#1 Cremeland Drive In (250 Valley Street)
Forget baseball. For many of Manchester’s burger cognoscenti, the annual rite of spring is the March opening of Cremeland, a seasonal ice cream and seafood stand that also happens to have a pretty respectable burger. It’s nothing too ambitious, but the beef is ground fresh daily and the hand-sized burger is a far better representation of the classic “hamburger stand” burger than any of the national fast food chains. Is there anything more American than sitting at one of the porch covered picnic tables, with a burger in hand and a boat of crisp onion rings within’s arm reach?
#2 Buckley’s Great Steaks (438 Daniel Webster Hwy, Merrimack)
Steakhouses make great burgers because they’re typically made with the trimmings of the steaks. That means they’re coming from a variety of different cuts, with a higher-than-usual fat content for better-than- usual flavor. Buckley’s is no exception. Head straight to the Tavern menu for an array of half-pound burgers ground fresh daily from choice sirloin, rib-eye and tenderloin trimmings. They’re grilled over native hardwood, giving the beef a well-defined crust and a slightly smoky flavor. Buttered brioche rolls and cheese expertly melted into a near liquid take the richness to the next level. Sit by the fireplace in one of the small rooms of this quaint, fully-restored early 19th century tavern for the most intimate of burger experiences. Keep an eye on the steaks passing by for next time, but we’re sure you’ll rather have this burger all over again.
#3 Hanover Street Chophouse (149 Hanover St)
With a big city feel in downtown Manchester, Hanover Street Chophouse is popular with the locals and a destination for visitors in town for events at the Verizon Wireless Center and Palace Theater, both just a few blocks away. If you pride yourself on a refined palate and prefer a glass of wine with your burger, then this is the place for you. Hanover Street Chophouse has been recognized by Wine Spectator Magazine every year since opening for its collection of more than 200 wines that are stored in a former bank vault. Enjoy one or two with one of the handful of burger selections on the lunch menu or the lone burger on the bar menu. All burgers at “the Chophouse” are made from USDA Prime beef and served on sesame seed buns baked fresh on site. The pickles are homemade, the fries are hand cut and they even maketheir own ketchup.
#4 Strange Brew Tavern (88 Market Street)
Tucked into a side street between City Hall Plaza and the Merrimack River, Strange Brew Tavern is the burger destination for beer lovers. You could have a different brew every night for three months and still not make it all the way through Strange Brew's tap selections. The burger offerings are narrower—a basic, a pint-sized and the Strange Bleu Burger with bleu cheese, bacon, sauteed mushrooms and onion—but just as much of a draw. You can continue that beer theme with a trio of grilled mini burgers topped with homemade beer cheese and pickles, bolstered by a side of hand cut, beer battered (Blue Moon) onion rings. Want something different with your burger instead of the same old fries? Try the zucchini fries. For those bypassing the burgers, all house specialties are listed with beer pairing recommendations. With a game room in the back, live entertainment almost nightly and a primary focus on drinking, Strange Brew presents a lively, rollicking atmosphere as the backdrop for your burger. Just try to remember it the morning after.
#5 Copper Door (15 Leavy Drive, Bedford)
You think Donald Trump is extravagant? Here’s a place where they spent $20,000 just on the door that inspired its name. But don’t be intimidated; Copper Door is cozy and approachable, with high ceilings, exposed beams, a 3-sided bar and a centrally located fireplace. Once you get past the complimentary oven- fresh basket of buttery, garlicky, pull-apart “Monkeybread,” you’ll be sufficiently energized to try one their burgers. The lunch and bar menu has three full size options, all served on brioche buns with hand cut fries. The most irresistible is the Bacon Jam Burger with Bibb lettuce, bacon onion jam and avocado ranch aioli. But if you’re in the mood for more of a burger approximation before moving on to more ambitious offerings—or want to save room for more of that Monkeybread—share the tenderloin beef sliders with caramelized onions and Gorgonzola fondue.
#6 KC’s Rib Shack (837 Second St)
Known throughout New Hampshire and neighboring states as one of the area’s true barbecue destinations—with one with arguably the largest and best full cut spareribs around—KC’s Rib Shack is also a great place to have a burger. KC’s was one of the first restaurants to offer peanut butter as a burger topping, and it’s a natural with bacon for when you want to get your Elvis on. All patties are hand formed and extra gentle, even on the burger known as the Gravedigger: a half pound of beef, bacon, cheese and a fried egg between two grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches. Not to be missed are the incredible onion rings, doused in Pabst Blue Ribbon before frying. They have a hint of doughnut flavor but are still as light and crisp as the seafood shack variety. But there’s another important side: if you’re going the burger route, order a single rib to make sure you don’t miss out on the barbecue experience. In summer months, enjoy your burger at the tiki bar in KC’s outdoor patio, where there’s live entertainment on weekend afternoons.
