Best of Denver

The Ten Best Burgers in Denver

The Metropolitan at Carm & Gia has all the classic toppings.
The Metropolitan at Carm & Gia has all the classic toppings. Molly Martin
Did you know that Denver is the birthplace of the cheeseburger? That's on no less an authority than the stone marker in front of the Key Bank outlet at 2776 Speer Boulevard. The location was once home to the Humpty Dumpty Barrel restaurant, "Colorado's first drive-in," which Louis Ballast owned when he registered the trademark for the cheeseburger on March 5, 1935.

Whether Ballast was actually the first to add melty cheese to a beef patty or not, this city is home to a lot of really good burgers, served everywhere from classic spots that have been around for decades to new additions that have powered through (or started because of) the pandemic. There are even burgers worth a drive to the edge of the metro area. All of them were fair game as we cooked up our latest best burger list — with the exception of a handful of pop-ups, which we highlighted in a separate list because we want to make sure these are all options you can get anytime, all year long. 

So what makes a burger the best? You could argue about the quality of the beef or what comprises the ideal combination of toppings (pickles, of course, are a must). Execution matters, too — getting just the right char or a lacy, caramelized edge on a smash burger-style patty. Brioche bun or potato? Toasted or not? Thin patty or thick? Single or double? What about pork — or even shrimp burgers? Variations abound.

But there's also something ineffable about biting into a truly standout burger, something that can't be overanalyzed. You just know it when it happens: when the beef patty, toppings and buzz of the place where you're eating it all combine into an experience you'll want to have over and over again.

An experience you'll find at these ten spots:
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Atomic Cowboy/Fat Sully's has perfected the burger.
Molly Martin

Atomic Cowboy/Fat Sully's

Multiple locations
atomiccowboy.net
Atomic Cowboy, Fat Sully's and the Denver Biscuit Company are the three-in-one concept that has grown to seven locations and is known mainly for towering biscuit sandwiches and giant slices of pizza. But all of the Colorado outposts have an unexpected addition to the menu: the Lights Out Burger. It's hefty, with two smash burger-style patties, aged American cheese, housemade pickles, a layer of minced onions and a tangy burger sauce, all loaded on a garlic butter-toasted brioche bun. The resulting burger, a hell of a deal at just $8.95, is greasy in all the right ways and completely impossible to put down until every drippy bite is gone.
Bonus: This baby is only $6 during happy hour, which is available at most locations from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
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The buns are steamed at Bud's.
Molly Martin

Bud's Bar

5453 Manhart Avenue, Sedalia
303-688-9967
restaurantji.com/co/sedalia/buds-cafe-and-bar
Bud's doesn't mess around. And after more than seventy years in business, it doesn't have to. Although it was recently passed on to its fourth owner since opening in 1948, thankfully, nothing has changed — including the very succinct menu. There's usually a full house at this small roadhouse pit stop that's popular with bikers and anyone else who appreciates a no-nonsense burger served by equally no-nonsense waitresses. The only food available at the cash-only joint: a selection of candy for snacking and bare-bones burgers, available in a single or double, with or without cheese, served on a steamed bun with pickles, onions and a bag of Lay's on the side. There's ketchup and mustard on the tables, too, but as the tabletop menu says, "No French fries, damnit." The most expensive option, the double cheeseburger, is just $7.80.
Bonus: The short drive to Sedalia is a nice escape from town and lands you close to lots of options for hiking, biking, ATV adventures and fishing.
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You can get crazy or keep it classic at Carm & Gia.
Molly Martin

Carm & Gia Metropolitan

9598 East Montview Boulevard, Aurora
303-747-4008
carmandgiametropolitan.com
Razz Cortés-Maceda left a tech career to open Carm & Gia (named for her son, Carmelo, and daughter, Gaby) in February 2020. Between the pandemic and a 2021 fire that forced the restaurant to close for seven and a half months, it's been a rough path. But now, the restaurant that combines Cortes-Maceda's love for her chosen home of Denver and her hometown of Chicago is back to business, which includes serving up a huge variety of burgers ($14-$17, including a side) both inside and on its spacious back patio. The burgers are thick, juicy and loaded with everything from chorizo and chicharrones to ham and mango pineapple pico and other unusual flavor combinations, but even the standard stands out. There's also a selection of not-burger burgers — like the Reservoir, with a crispy shrimp and scallion patty.
Bonus: The menu here is huge, with offerings ranging from Chicago classics like Italian beef and hot dogs to tacos, tortas and burritos, so you can get a burger fix even if you're with a group that has other cravings. And you can get that burger on your choice of a brioche or pretzel bun.
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The McCastle is perfect with a cold beer.
Molly Martin

The Castle Bar and Grill

6657 South Broadway, Littleton
303-798-5981
castlebarandgrill.co
The Castle is the kind of place you can walk into for a quick burger and walk out of three hours later knowing the bartenders' names (and a whole lot more about them). The building's exterior is, indeed, vaguely shaped like a castle, but any threat of a lame theme stops there. This is a classic with a massive sunken bar surrounded by captain's chairs that basically beg you to stay a while — and why not, with drinks this cheap? But regardless of how buzzed you may get, you'll recognize that the burgers ($11.50-$14 with a side included) are top-notch, whether you get one smothered in green chile, loaded with barbecue sauce and cheddar, or delivered in the more classic McCastle style. Plus, the entire burger lineup is buy-one-get-one-half-off on Tuesdays.
Bonus: The Castle is also home to one of the best patty melts around.
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The burger at Dalton's looks simple, but a lot of thought went into each component.
Molly Martin

