The Pennsylvania Burger Bucket List

There is no formula for making a great burger; if it was that easy, it’d basically be raining cheeseburgers on every street corner. And while that’s a nice fantasy, the reality is that there are so many qualities that go into making a killer ‘burg’ that it can all go wrong with one false move. From the style and thickness of the bun, to the presence or absence of pickles, to the type and quantity of cheese, to the actual patty itself (we’re partial to Pennsylvania beef, of course), all of those decisions, and how well they’re executed, can make or break a burger.

Have no fear: there are so many places in PA where you can find your version of an ideal burger, whether that’s a thin, backyard style with classic toppings, or a gourmet pub burger piled high with add-ons. We’ve gathered a list of the burgers we think are a must-try – you’ll find dive-y old-school burger joints, new wave taverns, cozy corner bars and so much more. What you won’t find on this list are fast-food chains; though we know there is a lot of nostalgia tied into some of these burgers, and that some of the new-school-type fast-food joints actually use good quality ingredients, it’s just not our thing.

Here are the burgers in PA that have got to go on your foodie bucket list:

Northeast PA

At the Backyard Ale House, a lively gastropub in downtown Scranton, there’s not just one, but seven types of burgers on the comfort-food-centric menu! Each creative variation starts with a 6-ounce, hand-formed beef patty that’s flame grilled to perfection. The classic Just-a-Burger is done right, with lettuce, tomato and onion on a grilled brioche roll, but that’s really just the beginning. If toppings are your thing, try the Mexicali Burger, with cheddar, pico de gallo, jalapenos, guac and lettuce, or the Creamy Mac Burger topped with six-cheese mac-and-cheese and served with a side of beer cheese sauce! Every Monday, Backyard Ale House offers a Burgers & Buckets special, with $10 buckets of beers all day (a bucket is four 12-ounce cans or bottles of rotating craft brews) and $5 Just-a-Burgers from 7 to 9 p.m.! 523 Lindon St., Scranton; (570) 955-0192.

Lucky 13 is the number of burgers you can choose from at Anthracite Cafe, a laid-back pub with craft beer and homemade food. Its 10-ounce Black Angus Ground Chuck burgers, which it calls “Holy Cows,” are served on a toasted brioche roll (or upgrade to a pretzel roll for a mere 99 cents) with a side of french fries. There are so many directions to take your burger, from a straight-up cheeseburger, to one topped with Old Bay-spiced cheese, lump crab meat and remoulade sauce, to another stuffed with Middlesworth BBQ chips and cheese, then topped with bacon, cowboy sauce and more cheese. But the piece de resistance is the Wellington Burger, a Holy Cow topped with chopped bacon, mushrooms, onions, cheddar and cowboy sauce, then wrapped in flaky pizza dough and oven baked. That’s a one-of-a-kind burger! 804 Scott St., Wilkes Barre; (570) 822-4677.

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At the Casino Theatre in the Poconos, you can enjoy your burgers, along with a milkshake or ice cream sundae, while relaxing and watching a movie on the big screen! This family-friendly joint has been offering the concept of dine-in movie theater well before the rise of modern drink-and-dine theaters. In fact, The Casino, has been around for nearly a century! It started as a dance hall in the 1920s and added a movie theater in the 1930s. More recently, the theater showed second-run and classic films, and served food from its retro-themed Malt Shoppe, and as of 2012, it began screening first run and 3D films. On the food menu, you’ll find quarter-pound Black Angus burgers and sliders, dressed up a bunch of different ways. The ice cream menu, including old-fashioned drinks, like egg creams and floats, is also worth a look. 1403 Pocono Blvd. Route 611, Mount Pocono; (570) 839-7831.

Lehigh Valley

We are firm believers that almost anything that’s called a “shack” is gonna be good. The Burger Shack in Whitehall proves our point with its fresh, straightforward food, including its burger menu! Every burger variety on the menu is made with grass-fed 95% triple ground lean beef that’s free from antibiotics and additives. The stuffed burgers are its signature move; highlights include the Pizza Burger, stuffed with mozzarella cheese, topped with more mozzarella, pepperoni and house-made marinara, and The Cabana burger, stuffed with jalapeno and pepper jack cheese that’s topped with yet more jalapenos and pepper jack. Each burger comes with a side of boardwalk fries, though you can substitute a side of pierogies for just $4 (genius) or sweet potato fries for an extra $1.49. Gluten-free buns are available for a small upcharge, and vegetarians will love the meatless options: falafel burgers, Beyond burgers or a homemade veggie patty. 2011 N. 1st Ave., ​Whitehall; (610) 443-2077.

