What makes the perfect burger for you? Is it the mix of meat cuts used? Is it the bun? Is it the cheese? Is it just everything, the full experience?
It’s been a minute since we’ve tackled food in this space. Our blue-ribbon panel earned much praise for their French fries recommendations so, as we rounded the July 4 corner into the prime of summer, we hit them up to chime in on the best spots for the ultimate sandwich.
Here is our top 10, in no particular order (though many of you were champing at the bit to give us your hands-down top 3).
• R-Bar and Grill, 70 Pennington Drive, Bluffton, 843-757-7264, RBarBluffton.com: So we went there off a rec for a great chicken quesadilla for my son. I asked server and owner Tanya Capria to help me narrow down a handful of choices. She said, “Oh, you must try our burger. All happy bellies start there.” And she was not lying. This was, hands down, the best burger I have had in recent memory. Perfectly cooked, a mix of beef cuts, the bacon and cheese were in perfect proportion to the half-pound burger. More adventurous panelists have recommended the Piggy Back (topped with their BBQ braised pork) and the Trailer Park (topped with homemade peanut butter sauce, bacon and potato chips).
• Southern Barrel Brewing Company, 375 Buckwalter Place Blvd., Bluffton, 843-837-2337, southernbarrelbrewingco.com: Come for the craft brews and Hodge’s Tuesday night trivia, but the food is the secret weapon at this Buckwalter Parkway staple hangout. All the burgers start with an 8-ounce mix of brisket, chuck rib and ground beef. There are five different base burgers, but the one earning the most raves is the beer cheese burger. It’s just heaven on a bun, what every backyard griller wishes they could concoct. And try the hanging Bavarian pretzel as your app (more beer cheese, please). You’re welcome in advance.
• Lunch Lady, 51 Riverwalk Blvd., Ridgeland, thelunchladysc.com: There is nothing that Mindi Meyaard and her chef husband Brandon don’t do well. What began off of Argent Boulevard in 2007 and migrated to Riverwalk soon after has evolved from breakfast and lunch to just lunch to, currently, just takeout (they hope to re-open the dining room soon). But what’s always been consistent is the high quality of the food. In the burger category, the Cheddar Crisp burger won the most raves from our panel, but you can’t go wrong with any combo offered. Amazing owners, friendly staff and out-of-this-world food.
• HogsHead Kitchen and Wine Bar, 1555 Fording Island Road, Suite D, Hilton Head Island, 843-837-4647, hogsheadkitchen.com: This acclaimed eatery in the Moss Creek Village shopping center was mentioned repeatedly by our panel. The All-American is loaded with pimento cheese, spinach, tomato, chipotle ketchup, a flour-top bun and a side of hand-cut fries. Add an egg, bacon or shoestring onions to take this creation to the next level.
• Kelly’s Tavern, 11 Buckingham Plantation Drive, Bluffton, 843-837-3353: They are literally across the street from HogsHead, but somehow in a different town. But no mistake on how to categorize Kelly’s food. The claims to fame for this long-time local fave may be the longest bar in the Lowcountry, the corn beef and cabbage and the “mini” reuben, but it’s the monster burgers that have so many fans among our eaters. The Patty Melt (swiss, onion on rye), Irish Burger (thin-sliced baby red potatoes and cheese) and Jersey Burger (topped with baked ham and American cheese) are all can’t-miss delicious.
• Bluffton Room, 15 Promenade St., Bluffton, 843-757-3525, theblufftonroom.com: So the steaks are epic (and the bill can be at times as well), but we have heard from countless sources that this is the burger to beat on our list (though I personally will argue for R-Bar). The custom beef blend with cheddar cheese, mustard, Duke’s mayo, tomato and onion served on a brioche bun is both affordable and delectable.
• Harold’s Diner, 641 William Hilton Parkway, Hilton Head Island, 843-384-7855, haroldsdinerhiltonhead.com: The place is the OG of Lowcountry burger titans. The owners have since opened Bacon Diner on the Bluffton Parkway, which has the same self-serve menu style and the same high-quality burgers. But Harold’s, it’s an experience. The seating is tight but it is so worth stopping in. The half-pound burger should be on Guy Fieri’s “Triple D” by now. These guys put together such a perfect burger, you will walk away thinking, “If this is so simply perfect, why can’t I do it?” And the truth is, you can’t. I’ve been trying to replicate a Harold’s burger at home for 15 years and still am not even close.
• Okatie Ale House, 25 William Pope Court, Bluffton, 843-706-2537, okatiealehouse.com: This is one of those staple Bluffton eateries that is easy to forget because it’s been around forever. But the Ale House Burger has to be included on our top 10. The 8-ounce Angus is one of the most affordable burgers on our list, and thus, the best bang for the buck. Our panel likes to add the blue cheese crumbles and some grilled onion. Me, I’m more middle of the lane. This masterpiece with bacon and American cheese is foodie bliss.
• Time To Eat Food Truck, Time To Eat LLC on Facebook, found in a neighborhood or brewery parking lot near you, 843-812-8348: We caught such heat on the LowCoTri Facebook foodie page for ranking these comfort food masters so low in our cheesesteak bracket seedings. We’re not making that mistake again. This food truck delivers a mobile foodie experience that feels like the kind of meal you’d save up all month to eat. The burgers are just that good. You may need to roll out to Beaufort to get them, but it’s worth the trip.
• Old Town Dispensary, 15 Captains Cove, Bluffton, 843-837-1893, OTDBluffton.com: It’s the ultimate outdoor get-together chill space, has amazing live music six nights a week most weeks and just happens to have a burger that our panelists repeatedly insist be in our top 10. Their house burger with carmelized onion, bacon and chipotle mayo is a star, but the Palmetto Burger with homemade pimento cheese, fried green tomato, spinach and arugula is the Hall of Famer here.
Honorable Mention: My wife joked that our panel named off so many restaurants, they’d picked every joint that offers a burger. That’s just how good our local restaurants are at this easy-to-ruin menu staple. Tailgaters in Ridgeland earned a handful of shoutouts. In Bluffton, British Open Pub, Cahill’s, Sippin Cow Café, Downtown Deli, Chow Daddy’s and Craft Kitchen won plenty of praise. On the island, Charbar, Gr8 Bites and Jane Bistro earned repeat mentions. And one side note: Omelette Café, we see you. I love them for breakfast, but they keep creeping up in shoutouts for their lunch items too, like their cheesesteak, and yes, their burgers.
Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.