Burger Madness is a seeded tournament pitting 64 Portland patties against each other. Our critics ate through the best Bistro Burgers, Bar Burgers, and Brewery Burgers and Burger Burgers in Portland—and will reveal their picks round by round until the best burger in Portland is crowned.
You can complete your own bracket this week before midnight Friday, March 3. Whoever gets the closest to our winners will get $150 to spend on drinks and burgers at Bar Bar on Mississippi.
There was no name that suited this category better than Burger Burgers. These are the casual diners, greasy spoons and places so committed to burgers they put "burger" in their name—classic all-American burgers that might also be a little bit Bulgarian.
Taster Sophia June ordered the most popular burger at each spot, which ranged from Killer Burger's peanut butter-pickle-bacon burger to a jumbo three-quarter-pounder.
No one asked how she wanted the burgers cooked: They're burger burgers. The bracket was seeded based on reputation and our previous experience with these places. This was a crowded regional, and some potential contenders were, sadly, left out of the big dance.
1. Killer Burger
Nine locations. killerburger.com. 11 am-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 11 am-midnight Friday-Saturday.
Scouting report: A peanut butter-pickle-bacon burger from the restaurant that promised bacon on every single burger.
When Killer Burger opened in 2010, Portland was in the midst of a bacon obsession. So when a new burger joint on Sandy Boulevard promised bacon on every single burger, $5 AMFs and metal music, it was crazy popular. "It's not fancy, folks—just killer," WW wrote back then. Seven years later, Killer Burger has nine locations, from Eugene to Vantucky. And its 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.
2. Helvetia Tavern
10275 NW Helvetia Road, Hillsboro, 503-647-5286. 11 am-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 11 am-11 pm Friday-Saturday.
Scouting report: A farm-country tavern with a heifer of a burger.
Besides being one of the places where you're most likely to have a celeb sighting in Oregon—it's two minutes away from the Trump-supporting Roloff Family Farm of Little People Big World—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.
1355 NW Everett St., Suite 120, 503-894-9528, tiltitup.com. 7 am-11 pm Sunday-Thursday, 7 am-midnight Friday-Saturday.
Scouting report: Vaguely blue-collar-themed Pearl District black box that makes 14 different burgers.
Tilt is kind of like that level of Super Smash Bros. with Metal Mario—all metallic, with black walls and floors, and completely out of place with every single thing around it.
The Pearl location of the "blue collar-inspired restaurant and bar brand" consists seemingly entirely of bro tourists and Wieden+Kennedy "creatives." 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.
4. Stoopid Burger
3441 N Vancouver Ave., 971-801-4180, stoopidburgerpdx.com.
11 am-9 pm Monday-Friday, noon-9 pm Saturday.
Scouting report: Named one of our top five food carts two years ago, it's made by two dudes in a cart off North Williams and features four kinds of meat.
Everything about this burger is stupid, and Stoopid Burger knows it. No other cart is as self-aware as this one, where the classic burger is called the Boring Burger and the veggie burger is the Smart Burger.
But 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.
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.
Scouting report: A burger at Stanich's, a local landmark since 1949, was named one of the 10 best in the nation by Thrillist last year.
When Michael Jordan came to Portland, he went to Stanich's, a 67-year-old tavern on Northeast Fremont covered in sports paraphernalia and quotes about not monopolizing the conversation at the bar. 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.
6. PDX Sliders
1605 SE Bybee Blvd., 971-717-5271, pdxsliders.com. 11 am-9 pm Sunday-Wednesday, 11 am-11 pm Thursday-Saturday.
Scouting report: Noted food magazine National Geographic called PDX Sliders' the fourth-best burgers in the world. They're sixth seed here. Life's funny like that.
This popular food cart makes little burgers and normal-sized burgers and has now taken over the former Cha Cha Cha space in Sellwood. 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.
7. Burger Guild
6200 SE Milwaukie Ave., 971-373-3848, theburgerguild.com. 11:30 am-7 pm Wednesday-Friday, noon-7 pm Saturday-Sunday.
Scouting report: Known for a kalamata-stuffed burger and a Midwestern pork tenderloin that pours out of the bun.
This cart is famous for stuffing its burgers with blue cheese, kalamata olives, Muenster, feta and so much more—not to mention its Midwestern pork tenderloin sandwich ($9), which has a massive, hand-pounded, seasoned and breaded pork chop that the bun merely sits atop of, like a party hat on an adult.
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.
8. Skyline Restaurant
1313 NW Skyline Blvd., 503-292-6727, skylineburgers.com. 11 am-9 pm daily.
Scouting report: Since 1945, this old-school diner in the West Hills has been making burgers and shakes.
Besides being directly adjacent to a vacant house where we went to parties in high school, 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.
9. Little Big Burger
122 NW 10th Ave., 503-274-9008; 930 NW 23rd Ave., 971-544-7817; 3747 N Mississippi Ave., 503-265-8781; 2038 NE Alberta St., 503-206-4997; 2028 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 971-254-4421; 3810 SE Division St., 503-841-6456; 3704 SW Bond Ave., 503-265-8021; littlebigburger.com. Northwest locations: 11 am-10 pm daily. All others: 11 am-9 pm daily.
Scouting report: Small burgers with fancy cheeses.
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. At Little Big Burger, the magic is in the sauce.
10. Dea's In & Out
755 NE Burnside Road, Gresham, 503-655-3439. 5:30 am-11 pm daily.
Scouting report: Hyped Gresham drive-thru with a classic diner vibe serves burgers with rectangular patties, called Longburgers.
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.
Various locations, burgerville.com.
Scouting report: Oregon-based fast-food chain with delicious seasonal milkshakes and local ingredients.
A Portland childhood isn't complete without Burgerville. 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 (not to be confused with Dea's In & Out above). 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.
12. Burger Stevens
6238 SW Capitol Highway, 971-279-7252, burgerstevens.com. 11 am-7 pm daily.
Scouting report: A food cart in deep Southwest Portland sets up shop next to Wilson High School, and uses Franz buns.
When Burger Stevens opened last summer, WW called it "one of the better cheeseburgers in town." This was thanks to cart owner Don Salamone's choice of 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.
Seven months later, the cheeseburger ($7) still holds up. The bun was the best we ate in our bracket.
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.
Scouting report: Popular sandwich restaurant known for lots of fat makes a burger with porkstrami.
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.
14. Gastro Mania
1986 NW Pettygrove St., 503-689-3794, gastromaniapdx.com. 11 am-8 pm Monday-Saturday.
Scouting report: One of the city's best new Mediterranean restaurants serves a burger with foie gras.
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.
15. Mike's Drive-In
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.
Scouting report: Beloved old-school Milwaukie drive-in that first opened in 1971.
Along with being ready in less than five minutes, Mike's burgers are nearly perfect. 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.
16. Stepping Stone
2390 NW Quimby St., 503-222-1131, steppingstonecafe.com. 6 am-7 pm Monday-Tuesday, 6 am-9 pm Wednesday-Thursday, 6 am-3 am Friday, 7:30 am-3 am Saturday, 7:30 am-9 pm Sunday.
Scouting report: Slabtown diner with the motto "You eat here because we let you" serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and glasses of Champagne.
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. Something about the bacon and melted jack cheese is just wrong, but it's still nice to just be at Stepping Stone, where the staff is never that nice, but in a really good way.
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