As recently as 15 years ago, any conversation about burgers in London was a binary question of whether one preferred McDonald’s or Burger King (Maccy D’s, obvs). And then came the burger explosion – sometimes literally, dismayingly – of the 2010s, as fillings reached ever giddier heights to achieve the perfect foodporn for the then new-fangled technology of Instagram.
Things, thankfully, have calmed down now, with more of an emphasis on the quality of individual ingredients, rather than how much can be sandwiched in a bun without it toppling over. With a burger, less is usually more.
Meat sourced from individual farms and the country’s most respected butchers is now par for the course, as too cheesemonger-supplied Cheddar, baps crafted from artisan bread and sauces made in-house, to achieve the ideal burger balance of sharp and savoury, creamy and comforting.
We’re not sniffy about the big chains; kid-friendly Byron, for instance, is great value for money and the onion rings are some of the best in London. But below we’ve highlighted the places that impress us the most with quality and creativity along with our favourite order at each.
So let us guide you to the capital’s best baps and prime patties — all the burgers listed below are strictly of the meaty kind, but plant-based fans can also check out our guides to the best vegetarian and best vegan burgers in town.
Four Legs at The Plimsoll
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” Leonard da Vinci said. If only the ultimate Renaissance man had spent his time inventing something useful like a cheeseburger instead of working out how to fly, he might have come up with a food offering resembling the star attraction at this Finsbury Park pub, which is currently home to London’s most legendary piece of meat. A single beef patty is sandwiched in a glossy brioche bun with American cheese, homemade sauce, diced onion and some sweet-and-sour gherkin; it’s the quality of ingredients — including Dexter beef as well-hung as Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights — and the skill with which they are cooked which elevates this to the most refined version of a McDonald’s imaginable. The Plimsoll comes courtesy of chefs Jamie Allan and Ed McIlroy, a duo better known as Four Legs whose love for butch burgers is matched only by a determination to serve them on the prettiest floral crockery this side of Cath Kidston.
52 St Thomas’s Road, N4 2QW, @fourlegs_ldn
El Chappo, £10.50
Burgers with novelty names run the risk that what’s in the bun isn’t as fun to eat as it sounds on the menu. Lucky Chip is an exception, whether the Kevin Bacon (a cheeseburger with apple-smoked bacon) or the Gus Fring’s (a chicken burger homage to Los Pollos Hermanos that’s as addictive as a binge-watch of Breaking Bad). The signature El Chappo, though, is the best place to start, with roasted jalapeños cutting through all the richness of smoked bacon, blue cheese and aioli, and the beef patties are terrific, too. The original Lucky Chip is a six-stool counter tucked into a corner at Netil Market in Hackney that’s open from Wednesday to Sunday; the long-term residency at the Old Queen’s Head pub in Islington is a better bet if you’d prefer to eat indoors or early in the week, plus there’s now a standalone restaurant in Folkestone for burgers by the sea.
Various locations, luckychip.co.uk
Burger devotees journey from across the capital to a humdrum parade by Rectory Road Overground for Bake Street’s smashburger, which is only served at the weekend — Bake Street is a coffee shop the rest of the time — and eaten under an awning outside come rain or shine. A smashburger is a puck of beef mince that has been pressed down hard on the griddle to achieve an all-over charring that seals the meat juices within the caramalised crust, achieving the holy grail of smokiness and succulence; here it’s simply served in a brioche bun with cheese, ketchup, mustard and shallots. If your commitment to the perfect burger doesn’t extend to Clapton, owner Feroz Gajia recently launched a smashburger at Manna at the Arcade Food Hall at the bottom of Centre Point.
58 Evering Road, N16 7SR, 020 7683 7177
Blue Burger, £8.50
Bleecker is meat and drink for time-pressed diners who don’t want to compromise on quality. The no-frills surroundings might not encourage lingering — hard surfaces, paper plates — but these are burgers to savour. The story goes that New York native Zan Kaufman had the best burger of her life at Zaitzeff in the East Village, where she began moonlighting from her career as a corporate lawyer. She jacked in the day job when she moved to London and opened Bleecker in a food truck before launching bricks-and-mortar sites in the City, Spitalfields, Victoria and Westfield, ideally located for a break from the office or shopping, or a quick bite before the train home. The secret is rare-breed, grass-fed beef cooked to order; the burger topped with blue cheese is the perfect match for the tang of meat aged on the bone for 40 days, but there are American cheese-and-bacon burgers for less pungent palates.
