There's no food with more multiple personalities than the hamburger.

It can be a nickel-thin slider eaten by the half-dozen or a rich pillow of prime chopped sirloin as costly as a 2-pound lobster. It is doo-wop drive-in fare, but equally at home on the backyard grill or in a trendy bistro. Some burgers are lean and nutritionally virtuous; others are greasy delights hidden under gobs of melted cheese.

While burgers are everywhere in America, some regions boast their own unique style: New Mexico is home to cheeseburgers topped with fiery green chilies; Wisconsin boasts the butter burger (yes, drenched with melted butter); west of Oklahoma City, you'll find onion-fried burgers that sport thin hoops of onion smooshed right into the meat as it cooks, lacing it with caramelized vegetable sweetness. Two restaurants in Minneapolis claim the Juicy Lucy, a patty concealing a pocket of cheese inside that melts as the hamburger cooks. Southern California burgers are known for their outrageous quantity and quality of condiments, nowhere more evident than in the jawstretching tower of lettuce, tomato, pickles and onion stuffed inside the bun at Hodad's of Ocean Beach.

In the world of hamburgers, size makes all the difference. A 3- to 8-ounce patty is roughly the normal size. Plenty of them are smaller—White Castle makes 18 from each pound of beef. Those who prefer jumbo burgers have no trouble finding thick half-pounders. And really big eaters can go to Denny's Beer Barrel Pub in Clearfield, Pennsylvania, where the menu includes 3-pound behemoths, and where extremely hungry parties can special-order 50-pounders served in custom-baked buns. If it's girth you go for, visit Cotham's Mercantile in Grand Prairie, Arkansas, where the Hubcap Burger, a house special, is wide enough to eclipse a plate. For height, head to the Anchor Bar in Superior, Wisconsin; their Galleybuster is a mountain of three 1/3-pound beef patties layered with melted cheese and lots of grilled onions.

One of the strangest-looking burgers is served at Shady Glenn, a dairy bar in Manchester, Connecticut. It's created by laying three or four slices of bright orange cheese on the patty as soon as it is flipped on the griddle, making sure the edges droop and start to melt onto the hot iron. As the grilling cheese turns chewy, the cook flips up its still-pliant corners with a spatula and curls them above the meat, where they harden and stand like the petals of a rose, creating a burger flower with a cheesy crown.

We always hunt for one-of-a-kind restaurants, but the Pacific Northwest chain called Burgerville is too excellent to ignore. The beef is steak-house juicy; if you like cheese with attitude, top yours with tangy Tillamook cheddar. Add local smokehouse bacon for its sweet-pepper punch, and you've got a four-star burger for under $5. On the side, how about Walla Walla onion rings or sweet potato fries with marshmallow-brown sugar dipping sauce and a hazelnut milkshake? Aah, now that's fine dining!


Burger Recipes



Family-Friendly Stuffed CheeseburgersFamily-Friendly Stuffed Cheeseburgers
We were experimenting one night and came up with these tasty cheese-filled Family-Friendly Stuffed Cheeseburgers. Our kids and neighbors fell in love with them. They're so good that we often don't add any condiments.
—Alethea Osborne, Florence, Kentucky

Cajun Beef BurgersCajun Beef Burgers
Flavor abounds in these hefty Cajun Beef Burgers, spiked with bits of veggies and Cajun seasoning. A creamy mayonnaise and Creole mustard spread adds even more Louisana-style flair.
—Rebecca Baird, Salt Lake City, Utah

Fig-a-licious Pork BurgersFig-a-licious Pork Burgers
With fig puree and melted Gorgonzola, these Fig-a-licious Pork Burgers are almost a gourmet meal.
—Mary Cannataro, Chicago, Illinois

Michael and Jane Stern, authors of more than 40 books, travel the country looking for great food. For more of their culinary discoveries, visit roadfood.com