The Search for the Best Burger in Michigan

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, 304 S. Ashley 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. 

111 thoughts on “The Search for the Best Burger in Michigan

  1. Where do I find a ‘What-A-Burger’ in Michgian? I see them in the South but not in the North.

  2. You can’t finalize a list until you stop by The Thumb! Smalley’s Bar & Grill in Harbor Beach is the place to be!

  3. Do they still have the bogey burgers in Saugatuck? I used to think those greasy things were great. But that was many moons ago. Anybody know?

  4. The BEST BURGER in Michigan is from Hermann’s Olde Town Grille in Plymouth. And second is The Pelican Nest at The Chief golf course at Shanty Creek’s.

  5. Not even close go to Joe’s friendly tavern in empire michigan. Beef is made fresh everyday from butcher shop next door. Guarentee it will be nuber one slot. Number 2 arts tavern up road on m22 in Glen arbor. Hands down a close tie. 3 house of flavors ludington. Try traveling west side of the state.

  6. Swany’s Pub & Grub in St. Johns. They are on a streak for best burgers in town for more than 5 years. Homemade soups are delish too. Broasted chicken coming soon,.

  7. A suburban Detroit native, I and many others think Millers is grossly overrated. There may have been a time when their burgers were second to none. But those of us who have tried them in anticipation of an amazing burger experience found ourselves saying, “THIS is what people are raving about?” We don’t get it. Most of us have had much superior burgers for as little as .95 cents at corner bars in the Downriver area.

    I’m sure you’ll get as many different opinions as there are burger joints in Michigan. But here are a few of note:

    Old Mission Tavern, Old Mission Peninsula – to be true, this can be hit-or-miss, depending on the cook. But on a good day, they have by far the best burger we have ever tasted.

    Rick’s Half Time Bar, Taylor – for only .95 cents, you can get a cheeseburger with all the trimmings that is juicy, tasty and remarkable for a .95 cent burger. Many Downriver residents would back up this claim.

    Boneyard Barbecue, Dearborn Heights – The one pound burger from Boneyard is remarkable not just for it’s size. It’s the most flavorful of any we have ever tried, anywhere. We think it’s a good chance there are rib trimmings mixed in with the ground beef. It’s shaped in a long rectangle, and served on toasted homemade soppin’ bread. Drool.

    Dex’s Pizzeria, inside Leelanau Sands Casino, Pshawbestown – I know, hard to believe. But the Dex’s Legend has blown away many a person expecting standard casino fare. It’s a double-patty monster with cheese, bacon and trimmings. It’s juicy and delicious. Interestingly, I have tried the single-patty version and found it wanting.

  8. Of all the burgers in Ann Arbor, Krazy Jim’s is a puddle of grease that will overtax your gall bladder in no time. I’m bumfuddled.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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)

  13. 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!

  14. 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:)

  15. 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”

  16. 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. :/

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

  18. 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??

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

  20. 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.

  21. 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?

  22. 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.

  23. 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…..

  24. 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.

  25. The North Shore Inn, Benton Harbor…now surrounded by Jack Nicklaus designed Harbor Shores Golf Course. Restaurant has been there forever & he sure liked it – guess the secret is out!!!

  26. Char’s Cafe in Bruce’s Crossing, MI Best pizza burger you will ever eat! Amazing burgers and food in general!

  27. 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.

  28. 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

  29. 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!

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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!!! :)

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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

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

  37. 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!

  38. 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.

  39. 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.

  40. 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’.

  41. 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!!!!

  42. 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!

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

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

  44. 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 !

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

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

  47. 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.

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

  49. 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

  50. 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!

  51. 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.

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

  53. 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!

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

  55. 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.

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