A burger is a simple premise, but doing them well is a dark art. Do you go with the classic sesame seed, potato, milk or brioche bun? Do you prefer American cheese, blue or cheddar? Caramelised onions, pickled or raw? Lettuce and tomato or cheese and pickles? Is your protein power chicken, fish, beef, or mushroom? And we haven’t even gotten to the question of fries yet. There are a thousand variations on a burger, but these are the 14 best in Sydney.
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The 14 best burgers in Sydney
Order the: Chicken Katsu Burger
Price range: $13.80-$15.50
This doesn’t feel like a burger bar. It feels like a bar that just happens to make a bacon and cheeseburger with sharp, snappy rice vinegar pickles, the warm golden glow of American cheese and mayo. And Craig’s katsu chicken burger is one of the best hot sandwiches we’ve eaten in this city. It’s kind of hard to imagine that his original little burger and wine bar on Bourke Street in Surry Hills was ever in the fine dining category, but Ume was, for a time, some of the best casual Japanese outside of the CBD. And the 2016 downgrade hasn’t hurt the excellence of Bar Ume. In fact, burgers, snacks, natural wine, sake and hip hop actually suit the place better in many ways.
X Factor: If they have dessert mochi ball on the menu, don’t think twice. They make a tiramisu one with a fluffy, creamy cheese centre and a snowfall of cocoa covering the glutinous rice pocket.
Order the: Paul’s Famous Works Burger
Price range: $7.50-$10.80 (cash only)
Imagine if the McDonald Brothers were Aussie, had never gotten involved with Ray Kroc and stayed a single-store, family operation, and you get Paul’s Famous Burgers: a well-oiled machine masquerading as a ramshackle burger joint by the roadside in Sylvania. Don’t worry about the line: they take your order before you even enter the shop, and by the time you reach the front it’s neatly packaged up in a branded paper bag. In operation since 1957, they offer Australian-style burgers, meaning a cooked through (but still tasty) patty, fresh tomato, raw onions and lots of shredded lettuce come standard, along with free beetroot if you want it. Go the Works Burger, which adds crisp bacon, a fried egg and pineapple.
X Factor: Take your goodies down to a park bench under the Tom Uglys Bridge and look out over the Georges River.
Order the: Mary’s Burger
Price range: $11-$15
These guys are the kings of the good quality, American-style burger with that low-brow fast food flavour. They started the trend and none have matched them for consistency, popularity and moveability - there’s nothing better than the sight (and smell) of a Mary’s burger stand at a festival when your belly has that “I drank too many tinned beers” feeling. The queues still form at the Newtown heavy metal burger palace, which incidentally also pours some really excellent wines; you can grab a burger in the CBD from their takeaway shop; and you can also order them down to Ramblin Rascal Tavern while you sip Cognac cocktails.
X Factor: Mary’s mash and gravy is next level. The potato puree is the food equivalent of 500-thread count sheets and the gravy on top has all the flavour of slow roasted meat-on-the-bone.
Order the: Chilli Burger
Price range: $10-$16
During the day this burger shop on an industrial street in Brookvale gets smashed by hungry tradies; on evenings it’s a little quieter; and on weekends when there’s a local rugby league game over in Brookvale Oval you can get a five-dollar burger if you show your game ticket – their local pride is strong. They are also cooking up a banger of a classic beef burger, but they have a secret weapon that makes their chilli burger stand out – they make their own hot sauce in-house from Carolina Reaper chillis and it’s a showstopper. Fresh, fruity and properly hot, but not in a sneaky way. The heat goes up in even increments, so you don’t suddenly become the mayor of a mouth volcano.
X Factor: They’ve got their ratios for their loaded fries spot-on - a mild, natural gravy, the creamy house special sauce. the right amount of cheese, and green onion and bacon bits for salt and spice.
Order the: Cheeseburger
The crew behind this Penrith burger bar have serious Sydney restaurant credentials, which goes a long way to explaining why the goods here stack up to any hot sandwich in the city. The shop is tucked into a little arcade so you can sit in or grab a seat in the sunny courtyard where they’re cranking a killer playlist of Lauryn Hill, REM and Dave Dobbyn. The burgers aren’t cheap - good ingredients aren’t - but their classic, American-style cheeseburger is excellent: juicy patty, tacky melted cheese, lots of pickles and onions and mustard mayo. Next time we might order the Louise, which adds lettuce and tomato to the mix, for some extra nutrients.