Various locations, bleecker.co.uk
Beer + Burger Store
Beer and burgers: perhaps the most successful food and drink pairing of all time and a match made in heaven at this north London mini-chain (Willesden, Walthamstow and Dalston) that extends to a shiny glass-walled corner site in King’s Cross. The entry-level cheeseburger is the top shout, with two smashed patties sandwiched around American cheese, gherkins, red onions and sloppy with house sauce; there’s also a vegan version, chicken burger and a no-sauce kids’ burger for smaller appetites (and anyone averse to sticky fingers). Sides include dirty fries, dipping gravy and Korean wings plus there are 20 craft beers on tap and loads more by the bottle. Beer + Burger is dog-friendly, too, if the idea of immersing your pooch in the aroma of cooked meat doesn’t sound like animal cruelty.
Various locations, beerandburgerstore.com
Patty & Bun
Ari Gold, £10.95
The simplicity of the name is misleading, because Patty & Bun serves some of London’s messiest burgers, stuffed with more fillings than a toddler with a sugar addiction. The signature Ari Gold cheeseburger dates from when P&B launched near Selfridges in 2013; with 10 branches now around London (including a new outpost at Canary Wharf), this armful of beef and cheese with ketchup, smoky mayo and then some has displayed more longevity than its namesake agent from Entourage. The Hot Chic buttermilk-fried burger is a safer bet if you don’t want to end up with your dinner dribbling all the way from your nose to your navel. Excellent ingredients (Bread Ahead buns, HG Walter meat, Neal’s Yard cheese) extends to a trio of plant-based burgers, though it seems a shame to pass up the offer of chicken-skin salt on the fries.
Various locations, pattyandbun.co.uk
The Candy Bacon Flipper, £9.50
Burgers are the perfect hand-held food, which is why so many of the capital’s best burger joints have emerged from the street-food scene of London markets. Mother Flipper is still keeping it real at Brockley Market every Saturday and Victoria Park Market in Hackney on Sundays. You’ll need two hands to get to grips with the three chunky beefburgers on offer, each made from 35-day aged chuck steak and wrapped in glazed brioche; best of the lot is the Candy Bacon Flipper, a cheeseburger topped with bacon fried in maple syrup which sounds sickly until one remembers that the teaspoon of sugar in a bun is what makes so many burgers delicious. Not such a sweet tooth? Try the Chilli Flipper, spiked with green chilli relish.
Brockley Market, Lewisham College Car Park, Lewisham Way, SE4 1UT, brockleymarket.com
Victoria Park Market, 56-57 Gore Road, E9 7HN, victoriaparkmarket.com
Dip & Flip
Bacon cheeseburger, £10.50
“Gravy and burgers” might have been a better, or at least more on-the-nose, name for this Battersea fast-food joint, which offers French dips (a beef sub with gravy for dunking) alongside the namesake Dip & Flip burger, which involves gravy-dipped roast beef with ketchup and cabbage. It is not unpleasantly like eating an entire Sunday roast in a toasted brioche bun, but the bacon cheeseburger is better, charred outside and pink within and pepped up with gherkins, burger sauce and crunchy slaw. Extras of green chilli, sautéed onions and a fried egg are available if more is required, but better to fill up on buttermilk fried tenders, cheesy chips and Oreo shakes (with or without Kahlua).
87 Battersea Rise, SW11 1HW, dipandflip.co.uk
Burger & Beyond
Bacon Butter Burger, £11.50
Another street-food success story, Burger & Beyond’s tale takes in food-market residencies before opening a trio of physical restaurants in Soho, Shoreditch and Borough. What sets the place apart is meat supplied by a farm up in Swaledale and aged in-house in Essex. It all sounds terribly purist until you get an eyeful of a menu from which it’s impossible to choose between the Bacon Butter Burger, which is as deliriously delicious as it sounds, and the Bougie Burger, loaded with American cheese, steak sauce, “marrownaise” and beef-fat onions: proof, perhaps, that one really can have too much of a good thing. The burgers are brilliant but the beyond is just as good: chips clogged with bone-marrow gravy and cheese curds, fab fried chicken, 10-quid cocktails and dark-rum milkshakes. To really go all the way, come for the bottomless £40 burgers and booze menu at weekend lunchtimes in Soho.
