This weekend, we're revealing the winners in the first round of 64. Here are the classics.
MATCHUP #1: Killer Burger (1) vs. Stepping Stone (16)
Nine locations, killerburger.com. 11 am-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 11 am-midnight Friday-Saturday.
Their most famous burger is still so fucking good—a peanut butter-pickle-bacon burger, with peanut-butter sauce, bacon, smoky house sauce, mayo, grilled onion and pickle ($9.75 with fries). It's the kind of burger you feel like you're making out with—getting so lost in it you don't realize you haven't talked to anyone in 10 minutes and you're left wiping peanut-butter sauce off your face with a sweetness still on your tongue.
2390 NW Quimby St., 222-1131, steppingstonecafe.com, 6am-7pm Monday-Tuesday, 6 am-9 pm Wednesday-Thursday, 6am-3am Friday, 7:30 am-3 am Saturday, 7:30 am-9 pm Sunday.
When you are served the One Eyed Jack Burger ($9 with fries), it looks sort of like biscuits and gravy. Atop an overcooked fried egg is a blanket of melted, lumpy jack cheese. After biting into the burger, you kinda wish you just ordered biscuits and gravy.
WINNER: Killer Burger came away with a blowout victory. Their burger was, in fact, killer—with bacon, peanut butter sauce and pickles. Stepping Stone's overcooked egg and lumpy cheese were dealbreakers, and allowed KB to glide past for the win.
MATCHUP #2: Skyline Restaurant (8) vs. Little Big Burger (9)
1313 NW Skyline Blvd., 503-292-6727, skylineburgers.com. 11 am-9 pm daily.
Skyline has long been a casual stop on the way home for West Hills families, and a treat at the end of a trek for everyone else. The shakes are where it's at; the burgers were OK. The thin patty of the Skyline Hamburger ($5.75) was nicely charred, but a huge chopped chunk of too-cold iceberg lettuce and far too much cold, diced onion fell out of the classic sesame bun.
Little Big Burger
Multiple locations, 503-265-8021; littlebigburger.com. Northwest locations: 11 am-10 pm daily. All others: 11 am-9 pm daily.
Micah Camden and Katie Poppe (Blue Star Donuts, Boxer Ramen) first opened Little Big Burger in 2010, and quickly expanded to eight locations, including one in Eugene, before selling it to the owners of Hooters in 2015. The patty on the cheeseburger ($4.25, I chose chevre over blue, Swiss and pepperjack) was pretty pink, and though you do get a couple great bites, the most enjoyable parts are when you get huge, salty spreads of chevre—and also when you dip the burger in the fry sauce, which has something amazing going on.
WINNER: Little Big Burger. Hooters or no Hooters, that fry sauce ws the secret weapon that allowed the chevre-cheese littleburger to scoot past a normal sized burger with strangely icy-cold lettuce.
MATCHUP #3: Stanich's (5) vs. Burger Stevens (12)
4915 NE Fremont St., 503-281-2322, stanichs.com. 11 am-10 pm Wednesday-Thursday, 11 am-11 pm Friday-Saturday, 11 am-9 pm Sunday.
When Michael Jordan came to Portland, he went to Stanich's, a 67-year-old tavern on Northeast Fremont covered in sports paraphernalia. With luck, he ordered the Special ($8), which Stanich's advertises as "The World's Greatest Hamburger," with fresh ground chuck, cheese, ham, bacon, egg, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, ketchup, mayo and a creamy house sauce. The bun is buttered and warm, the lettuce shredded and fresh, and the tomato and onion thinly sliced and crisp. The egg is plopped on the bacon, which is plopped on a slice of ham, which is plopped on a patty. And besides having too much mustard, it's all fucking great.
6238 SW Capitol Highway, 971-279-7252, burgerstevens.com. 11 am-7 pm daily.
Cart owner Don Salamone's uses Franz buns, which he describes as having almost "a Ritz cracker taste" and his selection of beef, a custom 70-30 beef-fat blend from Ponderosa Provisioners. The cheeseburger ($7) holds up and the bun was the best we ate in our bracket.
WINNER: Stanich's. Although Burger Stevens had the best bun in the whole regional bracket— made from buttery, fluffy Franz bread— Stanich's had pretty much everything else.
MATCHUP #4: Stoopid Burger (4) vs. Lardo (13)
3441 N Vancouver Ave., 971-801-4180, stoopidburgerpdx.com. 11 am-9 pm Monday-Friday, noon-9 pm Saturday.
There's nothing as stupidly good as the Stoopid Burger ($11.75), which comes with salty, hot fries served in a paper bag. It's got beef, bacon, ham, a hot link, and egg, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles, for God's sake. If you want more, you always will. Although you'll be unable to get everything in your mouth for the first few bites—it's served basically like a taco, it's so full—every bite stands on its own as a thing of wonder.
1205 SW Washington St., 503-241-2490; 1212 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 503-234-7786; lardosandwiches.com. West: 11 am-10 pm daily. East: 11 am-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 11 am-11 pm Friday-Saturday.
The food cart that's turned into a fatty sandwich empire makes some good sandwiches, like the porchetta, which is so oily it makes you break out around your mouth. The double burger ($10) had globs of mayonnaise stuck to it and tasted like someone accidentally dropped it in the ocean. Also, the bun was whole wheat for some reason.
