Originally published in the November 2017 Issue of Down East Magazine
From mom-and-pop diners, hole-in-the-wall pubs, and fancy-pants kitchens all across the state, these are the juicy little beauties most worth road tripping for. Did your favorites make the list?
By Joe Ricchio and the Down East staff

Food editor Joe Ricchio put on over 1,000 miles and at least 10,000 calories to bring you this compendium, eating through the recommendations of Down East’s staff, listeners to his weekly radio segment, and an insistent chorus of social media gourmands. His findings? Maine’s burger-sphere is as rich and varied as its overall food scene.

Want a burger with locally raised beef on a house-baked brioche bun with LTO plucked from the garden out back? You’ll find bushels full. Craving the same melty-cheese slider your grandparents once ordered at a Route 1 drive-in? Pull up and flip on your headlights. Daydreaming about a perfectly charbroiled patty with a big old lobster claw on top? Oh, finest kind, bub, finest kind.

Here then, in no particular order, are Maine’s 30 best burgers. Think we got it wrong? Know of a burger we missed? Comment below to let us know your beef — or weigh in on our Facebook page.

Photo: J.K. Putnam

The Burger
MCKAYS PUBLIC HOUSE
Bar Harbor. $12.99

The most satisfying burger on Mount Desert Island starts with a blend of all-natural beef cuts, muenster cheese, and a brioche bun that’s sturdy and buttery. McKay’s tasty secret sauce is like a mildly spicy aoili (they call it “boom sauce” in the kitchen), but the way to order this baby is smothered in beer cheese and sautéed mushrooms for an extra $2. The shredded lettuce soaks it all up nicely, and whatever spills out is just a dipping sauce for your golden handcut fries. No wonder locals flock to this place even when its jam-packed in tourist season. 231 Main St. 207-288-2002. mckayspublichouse.com

Photo: Glen Charles

The Lamb Burger
COHILL’S INN
Lubec. $14.95

Good lamb has a kind of barnyard sweetness that you don’t get from beef, and Cohill’s uses marbled ground lamb shoulder with plenty of sweet fat that mingles with the rich, minerally flavor of the meat. The burger comes crowned with a dollop of tangy goat cheese, grilled onion, greens, tomato, and an unexpected cucumber (nice crunch), all stacked on a challah bun. A side of herb-flecked tabbouleh complements the burger perfectly, a healthful alternative to fries. 7 Water St. 207-733-4300. cohillsinn.com

Photo: Michael D. Wilson

Surf & Turf Burger
BUTCHER BURGER
Old Orchard Beach. $16

“In my opinion,” Butcher Burger owner Kevin McAllister says, “from July to October, the 1- to 1¼-pound soft shells, within 5 to 10 miles of the coast, are the sweetest-tasting lobsters on Earth.” Not insight one expects from a burger joint, but since McAllister’s a lobsterman in the off-season, you can trust the Surf & Turf is no mere gimmick. His kitchen crew piles succulent claw and knuckle meat onto their house patty — a custom grind that includes bacon — then slap it in a fluffy-sweet Hawaiian bun with mayo. If there’s a Maine-ier burger out there, we haven’t found it. Closed mid-Sept.–mid-May. 8 West Grand Ave. 207-937-2324. butcherburgerme.com

Photo: Michael D. Wilson

Double Cheeseburger, Loaded
HARMON’S LUNCH
Falmouth. $5.25

How to order hungry at this 57-year-old, cash-only roadside stand: Get two double cheeseburgers (they’re small and cheap) with everything on them (that’s sweet red relish, grilled onions, gooey American cheese, and mustard — don’t even bother asking for lettuce or tomato). Add a small fry that you should douse liberally with malt vinegar. The Harmon’s burger patty is thin and griddled fast-food style, then served on a hot buttered roll that’s cloudlike in texture and somehow even better when the heat causes little pieces of napkin to stick to it. This place hasn’t changed since 1960. There’s no need. 144 Gray Rd. 207-797-9857.

