(2013) Neighbor Roy & I spent weeks in search of the Best Burgers In Tucson. It's time to choose a winner. We have the following contenders, listed here in roughly the order we reviewed them:
(1) Monkey Burger Downtown
(2) Diablo Burger Downtown
(3) The Lodge Sasquatch Kitchen at Foothills Mall
(4) Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse at Skyline & Campbell
(5) Lindy’s on 4th Avenue
(6) Cayton’s Burger Bistro at the Golf Club at Dove Mountain (aka The Ritz)
(7) Cody’s Beef & Beans on Ft. Lowell
(8) Trident on Speedway near the U of A
(9) Garden Bistro at Tohono Chul Park
(10) Zinburger on River Road
For the most part, these are the burger places most suggested by the readers of our blog and website: Southern Arizona Guide. There was one other, also suggested, that was so disappointing we felt it best to not even mention it. Let’s just say that if you’re going to dine at Firebirds, Roy & I recommend you order something other than their burgers. Nonetheless, this place-that-shall-remain-nameless, had very good steak fries, and a wonderfully rustic-modern interior.Read More
What About All Those Great Food Trucks?
We did not include food trucks. However, of those from which we purchased a burger, Dragoon Market & Café had the best; particularly their killer blue cheese burger that we would rank above most of the restaurant contenders.
What About Our Terrific Steakhouses?
No doubt, there could be other contenders. For example, we are blessed with numerous fine steakhouses, such as Daisy Mae’s, that can grill a very good burger. But neither Roy nor I would ever go to a steakhouse for a hamburger. So we did not include them, except for Fleming's which was a fluke because their $14 burger was only $6 at Happy Hour.
For consistency, Roy typically ordered a blue cheese burger, his favorite. I usually ordered mine with sharp Cheddar cheese and either sautéed mushrooms or grilled onions. In all cases, we sampled the chef’s “secret” sauce, some of which were outstanding. Both Roy & I like our burger cooked “medium”. The term “medium” can have different interpretations, so we would typically explain, “We want a little pink, not a lot.”
Yes, we know. Judging food in general, and burgers in particular, can never be entirely objective. You have your preferences, and we have ours. Nevertheless, we tried to be as fair and objective as we could. That said, you have a right to know our criteria for judging a great burger place.
First & foremost, the patty must be of very high-quality ground beef. After it’s grilled, the patty should weigh between a third and a half-pound. If I have to unhinge my lower jaw to take a bite, it’s too big. And if the patty is something other than beef, it’s not a hamburger. It’s just a sandwich.
The grilled ground beef should be juicy, but not greasy; and definitely not over-cooked and dry. No matter how good the rest of the burger elements are, there’s no way to make up for patty that’s over-cooked; under-cooked; too greasy; too dry; or otherwise ground from a cheap, tasteless, chewy, or gristly piece of meat.
At one of the places we reviewed, their attitude was: “It’s all about the beef.” Actually, it isn’t. Nothing ruins a perfectly grilled, high-quality beef patty more than an uninteresting or stale, tasteless bun. Freshness in a bun is paramount. Beyond that, the bun should enhance the burger experience with a distinctive, but complimentary taste. A good bun can be somewhat sweet, or enhanced with onion, garlic, or other flavors, such as cheese. It can be made from traditional wheat or white flour, or non-traditional dough, such as pizza or pretzel. Whatever, the bun should be whatever flavor the customer prefers. Thus, a great burger place offers several bun options.
Many of the places we reviewed had their own “secret” burger sauce. Like every other ingredient in a burger, the sauce should compliment or enhance the meat, not overpower it.
Cheese, Pickles, & Other Stuff
The way we look at burgers, if the patty & the bun are exceptionally delicious, everything else is personal taste. We
particularly favored burger places that offered many optional cheeses & garnishes. We looked for fresh veggies in general, and a fresh, flavorful tomato slice in particular. Precious few slices of tomato accompanying our burgers tasted like a great tomato should. Why do most tomato slices one gets with a burger look great, but have little or no taste?
What About The Fries?
Since most people who are looking for a great burger experience also order a side dish, we did too. The most popular side is French fries. We prefer ours blanched, well cooked, & crispy. Soggy, under-cooked fries just ruin an otherwise good meal. And if you are ordering a burger from a place that does not blanch their potatos before they fry them, we suggest you order a different side.
