A monthly roundup of ethnic eats, counter service chow and other tasty bargains. Last month, we shared some of our favorite places to score a hotdog. This month, we give equal time to that other all-American classic, the burger.
Note: While half-pound bar burgers loaded with everything but the kitchen sink have their place, this time around we’re betting on the welterweight — old-school diner burgers.
Al’s Burger Shack
Two Chapel Hill locations: 516 W. Franklin St.; 708 Market St.
919-904-7659 (Franklin St.); 919-914-6694 (Market St.)
In a recent TripAdvisor poll, Al’s signature Bobo Chili Cheeseburger (pasture-raised beef topped with homemade chili sauce, coleslaw, onion, yellow mustard and American cheese on a buttered potato bun) was named the best burger in America. Need I say more? Well, actually, yes: By all means, add rosemary fries to your order.
2851 Jones Franklin Road, Raleigh
This bustling little strip mall eatery with a colorful firefighter motif has been grilling burgers on a well-worn flat-top griddle for nearly two decades. The Baby Burger (3.5 ounces) is just a tease, and the Papa Burger (8.5 ounces) is a beast. The 6-ounce Mama Burger, to quote a certain fairy tale heroine, is just right.
107 N. Columbia St., Chapel Hill
OK, the list of topping options — everything from avocado to wasabi mayo — flirts with gourmet. You can even get a turkey burger or veggie burger. Stick with the hand-patted Angus chuck, though, and keep the toppings classic, and you’ve got a burger that can hold its own with the best of the old-timers.
Multiple Triangle locations
See website for addresses and phone numbers
The original Char-Grill opened in 1959 on Hillsborough Street, but a visit to any location is a trip down memory lane — from the order form that you fill out with a pencil and slip through a slot to the guy in the paper cook’s hat who flame-grills your burger. Not all Char-Grills offer indoor seating, so you may find yourself time-traveling all the way back to the restaurant’s early days, eating in your car.
1520 E. 11th St., Siler City
Little has changed since it opened in 1946. This Siler City landmark is a must on any old-school burger fan’s bucket list. It’s only open Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and closes earlier if they run out of burgers. There’s no website or phone number, so you’ll have to take your chances. It’s worth the risk, but get there early to improve your odds.
3710 Shannon Road, Suite 118, Durham; 359 Blackwell St., Durham
919-937-9377 (Shannon Road); 919-237-2431 (Blackwell Street)
The OnlyBurger food truck hit the road a decade ago, and its burgers — made with humanely raised Piedmontese beef that’s ground fresh daily — have proven so popular that two brick-and-mortar locations have since opened. Stick with the classic toppings, or elevate your burger with anything from olive tapenade to Fritos to house-made pimento cheese. Either way, round out your meal with an order of hand-cut fries or old-school onion rings.
617 Hicks St., Durham
Just think of the grease stains on the paper sack your burger and fries come in at this hole-in-the-wall takeout joint as a seal of old-school burger authenticity. Schedule your visit for a weekday. It’s only open Monday-Friday from 7 a.m to 2 p.m., and bring cash. That’s all they take. Oh, and grab plenty of napkins. You’ll need them.