Photo: Joe Ricchio

Double Cheeseburger
TWO RIVERS LUNCH
Allagash. $5.75

Two lean patties, ground up the road in Fort Kent, are layered with American cheese and, as the kitchen explained on our last visit, “anything else we have in the fridge that you might want.” It’s the kind of simple, nicely charred burger that makes you nostalgic in winter for barbecue season. For $3.75 more, add a side of what the locals call “mixed fry” (it’s poutine everywhere else). Fries made with Aroostook potatoes are covered with a blend of shredded cheeses and then doused with velvety gravy. If you’re feeling it, go ahead and stack a handful on the burger.
75 Dickey Rd. 207-398-3393.

Photo: Joe Ricchio

The Big Boy Burger Basket
BURGER BOY
Caribou. $6.95

No Aroostook road trip is complete without a stop at Burger Boy, a retro diner that dates to 1968, although it’s self-consciously ’50s inside. The thick, 5-ounce patty is piled high with cheese, pickles, lettuce, and tomato, all on a classic sesame seed bun (a surprisingly rare sighting on this list). Expect toppings and condiments (generous glops of ketchup, mustard, mayo, and relish) to overflow the one-hand burger. This is where the mountain of fries comes in. The paper basket also includes coleslaw, just like in that old cliche, “as American as a burger and fries and coleslaw.” 234 Sweden St. 207-498-2329.

Photo: Joe Ricchio

Kim Burger
AL’S DINER
Mars Hill. $6.50

Who’d have guessed that unassuming Al’s — a vinyl booths and paper placemats kind of place on Mars Hill’s quiet Main Street — serves up the Platonic ideal of a patty melt? It starts with the thick bread, baked in-house, toasted, and well buttered. The burger patty is engulfed in stretchy, stringy mozzarella cheese and served over sautéed sweet peppers and mushrooms. Al’s “Petal Sauce” is a little like Big Mac special sauce, but with more of a bite, and there’s just a little crunch from the iceberg lettuce and tangy pickles. It’s served with ridged potato chips, and you’re going to want one of Al’s house-baked cookies.
87 Main St. 207-429-8186.

Photo: Chris Siefken

Primo Patty Melt
PRIMO
Rockland. $20

Some 200 miles and a culinary universe away from the patty melt at Al’s Diner, Primo grinds its own blend of grass-fed beef from Maine’s Cold Spring Ranch, then stacks up two 4-ounce patties topped with aged gruyère, caramelized onions, and a special sauce that blends house-made mayo and hot sauce. The soft bun is studded with nigella, sesame, and poppy seeds. Served with fries and mixed greens, this is the patty melt elevated — and about what we expect from a kitchen run by James Beard Award–winning chef Melissa Kelly. 2 Main St. 207-596-0770. primorestaurant.com

Photo: Stephen Beckwith

Bacon Buffalo Burger, Loaded
MELBY’S MARKET AND EATERY
Waterford. $8.99

Surprisingly hard to find in Maine, bison meat has a gamey flavor and makes for a nice, dense burger. A leaner alternative to beef, it’s a little healthier, so naturally you’ll want to drape it in bacon. Little Melby’s — one part diner, one part convenience store — has made bison the cornerstone of its menu for decades. Find the lunch counter lined with snowmobilers fueling up on these in winter. 927 Valley Rd. 207-583-4447.

Photo: Mark McCall

Classic Burger
NOCTURNEM DRAFT HAUS
Bangor. $14

The magic here is in the cheese, a blend of six different varieties, made with herbs, garlic, and chives. And since it’s finished with whatever IPA on the rotating tap handles the staff deems their fave, each batch of the creamy beer cheese is a bit different from the last. Nocturnem makes its own thick-slab bacon, should you choose to add it, and the buttered brioche bun holds it all together. Barely.
56 Main St. 207-907-4380. nocturnemdrafthaus.com

