5 must-try Denver burgers
Hot off the griddle: Chef Jason Rice’s top picks for the classic sandwich and the three ingredients that make it worth eating.
The summer grilling season may be winding down, but a great burger to celebrate the return of fall is never far away. And that’s certainly true for thousands of college students returning to the Auraria Campus.
That got us thinking – what makes a great burger, and where else in this onetime cowtown can you find one? RED asked Chef Jason Rice, food-lab coordinator and faculty member with Metropolitan State University of Denver’s School of Hospitality, for his top five Mile High City recommendations.
“Hamburgers have three components that make them worth having,” he said. “Excellent ground burger-to-fat ratio, such as 80/20 or even 75/25; a bun that makes sense and eats with the patty; and (the burger being) served piping hot and well-seasoned, with the toppings complementing the patty flavor.”
“There’s actually a fourth element as well: An ice-cold beer complements any good burger,” he added.
Here are his picks – in no particular order:
Bud’s Bar – 5453 Manhart Ave., Sedalia
Rice goes for the griddled burger simultaneously steamed with the bun and recommends the fried onions as a secret menu item, served with bacon, cheese and pickles – and “Oh buddy! You’ve got a great tasting burger.”
It’s landed the no-frills joint as one of the Food Network’s Best Places to Eat. And if you’re looking for anything other than chips, you’re out of luck: Bud’s Bar’s motto is “No fries, dammit!”
“It’s kind of like doing a backyard grill out,” Rice adds. “A burger and an ice-cold Coors Light is less than $10, and you can’t get better than that. I could easily eat two of them in a sitting, but one satisfies perfectly.”
Sorry though – you won’t get their house-made grind ratio from them.
Five Guys – various locations
“Chain or not, Five Guys knows how to make a good burger,” Rice said.
He commends its egg bun and quality cuts of meat that incorporate a flavorful fat blend, opting to add bacon, mushroom, grilled onions and hot sauce. And those fries are pretty good, too.
“Nothing beats their hand-cut fries dipped in ketchup and vinegar,” Rice said. “I take mine and enjoy a Tivoli Helles on my patio.”
Park Burger – 2615 Walnut St (three other Denver locations)
A cool atmosphere, speedy service and a perfectly made burger lands this spot on the list, with Rice opting for the Royale: Loaded with bacon, bleu cheese and fried onions, it’s served on a melt-in-your-mouth brioche bun.
“This an uptown burger with an uptown price, but their ratio of fat to ground meat is good; (the burgers are) well-seasoned and cooked to your liking,” he said, suggesting a citrus IPA to pair.
Sam’s No. 3 – 1500 Curtis St.
Whether at the beginning of the day or end of a late night, classic diners hit a very specific spot, and Sam’s No. 3 is no exception.
“They do green chile right, and they know how to cook a great diner burger,” Rice said. “There’s something special about eating a burger with those piping-hot, thick, chunky fries and big specks of black pepper on a large oval dinner plate.”
Ribbons of pickles play off the griddled burger, which goes well with the smokiness of a cup of green chile, ordered on the side for dipping (of course). And the buttered sesame-seed bun provides rich, barely-there crunch that satisfyingly sops up a night out.
“Sam’s doesn’t have the best beer selection, but after a night at the Great American Beer Fest, you’ve already had yours,” Rice said. “The burger just tastes really good – sometimes with a side of pancakes, too!”
Tap & Burger – 1565 N. Raleigh St No.100 (two other Denver locations)
The Sloan Lake and Denver Tech Center locations of Tap & Burger boast a large selection of local beers and a great atmosphere for watching sports or just socializing with friends, Rice said. His go-to is the BBQ bacon burger with hand-cut fries (or onion rings)
“On a Sunday afternoon and Monday night watching football or hockey, it’s my go-to with a lager or pilsner,” he said. “Every time I go, the burgers are done perfectly.”