The Best Burgers in Boulder
One of the great things about living in Boulder is having access to so many excellent restaurants. As a known burger lover and real estate agent I am frequently asked “Where can I get a good hamburger in Boulder?” We bubble residents put a lot of thought into everything from sorting trash to bike commutes to restaurants, and I realized this article needed to be written. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty.
Keeping it Fair
In the interests of a reliable sample and consistent data collection, challengers had to be beef and were only allowed cheese on top and the veggies that come with them, accompanied by fries. Burgers that could not be ordered Medium Rare were not considered for the premier league. My method was to order Medium Rare with fries, and choose a cheese that did not overpower the meat. A few words about beef doneness, referred to here as temperature: Medium Rare is dark pink throughout, Medium has a light pink interior with more grey, and Medium Well is a little pink in the center. In the burgers mentioned here, the buns were all competent or better in their conveyance of burgerliciousness.
Many an overcooked burger garners praise because it is juicy. Some restaurants routinely boost juice levels by adding water to the meat or pan, a practice that reduces flavor and only makes sense for Well Done. The best way to create juice is to use beef with 15% or higher fat content, thoroughly sear the meat, and then rest the burger a bit before eating. To learn more about the gastronomic qualities of beef, fries, and other ingredients and to be a better cook, I recommend 3‐star Michelin chef Heston Blumenthal’s BBC show “How To Cook Like Heston", available on YouTube.
Brasserie Ten Ten, Dark Horse, Drakes Haus, Fate Brewing, Hungry Toad, Kitchen Next Door, Larkburger, Mateo, Mountain Sun, Oak at Fourteenth, Rueben’s Burger Bistro, Salt, Ted’s Montana Grill, Turley’s
The Top 5
1. Mateo – 1837 Pearl $10‐$12, $1 cheese. Comes with fries, salad, aioli and caramelized onion
The Mateo burger is the definition of simplicity, and stands head and shoulders above any pretenders to the throne. With no raw onion, lettuce, or tomato, this burger offers the essentials in rare form and shows up with fries and a small salad with vinaigrette that balances the fat perfectly. I have indulged my burger lust at least six times now at Mateo and have consistently gotten a thick, hand‐formed half pound burger perfectly Medium Rare, with fries so good I can’t stop eating them long after they are cold. The meat is flavorful on its own and needs nothing but cheese (get the gruyere), but the layer of caramelized onion had me at hello. Be sure to ask for the house‐made spicy ketchup and enjoy the juicy, char broiled, carbo‐fat heaven.
Beef: Colorado grass fed and then finished with grain, ground in‐house
2. Salt – 1047 Pearl $14 includes fries, can be subbed for salad
The distinctive Tom’s Tavern Burger at Salt earns its rank among the best and my pick for second. Salt is a farm‐to‐table restaurant, where the cows roam in open fields grazing on moist green organics before being eaten. How much is a happy cow worth? To each his own, but there is something good about knowing you are not eating meat from an animal that ate chemicals or was cruelly treated. The fries are organic skin‐on russets that have great flavor, and the patty comes with a bit of pickled onion on top adding a tart note to the indulgence. The plate turns up with house‐made ketchup that has a consistency and flavor close to marinara; it takes a few fries to get used to but emphasizes the flavor of the potato. The real star here though is the mustard. This delicious house‐made Dijon will steam your eyeballs if you dip too much, and has a pleasure/pain factor akin to wasabi, woo hoo! I have had the Tom’s Tavern three times, and once it arrived Medium.
