Burgers have become so trendy. You’ll find them stacked patties high, topped with everything from fried eggs to waffles to truffle butter.
Not that there’s anything wrong with innovation. But for those hankering for the blissful basics – excellent beef topped with lettuce, tomato and maybe a pickle, look no further than these old-school hamburger joints.
A classic in every sense of the word: Drive up, get in line, order at the window, then grab your bag full of burgers and fries and dine under the glow of the neon sign at an outdoor table. Long Island’s oldest drive-in hamburger joint is a nostalgic throwback to the “Happy Days” era. The menu is, too, with recipes that haven’t changed since it opened in 1963. The burgers, which come single, double or quarter pounder, are served with a sprinkle of raw onion, pickles and ketchup. Get yours with fries, onion rings and a thick shake.
South Burlington, Vt.
People drive miles just for the fries, which are legendary, and then end up loving the burger, too. Open since 1946, the restaurant has been named a James Beard American Classic.
This unpretentious diner is an oasis of old-school cool in downtown Portsmouth. What began in 1912 as a humble cart has segued into a brick-and-mortar hotspot, complete with a classic 1936 Worcester diner car. Locals and tourists head here for the atmosphere and the no-frills menu which includes a 100% chuck burger – order it with a side of poutine or a bowl of baked beans.
New Haven, Conn.
Fans claim the hamburger got its start here in 1895 and the Library of Congress agrees. Still family-owned, Louis’ has served the same classic hamburger sandwich – a hand-rolled double burger made with five different cuts of meat and served on white toast – for more than a century! Order one with cheese on top or cheese on the bottom, just don’t ask for ketchup. The only condiments offered are cheese, onions and tomato.
This roadside drive-in, with its ice cream cone roof topper and mini-golf course, has been serving up the classics including burgers, shakes and fries, since 1963. Bon Appetit named it among the country’s best hamburger joints, labeling it “a perfect pitstop,” serving 100% Angus beef patties on a soft sesame seed bun.
Central Falls, R.I.
Since 1932, “Stanleyburgers” have been a staple for Rhode Islanders and travelers alike. The patties, which are embedded with onions before cooking, get a flip on the grill, topped with more onions and pickles and then served on a pillowy soft bun. Regulars swear by the cheeseburger, single or double, with a side of dirty fries – French fries covered with Stanley’s own blend of herbs and spices. The retro diner has chrome counter stools, red leather booths and charming period art. Stanley’s has been honored as Rhode Island Magazine’s “best burger” multiple times.
Steamed burgers? Ted’s has been serving its square patties this way since 1959. Freshly ground beef is packed into individual metal trays then cooked in the original steamer. For Ted’s famous cheeseburger, white cheddar is steamed until gooey then ladled on top of the burger before it lands in a fresh roll. The “Everything” comes piled with lettuce, tomato, pickles, ketchup, mustard and mayo. Make sure to get a lot of napkins – this is definitely a two-handed burger! Ted’s is a homey joint, with a few counter stools and tables, as well as a small outdoor area.
West Springfield, Mass.
Thin, griddled patties topped with white American cheese and fried onions and served wrapped in white paper have been the draw here since 1939. The Hut’s Hamburg and Cheeseburg (they leave off the “er” here) were named among the top 50 in the U.S. by Thrillist. After a change in ownership in 2020 (the White Hut had been family owned until then), the restaurant has been renovated and expanded, adding a food truck and a brand-new second location in Holyoke.
Burgers here, known as sliders, are made from extra lean ground beef cooked with onions and cheese and served on a soft Martin’s Potato Roll. Larger than an appetizer slider, but smaller than a full-sized burger, they’re perfect in multiples. And that’s how folks order them. In Hackensack since 1946, White Manna has become internationally famous due to appearances on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and lots of other media. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see a line forming outside a retro aluminum diner with a distinctive red sign.
Who do you think makes the best classic burger? Share your favorite hamburger joints in the comments.
Prefer hot dogs? Check out our story on GOAT hot dog joints and join the debate for top dog in the Northeast.