All-Beef Party: Toronto’s 25 best burgers ranked in order of heart-stopping, messy magnificence
Nine years ago, Mark McEwan scandalized Torontonians with his $35 truffled Bymark burger. That was before words like “grass-fed,” “heritage” and “dry-aged” entered into the burger lexicon. The city is now crammed with craft burgers, and carnivores no longer flinch at steep price tags. Competitive chefs bring in whole cows from nearby farms, bake their own buns, smoke their own bacon (twice), replace ketchup with tomato chutney and source the most pungent cheeses they can get their patty-flipping hands on. Thankfully, the mom-and-pop shops haven’t been artisinalled out of business—there are still plenty of sublime greasy-bag burgers around, as well as a few new-school diners ironically replicating them. Here, the very best of the city’s boundless burgerdom.
#1. The Harbord Room’s Naturally Raised Beef Burger
Chef Cory Vitiello’s devotion to the details snagged him the Burger King title. He grinds heritage Ontario beef briskets fresh every day and grills the meat to a melting medium rare. It’s piled onto a buttery egg bun with tangy four-year-old cheddar, brittle house-smoked maple bacon, coarse Guinness mustard and lemony aïoli. Every bite is juicy, rich and gooey, with a bit of crunch. It’s the quintessential fancy burger. $16 89 Harbord St., 416-962-8989.
#2. Marben’s John’s Burger
In-house butcher Ryan Donovan breaks down a whole side of beef from Dingo farms in Bradford. Then chef Misha Nesterenko braises the short rib and neck, shreds the meat and blends it with the lesser cuts. He drapes the patties with sharp cheddar and adds sweet-and-sour Branston pickle. Extra napkins are essential for sopping up the juices from your chin. $17. 488 Wellington St. W., 416-979-1990.
#3. The Stockyard’s Classic Burger
When Tom Davis opened his ’cue shack in 2009, he spent two months toying with 20 recipes to find the ideal mix of cuts (brisket, chuck and he’s not telling what). Cooked by the griddle-smash method—he forms the meat into mounds on the hot flat-top—the loose six-ounce patties develop a beautiful crust. Of the five variations on the menu, the classic is the absolute best: tomato, pickles, red onion and crème fraîche aïoli. $7. 699 St. Clair Ave. W., 416-658-9666.
#4. Nota Bene’s Jennifer’s Stilton Brisket Burger
Chef David Lee stole his wife’s eponymous recipe for Nota Bene. The beauty of the burger is in the haute refinements: freshly chopped tarragon, parsley, marjoram and rosemary perfume the patty, which is made from a blend of Cumbrae’s brisket and chuck. Lee special-orders buns from Thuet to nail just the right bun-to-patty ratio. He keeps the toppings minimal: just piquant Stilton and darkly caramelized onions. $22. 180 Queen St. W., 416-977-6400.
#5. Holy Chuck’s Cowlorie
The most emphatically hedonistic burger on this list, the aptly named Cowlorie brings two loosely packed, cheese-smothered patties, crisp bacon and onions between butter-drenched grilled cheese sandwiches instead of buns. The first bite unleashes a geyser onto the plate and a wave of endorphins into the bloodstream. $12. 1450 Yonge St., 416-962-4825.
#6. The Burger’s Priest’s Double Cheeseburger
The cooks at TBP don’t mess around with artisanal anything. They just grind beef fresh, char the patties perfectly, slather on ballpark toppings and slap it all on grocery store buns. Order the double, done Jarge-style (mustard is seared right into the patty) and topped with onions. $8.
1636 Queen St. E., 647-346-0617.
#7. Bymark’s Grass-Fed Burger
The choice of manly power lunchers since 2003, Bymark’s burger is made of a luscious half-pound of grass-fed strip loin and paired with raw-milk brie, porcini mushrooms and funky truffle aïoli. The Ace bun is cheap for the $35 price tag, but the meat is too good to hold a grudge. 66 Wellington St. W., 416-777-1144.
#8. Allen’s Simple Hamburger
Chef Ponniah Vijeyaratnam brings in a whole grass-, barley- and hay-fed steer from Flamborough. He cuts off the steaks, grinds the rest and hand-forms it into discs with little more than salt. They fly off the grill at a rate of 1,500 per week. Purists order it neat—just meat and bun. $11.25. 143 Danforth Ave., 416-463-3086.