Beef: Grass fed from Teton Waters Ranch and ground in‐house
3. Oak at Fourteenth – 1400 Pearl $10‐$12, includes tots, cheese, homemade root beer, arugula
The burger at Oak defies standardization, with two quarter pound patties rather than one half‐ pounder, square tater tots instead of fries and a house‐made bottle of root beer included. Sitting at the open kitchen bar, I felt like applauding as the chef rested the beef before finishing to ensure juiciness, and my taste buds gave a standing ovation a short while later as the oak coal grill imparted its smoky flavors. The chefs at Oak obviously love hamburgers and have thought through how to create one that is uniquely theirs and magically delicious. Oak is a fine dining restaurant with fine dining prices, but this burger is one of the best values in Boulder with everything you see in the photo at $12, $10 on the 2:30‐5:00 menu. Among my friends the tater tots are controversial; the crusty/soft squares are unusual but definitely worth a try. A highlight is the adult root beer that is minimally sweet yet positively flavorful. Beef‐ Angus from Gold Canyon Gourmet ground in‐house
4. Rueben’s Burger Bistro – 1800 Broadway $9.50, $1 cheese, incl. fries, sub a salad for $1.50
There are many things that Rueben’s does well, the fries are hand cut and stay crunchy, the toppings are high quality and the bun is made with pretzel dough which adds a unique texture to the chew. But what makes Rueben’s special is the way they sear the substantial patty all the way to the edges and then bake the bun a dark brown, like the soft pretzels of my childhood. On my first visit the burger was overdone Medium Well, but on a second visit I found a dark pink interior with the warm bun adding tasty, crusty complements to the flavor spectrum. The smell of freshly baked pretzel was the last thing I remember before tucking in and making short work of the half‐pounder. There are abundant choices for toppings and numerous meat and gluten free options which can add up if you go for them, but the Belgian beers are plentiful on tap and easily wash away any cognitive dissonance.
Beef: Colorado Angus preformed patty for the standard burger, grass fed and buffalo available
5. Larkburger – 2525 Arapahoe $6.95 includes lettuce, tomato, onion $.75 cheese $2.00 fries
Larkburger is a great go‐to when you don’t have a lot of time, and is by far the best semi‐fast burger in town. Usually quite busy without much of a wait, they deserve credit for consistent quality and creativity‐ you can order the one third pound burger and fries infused with truffle oil. One can request Medium Rare but in my experience they generally arrive light pink and decently juicy. Without embellishment, the fries are thin and don’t stand up well over time, so be sure to order the truffle parmesan version, especially if you are taking them out. While a delicious accent, I do not recommend eating the truffle burger and the truffle fries in the same visit unless you like mushroom burps for the next three hours.
Beef: Hormone‐Free Black Angus preformed patty
The Dark Horse – 2922 Baseline $6.99 Burger Madness, 3‐8pm Tuesday Thursday and Sunday
No Boulder burger review would be complete without this institution. While they are not among in the top 5 burgers in town, they are packed most nights and consistently serve lots of good burgers at ridiculously low prices. Walking into The Dark Horse for the first time in twenty‐ something years, I was stupefied to realize that the place had not changed in any way. Missing Spuds Mackenzie? He is in permanent residence behind the bar at The Dark Horse. With no windows and assorted belts, saddles, and moving gears all over the walls, the ambience is not for everyone, but it is undoubtedly the best value in town for a burger cooked to order. Feeling adventurous? Have a Jiffy Burger, with Jiffy peanut butter, bacon and provolone. This is a one third pound burger that satisfies, including cheese and curly fries dusted with black pepper, with a beer or bottomless soda for $6.99, $5.99 if you’re a student! What?
Drakes Haus – 2850 Baseline $4.25 merlot burgers $2.00 fries
A newcomer to the Boulder restaurant scene and a stone’s throw from The Dark Horse, Drakes Haus gets a gold star for innovation and has the coolest space of any burger joint in town. I enjoyed my plate relaxing on a skydeck couch with an expansive view of the flatirons, treated like a king for my $12 worth of patronage. The burgers, slightly larger than a slider, are perfect when you don’t want a big slab of meat and are willing to have some fun with your notions of what a burger should be. The merlot ground beef must be cooked Medium Well to become non‐alcoholic, but even for a Medium Rare person it’s a small sacrifice after the first bite. For the full merlot effect, custom order a simple cheeseburger, and enjoy. I had the French burger as well as my basic cheeseburger and while very tasty I lost the merlot taste in the apricot jam and brie. The fries have little crunch and benefit from some seasoning or toppings; fortunately there are many choices on the menu. Overall, Drakes Haus is definitely worth a visit, the service is excellent and the considerable investment the owners made in the interior design is much appreciated.