There is no meat, nor any topping, that The Burgery Company is afraid of. For your burger, you can go straight-up classic beef, upgrade to Kobe beef or prime rib, or get a little wild with bison, elk, venison or ostrich meat. Veggie, poultry and fish options are also available. The toppings go to very fun and daring heights: Do you want a pierogi on your burger? No problem. Pineapple, teriyaki, bacon and pepper jack? Yup, that’s called Grizzly. More conventional combos, like sauteed onions and blue cheese and mushrooms and swiss cheese, are also abundant. For a side, try the Black-and-Tan onion rings, tater tots, or the Burgery fries, with ranch, bacon and cheddar. Whatever you get, smother it all in Burgery Sauce, the tangy, red hot sauce made on site. 1458 Chestnut St., Emmaus; (610) 966-9900.

Burgers and craft beer are a timeless match, and you’ll find them both in droves at Bell Hall in downtown Allentown. This lovely modern bar has been open since 2015, and quickly established itself as a place to go for exceptional burgers and tasty brews. There are many ways to enjoy a burger here, from the no-frills cheeseburger to the weird (the PB&B burger comes on a pretzel roll topped with peanut butter, bacon and American cheese, with a side of jelly), to the gourmet (lamb burger with brie cheese, lemon and apricot preserves and fresh green apple). If you love a deal, show up on Tuesday for a $7 burger and fries special – pair it with a local beer from Tröegs or Conshohocken Brewing Company for a tasty way to kick off the week. 612 W. Hamilton St., Allentown; (610) 437-1825.

Southeast PA

Moo is the new-school burger joint of our dreams. Focusing on regenerative agriculture, and supporting local businesses, like Thistle Creek Farms in Tyrone, PA and Breakaway Farms in Mount Joy, PA, Moo rocks an all-killer-no-filler menu. Choose from a cheeseburger, a cheeseburger with an egg, or a veggie burger; non-burger options include a fried chicken sandwich, a hot dog and a seasonal salad. Shakes, Lushies (fruit slushies) and craft soda comprise the drink options. We do love keeping it simple. 137 S. Main St., New Hope; (267) 743-2192.

It’s hard to pick just one burger from Philadelphia, as the options are close to endless. From the luxe fois-gras-topped burger, Village Whiskey, to the $5 smash burgers at Fountain Porter, to the retro diner burgers at Nifty Fifties, it’s not a reasonable thing to try to choose just one to put on your bucket list. But if we had to pick, we’d go for the best-in-class Standard Burger from one of the original gastropubs, Standard Tap, in Northern Liberties. Everything is exactly as it should be on this beauty, from the locally sourced bread from Lost Bread Co. to the house-made pickles. It’s bewilderingly good, every single time. 901 N. 2nd St., Philadelphia; (215) 238-0630.

Much like Standard Tap, the burger at the Eagle Tavern and Taproom in Chester Springs is one of our platonic ideals of a killer bar burger. Just like everything coming out of the kitchen of this cozy local institution, this burger is thoughtful, intentional and well executed. The Tavern Burger starts with a 9-ounce patty, made from short rib burger ground in-house, which is topped with sharp cheddar, lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions and whole-grain mustard aioli on a buttery brioche bun. Show up on Thursdays for the burger and beer special, where you’ll get both for just $15. 123 Pottstown Pike, Chester Springs; (610) 458-5331.

South Central PA

What is it about a burger in an vintage-styled diner joint that just feels so right? Route 66 in Lancaster has got this vibe down pat, and its 100% Angus beef burgers are pretty close to perfection: we’re talking juicy patties with classic toppings, wrapped up in wax paper. We’re a fan of the double cheeseburger, but if that’s somehow not enough, go for a triple or even a quadruple patty burger! A side of curly fries and an Oreo milkshake to accompany your burger isn’t a bad idea, either. 45 W. Liberty St., Apt. 1, Lancaster; (717) 394-0010.