#9. The County General’s County Burger
A soft, sweet, seed-speckled Thuet milk bun embraces a six-ounce patty made of Cumbrae’s chuck, sirloin and finger (the tender meat between the ribs). It needs nothing more than a few dollops of Kozlik’s mustard and mayo, and some crunchy quick-pickled cukes. $14. 936 Queen St. W., 416-531-4447.
#10. Golden Star’s Homemade All-Star
Thornhill’s classic diner, with its Formica tables and vinyl booths, has barely changed since it opened in 1964. Ignore the previously frozen pucks in favour of the moist, insanely sloppy house-made versions. They’re the best old-school burgers in the GTA (sorry, Johnny’s). $6.50. 7123 Yonge St., 905-889-6891.
#11. E11even’s Maple Bacon
Chef Robert Bartley layers a gargantuan half-pound patty (Canadian prime top butt) with rashers of sherry-glazed maple bacon, malty Guinness cheddar, tomatoes, pickles, iceberg lettuce and mayo on a toasted, buttered bun. You’ll need elastic-waisted pants and a nap afterward. $25. 15 York St., 416-815-1111.
#12. Union’s Elk Slider
Chef Teo Paul brings in game from a farm in Rockwood. The rare patties are a touch sweet from an Asian galangal-mirin glaze, and spicy from sambal mayo. He serves them three to an order, opened-faced on challah toast with bread-and-butter pickles for sweet-sour crunch. $14. 72 Ossington Ave., 416-850-0093.
#13. Origin’s Origin Burger
Chef Claudio Aprile worked with Cumbrae’s to develop a secret beef blend exclusively for his King Street restaurant. The huge orbs develop a smoky, charred exterior that gives way to a perfect pink interior. Chunky guacamole and spicy chipotle-cumin mayo make inspired complements. $17. 107–109 King St. E., 416-603-8009.
#14. Blue Plate’s Lamb Burger
Masala-spiced chutney kicks up a combo of lamb, Gouda, double-smoked bacon and spinach. $17. 392 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-538-7500.em>
#15. Parts and Labour’s Cheeseburger
Aged cheddar drapes a half-pound of Ontario beef. A mayo-ketchup-hot-sauce combo spikes it with heat. $18. 1566 Queen St. W., 416-588-7750.
#16. The Gabardine’s Sirloin Burger
Bacon and a puckery pickled green tomato slice top a lean but incredibly umami-rich patty. $17. 372 Bay St., 647-352-3211.
#17. Mildred’s Temple Kitchen MTK Burger
A half-pounder is smothered with tomato relish and addictively crispy fried onion strips. $18. 85 Hanna Ave., 416-588-5695.
#18. Hrvati’s Pljeskavica
Steamed lepinje makes a chewy platform for Ontario beef, smoked mozz, caramelized onion and pickles. $14. 690 Euclid Ave., 647-350-4227.
#19. Crush’s Strip Loin Burger
An intensely beefy Wellington strip loin is luxuriously coupled with smoked cheddar and pancetta. $18. 455 King St. W., 416-977-1234.
#20. The Drake’s Canadian Burger
Ontario beef is stacked with Quebec cheddar, bacon and Russian dressing on a Silverstein’s bun. $18. 1150 Queen St. W., 416-531-5042.
#21. Bestellen’s Dry-Aged Burger
Dry-aged beef makes for a deliriously tender patty with raclette and caramelized onions on brioche. $18. 972 College St., 647-341-6769.
#22. Apache Burgers’ Double Burger
Two patties wear processed cheese like a shiny bowling jacket. Request it with tangy barbecue sauce. $7.59. 5236 Dundas St. W., 416-233-3046.
#23. The Queen and Beaver’s Hand-Chopped Burger
Packed prime makes for a steak-like texture. Thick bacon slices add extra heft, as does the dense bun. $17. 35 Elm St., 647-347-2712.
#24. Drift’s Brioche Burger
Fresh-baked sesame brioche holds a fat patty covered in white cheddar, red onion and tomato jam. $10. 1063 Bloor St. W., 647-352-5335.
#25. Trevor Kitchen and Bar’s Mini Kobe Burgers
Lilliputian burgers are matched with arugula, roasted shiitakes and truffle mayo. $21. 38 Wellington St. E., 416-941-9410.