Order up! Who’s got the best burger in Charlottesville?


Fox's Cafe is home to the best burger in town. Photo: Preston Long

I used to plot burgers on the national map like I was tracking a serial killer. The Rusty Nail, Canton, Michigan. Casino El Camino, Sixth Street, Austin. Some Irish bar, west side of Clark Street, far north side Chicago. Pink’s, La Brea, Los Angeles. They all had their own thing about them. I took a Frenchman to the Rusty Nail. He said, “Thees eez like meat from home.” Pink’s burger is just blazing hot, chili-smothered wolf food. The Austin burger is a thick, fiery slab buried under jalapeno slices. The joint in Chicago…just fat, juicy, cheesy, and worth the 45-minute, out-of-the-way meander up a clogged single-lane traffic artery. In my quest for a go-to burger here I asked around for leads. I sifted through reviews. I ended up eating more hamburgers the first two weeks of this year than I did all of last. I felt the pain of the guy in Super Size Me. More than ever before do I now revere the commitment of De Niro’s famous preparation to play Jake LaMotta.

For all the descriptive PC come-ons of the burger boutiques that serve only meat from well-adjusted cows who went to the best schools, regaled underprivileged neighborhoods with Christmas carols, and ate meals prepared exclusively from raw food co-op grocers, a burger is just a burger after all. If I’m eating a hamburger, I’m not doing it to get healthy. I’m eating it because I have given up on health, at least for the rest of the day. And I don’t care if the bun was flown in from a Parisian pâtisserie. The bun is there to hold the lettuce and tomato in place and keep my fingers out of the mayonnaise. Wonder Bread buns work best. Also, bacon and other such extraneous garnishings don’t figure in. If you melted cheese over bacon and ate it on your wallet, it would taste good.

Cheeseburger at The Lunchbox on the corner of Market and Meade. Photo: Preston Long

I started out haute. The menu at Citizen Burger Bar checks off all of the requisite boxes to justify the price tag. Local beef, local cheese, blah, blah. The medium rare American Classic showed up in a roomy roll replete with American cheese and the house Citizen sauce. I bit into it and what immediately sprang to mind was Whopper. If that sounds aspersing, take it up with BK. What brought that to mind was the combination of the sauce (curiously suggestive of ketchup and mayo) and the charbroiled technique. Burgers over an open flame? Why? The outside gets charred, crispy, and dry and the inside stays cool and not cooked. No grease equals no flavor. May as well be eating a salad. Their over-salting did not compensate. At the end of it, I was out thirty bucks for two burgers with fries and one beer.

Next stop: Mel’s Diner on West Main Street. Sizzled on a flat top griddle. Thin, white bread roll. This is what the spirit of the burger is about. Not super thick and unwieldy, but sturdy yet manageable. It cost what a burger should: ­very little. The Lunchbox in Belmont is no slouch either. Easy with the sodium, they fry ’em up on a griddle. It’s just greasy enough to taste like something.

Preston Long’s London Burger. Photo: Preston Long

Everyone knows about Riverside Lunch, and theirs is as good as a burger gets. The patties are juicy and perfectly seasoned and they trick these babies out right, at the right price.

Best burger in Charlottesville? Fox’s Cafe, another Belmont fixture. The patties aren’t stupid thick, so ordering a double isn’t overkill. The roll is perfectly proportionate and the burger tastes fresher than anywhere else. It always comes hot, through and through. The double cheeseburger is under $5. All the sides are great.

The best burger I’ve had this year I made at home. I started with 80 percent lean beef, which leaves plenty of fat for flavor, then rolled in some Jane’s Krazy Mixed-Up salt, and a hefty dose of ground black pepper. I fried it in an iron skillet, which gets the inside cooked but keeps it moist throughout. Cavemen discovered fire so they could stop eating raw, bland meat. Meaty flavor comes to life only after ample heat is applied. I topped it with blended cheddar, mayo, and a quality thin-sliced kosher dill pickle, sandwiched in a toasted English muffin. Call it the London Burger. If I charged what I get paid for this, you could eat them all day.

  • native

    Why is someone who thinks a Wonder Bread bun is worth eating and who doesn’t know where Belmont is writing about food in Charlottesville? Clue: The Lunchbox is not in Belmont.