Photo: Stephen Beckwith

The Ruger Burger
EBENEZER’S RESTAURANT & PUB
Lovell. $14.99

A mushroom, onion, and cheddar burger that could go up against any in the country. Mushrooms and onions are cooked in sweet-cream salted butter and Worcestershire until they’re essentially a thick sauce, which is then ladled onto an Angus sirloin patty and topped off with melted cheddar. Ebenezer’s is, of course, a beer bar of national repute, so pair this savory monster with a bottle of funky, sour Cantillon Gueuze. 44 Allen Rd. 207-925-3200. ebenezerspub.net

Photo: Chris Siefken

The Seven Napkin Burger
OWLS HEAD GENERAL STORE
Owls Head. $8.75

As the name implies, this may not be the ideal snack to enjoy on the go. The staff in the tiny kitchen starts with a whopping half-pound of freshly ground beef, coddling it into a still-loose patty and searing it to give it a nice crust. The juggernaut of a burger is then transferred to a buttered, griddled bun and overstuffed with onions, cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, mustard, mayo, and ketchup. Food Network Magazine called it the state’s best burger some years back. It’s certainly among the messiest. 2 South Shore Dr. 207-596-6038.

 

Photo: Cara Dolan

The North of the Border Burger
A1 DINER
Gardiner. $7.99

Canadian bacon and cheddar cheese on A1’s warm, soft pretzel bun would be a delightful sandwich by itself, but the inventive folks behind Gardiner’s much-loved restored 1946 dining car build this one around a nicely seasoned patty made with locally sourced beef. It comes with hand-cut fries that are perfectly crispy (but alas, south of the border in so far as they lack gravy and curds). Guy Fieri is one noted A1 enthusiast, and who are we to argue with the mayor of Flavortown? 3 Bridge St. 207-582-4804.

Photo: Jamie Walter

The Gucci
THE BAG & KETTLE
Carrabassett Valley. $12.50

Apres-ski consumption of a “Bag burger” is practically a religious rite around Sugarloaf, and the Gucci is one of the pub’s “gourmet designer” variations (we’re also fond of the Dior and the Armani). A hefty flame-broiled beef patty is topped with mozzarella and layered with pepperoni strips on both sides, an unholy union that comes on sourdough next to a bed of the Bag’s famous curly fries.
19 Village West. 207-237-2451. thebagandkettle.com

Photo: Michael D. Wilson

House-Smoked Burger
EAST ENDER
Portland. $14

When co-owners Karl Deuben and Bill Leavy first gifted the world this beautiful little burger, it was from the confines of their now legendary Small Axe food truck, and they called it the “Smokestack Lightning.” It’s a pretty accurate descriptor if you pay the extra $2 for the crunchy, slightly spicy shishito peppers, which nicely complement the cold-smoked Caldwell Family Farm beef. Mayo, ketchup, and Monterey Jack all come standard, on a bun from South Portland’s Southside Bakery that’s like brioche, but softer. The thrice-cooked fries in their own little pail are a nice touch. 47 Middle St. 207-879-7669. eastenderportland.com

Photo: Michael D. Wilson

The Burger
CHAVAL
Portland. $12

Upscale versions of the Big Mac are a dime a dozen, but the smoky, grilled Caldwell Family Farm beef on Chaval’s burger calls to mind nothing so much as the flame-broiled Burger King Whopper. The resemblance is furthered by a dollop of “tomato-mustard,” umami-rich roasted tomatoes blended with two kinds of Dijon. Cucumbers from Buxton’s Snell Family Farm become “Lex’s pickles” (named for a line cook and brine whiz), and the whole thing sits between brioche buns liberally spiked with black pepper. Add $4 worth of hand-cut fries. (Or not. Have it your way.) 58 Pine St. 207-772-1110. chavalmaine.com

Photo: Michael D. Wilson

The Burger
WOODFORD FOOD & BEVERAGE
Portland. $16

Woodford F&B makes its thick burger patties from a blend that’s predominantly brisket, then renders it almost invisible beneath a mishmash of sweet grilled onions, none-too-crisp bacon, Dijonnaise, giant house-brined pickles, and “pub cheese,” a blend of French cream cheese, cheddar, shallots, and spices. Lights out! The buns are delivered fresh from Portland’s Ten Ten Pié bakery and hold together under conditions that might soggify a lesser bun. Good fries too. 660 Forest Ave. 207-200-8503. woodfordfb.com

