Never. Nowhere. None. These were the initial responses my Gourmet Live colleagues and I received when we first began asking around for where to find the best traditional American-style hamburgers overseas. "I've never had a decent burger abroad," insists Josh Ozersky, Time columnist, author of The Hamburger: A History (2008), and the driving force behind Meatopia, an annual celebration of all things carnivorous. Some, like road-food expert and frequent Gourmet Live contributor Michael Stern, follow a when-in-Rome policy: "I have never spent so long overseas that I craved a hamburger enough to abandon local food in search of one," says Stern. "To me, it would be like having carne adovada in New York or lox and bagels in Salt Lake City." Others contend that nobody outside of the good ole U.S. of A. has mastered the perfect patty.
"Ten years ago, the burgerscape outside of America was pretty grim," admits George Motz, author of Hamburger America (based on his documentary of the same name), host of Travel Channel's Made in America, and star of an upcoming show on burgers in America, Burger Land, also on Travel Channel. "But in the past few years, gourmet-style burger joints and fast-casual burger spots are popping up everywhere. Every major city in the world now has a few great new burger joints."
Hooray! A ray of cheese-swaddled sunshine! Expats, travelers, and ground-round addicts, rejoice, and read on for juicy picks around the world from Motz; meat-master Pat LaFrieda, Jr., the preferred supplier of custom blends for some of the New York area's finest burgers, including Shake Shack's, and a star of Food Network's Meat Men; Robyn Lee of Serious Eats' A Hamburger Today; food historian and Hamburger: A Global History author Andrew F. Smith; and our own editor-in-chief, Tanya Steel, who has traveled the world with two teenage boysperhaps the ultimate burger consumers.
Australia: Andrews Hamburgers
"Andrews has been making burgers the old-fashioned 'American' way for decades," Motz reports. "What's not to love?" The self-described "traditional hamburger grill" in Melbourne opened in 1939 and serves its basic burger with lettuce, cooked onions, and "tomato sauce" (the local term for ketchup). Optional toppings include bacon, egg, tomato, cheese, beets, pineapple, mustard, barbecue sauce, mayonnaise, and hot chile sauce (the burger with "the lot" sounds divine: a patty topped with egg, bacon, tomato, and cheese). According to the Australian newspaper The Age, "six professional flippers aren't enough to keep the queue from snaking out the door."
Brazil: The Burger Map
It's not a huge surprise that Motz gives the thumbs-up to Santo André's Burger Map, which uses Motz's book as a reference guide to create a rotating menu of special burgers, made with beef that's ground fresh daily. "One week they might have the Oklahoma onion-fried burger, the next Connecticut's steamed cheeseburger," Motz explains. Their basic hamburger, which is topped with onion and tomato, pays homage to New Haven's Louis' Lunch, widely recognized as the originator of the all-American hamburger, back in 1900. Other American classics at Burger Map include Milwaukee's Butter Burger and Minneapolis' cheese-filled Ju(i)cy Lucy. And although Motz might be a bit biased, he reports that in addition to using his book for research, "they've made numerous trips to the heart of burger country just to make sure they got it right."
Canada: The Burger's Priest
North of the border, burger pilgrims are reverent about Toronto's Burger's Priest, where the patties captivated editor-in-chief Tanya Steel and her voracious teenage testers. "What makes this classic burger a breed apart is that the Burger's Priest freshly grinds its beef throughout the day," Steel reports. "The bacon cheeseburger is juicy and decadent, and when you have it with chili cheese fries, it is nirvana." Erin Jackson, one of Lee's colleagues at A Hamburger Today, is also a devotee.