There was a time when Toronto’s burger scene was lacking, but over the past decade it’s gone from meh to mmmm—and nowadays it never bores. Mastering a truly tasty burger—one that can be eaten time and again—is the mark of a true chef. The combo of meat-plus-bun can be beautiful in its simplicity or taken to the next level with bevy of toppings. From a grab ‘n’ go burg served from a takeout window to a fresh take on the city’s original “fancy burger,” here are our 10 must-try spots for the best burger in Toronto. Repeat eats are bound to ensue.
Find it: 1640 Dupont St., 647-352-5900, tuckshopkitchen.ca, @tuckshopkitchen
The atmosphere: Tugging at heartstrings with its nostalgic vibe, this sandwich shop aims to bring a lil’ country to the big city. Co-owners Robb Eng and chef Jake Taylor (who’s done kitchen stints at a Michelin Star joint or two, nbd…) wanted to give the people quality fare at affordable prices. Hence the swarms of folks who descend upon the property come lunch, eating their handheld goods on the wee patio out front—if they manage to nab a Muskoka chair, that is.
The burger: The Tuck Royale checks off all the boxes: Canadian AAA brisket is used for the patties, enhanced with some pork shoulder and applewood-smoked back fat to add smoky depth while keeping things juicy. House bacon is dry rubbed and cured for a week, then smoked and thick-cut for tons of flavour. Toddler-aged Balderson cheddar, house pickled jalapenos and chimichurri mayo add creamy, spicy and sour elements for the finishing touch. Voila!
The cost: $11.25
Find it: 385 Roncesvalles Ave., thefed.ca/goldstandard, @goldstandardsandwich
The atmosphere: A few steps off the main Roncy stretch will lead you to a tiny take-out window framed by brick and wood. This genius concept comes from the folks behind midday fave The Federal, and is their original grab ’n’ go sandwich shop with a very concise menu.
The burger: This iteration of the smashed-and-griddled style burger—dubbed the Telway Burger—plucks its name and inspo from Detroit’s iconic Telway restaurant. (They’ve been crafting these mounds of Americana for the better part of a century.) Ringing in at 2.5-ounces, the patty is a mélange of sirloin, chuck and brisket. It’s griddle-smashed into mustard, emerging with a deep brown crust and partnered with American cheese and rounds of pickle in a squishy Martin’s potato roll. Unwrap the gilded parcel and scarf it down with glee.
The cost: $6
Find it: 160 Springhurst Ave., 416-532-2908, harryscharbroiled.com, @harryscharbroiled
The atmosphere: Yes, this is Hipster Central, but there are also plenty of Parkdale old-timers and regulars of the more eclectic variety—all are welcome. Owners Grant van Gameren, Nate Young and Robin Goodfellow have all been longtime fans of the greasy spoon (it’s been serving since 1968) and were sure to preserve its character when the founders retired. Twinkly lights, vinyl-wrapped booths and grimy bathrooms all add to its charm.
The burger: Going for big taste over photographic quality (what a concept!), the red chorizo burger looks small but she is mighty. Arriving in a red basket lined in matching checked paper, the burg is accompanied by a pile of steak-cut fries. It’s topped with a girthy pineapple ring for sweetness and acidity. Mayo and a slab of melted Oaxacan cheese round out the fillings. Pair with a milkshake (spiking with booze is optional) for the modern greasy spoon experience.
The cost: $14
Find it: 619 College St., 647-748-7839, & 69 Duncan St., 416-351-0739, rudyresto.com, @rudyresto
The atmosphere: Owners Chris Simpson and Luke McCann didn’t want to anoint their burger shop with a name that screamed “burger,” so instead the duo went with Rudy. The playfully simple moniker reaches back to their time at uni together, when any kid who was acting up was dubbed a “Rudy.” It’s the kind of name you want to yell. Simplicity spills over into the space, which merely serves as the backdrop to the goodness ahead.
The burger: Being big burger fans, entrepreneurs McCann and Simpson felt that Toronto was missing a simple south-of-the-border-style sammie. Theirs starts with a 4-ounce beef patty which is griddle smashed, giving it a nice brown crust, and tucked into a soft bun. American cheese, lettuce and tomato gussy it up along with their secret mayo-based house sauce. Order the single patty for more of a snack, or a double for a proper meal.
The cost: $7.79
Find it: 1 Richmond St. W., 647-748-1444, richmondstation.ca, @richmondstation
The atmosphere: Chef Carl Heinrich cooked his way towards glorious gold on season two of Top Chef Canada before opening Richmond Station with his prize money. Since then, the beloved Financial District haunt has been serenading patrons with its Station Burger.