Photo: Michael D. Wilson

Double Stack #9
D’ANGELO
Locations in Portland, South Portland, Auburn, Lewiston, and Biddeford. $8.49

If you’ve visited this ubiquitious New England sandwich shop chain only for its subs, you may be surprised to learn you can ask for the innards of the tasty Steak Number 9 sandwich atop a double cheeseburger. That’s onions, peppers, mushrooms, and American cheese smothering two beef patties and a pile of grilled sirloin. Gourmet it is not, but what other burger on this list can you get delivered? Five locations in Portland, South Portland, Lewiston, Auburn, and Biddeford. dangelos.com

 

Photo: Michael D. Wilson

The Terlingua Burger
TERLINGUA
Portland. $14

Only available on the Sunday brunch menu (hence the fried egg, a $2 addition), the Terlingua burger starts with a well-marbled, roasted-garlic–spiked beef patty, sourced from Bethel’s Middle Intervale Farm. Bacon jalapeño jam adds just the right salty-spicy punch, and for another $1.50, you can choose your cheese: cheddar, American, or bleu. Brunch at Terlingua is the one time it’s appropriate to order a hamburger at a terrific barbecue joint. 52 Washington Ave. 207-808-8502. terlingua.me

Photo: Michael D. Wilson

The Big Foie Burger
CENTRAL PROVISIONS
Portland. $14

It’s been called the burger that will restore your faith in brunch. Chef Chris Gould’s creation would be delicious even if it were no more than a house-made onion roll sheltering a burger patty, heirloom tomatoes, bread-and-butter pickles, lettuce, onion, American cheese, and Big Mac–ish special sauce. But what nudges it into genius territory is the silky foie gras mousse whipped with cream cheese (which, according to Gould, keeps the foie from melting out). So decadent. So good.  414 Fore St. 207-805-1085.  central-provisions.com

Photo: Cara Dolan

Whoperburger
FAT BOY DRIVE-IN
Brunswick. $4.25

For many on the lower midcoast, it’s not summer until they’ve pulled up to the neon beacon of Fat Boy, flipped on their headlights to attract a carhop, and requested a Whoperburger, a squat little dynamo of a paper-wrapped burger. Cooked to order, it’s a 4-ounce patty with lettuce, tomato, and secret “Whoper” sauce (like a sweeter mayo) on a steamed sesame seed bun. Wash it down with one of Fat Boy’s famous extra-thick frappes, made with blended ice milk. Closed mid-Sept.–March. 111 Bath Rd. 207-729-9431. fatboydrivein.com

Photo: Michael D. Wilson

The Slab Burger
NOSH
Portland. $13

The burger menu at Nosh is not big on sublety. Pass up the one with pork belly (for amateurs) and the other with fried mac and cheese buns (a gimmick) and instead have at this behemoth. Provolone, red pepper marinara, and pesto top a standard Nosh patty, a blend of beef, pork, and herbs. Then the pièce(s) de résistance: two fat wedges of Sicilian-style pizza from Nosh’s sister restaurant, the aptly named Slab. Remove that toothpick at your own risk. 551 Congress St. 207-553-2227. noshkitchenbar.com

Photo: Michael D. Wilson

The Corner Burger
OWL & ELM
Yarmouth. $14

The meat is the star at Yarmouth’s quintessential village pub, a blend of ground chuck, brisket, and short rib from Maine Family Farms. Owl & Elm laces the meat with its own steak sauce and tops the burger with smoked cheddar from New Gloucester’s Pineland Farms and a slaw of lettuce, tomato, red onion, and pickles. Both sides of the buttered brioche roll are slathered with garlic aioli. Comes with a funny little basket of superb house fries that you half expect to still be glistening from the deep fryer.
365 Main St. 207-847-0580. owlandelm.com

