Best Burgers in Rhode Island

Wednesday, May 05, 2010


To choose the best burger is to declare philosophy.  For me, it's about great beef, perfectly cooked rare, which I’ll admit can be risky if you don’t know and trust your ground beef source.  I don’t want too much bread, please no overpowering cheese (if you even want cheese on your burger), maybe some good bacon, possibly a tomato if they’re in season.  And please, no salad on my burger.  Lettuce greens have their place in things but I don’t need a mound of leaves on my beef. 

With that declared, here are my picks for top five burgers in the Rhode Island area, plus an honorary pick and an in memoriam, because it was really difficult to choose five, and nearly impossible to put them in order.  I moved the order of the top three around several times and really, you won’t go wrong with any of these.  I tried them all with just beef and bun and also as the kitchen’s preferred to prepare them, though every place will of course let you mix, match and come up with whatever variation you’d like. 

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1. Nick’s On Broadway

A heavenly combination that almost breaks all my burger rules, but it works, which impressed me.  The beef is Hereford from Greater Omaha and has that very traditional American burger taste.  It’s served on lightly buttered toast.  Just the beef, toast and side of home fries and you’ve got a great meal.  Chef Wagner makes his burger like this: toast, mustard, burger, Swiss cheese, smoked bacon, pickled onions & baby spinach.  I know, lots of stuff, but very small amounts of lots of stuff.  For example, mustard can easily overpower a lot of things, but this was such a thin layer that it was a nice touch.  Delicious burger and if you can get a seat at the bar at Nick’s you get a little floor show too. $8.95 to $10.95, 500 Broadway, Providence, 421-0286,

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2. La Laiterie

I went back and forth in my head between Nick’s and La Laiterie’s burger a million times and ultimately it came down to style.  Whereas the burger at Nick’s is almost subtle, La Laiterie’s is big and brash.  Chef Matt Jennings gets his ground beef from Boyden Farms in Vermont; it’s an 80/20 blend and it’s a little gamier than some, but I think it's excellent.  La Laiterie has a lot of choices and make occasional burger topping changes, but being connected to the best cheese shop in the area, of course their burger is a vehicle for cheese.  Chef Jennings said they usually offer either a mature Cheddar, true blue cheese or a goats milk blend.  Served on a milk-based Pullman roll from Olga’s this burger also came with a sweet pepper relish and some dressed greens.  You can add smoked bacon and there’s house-made ketchup if you want.  The side with La Laiterie’s burger are their ridiculously tasty polenta fries.  Even if you don’t get a burger here, order some polenta fries. $15, 184-188 Wayland Ave., Providence, 274-7177,

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3. The Liberty Elm Diner

You want a wonderfully delicious, no-nonsense, all-local burger served in a very cool diner setting?  This is it.  You really can’t get more local than the burger at The Liberty Elm because they only use 100% Angus ground beef from Blackbird Farm in Smithfield.  The roll is made by Superior Bakery and the produce is local too.  Sure the North Country Farm smoked bacon comes from out-of-state, but only all the way from New Hampshire, and it’s probably my favorite bacon on a burger.  It’s no secret I’m a fan of Blackbird Farm’s beef.  It’s also a tiny bit gamey but with a touch less fat in the 85/15 blend.  But there’s no juiciness sacrificed with that blend because Chef Glover perfectly sears this burger on a big flat-top, puts it together and gets it out the little window pass in no-time, just like a perfect diner burger should be. $6.75-$9.95, 777 Elmwood Ave., Providence, 467-0777,

4. Mews Tavern

To be honest, I had forgotten about the burger at the Mews until my wife reminded me while I was eating my way around the state for this piece.  She very correctly said, “How about the Mews? You’ve never been disappointed with a burger there.” And she’s right, they make a great burger.  There’s a ton of cheese and topping choices so if you want to go wild you can, they’ve got an outstanding bar with one of the best beer selections in the state and the atmosphere is a lot of fun.  My body may not love me back but I do enjoy their G.F.Y.S. burger with bacon, Cheddar and jalapenos. $9.99-$10.99, 456 Main St., Wakefield, 783-9370,

5. Luxe Burger Bar

Looking for an even more over-the-top mix-and-match burger place than the Mews then there’s really only one choice around.  There are around 60 choices on Luxe Burger Bar’s burger menu, including forgoing the burger (beef) part for chicken, turkey, fish or veggie.  Luxe is a good choice for a burger downtown without going to a corporate franchise.  Plus there’s shakes and some nice daily specials so you won’t break the bank either. $6.99-$9.99, 5 Memorial Blvd., Providence, 621-5893,

Honorable Mention: Chez Pascal’s  Hewtin Dogs Mobile Truck

This burger gets an honorable mention because it’s a get-it-when-you-can-find-it burger.  Chef Gennuso serves local beef that he grinds himself on a brioche bun.  Toppings vary and it’s usually accompanied by a side of the best potato salad I’ve had (seriously).  If you see it on the menu board, order it—if you can decide over all the other delicious food. 

In Memoriam: The Up River Café

When I first stopped to think about the best burgers in RI I immediately thought of the burger at The Up River Café in Westerly.  I loved it.  The beef flavor was perfect, the bun was great and the fries were outstanding.  Sadly The Up River Café was a victim of the flooding.  I hope Chef Maul makes that burger wherever he ends up next.

Photos: David Dadekian

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