Dalton's at RiNo Country Club

3763 Wynkoop Street
instagram.com/daltonsdenver
You can play a round of mini-golf at this bar, which opened in May, but what you'll really want multiple rounds of is the burger ($13, or go for a double, worth a few extra dollars). This burger may look simple, but a lot of care goes into each component, and the result is a completely crushable meal that you'll be thinking about long after. Chefs Alex Whiteman and Colin O'Niell grind meat in-house for the ideal fat ratio, which results in a thin, flavorful patty with lacy edges. It comes on a potato bun that's shipped in from Philadelphia, along with Cooper Sharp cheese. The pickles are also made in-house, as is the "7 hour" sauce, which gets its name from the excessively long, booze-fueled cooking session during which it was created. Minced onion adds a little bite, and the burgers come with crispy, seasoned waffle fries.
Bonus: Did we mention mini-golf?
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The goat cheese and prosciutto burger at Knockabout is a knockout.
Molly Martin

Knockabout Burgers

3200 Pecos Street
knockaboutburgers.com
Sourcing local is key at Knockabout, which opened inside Avanti Denver in the summer of 2020. Behind the concept is chef Brandon Spain, who previously owned Fort Collins-based food truck Tramp About, and his partner, Kaitlyn Peot, who worked at New Belgium for a decade. Now the duo is fully focused on burgers ($14-$15 with a side of fries), with patties made of beef from River Bear, brioche buns made by Harvest Moon Baking Company, and toppings like Haystack Mountain goat cheese and prosciutto — a combo that should be on the top of your list to try.
Bonus: Avanti also has a full bar and a popular rooftop patio where you can hang while you chow down.
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Bo Portyko's "My Fucking Burger" at Misfit Snack Bar is, indeed, fucking delicious.
Molly Martin

Misfit Snack Bar

3401 East Colfax Avenue
303-353-4207
misfitsnackbar.com
You never know what you'll find on the menu at this permanent pop-up inside Middleman, except for one staple: chef Bo Porytko's signature burger ($15). The man behind some of the most creative dishes in Denver knows that a great burger need not stray too far into the unknown. His take is a deceptively simple combination of double beef patties, American cheese, thin-sliced pickles and caramelized onions on a soft, toasted bun, executed to perfection. Bringing it all together is a deliciously dilly, red-tinged sauce that gives it a hit of herby zest, pushing the basic flavor profile to new, but still totally familiar, heights.
Bonus: Sip on a $6 Old Fashioned when you stop by for your burger fix during Middleman's happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
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The condiment caddies are back at My Brother's Bar after a pandemic hiatus.
Molly Martin

My Brother's Bar

2376 15th Street
303-455-9991
mybrothersbar.com
The only thing as legendary as the history of My Brother’s Bar, which dates back to the 1870s and includes a stint as a hangout for Neal Cassady and the Beat Generation, is its burgers. Though it has an extra-large back patio — a pandemic-era development that's stuck around — nothing beats bellying up to the bar and settling in with a cold beer and your burger of choice ($9.50-$13 for a single, $14.50-$22 for a double), whether that's the JCB (with jalapeño cream cheese), the even cheesier Johnny Burger or the original, unadulterated Steerburger, all served on a simple toasted sesame seed bun. The burger hits the table wrapped in butcher paper, sans plate. It's accompanied by a condiment caddy (just back after a pandemic hiatus) bearing ketchup, mustard, salt, pepper, sliced onion, dill pickles, relish and peppers; lettuce and tomato will cost you an extra buck.
Bonus: You're highly likely to encounter a longtime regular who will be happy to regale you with stories of old Denver.
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Snarfburger's signature double.
Molly Martin

Snarfburger

2535 Federal Boulevard, 720-535-5184
1001 East 11th Avenue, 720-573-9134
2000 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-444-7711
snarfburger.com
Jimmy "Snarf" Seidel may be best known for his growing chain of Snarf's Sandwiches shops, but since debuting Snarfburger in Boulder in 2013, he's been perfecting the old-school burger-shack vibes. All three locations excel at serving up supremely satisfying, totally customizable burgers at a super-affordable price: A double fully loaded with all the basics is just $7.75. Or you can up the ante with an array of specialty burgers topped with everything from crispy onion rings and sautéed mushrooms to fried bologna. Tots and gluten-free buns were also recently added to the lineup.
Bonus: You can pair your burger order with both frings and frozen custard.
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Split Lip's slugburger is messy in all the right ways.
Molly Martin

Split Lip, An Eat Place

3560 Chestnut Place
splitlipeatplace.com
How many pickles is too many pickles? At Split Lip, our 2022 Best of Denver pick for the city's best hamburger, the limit does not exist. This venture started as a series of pandemic pop-ups from longtime hospitality pros who've now turned to creating a menu of crave-worthy, hyper-regional dishes full-time inside Number Thirty Eight. While Split Lip offers several burger options (all $14, served with a side of tots), the Mississippi Slug Burger was the OG fan favorite from its pop-up days and remains a lesson in cheeseburger perfection, dressed simply with American cheese, "sawse" and, yes, a fuck-ton of housemade pickles on a soft sesame seed bun.
Bonus: Split Lip also makes a hell of a hot chicken sandwich. Go with a friend who likes to share and get both. 
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Molly Martin is the Westword Food & Drink editor. She’s been writing about the dining scene in Denver since 2013, and was eating her way around the city long before that. She enjoys long walks to the nearest burrito joint and nights spent sipping cocktails on Colfax.
Contact: Molly Martin