#7 The Wild Rover (21 Kosciuszko St)
Now in its third decade, this Irish pub with 100 year old oak floors offers more than just your typical Irish fare to go with its extensive draft beer selection. Char-broiled burgers are crafted from grass-fed bison, Angus beef, turkey and vegan black bean patties. Get them adorned with configurable groupings such as the Ultimate, which adds Irish bacon, cheddar and Guinness onions. In addition to its beer list, the Wild Rover boasts one of the deepest whiskey selections in the city. The Wild Rover has also become known as a gathering place to watch rugby and soccer matches at the bar, adding to the authentic Irish pub feel.
#8 The Foundry (50 Commercial St)
At this newish restaurant overlooking the Merrimack in a former mill, industrial meets rustic with brick walls, exposed beams and ducts, metal railings, gleaming natural wood floors and handsome leather banquettes. This atmosphere sets the tone for Executive Chef Matt Provencher’s farm to table fare that changes with the seasons. Where’s the burger, you ask? The highly regarded Foundry Burger, served on a Parker House roll, sports sharp Cheddar, bacon, tomato relish and crisp Bibb lettuce. The rest of the menu is both adventurous and diverse, with something for every palate (charcuterie, flatbreads, interesting seafood dishes) and dietary restriction. Those looking for something special—or a venue quieter than the boisterous bar area—can enjoy personalized dinners by the chef in a private wine room.
#9 Papa Joe’s Humble Kitchen (237 South St, Milford)
Papa Joe lives up to the humble billing with an open kitchen that’s noticeably short on ambience. Order over the counter from an assortment of griddled burgers with unique toppings sure to please those with equally humble budgets. Every burger but one rings in at under $7. The exception is Skip’s Cardiac Burger, with Cajun and Buffalo seasonings, salami, bacon, two kinds of cheese, onion rings, jalapeños, lettuce and Creole mayo. If that’s not a reason to keep coming back, here’s an extra incentive: every tenth burger is free.
#10 River Road Tavern (193 River Rd, Bedford)
In the neighboring town of Bedford we have another tavern, converted from a former residence. The small space has an inviting couch and fireplace, a well researched beer list, an open kitchen and a very simple but well executed menu. Aggressively seasoned kobe beef burgers are available two ways: as a full size model and as sliders on mini ciabatta rolls. There’s no official option for bacon as a topping, but a bacon appetizer provides an outside-the-box solution capable of topping at least two of them. Shoestring fries and fried potato wedges are available a la carte; a veggie burger is also on offer. A favorite among regulars is the challengingly spicy “Super Bad” chicken wings.
#11 Tuckaway Tavern (58 Route 27, Raymond)
This one’s a tavern, but in name only. Just off the highway, about halfway between downtown Manchester and the New Hampshire seacoast, is this rustic cabin for 200 diners with a spacious dining area, a wrap- around bar and an inviting fireplace. The beef for its burgers gets ground not just daily but throughout the day in the butcher shop that’s part of the Tuckaway’s overall complex. Cooked over an open flame, the burgers achieve an extra thick crust and a gushingly juicy interior. The bun is merely ordinary, but branded like a steer with the Tuckaway logo. More than a dozen burgers present toppings like pulled pork, fried chicken, a fried egg and lobster salad, but the most intriguing choice for the burger purist is the “Real Burger King.” This one jabs at its fast food rival with a superior blend of ribeye and tenderloin, joined by caramelized onions and horseradish. As with many of the restaurants on our list, burgers are hardly the only option; the deep menu has a virtually endless range of soups, salads and hearty country fare. A TV at the entrance lets you monitor the action in the kitchen on your way in.
#12 Red Arrow Diner (61 Lowell St)
Hailed as one of the finest diners in the country, Red Arrow is open 24 hours, so you know what that means. That’s right, burgers for breakfast. Or the perfect late night excuse to have a burger to get back into driving shape after an evening of bar hopping. But there’s more than just the obligatory generic burger you’d expect from a diner. Also featured are a triple decker with two patties, a patty melt, “The Adam Sandler” (a Manchester native son) topped with grilled onions and a build-it-yourself burger option with configurable toppings. If beef isn’t your thing, substitute bison, turkey, veggie or a chicken fried steak. The Red Arrow is a favorite stop for presidential hopefuls on the campaign trail, and many of them have posed for photos that grace the walls. Combine that with the retro red stools, chrome accents, eclectic décor, old time charm and veteran service, and you’ve got a recipe as American as apple pie. Which is a good reminder to never leave the Red Arrow Diner without trying a slice of one of their nationally recognized pies.