The burger: Embracing a whole-animal ethos means that every last ounce of purchased meat must be used. Chef Heinrich buys local, pasture-raised beef that’s free of antibiotics and hormones. The beef is dry-aged for at least three weeks before a mix of cuts is transformed into patties. Freshly baked milk buns house the grilled patties alongside two-year-old organic cheddar, pickled onion, some sweet beet chutney and garlic-spiked aioli.
The cost: $24
Find it: 66 Wellington St. W., 416-777-1144, https://mcewangroup.ca/bymark/ @chefmarkmcewan
The atmosphere: Suits, suits, suits. Once the sprawling patio opens, this is prime people-watching territory for the business set. Expect plenty of company cards being thrown around and cunning outfit assessments.
The burger: When chef Mark McEwan debuted his chichi burger on the Toronto foodscape back in 2003, some eyebrows were cocked. But it was hard to argue with the city’s original burger gone gourmet—one that looked to none other than Daniel Boulud’s famed DB burger for inspiration. The dry-aged prime sirloin patty is griddled and dressed with caramelized onions and gooey raclette. House-made buns stand up to its 8 ounces, providing the finishing touch.
The cost: $36
The Drake Hotel
Find it: 1150 Queen St. W., 416-531-5042, thedrake.ca, @thedrake
The atmosphere: Now well into her teen years, the Drake Hotel proves that aging looks good. Inside the original hub for all things cultural, there are plenty of spaces for drinking, dining and ogling both works of art and artsy people.
The burger: Ever since the Drake forever changed Toronto’s Wild West, there’s been a burger on the menu. So when Ted Corrado stepped into his corporate executive chef white suit, he knew he couldn’t do too much tinkering. Just some tweaks. So the Ontario grain-fed beef mix became chuck, brisket and sirloin and the bun became a house pain au lait. Strips of bacon, aged Ontario cheddar from the Cheese Boutique, housemade pickles and just enough Russian dressing add up to a burger that goes down real easy.
The cost: $22
Find it: 488 Wellington St. W., 416-979-1990, marben.ca, @marbenresto
The atmosphere: Found off the main King strip, this neighbourhood gastro pub has gone through a few iterations but has always maintained a strong burger game. A patio out front makes for excellent people watching while the Cloak Bar, tucked away in the basement, beckons to those who fancy an after dinner libation.
The burger: Putting the “Ben” in Marben, John Benstead is the creator of the resto’s award-winning burger. The goal here was to transpose the classic ploughman’s lunch into the octave of a burg. Black Angus chuck hailing from a farming community outside Hamilton is used for the patties, which are seared on the flat top, served medium with melty one-year-old Ontario cheddar and a mountain of braised, pulled brisket. Into the house made beef fat brioche they go, finished with some Branston pickle chutney.
The cost: $22
Find it: 163 Spadina Ave., 416-260-3444, aloetterestaurant.com, @aloette_restaurant
The atmosphere: Far less greasy spoon and more polished silverware, this is chef Patrick Kriss’s swishy take on the diner. Upstairs is chef’s high-falutin’ Alo restaurant; downstairs is for the plebs who can’t nab a hard-to-get reso but wish to try some of his excellent food.
The burger: No diner comes complete without a burger and this one took a cool six months to get just right. A blend of USDA prime (aka superior grade) brisket and chuck is used for the patty, which is griddled alongside a puck of Beaufort cheese for a dash of pasture funk and stringy goodness. It’s all packed into a springy potato bun from Alo alongside shaved lettuce and onion. A pickle to the side and frites—served with a bloody Mary-flavoured aioli—round out the meal.
The cost: $20
Find it: 592 Sherbourne St., 647-943-1676, maisonselby.com, @maisonselby
The atmosphere: Housed in the 136-year-old C.H. Gooderham House, Maison Selby is a treat for both the eyes and the stomach. Design-philes will find themselves obsessing over the different character of each room; a standout chambre gets a tropical vibe thanks to wallpaper dotted with blue-nosed mandrills. A speakeasy hides away in the basement and was, as history buffs should know, a sex club in a previous life.
The burger: The goal here was to offer a true steak haché—a patty beautiful in its simplicity. Chef Anthony Walsh finds that Ontario chuck eye has the ideal fat-to-meat ratio; a secret grinding die, which is used before every service, ensures the patty has almost no compression. The rest of the burger looks to bistro classic French onion soup for inspiration: caramelized onions and oozing Emmental and Gruyere top the patty, which is tucked into a freshly baked pain au lait bun.
The cost: $21