Animales Burger Co.
Address: 1315 NE. Tyler St. (Bauhaus Brew Labs), Mpls., instagram.com/animalesburgerco. Open 4:30-8:30 p.m. Wed., 4-8:30 p.m. Thu.-Fri., noon-8:30 p.m. Sat.
Burger: After drawing mammoth crowds to occasional burger pop-ups at his Animales Barbeque Co., chef/owner Jon Wipfli decided to build a second truck that's devoted to burgers. Truly impressive burgers. The premium beef is from Peterson Craftsman Meats in Osceola, Wis. (get used to seeing that farm's name), and the patties are smashed into the griddle and cooked until they develop all kinds of crispy, flavor-packed char. There's an ideal beef-bread ratio. A massive, fully equipped commissary kitchen allows bakers Amber Wedell and Frank Carollo the opportunity to produce, by hand, beautiful milk-enriched buns — nearly 2,000 per week. They're swiped with lard (the premium fat is fortified with a dash of toasted and ground peppers), and that extra-indulgent touch forges a tantalizingly delicate toastiness. The cheese is a classic white American, and the slightly sweet pickles add just the right note of acidic crunch. "We tried to take all the staples of what makes a good burger, and then do them in the best possible way," said Wipfli. "We're going for simplicity."
Fries: None. "Having a fryer on a truck sounds like a nightmare," said Wipfli. "And if we had fries, I would gain weight, nonstop."
Price: $10 single, $13 double.
Where he burgers: "Hands down, it's at Bull's Horn (4563 34th Av. S., Mpls., bullshornfoodanddrink.com)," said Wipfli. "It's perfect. It's one of my favorite things to eat in the whole city, period."
Address: 1668 Selby Av., St. Paul, augustinesmn.com. Open 5-10 p.m. Wed.-Sat.
Burger: "I wanted to focus on a burger that wasn't like everyone else's, and something that would fit the French bistro format," said chef Derik Moran. He succeeded. The beef also hails from Peterson Craftsman Meats, and the custom blend of chuck, brisket and shoulder radiates a pronounced sumptuousness. That sense of luxuriousness is accentuated by prodigious amounts of Gruyère cheese. Pastry chef Toni Luschen bakes a standout bun, one that borrows from focaccia and ciabatta formulas and deftly negotiates the all-important divide between sturdy and airy. Finishing touches from the garden include a mellow tomato jam, juicy lettuce, a sliver of chive ("It adds a bit of onion nuance to the burger," said Moran) and vinegary cornichons.
Fries: They're a commercially prepared matchstick variety. "I'm kind of a fries snob," said Moran. "I like to make my own, but it's a big production, and we have a small staff. These fries start crispy and stay crispy. I've always preferred more crunch than fluff, if that makes any sense."
Where he burgers: "I don't typically eat out a lot, and for the last year and a half I haven't been anywhere," said Moran. "But I really enjoy the burgers at Parlour [730 Washington Av. N., Mpls., and 267 W. 7th St., St. Paul, parlourbar.com], Matt's Bar [3500 Cedar Av. S., Mpls., mattsbar.com] and Lions Tap," 16180 Flying Cloud Drive, Eden Prairie, lionstap.com.
Bebe Zito Ice Cream
Address: 704 W. 22nd St., Mpls., bebezitomn.com. Burgers served noon-8 p.m. Fri.-Sun. Also at Malcolm Yards Market, 501 30th Av. SE., Mpls.
Burger: One of the city's great burger bargains also happens to be wildly delicious. The patty, charred on the outside, juicy on the inside, is composed of bacon- and fat-laced ground brisket. Chef/co-owner Ben Spangler uses soft, slightly sweet Hawaiian-style rolls, which blossom when they're buttered and toasted. The cheese is salty standard-issue American, the dreamy pickles — again, they ring a sweet note — boast a marvelously crunchy snap, and Spangler's "special sauce" pops with a kick of Minneapolis-made Cry Baby Craig's hot sauce.
Price: $5.95 single, $7.95 double.
Where he burgers: "The one that I still get the most is at Shake Shack," Spangler said. (6603 France Av. S., Edina, and Mall of America, Bloomington, shakeshack.com.) "I'm the opposite of a burger purist. For me, it's more about what comes with the burger — the things around it have to be just as great — and I want a really good shake."
Address: 272 S. Snelling Av., St. Paul, visitchips.com. Open 5-9 p.m. Wed.-Sun.
Burger: For when "over the top" feels just right. Chef Gina Mangiameli presses 6 ounces of beef into patties so thin — and so skillfully crisped-up — that at first their pancake-esque profile masks the monster heft of this glorious burger. Those double patties overhang the bun's edges like there's no tomorrow, and there's enough melty American for a family-of-four serving of mac and cheese. The pillowy bun toasts up like a charm and is imported from a favorite bakery in Mangiameli's native Chicago ("I always got my birthday cake from there when I was growing up," she said), and kudos to the garlicky dill pickles, an affectionate homage to Mangiameli's obsession with the Claussen brand.
Fries: A heaping helping ($5.95) of a first-rate, commercially prepared frozen product. "These big companies have figured out how to make fries come out consistently," said Mangiameli.
Where they burger: "We go to the Nook [492 S. Hamline Av., St. Paul, crnook.com] at least four times a month," said Mangiameli. "Their style of burger is really nostalgic," said owner Tara Coleman. "It's like Dad grilling in the back kind of thing."
Sidebar at Surdyk's
Address: 303 E. Hennepin Av., Mpls., sidebaratsurdyks.com. Open 4-11 p.m. Wed.-Thu., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.
Burger: Another beauty from the Peterson Craftsman Meats pantheon. Chef Randall Prudden has spent a lot of time in Chicago, and he, like so many others, considers the much-imitated diner-style cheeseburger at Au Cheval to be the gold standard; it's certainly the role model here. When they're pressed into the griddle, the thin patties (about 2.5 ounces) take on a gorgeous end-to-end caramelization. The tender, milky bun comes from one of the Midwest's great bakeries, St. Paul's Rose Street Patisserie, and a generous swipe of mayonnaise is boosted by a snappy Dijon mustard that Prudden picks up in the adjacent cheese shop. Another savvy engineering component is the way the patty is carefully blanketed in a layer of paper-thin, garden-green pickles. "That way, every bite has a little crunch, as opposed to a few bites having a lot of crunch," said Prudden.
Fries: Rustic skin-ons, deeply golden, tasty.
Where he burgers: "My in-laws live past Wayzata and there's a drive-in out there, the Minnetonka Drive In [4658 Shoreline Drive, Spring Park, minnetonkadrivein.com], that has a pretty good burger," said Prudden. "It's super-greasy, and I really appreciate that."
Address: 24 University Av. NE., Mpls., stepchld.com. Open 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 5-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
Burger: Yes, the two 4-ounce patties — cooked to a lacy crispiness — are made with fat-laced grind from Peterson Craftsman Meats. But another star of this show is the cheese, from Pennsylvania-based Cooper. "It has the texture and flavor of American cheese, but not the plasticky aftertaste," said chef Jessica Cak. "And once it has melted, it doesn't solidify again. It stays creamy." Love how that top-shelf cheese fuses those two skinny patties. Love the griddled onions. Love the chipotle-fired aioli and its slightly smoky bite. And love the not-too-sugary bread-and-butter pickles.
Fries: More crisp, golden matchsticks (seasoned with garlic, shallots, chives and lots of salt) and compulsively eatable.
Where she burgers: "My husband and I love to go to Lyn 65, but it's no longer open," said Cak. "My other favorites in town are at Petite León [3800 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., petiteleonmpls.com] and Bull's Horn."