caseville”. How can you test the best burgers in Michigan without going to the festival that in known for serving the best burgers in Michigan?

  • cgrizzle3

    i only had the torch once…trying to get past the smell of mildew was a challenge, but after that, the burger was not even that good at all. go to whitehorse if your in flint…waaaaay better burger.

  • matthew kish

    good but greasy.. but isn’t that he point??

  • matthew kish

    Blimpys is closed?? NO!! was two years ago I rated it..

  • matthew kish

    IMO ,,,,but the owner is a jerk..many reasons why I wont say here.. I give this place a -10 for personality

  • matthew kish

    Hunters on Woodward near Birmingham and the White House in clare are good

  • Charlieboy

    West Point lounge in Jackson, 7 Monks in Traverse City and Breakers Bar in Topinabee. All have killer burgers.

  • matthew kish

    good system … I also rate by character, feel and staff. I ve been in some nasty old places with the best burgers and then you go into a new place with wait staff attitude and they could have a good burger but you leave feeling uptight and tense .. one of my favorite is in Clare ,the White House an old 40′s dilapidated building with good burgers and great staff…. how do you feel about vinetta on woodward??

  • matthew kish

    good because they are BBQ grilled made outside

  • matthew kish

    aww the raft … was there in winter .it was frigging cold off anchor bay this winter, the little place was packed

  • Leanne

    Pontiac Lake Inn has my favorite burgers ever!

  • disappointed

    Redamaks has gone down on my list over the past 10 years. I would have totally agreed with you 10 years ago. But now, they have changed something and it just isn’t the same. :/

  • Mallory Nicole

    Wagon Wheel In Burgers in West Branch should be #1! You guys need to add this place !

  • good eatin

    You didn’t cover all of Michigan, the entire Traverse City region was left untouched! Joe’s Friendly Tavern has been in national publications for their great burgers. You really need to visit all the areas to say “Best in MI”

  • Clynn

    I really enjoy the burger from Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids! The beef is ground with bacon to make it extra yummy and it comes on a pretzel bun:)

  • Zach Sanford

    Wealthy St. Station in Grand Rapids. Hands down best burger in Michigan

  • Chris Cline

    Great call on the White House! I moved to San Diego 17 years ago and hadn’t eaten at the White House in probably 20 years but stopped there on the way up north from East Lansing while home visiting this past summer and was very happy to find the burgers just as delicious as I remembered them from my childhood. Great hole in the wall spot!

  • Bob

    Michigan does not end in the eastern UP,, one of the best if not THE best burger can be found at a small Bar & Grill called the Wooden Nickle in Iron River (about 4 1/2 hours west of the bridge)

  • Princess21

    Elk crossing cafe in atlanta mi :) small town great food

  • JoNnY B

    I live in Dearborn, and I love food. Millers is not even on my list. they don’t even make a bacon mushroom swiss. If done right this is one of my favorite burgers. Powers was good for hometown sliders, but of course they closed down awhile back :(……. *major crys* To be honest I can’t even think of anywhere around here I truly like a burger from except by my own hands. Maybe I should start up a place, and train someone else to run it. I just don’t want to be in the food industry.

  • Svea Ruth Liljestrand

    Yes… what about Traverse City. There is also J&S Hamburg (over 50 years of service). They have the BEST olive burger!!!
    You need to come check out Traverse City… for #1.

  • ian

    Hit the torch people!

  • Barb

    West Pier all the way. We have been going there for 10 years. One of the highlight of our summer trip up to the UP. If anyone sneaks off to West Pier without asking if any one else wants a burger, they are put in “time out” of sorts for the rest of the evening. Great burgers, onion rings and atmosphere for in car dining. The only item I miss is the original menu with the misspelled words.

  • SusieLou

    Best Chili dog? Monroe’s Original! I’ve driven from Cleveland to Monroe for one of those!