WINNER: Total blowout. Stoopid Burger was the clear winner. While Lardo's DEFINING feature was a whole lot of mayonnaise, Stoopid offered up four kinds of meat in unlikely harmony, without overpowering the patty.
MATCHUP #5: PDX Sliders (6) vs. Burgerville (11)
1605 SE Bybee Blvd., 971-717-5271, pdxsliders.com. 11 am-9 pm Sunday-Wednesday, 11 am-11 pm Thursday-Saturday.
The Sellwood burger ($9) has beef, bacon, Beecher's aged cheddar, caramelized onions, butter lettuce and aioli on a brioche bun. It's dripping with grease, and though the aioli is tasty and salty, it wilts the butter lettuce, which becomes more of a paste by the end.
Various locations, burgerville.com.
Whether you're grabbing burgers before a show at the Rose Garden or after a rec soccer game, it's always been there as the Northwest's solution to In-N-Out Burger. Only it doesn't really come close to In-N-Out. On our visit, we found the Pepper Bacon Cheeseburger ($5.29) to be salty and heavy on the mayo, making that huckleberry milkshake all the more necessary.
WINNER: PDX Sliders. Burgerville was salty and full of mayonnaise. PDX Sliders was moist and full of aioli.
MATCHUP #6: Tilt (3) vs. Gastro Mania (14)
1355 NW Everett St., Suite 120, 503-894-9528, tiltitup.com. 7 am-11 pm Sunday-Thursday, 7 am-midnight Friday-Saturday.
The signature burger, the Big Tilt ($11), piles on two chuck patties, bacon, egg, American cheese, pickles, tomato, onion, lettuce, Tilt sauce and a three-layer bun, which means that it's literally impossible to fit in your mouth. You're so simultaneously afraid of losing it all and wanting to taste it all that you don't put it down. Even just grasping it is difficult, but once you get past the initial four bites, which are really just carving your space, you get to fully dive in, and all the work is worth it.
1986 NW Pettygrove St., 503-689-3794, gastromaniapdx.com. 11 am-8 pm Monday-Saturday.
When its old food-cart pod was snatched up by developers, Bulgarian chef Alex Nenchev moved his food to a brick-and-mortar in Slabtown. WW called it the very best spot in the neighborhood to get lunch and called the foie gras burger "a thing of ridiculous luxury." The price back then was under $10, but $13 with salad still feels cheap. It's got the perfect amount of moisture and savor, with a generous portion of foie gras from Canada geese. And for now, it may be the only foie gras burger in town: St. Jack's formerly foie'd burger now comes with bacon.
WINNER: Gastromania in an upset! Coming up from its 14 seed to beat the 3 seed, a virtual-unknown Gastromania rallies with its unbeatable foie gras!
MATCHUP #7: Dea's In & Out (10) vs. Burger Guild (7)
Dea's In & Out
755 NE Burnside Road, Gresham, 503-655-3439. 5:30 am-11 pm daily.
The original Dea's first opened on Southeast Powell Boulevard in 1953. It moved to Gresham in 1976, added a drive-thru window and copyrighted the Longburger, the rectangular patty for which it's best known. On our visit, the patty was a little chewy and had too many diced onions covered in excess mayo, and the bun seemed like a sweet, bready hot-dog bun.
6200 SE Milwaukie Ave., 971-373-3848, theburgerguild.com. 11:30 am-7 pm Wednesday-Friday, noon-7 pm Saturday-Sunday.
This cart is famous for stuffing its burgers with blue cheese, kalamata olives, Muenster, feta and so much more. On our most recent visit, we were told the most popular was the jalapeño and cheddar burger ($9), with onion rings, lettuce, tomato, and cart-made barbecue sauce. Unfortunately, every part of it was dry, and the wheat bun masked the flavor of jalapeño.
WINNER: Dea's In N Out. Burger Guild's stuffed burgers seem a tasty in concept—with jalapenos and cheddar ground into the patty—but in practice, the burger ended up too dry.
MATCHUP #8: Helvetia Tavern (2) vs. Mike's Drive-In (15)
10275 NW Helvetia Road, Hillsboro, 503-647-5286. 11 am-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 11 am-11 pm Friday-Saturday.
The nearly century-old big red barn with hundreds of hats hanging from the ceiling is also the home of the famous Jumbo Burger ($9.75). With two thin beef patties, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and mayo stacked inside a giant bun, the whole thing is like a Big Mac the size of your face…if your face were maybe a little bigger.
3045 SE Harrison St., Milwaukie, 503-654-0131, mikesdrivein.com. 10 am-10 pm Monday-Thursday, 10 am-11 pm Friday-Saturday, 11 am-10 pm Sunday.
The patty on the Mike's Special ($6.85) is nicely charred, though a little overcooked. The bun melts away as it soaks in the oils and flavors of everything inside, particularly the fatty, chewy bacon that's left. It's also got shredded iceberg lettuce, sliced tomato and onion, fry sauce soaking into the bun, and a glorious strip of bacon peeking out, with a dollop of hot cheese sticking to the side, and a drop of oil falling on your lap.
WINNER: Mike's Drive-In. In what is possibly the biggest upset of this bracket, a Milwaukie drive-in beats a legendary Hillsboro tavern. The thing is, the decision was easy. Helvetia was had the balance of a Big Mac with about twice the heft—making it a longtime local favorite—but Mikes', on the other hand, was dripping with oil from the melty cheese, fatty bacon and covered in a bun soaked in all the goodness.