Yummy burgers are the name of the game (literally) at Burger Yum in downtown Harrisburg. Go for beef, which is always fresh and never frozen, or a vegetarian Beyond Burger, and do it up any way you like it. Cheeseburgers come with cheese sauce, which we love, and there’s even a breakfast burger with a fried egg and bacon. Martin’s Potato Rolls are the standard, but for a light or gluten-free option, try the Green Style, with the burger wrapped in crisp lettuce. Burger Yum has a liquor license, so you can wash down your burg with a craft beer or glass of wine. 400 N. 2nd St., Harrisburg; (717) 727-7127.

Gourmet burgers and a full bar make The Gettysburger Company your one-stop-shop in Gettysburg. Local ingredients and fresh ground, hand-formed  half-pound sirloin patties make these gourmet burgers some of the best in town. The Black & Bleu is a local favorite, with a blackened burger and blue cheese on a pretzel roll, though you also can’t wrong with the bacon burger, made with Kunzler slab bacon, cheddar and bacon jam, or the Pittsburger, with coleslaw and fries on top. Feeling extra? The 1863 is a sort of surf-and-turf burger, topped with a quarter-pound crab cake and cheddar and a triple decker roll, with a side of Old Bay sidewinder (curly chip-shaped) fries. 35 Chambersburg St., Gettysburg; (717) 800-1863.

North Central PA

At Moon and Raven Public House in Williamsport, there are not one, but two, burgers that have our hearts. The first is the Moon and Raven Burger, a blend of ground lamb and beef, with a hit of shallots, herbs and — wait for it — a splash of single-malt scotch. Atop this burger you’ll find bacon, smoked gouda, caramelized onions and lettuce. The second is The Local, with 100% Angus Sired beef from Misty Mountain Farm in Lycoming County, with provolone, crisp lettuce, tomato and onion. Order a pour of Guinness, and you’re all set. 155 W. Fourth St., Williamsport; (570) 651-9441.

Burgers and crepes … not the most intuitive combo, but you’ll find them both at Underground in State College. This is a casual spot, where you order from the counter and receive your food in a paper-lined basket or to-go bag. Customers build their own burgers, choosing from patties (beef, turkey, lamb, black beef, etc.), piling up cheeses and toppings (grilled mushrooms, peppers and onions, guac, pickles, fried egg, etc.) and then getting saucy with the long list of condiments, that goes way beyond ketchup and mustard: tzatziki, sour cream, pesto, hummus and salsa verde, to name a few. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., you can get your burger fix pretty much any time. 218 E. Calder Way, State College; 814-954-8081.

Western PA

At Pittsburgh’s Butterjoint, where the cocktails are on point and the snacks keep everyone going late into the night, the burgers are excellent, as well. The meat burgers are made with Thoma Beef from Saxonburg, PA, and served no-frills (lettuce, tomato and onion) or “fancy” (gruyere, crispy onions, sungold tomato jam, basil pesto aioli), with the option to add rhubarb ketchup for just a buck. Butterjoint also makes its own vegetarian burger from tempeh, topped with gruyere, crispy onions, banana peppers, eggplant relish and aioli. We’ll get down with an Impossible or Beyond burger, but are big fans of bars making their own from-scratch versions! 214 N. Craig St., Pittsburgh; (412) 621-2700.

What could be cooler than a bicycle-themed bar that also serves badass burgers? At Over the Top Bicycle Cafe, with two locations in Pittsburgh (North Park and Southside), all of the dishes are bike-themed: The Cog Salad, Peel-Out Pierogies and so on. Its signature items, though, are its burgers, made with half a pound of premium-aged beef. We’re fans of The Trail Builder, topped with crispy bacon and provolone, cheddar, onion straws, lettuce and tomato, which is dedicated to the team at Trail Pittsburgh who build and maintain the trails in North Park. 10301 Pearce Mill Rd., Allison Park; (724) 940-5000; 2518 E. Carson St., Pittsburgh; (412) 381-3698.

Looking for vegan options in Erie? Jekyl & Hydes has got you covered. Not only does the establishment offer tasty meat-free bites, like buffalo cauliflower bites, a fried green tomato BLT-esque vegan sandwich, and a sweet potato and kale salad, but it’s got multiple veggie-burger options, including a house-made black bean patty, an Impossible Burger and an Uncut Burger. Want a meaty burger? It’s got that, too! On Mondays, enjoy a $5 burger when you purchase a local beer! 8 E. 10th St. Erie; (814) 456-0072.

Now, it’s your turn! Let us know where you dig into the best burgers in PA here on PA Eats, or on our Facebook page!