"Oh, my God," I kept saying. "This is so good. This is too good. Oh, my God, is this good." So goes a recent sunny Sunday afternoon lunch conversation inside a South Side restaurant with my husband, Sports Boy.
The hunt for the best burger in the 'Burgh is on. We are at Winghart's Burger & Whiskey Bar, where I'm eating an "Empty Burger," which is basically a build your own on 1/4 lb. of freshly ground beef. For me, this means cheddar cheese, lettuce, pickles, onions and mustard. Only this burger is so OMG good, that I don't even use any mustard. "No condiments needed," I say to Sports Boy who is munching a "Market Square Burger" (Gruyere cheese, mushrooms and bacon, in case you’re wondering.)
These burgers are rocking it – with pickles, onions, bacon all cut up and spread for even distribution of toppings, made only more delicious by Winghart's fries that are simply to die for. Seriously, what fries undergo a "strict two-day, six-step process?" Oh, and here's an insider's tip: Splurge and order a side of beer cheese for the fries. You'll be drunk in love, I swear. So Winghart's is a winner, two hands down or rather around that big, juicy burger.
This summer, we checked out Stinky's Bar and Grill, a dive bar in our neighborhood of Lawrenceville. Stinky's had just earned the distinction of being home to one of the "10 Best Burgers in America," according to Thrillist, a national online magazine. "How did we not eat here before?" I ask Sports Boy. That's because we erroneously believed Stinky's was one big bar/restaurant where they allowed smoking. Shows how much we know, as the dining room was well separated from the um stinky part of Stinky's.
With 19 burgers on the menu, it was game time at this eatery dubbed a "Lawrenceville tradition." I order up the “Kevin’s Favorite” – not knowing who Kevin is, but thinking two char-grilled burgers (but I request only one), special sauce, American cheese, grilled onions, lettuce and pickles sounds super tasty. The special sauce, I’m told, is thousand islands dressing. Sports Boy takes the scenic route by ordering the Philly Cheeseburger – topped with melted provolone cheese, grilled onions and green peppers and sauteed mushrooms.
"Wow," I repeat, in between bites. "How is it again that we never ate here before?" Sports Boy responds: "This is like home only much, much better." We'll be following our noses out our back door to Hatfield and 49th Street next time we're jonesin' for burgers and want something better than our fired up grill could muster.
Next up on our utterly awesome best burger hunt is Tessaro's in Bloomfield. This has been a go-to burger destination in Pittsburgh for as long as I can remember...and well, I'm pretty old!
Tessaro's menu touts that "each burger is 1/2 pound of a primo mix of choice cuts and freshly ground beef. Cooked to order on our famous hard wood grill." Yes, indeedy! You just have to be near the block on Liberty Avenue and the aroma will suck you in.
Before I became set in my ways (read: old), I would be adventurous and order the Gourmet Cheeseburger – bacon, grilled mushrooms, onions and bleu cheese. Now, it's my usual standard of cheddar, lettuce, onions, pickles and mustard.
Tessaro's gets its own 15 minutes of fame in this new Zagat video about why Pittsburgh is "America's Hottest Food City." Look for it at about 2:54 minutes in. As owner Moira Harrington puts it, Tessaro's is "the kind of place where everyone knows your name." Yepper, Tessaro's is that kind of comfortable place with deliciously juicy burgers that deserve their place in the culinary sun.
Honorable Mentions: BRGR, Burgatory, The Whitfield
Other boss burgers that deserve a big-bellied shout out are ones from BRGR, Burgatory and, yep, The Whitfield at the Ace Hotel, where you can find "jubilee hilltop grass-fed beef, brioche bun, pepper jam, cheddar, fried onions, mustard mayo." Mustard mayo? Not an oxymoron but a wonderliscious condiment of epic proportion.
Now, if anyone can just recommend a tailor where I can have my pants let out an inch or three...the hunt for the 'Burgh’s best burgers can continue!