X Factor: Here they’re roasting white chocolate until it develops a toasty caramel flavour, salting it gently and whizzing it into a fluffy milkshake that’s served in an old-fashioned glass.
Order the: BL chicken burger
Price range: $13-$17
With Shaggy’s ‘It Wasn’t Me’ and Drake’s ‘One Dance’ pumping through the speakers and every table occupied with couples or groups of friends lining their stomachs for a big night ahead, Bar Luca is a fun place to be on a weeknight. Start with a sloppy side of poutine; the herbed fries are soaked with runny gravy and topped with mozzarella curds, plus a second coating of cream cheese sauce. Luckily, every table is stocked with wet wipes – the cheeseburger and BL chicken burger are just as messy. The chicken burger has two pickle-brined-and-fried chicken schnitzels balancing on a Kraft single, pickles, lettuce, bacon, cheese and Sriracha mayo pierced with a skewer that we daren’t remove in case it all topples over. It’s a heart attack waiting to happen, but one we’d happily risk all over again.
X Factor: Order a Celery Tonic soda; it’s sweet enough to cut through the burger grease, with the refreshing flavours of real cucumber, mint and lime.
Order the: Classic cog
Price range: $12.90-$16.90, including fries
The menu here is a veritable ode to Sydney rock royalty – owner Tony Gosden has named each menu items after bands he’s either managed, toured or promoted – so you’ll find everything from the Just a Jezabel crumbed chicken burger to Kirin J Calinan calamari. While you maybe tempted to try order your favourite band’s namesake sandwich, a surefire bet is the Classic Cog, which unlike prog-rock music, keeps things classic with tasty cheese, grass-fed beef, lettuce and tomato relish. Top marks for the bun-to-patty ratio – they complement each other perfectly. It’s also juicy but not a monstrous hot mess.
X-Factor: Before you’re wowed by the burgers at this tiny rock’n’roll diner, ogle at the mini museum of Sydney mid-2000’s music – old gig posters, albums, gold plated vinyls and polaroids line the walls and roof.
Order the: Mac Daddy
How much: $12-$16
If things keep going the way they are now, by 2020 Surry Hills will be comprised entirely of trendy hairdressers, Danish decor shops, and American-themed diners. Reigning supreme over all of them, and looking like a cross between the three, will be Chur, one of Sydney's original cult burger joints, and still one of the best. The attitude towards lettuce is more "leave it" than "take it". Pickles and a thick, acidic tomato relish are the only plants you'll find on their "OG" cheeseburger – unless you count huge swirls of butter-yellow mustard mayo as a vegetable. Those condiments and a slice of perfectly-melted orange cheese are all that graces the pink, juicy patty and soft milk bun.
X Factor: Go all out and ask for the Mac Daddy. On top of your beef pattie, it also features a pattie made of breaded and pan-fried Kraft-style mac'n'cheese. It may well kill you, but it feels so good.
Order the: Brooklyn
Price range: $11-$13
Look, we all know working at a desk and eating take away isn’t great for your health, but every now and again you just want easy calories, and on those days the worker bees of North Sydney head to Five Points burgers. The Brooklyn takes all the best bits of your classic cheese burger – medium rare patty, sticky American cheese, mayo and lettuce and doubles the cheese, and doubles down on the mayo score, adding a chipotle chilli and a gherkin spiced version, and then adds spicy jalapeno slices to punch through all the fat. Frequent flyers will know to avoid peak times - these guys get serious queues forming from noon.
X-Factor: If you really want to go full Augustus Gloop order a salted caramel milkshake made with proper vanilla bean ice cream, milk and salt caramel sauce.
