One of my favorite things about visiting Ohio is all of the boastful signs making outlandish claims promoting their signature product. During recent visits I have seen the world’s longest bar, passed on both the world’s best bagel and world’s best falafel, and drove by the world’s fastest roller-coaster. However, what most interested me was the sign at the Silver Swan diner that claimed the “world’s best burger.” It seems unlikely that the best burger in the world would be found in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, but, on the other hand, why not? If nothing else, the sign worked and I was intrigued.
Of course, the drawback of such a lofty claim is that it sets high expectations. In the case of the Silver Swan, the burger was pretty good, although I’m fairly certain that I’ve had better burgers elsewhere in the world. I will say that the ambiance at the Swan is tough to beat. (Full disclosure: I make it a point to visit the Silver Swan whenever I am in Ohio visiting family.) The faux wood paneling and dated artwork on the wall give the restaurant the feel of eating in the well-worn living room of an octogenarian. The clientele is made up primarily of men in their 50’s and 60’s quietly reading the newspaper and occasionally remarking to no one in particular “it’s a sad state of affairs” followed by a shake of the head before flipping the page and moving on to the sports section (or, this being Cleveland, maybe they are remarking on the sports section).
Yet, while the Silver Swan may not fully live up to its billing as serving the best burger in the world, it does offer a challenge to identify what establishment is worthy of such a designation – a challenge that I gamely am willing to take on. First, let me state the obvious: while I enjoy a good burger and have traveled a few places, my burger tasting experience is still limited. This is more of a journey than a destination, so I am always open to trying new burger joints and my list is in no way fixed. With that said, I have had some terrific burgers and have attempted to visit some of the famous burger purveyors throughout the land. The following is my highly subjective, in-no-way official ranking of the burgers that I have enjoyed over the past few years:
DFL (Dead Fucking Last)
Yak Burger (Annapurna Region, Nepal) – suffering from altitude sickness, I desperately wanted some comfort food to make me feel better. I thought a burger was a safe choice and I couldn’t have been more wrong. This atrocity was more soup than solid, a liquid mess that looked pretty much the same going down as it did coming up. Awful. (Grade: 0 bastards on a 10 bastard scale)
McDonalds (Tokyo, Beijing, Delhi) – I know, I know, it is shameful. I love ethnic food, but there comes a time when I just want something familiar, even if it is possibly the worst American food imaginable. After a couple of weeks of Indian or Chinese or even my favorite cuisine, Japanese, I occasionally have a longing for something that is easy to order and easy to eat. Every time I give in to the guilty pleasure of American fast food abroad, I am embarrassed to be the American standing in line. Still, it is interesting to see how McDonalds modifies their menu to fit local tastes (ex. Curry burger). I can’t remember the last time that I’ve gone to McDonalds in the U.S., but I can recall trips in Tokyo, Beijing, Singapore, Delhi, Rome, and Paris.
Bull’s Head Diner (Stamford, CT) – Connecticut is full of good Greek diners that serve excellent burgers. I used to enjoy a good burger here when I came back to Connecticut for work. (Grade: 7 bastards)
Billy Goat Tavern (Chicago, IL) – famous for surly service, the burgers here are good, but I like this place mainly for the positive associations. When I lived in Chicago, co-workers and I would visit here on Friday for lunch and to play golden tee. (Grade: 7 bastards)
Chez Audents (floating) – this list isn’t intended to include non-restaurant meals, but such a substantial portion of the best burgers that I’ve had have been consumed on Audentes that I would be remiss in excluding it from the list. When we were sailing, a celebratory meal was to grill some burgers and have some guests over to the boat. Since foreigners are well-aware of America’s grilling prowess, we received frequent requests for burgers. (Grade: 8 bastards)
5. In N Out Burger (Los Angeles, CA) – given the choice, many Californians would opt for In N Out as their last meal. It is definitely better than other fast food options and the fresh ingredients make a difference. (Grade: 7.5 bastards)
4. The Varsity (Atlanta, GA) – good value and a nice experience. The burger is solid, although I don’t like chili or too much else as toppings to overwhelm the meat. (Grade 7.5 bastards)
3. The Apple Pan (Los Angeles, CA) – a lot of lettuce and good size for a burger, but nothing special. The horseradish on the burger is tasty (Grade: 8 bastards)
2. The Counter (Santa Monica, CA) – good burger with excellent fries. The only drawback is the size of the burger which always leaves me feeling too full afterward. So tasty that I can’t stop myself from eating the entire burger. (Grade: 8 bastards)
- Umami Burger (Santa Monica, CA) – delicious burgers that are just the right sized. Cooked rare to leave a pink center, using quality meat, and adorned with gourmet toppings. This is the best burger that I have had recently. (Grade: 9 bastards)
Despite consuming some delicious burgers, the search for the perfect burger continues. As I mentioned, this is a work-in-progress, so I’m eager to try new places and improve my list. Any recommendations are appreciated.