Yes, thank you for asking. In selecting the Best Burgers In Tucson, Roy & I also considered: cleanliness, seating, service, interior décor, overall ambiance, & other amenities. For us, the place that has the Best Burgers In Tucson will be the one that offers diners the best overall experience: great burger, terrific fries, exceptional service, etc.
Pros & Cons
Most of the burger places we reviewed had obvious strengths and weaknesses, at least from our point of view.
Monkey Burger (downtown)
Strengths: very good burger and many variations, plus the best French fries Roy & I have ever enjoyed in our combined 149 years of burger-munching.
Weaknesses: not a particularly pleasant environment. The owners put this place together on the cheap. Plus patrons have to stand in line to order and then stand in line again to pay the bill.
Diablo Burger (downtown)
Strengths: flavorful & lean-in-the-extreme grass-fed beef patty. If you have not experienced exclusively grass-fed beef, you owe it to yourself to have a Diablo Burger. Also, Derrick, the owner, put a lot of thought into his interior and it paid off.
Weaknesses: Derrick is under the misimpression that “It’s all about the beef.” It isn’t. Other factors contribute or detract from the burger experience, such as the bun, fries, tomato, etc. Diablo Burger is only offered with an English muffin that serves as the bun. Roy loves English muffins, so he was OK with that particular limitation. I wasn’t. Also, Diablo fries were only so-so. Nevertheless, Diablo Burger downtown is an exceptional burger experience and we highly recommend it.
The Lodge Sasquatch Kitchen (Foothills Mall)
Strengths: excellent selection of burgers, buns, & toppings, including a Pretzel Burger & a Blue Cheese Burger that are exceptionally delicious. Very good fries.
Weaknesses: had they kept to the rustic, Northwest Fishing, Hunting, Skiing Lodge theme, the interior could have been both unique & compelling, temporarily transporting diners to another place & time. Instead, they hung flat screens in every conceivable space and turned The Lodge into just another loud sports bar. Sad.
Lindy’s On 4th Avenue
Strengths: Lindy’s has so many burger options & possible combinations, you could eat there every day for a year and never have the same burger twice. (i.e.; a 3-patty burger with ketchup, jalapenos, sauerkraut, & peanut butter.) Lindy knows his primary customer demographics: college-age males overdosing on testosterone. They want a lot of food for very little money and have yet to develop discriminating taste. Of all the ones we reviewed, Lindy’s & Cody’s were the least expensive.
Weaknesses: I’m not willing to count this as a weakness, in that many people find this sort of atmosphere appealing. But Lindy’s most resembles a downtown dive bar, replete with some of the loudest, most obnoxious “music” on 4th Avenue. What I do consider a weakness is Lindy’s restroom. Best to avoid.
Cody’s Beef & Bean on Ft. Lowell
Strengths: Cheap. Relaxed, non-pretentious cowboy atmosphere.
Weaknesses: a bit too greasy for my taste. No wifi.
Trident Grill (Speedway near Campbell)
Strengths: I hear their fish & chips are quite good. Beautiful carved-wood bar.
Weaknesses: a so-so burger in what could have been a fine Irish pub if they hadn’t plastered flat screens on every possible inch of wall space. Because my waitress pointedly remarked that their fries aren’t that great, I had a side of potato salad; which also wasn’t that great.
Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse (Skyline & Campbell)
Strengths: valet parking
Weaknesses: Fleming’s promotes their $14 burger for only $6 during happy hour. Unfortunately, at $6, it was over-priced.
Garden Bistro At Tohono Chul Park
Strengths: excellent burger, very good fries & service; outstanding garden environment. Chef Chris Hale’s wonderful “secret” sauce complimented the burger perfectly!
Weaknesses: couldn’t think of any.
Cayton’s Burger Bistro
Strengths: excellent burger with superb bun & Chef Michael Press’s extraordinary “secret” sauce. Plus very good fries, unsurpassed service; outstanding plush Southwestern interior with extraordinary art & a killer view. Blessedly quiet, serene, refined. Immaculate!
Weaknesses: couldn’t think of any, except it’s almost 40 minutes from downtown Tucson.
Zinburger (last year's #1)
Strengths: fine selection of wines paired with a variety of excellent burgers, plus very good fries.
Weaknesses: pleasant modern interior that turns into a giant, annoying echo chamber at peak hours.
And The Award For Best Burgers In Tucson Goes To …
Click on this link to visit our ranking of the 10 Best. After you see our rankings, you can scroll down farther for each of our individual reviews. Bon Appetit!