  • Dave

    How does stuff like this get published? Pick one upscale place and a few dives but spend most of the article talking about yourself, how you’ve been to so many epic burger places and how the burger you make tastes better than anything else. Anyway, the answer is 4th Street, they have the best burger in town.

  • T

    Farmington Country Club has the Calhoun Burger and it’s awesome…Not much diversity, but a great burger…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504966263 Jason Cooper

    the answer is Black Moto Saloon my friends, best burgers in town hands down boooyaaahhh

  • Happycat

    I know a post like this is mostly trolling (wonder bread bun?!?!) for controversy, but fine. I’ll bite. I agree that you can almost always make the best burger at home–although you shouldn’t salt your patties until just before cooking–but if I had to choose from places out on the town, it’d be Boylan.

  • Eric B.

    Really? It’s gotta be a thin, lifeless burger? The whole point of having a thick burger is so that you can taste the BEEF itself. If the beef is good–and not cooked to a char–the burger will be good. My gripe with so many places is that they are afraid to cook a burger less than medium-well. What’s the point?

  • Jed

    I enjoyed reading this – great evocative first paragraph! – and I happen to agree that the best burgers tend to be simple white bun greasers from places like Riverside, but I also agree with some of the other comments. I think it’s a bad idea to write a post with this title, omit so many important places – especially Boylan, a favorite among so many in Cville – and then conclude that the best is your own. We burgerphiliacs are a rabid bunch, and won’t stand for an investigation that feels so half-fried…

    • Casey

      Amen, Jed!

  • apey

    The Korner Restaurant is better than Riversides burgers. But my favorite right now is 4th Street. Citizen Burger Bar should change their name to Pretty Decent Fries, I have never had a even okay burger there yet.

  • LittleBitty

    Oh thank God. I was afraid Charlottesville had gone soft on food-related internet debate. My faith is restored.

    Black Moto’s burger blew me away. I’ve been craving one ever since. Plus, I love filthy hipster scum boys. <3

    Boylan used to by my favorite, but they seem to have down-graded some of their ingredients ('sup with that crappy new "house roll," guys?).

    And Rapture ain't bad, neither. I went on a date there once, and the best part of the night was the burger. I don't usually eat myself silly on dates, what with the prospect of imminent sexy times, but my date sucked, and the burger was delicious consolation.

    Also, I have a tiny little tummy, but I will put an entire 4th St. burger in my maw all at once.


  • esteban

    My Top five:
    Mel’s Diner
    Blue Moon Diner
    Stony Point Market
    Five Guys

  • BurgerRaptor

    I happen to be (mostly) in agreement with Dave… the Article is entitled “Order Up!” .. not “My Favorite Burger is My Own.” Give me a break…. a f*&$ing WHOPPER!??! Are you kidding me? Not sure if you know… but when the burger meat is higher quality than, say, a whopper, the inside is SUPPOSED to be pink. Crazy, huh? Wonder Bread buns?? I’ll pretend you never said that. You can’t half-heartedly pick up this topic and touch on a few spots, and close with your own – i’m sorry. If you’re actually doing an evaluation, you left out about 85% of the contenders. Leave your burger out of it next time, separate into categories (griddle patties vs. cooked to order), and get your head in the game.

    • Robbie Greer

      Get this guy on the payroll!

  • JR

    A pity writer didn’t try the truly outstanding burger at The Carving Board Cafe!

  • rickdilelio

    I guess you wouldn’t expect Chap’s Ice Cream to be in the running for best burger. But I highly recommend trying it. If it’s Thursday, I will be at the bar having the cheeseburger special. It isn’t pricey, but let me just say, I think it’s the best on the Downtown Mall. It is juicy, and full of flavor. Go give it a try!!

  • CvilleFoods

    Mels is delish, he got that right. But, seems a litte weird that this guy doesnt even mention Boylan Heights, but picks his own burger as the “best.” Plus, didnt the owner of numerous mediocre restaurants copy Boylans entire business model and call it Citizen??? Why would C-Ville publish this crap, whats the point? Do a space filler for your paper for rasing money for breast cancer, autism, etc. Dont let Preston ruin your rep

  • txc

    reading the first paragraph, i was excited b/c the Casino burger in Austin is one of the best burgers around, so i figured the author indeed knew what they were talking about. too bad the rest of the article is indeed pretty worthless. or maybe there’s just not a noteworthy burger in cville. i haven’t found one yet

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