BrewRiver Gastropub
BrewRiver Gastropub
For this list, I'm concentrating on good burgers. Really good burgers. I intended to always get coleslaw on the side. But French fries are so good. ...

So what makes a burger a really good burger?

Here are my criteria:

  1. The meat has to be juicy. Ideally, some meat juice should drip from the burger onto your plate and hands. This happens far less often than it should.
  2. The meat has to have a taste of being cooked: Some burgers could have been microwaved for all the cooked-meat flavor they have. Really good ones have a charred touch of the grill, or the taste of meat that has met a really hot griddle.
  3. Ideally, it can be ordered to temperature. I like steak medium-rare but I order burgers at medium.
  4. The bun and the toppings should support the meat, not cover it up. For the very best burger, the bun should be worth eating on its own. Many of the burgers I've tried are a little less baroque. One or two toppings appropriate to a burger: cheese, mushrooms, maybe bacon.

That's it, mostly. However, burgers that meet these criteria often cost $13. So I also have some burgers in here that are a good value for less money: maybe a little less juicy, cooked a little past pink in the middle, but a good burger you can afford for lunch.
 

Brew River Gastropub

BrewRiver has a mighty awesome burger, my favorite of all the ones I tried this time around. Here is the No. 1 lesson this burger teaches: Use a bun that is delicious to eat on its own. This is on a sourdough bun from Sweet William bakery, a local baker, and is a bit chewier than the usual burger bun, but delicious on its own. It also has an excellent flavor innovation: crisped portabella mushroom chips that add their bit of umami without adding the slipperiness and moisture that fresh mushrooms do. Plus, it was pink inside (the only burger I got that was perhaps cooked a little less than medium). They have the beer to go with it, and also homemade pickles and ketchup and nice coleslaw.
 

Metropole

Metropole's burger is made from bison meat, which comes from the company's farm in Kentucky. The meat itself is flavorful and lean. So it's not super-juicy, but it's moist. They serve it on a large brioche-style bun, with cheddar. I got it with a whole-grain wheat berry salad, which was sort of like having a veggie burger on the side.
 

Moerlein Lager House

There are a few burgers on the menu at the Lager House on the river. I passed up the moer-burger with pastrami, bacon and a fried egg to have the simpler Alehouse burger, with ale-braised onions, mushrooms and tomato jam, which is just enough, I think. It was the drippiest burger I tried and pink in the middle. It comes on the kind of bun that squishes up as you eat it, keeping everything together.
 

Bobby's Burger Palace

I made a little exception to the usual no-chain rule, as Bobby's Burger Palace has only one location in Cincinnati, at JACK Cincinnati Casino. The burgers are good, nice and thick. They're served on sesame buns, which I've always liked, and the cheese is American, which melts and  drips all over the bun and burger. The L.A. Burger has one genius ingredient: no, not the chips that "crunchify" it - the watercress. And with its curvy, two-sided counter, BBP is a fun place to sit. 
 

Montgomery Inn

The taste of Montgomery Inn barbecue sauce is a Cincinnati touchstone - generations of people have grown up loving its particular combination of sweet and tangy. You can get it on ribs, of course, but it's also good on a burger. Their Western BBQ Burger is a half-pounder with bacon, cheddar and sauce. The one I tried at the Boathouse one night was maybe cooked a little past medium but that didn't ruin the meat. Especially because there was a ton of thick, crisp bacon on it to amp up the meat flavor. Nice whole-grain bun. Of course, Saratoga chips on the side, with more sauce.
 

The Public House

This Cheviot bar touts its connection to Guinness, since they went on the reality TV show "Bar Rescue" and several employees made the trip to Dublin, Ireland. So when it came to trying a burger, I passed up their Baa Baa Black Sheep, loaded up with stuff like goetta and bacon and cheese and fried egg, for the simpler Guinness burger. It's a good half-pound, served on an airy egg bun with mild beer-braised onions and Swiss. I liked the skinny battered zucchini fries on the side.
 

Mansion Hill Tavern

This is a very modest burger, but that has its charms. Mansion Hill Tavern hosts live music, especially the blues, at night, but you can drop in for lunch during the day and order this simple, hand-shaped, bumpy burger on a bun, chips on the side. It doesn't have fancy toppings, but it's juicy and beefy. Pay with cash. Maybe have a beer and a cigarette, if that's your thing.

Bobby's Burger Palace
The L.A. Burger at Bobby's Burger Palace
Written by Polly Campbell, Food & Dining writer at Cincinnati Enquirer.