Ithaca's Best Burger, 2009 Edition

November 16, 2009

It seems like such a simple dish, but here at 14850 Dining we realize that the humble hamburger has achieved star status in our society. Burgers vary so much from restaurant to restaurant that it's hard to pick a single Best Burger for the Ithaca area, but we're going to talk about a few you shouldn't miss.

The legendary Pinesburger, at the Glenwood Pines on Route 89 north of Ithaca.The legendary Pinesburger, at the Glenwood Pines on Route 89 north of Ithaca.Perhaps the most famous Ithaca burger is the Pinesburger... served at the Glenwood Pines on a hunk of French bread with thousand island dressing or mayonnaise. (Thousand is the way to go.) When we talk about burgers, we're always impressed how many people suggest the Pinesburger as an alternative to whatever great burger we happen to have just mentioned. We recommend a side of onion rings or fried mushrooms.

Local specialties are alive and well at Ithaca's diners, such as the classic Tullyburger at Manos Diner on Route 13. That's not the only place around town you can find a Tullyburger, but Manos is where I think to go when I'm in the mood for one. This cheeseburger features raw onion, lettuce, tomato, and mayo, and I frequently eat it with well-done fries, gravy on the side. Or try the legendary Bo-Burger, with sauteed onions, cheese, and a fried egg on top, at the Lincoln Street Diner.

Rulloff's in Collegetown deserves honourable mention, as they used to have a great burger. Now it's just inconsistent, so you may get a good one, but you may not. The Nines has a very good burger if you're looking for one while in Collegetown or aren't in the mood for their deep-dish pizza, and Jack's Collegetown Grill on Dryden Road offers a terrific variety of burger toppings, and quarter pound burgers, half pound burgers, or even veggie burgers. Try the Brocco Burger, topped with cheddar and broccoli. Really.

The Carriage House Burger is a better deal now that it comes with a little salad, and not just chips.The Carriage House Burger is a better deal now that it comes with a little salad, and not just chips.It's not usually the first place that comes to mind for a hamburger, but try Maxie's Supper Club in Ithaca's west end for their bleu cheese burger po'boy, a New Orleans style burger sandwich. Spring for the sweet potato fries.

Still in Collegetown, visit the Carriage House Cafe for brunch or lunch, and try their Carriage House Burger, another favorite that locals keep suggesting. It's a handmade burger made with local grass-fed beef, topped with grilled onions, sundried tomato puree, cheddar, and BBQ mayo on ciabatta. At $12 it's a bit pricey for lunch, and they're not open for dinner as of this writing, but when it's $9 on Tuesdays, it's well worth the splurge.

Nearby, Rogue's Harbor in Lansing and the Pourhouse in Trumansburg both offer excellent burgers at reasonable prices, and we're told the Boatyard Grill's angus burger, in Ithaca's west end, is outstanding.

Fast food isn't all bad. We've been heard to say Wendy's has good burgers for a fast food chain, but this September, Ithaca was graced by a much higher class of fast food when Five Guys came to town. The D.C.-based burgers and fries chain keeps their menu short and simple and focuses on quality. It shows.

The Perfect Burger at the Ithaca Ale House.The Perfect Burger at the Ithaca Ale House.But the winner is the Ithaca Ale House, whose Perfect Burger is just that. It comes one way, no substitutions, so if you happen to not like pickles or tomatoes or what have you, you'll need to design your own burger with what you'd enjoy. For us, it's a great combination as is. Also popular is the Big Sexy Burger, a simpler sandwich with a pepper-crusted patty. All of their burgers are thick and juicy, and they've got lots of variations you can try, including the surf-and-turf burger, with a crabcake on top.

If you're not sure you need a whole burger as your meal, try the appetizer of three-bite burgers, a quartet of tiny burgers (they'd be called "sliders" in some places) perfect for sharing. Pay the Ale House a visit for a burger and a pint and tell them you heard about them here.

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