11 Great Burgers In DC
photo credit: Nina Palazzolo
Like fire exits and bathrooms, you should always know where the nearest great burger is. That is why we made this list. Well, that and to have an excuse to eat four cheeseburgers a week for two months. Trust us, it’s not as fun as it sounds—there are way more bad burgers out there than good ones. Nonetheless, we now present to you our absolute favorite burgers in DC.
All of the smashburgers at Hill Burger East could be DC’s best burger. Perfectly thin (get a double), crispy edged patties on buns so soft they hold your fingerprints make this spot our favorite on the list. But the Lancaster burger at this Capitol Hill spot is so good that we’d fake a throbbing headache just to get out of work early and eat it as soon as they open at 5pm. It’s topped with bacon, smoked cheddar, fresh arugula, and pickled onions. If you’re feeling fancy, top it with their homemade hot sauce—a true spicyphile might need more than the little kick in the tomato relish.
If you ever judged Luther Vandross for the whole burger-with-donut-buns situation, be prepared to eat crow. While this Mt. Vernon Stellina Pizza isn’t pancaking their juicy patty between Krispy Kremes, they do take two square waffles, stack them with arugula, caramelized onions, thick bacon, and gooey mozzarella cheese, and serve you a burger that will have you eating faster than Jughead. Dip the whole thing in the side of bourbon maple syrup for a little extra sweetness, though it’s delicious all on its own.
You gave up McDonald’s ages ago (except for the occasional after-club snack), so you haven’t had a quarter pounder with cheese in a while. Enter Tom’s Watch Bar—a sports bar so deep down the rabbit hole that it has its own sports channel playing events you’ve probably never heard of. The All-American burger comes with the basics: gooey American cheese, mustard, ketchup, and pickles on a buttery brioche bun. And unlike that #3 you’ve been craving, the juicy patty is made of actual beef. It’s a burger that’s looking to win you over with its easygoing, down home nature, not to schmooze you with its good looks and fancy toppings (unlike your latest Tinder date). Pair it with the tater tots and a brew while you watch ear pull and slippery stairs on the screen.
The ShiBurger at Shibuya Eatery in Adams Morgan isn’t your typical American burger, and that’s why we love it. This thick beef patty (it’s not a smashburger like the menu says) is topped with sriracha mayonnaise, pickled cucumbers, grilled onions, and smoked cheddar cheese and has a bold umami flavor. The burger, much like the restaurant that’s lined in posters from classic anime and Hollywood films, is a fun mix of Japanese and American cultures—and where you should go for Happy Hour to grab $5 drinks.
The Texas burger at this DC institution takes a second to grow on you. That first bite of crispy bacon, creamy coleslaw, and tangy barbecue sauce just don’t seem to go together, much like you and your freshman year roommate. But if you give it a chance, much like your now best friend, your life will be infinitely better. It’s the same crispy bacon, creamy coleslaw, and tangy barbecue sauce that make this burger our Logan Circle go-to. Plus, Stoney’s serves food until midnight, even during the week and you never know when you’ll need to pull a great late-night burger out of your back pocket.
Despite having only a few ingredients, the burger from Any Day Now keeps digging its way into our brains Inception-style. While the Navy Yard spot is best known for its scallion-pancake breakfast sandwiches, the scallion-pancake bun got a whole lot better with the ADN burger. Head to the neighborhood cafe for a laidback dinner and eat your beef patty between two crispy scallion pancakes, topped with lettuce, pickles, and a special sauce—a fusion between a classic American burger and the savory Chinese treat.
Smashburgers are all the rage, but they can get repetitive. Valor Brewpub shakes up the trend with their North Cakalaky Smash. It’s a beef-heavy situation that you might need to prep for, but you (probably) won’t regret it. The patty has a deep saltiness that pairs well with the toasted potato bun, but what we really love here are the messy toppings. It’s piled high with a meaty chili that’s both sweet and spicy and a coleslaw that’s crisp and not too creamy. Pair it with one of the Barracks Row pub's seven housemade beers and greasy fries for a laidback late-night bit with friends.
This Capitol Hill whiskey bar does more than serve top shelf Kentucky bourbon shots, though that’s what most people are here for. Barrel also makes a juicy, peppery burger that we can’t get enough of. The barrel burger has your typical lettuce, onion, and pickles. But also a fontal cheese and herb mayo that tastes more like a garlic aioli (yes, please). It’s a little bougie, but still pretty basic (just like us), and is one of the few places on the Hill where you can escape both staffers and tourists.
Ghostburger’s namesake is basically the little black dress of burgers. It’s what you want to pull out on a night when you need something simple that has range. Some American cheese, pickles, red onion, and their signature spooky sauce on a buttery potato bun. It works for a family dinner, an evening with coworkers, or soaking up a night out. And while we prefer the beef, the Shaw restaurant has a homemade veggie patty that you can sub in.
Thunder Burger & Bar in Georgetown is one of those places that knows what it does well and sticks to it, so the burgers here are delicious. But none are better than the Love Me Tender—a kobe beef patty topped with white cheddar cheese and a sweet housemade remoulade. It’s the kind of burger where the juice runs down your hands and pools back on the plate (even when it's well done), soaking all that flavor back into the toasted brioche bun. The burger joint is especially popular with parents looking for an easy way to quell the hungry bellies of their kids—but also grab a stiff drink.
DC has a few home-grown burger chains, but Z Burger is the one that oozes picnic in Rock Creek Park. Don’t expect any of those fancy “artisanal” cheeses or smoked meats at this Tenleytown spot. No, you come here for a double cheeseburger with lettuce, ketchup, tomatoes, and pickles. Fried onions, sauteed mushrooms, mayo, and mustard, if you’re feeling spicy. And if you really want to round out an already great meal, get a side of onion rings as big as your head and a milkshake made with one of the restaurant’s 50+ flavors. What? We’re here for a good time, not a long time.