Various locations, burgerandbeyond.co.uk
The Blacklock Burger, £12
It’s a brave diner who foregoes a restaurant’s signature dish but we’d recommend ignoring Blacklock’s chops and wrapping your laughing gear instead around the house burger. Formerly a “secret” order when the Shoreditch branch launched (and which cynics wondered was simply a social-media thirst-trap), it is now on the menu and Instagrammable across Blacklock’s other sites at Bank, Covent Garden and Soho. It’s basically a deluxe cheeseburger that is testament to the power of thoughtful sourcing and saucing: two beef-and-bone marrow patties (from Philip Warren butchers in Cornwall) smothered in Ogleshield cheese and Montgomery Cheddar in a sesame-seed bun, elevated by the sweet-and-sour kick of onions caramelised in vermouth. Want fries with that? Order some beef-dripping chips.
Various locations, theblacklock.com
Cheese and Bacon Burger, £19
It might not be the best burger in London but the Joe Allen cheeseburger is perhaps the capital’s most iconic, an off-menu order that is the worst-kept secret in Theatreland after the identity of the murderer in The Mousetrap. The star of the show is an unseasoned ground sirloin patty with a supporting cast of lettuce, tomato, cheese and two well-seared bacon rashers, sandwiched in a thick, bready bun with a spear of dill pickle on top. Proper restaurant presentation — a metal pot of greaseproof paper-wrapped chips, a dinky bowl of ketchup served nicely on the side — make it worth almost 20 quid of anyone’s hard-earned before or after the theatre, plus there’s the option of adding a demi-glace of veal, chicken and red wine French dip for £5.95, and a veggie burger to prove that Joe Allen has moved with the times since opening in 1977. What really makes this place so special, though, is the luvvied-up atmosphere of West End Wendies projecting to the back of a room decorated by posters of famous flops. Brilliant fun.
2 Burleigh Street, WC2E 7PX, joeallen.co.uk
Dead Hippie, £11.75
This now 12-strong nationwide chain is the blueprint for most of London’s new-wave burger joints: punny names, boozy hard shakes, impressively inked staff, an indie-rock soundtrack and a backstory involving burger vans, pub pop-ups in a scuzzy corner of Zone 2 and finally West End domination. Crucially, Meatliquor introduced Londoners to sloppy burgers of pink-in-the-middle patties discharging sauce and meat juices all the way up to the elbow. The signature Dead Hippie was apparently inspired by visits to Burning Man by owner Yannis Papoutsis, though a Big Mac is the more obvious reference point: two beef patties are fried in French’s mustard and piled high with lettuce, American cheese, diced white onion, gherkin and a secret “Dead Hippie” sauce not unlike Thousand Island dressing. Onion rings in puffy batter, crunchy pickles with blue-cheese sauce, deep-fried mac’n’cheese and sauce-drenched fries make fine accompaniments, there are chicken and veggie burgers too, and an afternoon deal offering a burger and a side for £10.95.
Various locations, meatliquor.com
Little Cheeseburger, £7.35
We’d call Five Guys a guilty secret if the frequency with which we eat here didn’t put it more in the category of an obsessive compulsion. The definitive winner of the burger wars which saw rival American imports Five Guys and Shake Shack open within a week of each other in Covent Garden in 2013, Five Guys may perplex first-timers with its USP of adding as many of the 14 toppings as one wishes, which turns the grilled bun soggy and overwhelms the charred flavour of the hand-formed patties of Scottish beef. The trick, in fact, is to select as few extras as possible: some raw and grilled onions with a dollop of ketchup perhaps, plus a squirt of mustard if you really must — or order one Little Cheeseburger with ketchup and another with mustard. The less said about the signature skin-on fries cooked in peanut oil, however, the better, though the Reese’s peanut-butter milkshake is insanely good.
Various locations, fiveguys.co.uk
Black Bear Burger
Black Bear, £11
Husband and wife Stew and Liz Down did their homework before opening their duo of sit-down burger joints in Brixton and Clerkenwell, working ski seasons in Whistler (home of the black bear) and taking inspiration from Stew’s family beef farm in Devon. The butcher-made burgers use beef sourced from farms in the south west, oak-smoked bacon comes from outdoor-bred pigs in East Anglia, bespoke buns arrive fresh from a baker each day and everything else (fries, sauces, rubs and pickles) is prepped and made in-house. The Black Bear burger involves two smashed dry-aged patties with bacon, onion jam, Kraft-style cheese and garlic mayo — though side orders are just as big a deal here: brisket spring rolls filled with 12-hour beer-braised beef, smoked bacon and cheese, chicken nuggets with buffalo and blue-cheese dipping sauce, and steak-rub fries zingy with habanero honey mayo. Wash it all down with pilsner brewed in collaboration with Pillars Brewery in Walthamstow.
11-13a Market Row, SW9 8LB and 17 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QD, blackbearburger.com