Photo: Michael D. Wilson

HS Double Double
HOT SUPPA
Portland. $10

Paying homage to the West Coast’s iconic In-N-Out Burger, Hot Suppa’s version keeps it real with slices of American cheese, but elevates with Maine-raised beef from
Maine Family Farms — a blend of brisket, chuck, and rib fat — along with a crusty kaiser bun. As with the best In-N-Out
varieties, the Double Double gets some sweet-and-sour contrast from caramelized onions and dill pickles, and as at In-N-Out, there’s a “secret menu,” of sorts — ask for the fried green tomatoes with remoulade sauce for an extra $6. 703 Congress St. 207-871-5005. hotsuppa.com

Photo: Michael D. Wilson

The Big One, Loaded
RAPID RAY’S
Saco. $5.30

The folks at Rapid Rays have been grinding their own beef every day since the iconic fast-food joint opened as a food truck in 1953. The Big One is the restaurant’s classic offering, laden with melted American on a toasted bun. Ask for it loaded and you’ll get mustard, relish, chopped onions, and tomato. Wash it down with a half-pint of chocolate milk, which Ray’s is equally famous for. 189 Main St. 207-282-1847. rapidrays.net

Photo: Cara Dolan

Double Cheeseburger
ROY’S ALL STEAK HAMBURGERS
Auburn. $5.19

Officially, it’s Roy’s All Steak Hamburgers & Golf Center, one of the stranger places in Maine to find a mom-and-pop burger worth traveling for. Roy’s grinds chuck steak daily to make its thin patties, which it sets inside spongy-soft buns, layers with melted white American, and tops with condiments of your choice. The double burger is still practically a slider — even with a basket of hand-cut crinkle fries, you may want more than one. You can always work off the calories on the driving range or in the batting cages. 2514 Turner Rd. 207-782-2801. roysgolf.com

Photo: Michael D. Wilson

Cheeseburger Dinner
BOB’S CLAM HUT
Kittery. $11.45

A burger from a fried-seafood stand? Look, bub, owner Michael Landgarten recalls the heyday of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in the ’80s and ’90s, when “we would get these large takeout orders consisting of almost all cheeseburger dinners, with maybe one lone clam dinner in the mix.” These days, the quarter-pound cheeseburgers, made with beef ground at Kittery’s MEat butcher shop and served on oh-so-soft Martin’s potato rolls, continue to bring out visitors’ inner longshoremen. A basket includes fries, slaw, and not one but two burgers. 315 Rte. 1. 207-439-4233. bobsclamhut.com

Photo: Michael D. Wilson

The Palais Royale
PALACE DINER
Biddeford. $14

A towering, diner-style burger at Maine’s best counter-and-stool joint. In the middle of the Palais Royale, a third sesame seed bun separates two beef patties, each one thin like a fast-food burger and each topped with its own layer of melted cheddar. Ribbons of shredded iceberg lettuce and a stack of pickles add some refreshing crunch. No special sauce here, just mayo and mustard (save the ketchup for the mountain of thick-cut fries that accompany the burger). 18 Franklin St. 207-284-0015. palacedinerme.com

Photo: Michael D. Wilson

Smokehouse Burger
THIRD ALARM DINER
Sanford. $10.99

A juicy 6-ounce sirloin patty topped with slab bacon, crispy onion rings, BBQ sauce, and American cheese, the towering Smokehouse Burger has (and needs) a steak knife driven through it to hold it together. Comes with fries, chips, (more) onion rings, or fried pickles, but the real tough choice is which of the diner’s boozy milkshakes to wash things down with. 47 Washington St. 207-490-0557.

Photo: Michael D. Wilson

Black Angus Burger
STONEWALL KITCHEN CAFE
York. $12

The cafeteria attached to Stonewall’s retail flagship may seem like an unlikely destination for a great burger, until you remember that Stonewall Kitchen’s whole schtick is adventurous and high-quality condiments. To a grilled half-pound Angus patty, Stonewall adds its knockout roasted-garlic-and-onion jam, along with some Bibb lettuce and tomato. You can dress it up further, but anything more than a couple slices of Swiss, for an extra $2, is gilding the lily. 2 Stonewall Ln. 207-351-2719. stonewallkitchen.com

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