Order the: Shroom burger
How much? $10-$15
Down at Darling Harbour, Brisbane's burger chain has opened a Sydney outpost that does a messy beef burger with cheese, and one of the best meat-free burgers on the fast food circuit. Seriously, veggos: this is your time to lord it over everyone, because here they sandwich a mix of gouda and Gruyère between big, flat, juicy field mushrooms and then crumb and deep fry it so that the shell is crunchy and the cheese molten. It's lightened and brightened by the requisite lettuce and tomato and delivered in a soft, white, sweet bun spread with the house secret sauce (a spiced mayo situation).
X Factor: In addition to burgers these guys are pumping out a creamy, malty chocolate custard semi-soft serve that is the ideal accompaniment for a wander around the refreshed ICC precinct.
Order the: Chipotle chicken burger
Price range: $11-$15
Just under the Harbour Bridge this pint-sized American diner is flipping burgers to hungry school kids, tradies and families galore. The $15 meal deal (burger, fries and a drink for $15) is a huge drawcard here – consider skipping eating in and nab this deal, then go enjoy your combo in Bradfield Park. The chipotle chicken burger outshines its beefy brethren here. Structural integrity isn’t this burger’s strong suit – but what it lacks in form, it’s makes up for in tiered textures. The fried chicken is coated in a crisp batter (which is seasoned with a mix of what resembles the KFC secret 12 spices), the bacon is juicy, soft avo, lettuce and tomato add freshness while the chipotle mayo brings it back into flavour town.
X Factor: Want a burger for breakfast? These guys pump out waffles, coffee, pancakes and egg, beef and bacon burgers from 7am Fri-Sun.
Order the: Chilli cheese burger
Price range: $9.50-$14.90
There are 14 burgers to choose from on the menu at Broadway’s Burger Project, which you’ll find on the ground floor underneath the female only gym Fernwood Fitness. It’s a challenge to pick just one when the list includes nine that champion their 100 per cent grass-fed beef patties, which are made in house every morning. The chilli cheese is spicy enough to give flavour to the medium-cooked patty but we’d have preferred the jalapeno peppers have a little more kick. The burger’s topped with a generous serve of crunchy pickles, onion and tomatoes, plus American-style cheese and a frilly leaf of lettuce. But the ‘secret sauce’ is what keeps us coming back for more. With ’80s power ballads on the stereo and an ethical approach to sourcing their produce, we could make this a regular Friday lunch hang.
X Factor: Finish with a smooth Valrhona chocolate shake ($7.50). It’s thick and malty and has a slightly bitter, real cocoa flavour.
Order the: J Burger
Price range: $15-$19
Even a casual lurk on social media would expose you to Burgers by Josh’s (BBJ) monstrous meaty creations. Josh has been replicating Sydney’s developing skyline in patties and bread dioramas since 2014, and has been flinging them out of the refurbished kitchen of the Annandale Hotel for over a year. Settle in with a J burger – a modest, one patty tall classic. Here you can taste the best BBJ elements (juicy wagyu beef with American cheese, crisp and cool iceberg lettuce and artfully crinkled pickles) in a serving size that lets you eat your burger with your hands, as god intended. The all important sauce to filling ratio is mathematically rigorous, it’s a tad Hungry Jacks homage in its mayonnaise leanings, but that isn’t a complaint. The potato bun gives the J an edge too.
X Factor: Check the specials board because BBJ’s specialty is capturing the zeitgeist in stacks of fried chicken, onion rings, jalapeno crowns and shards of bacon.
Order the: Hamburger
Price range: $14-$16
Burgers are the everyman meal because they are relatively cheap to create. But there’s a big difference between cheap and crappy, and at Superior Burger they are very particuar about their ingredients. They use pasture-fed beef and chemical free chickens, and they salt-age their meat for the patties, which they mince in-house so that the result is properly nubbly, juicy and rough, not frighteningly uniform like a mass produced product. You’ll feel quite nostalgic eating here, with potato scallops on the menu, plus a classic hamburger that doesn’t go in for orange American cheese – beetroot, proper barbecue onions and smoked barbecue sauce is how they roll.
X Factor: This burger shop also has a liquor license, which means if you want something gutsier than their house iced tea you can order an Aperol Spritz in a paper milkshake cup and drink it at the sunny tables out the front.
Burn off the double cheese
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