Best Bets for No-Frills Bar Burgers in Atlanta
There are so many terrific burgers in Atlanta, and chefs have elevated the American standard from the backyard to high cuisine. Whether it's Richard Blais's creative, expectation-defying patties at Flip or the double-stack craze kick-started by Holeman & Finch, the upscale burger's here to stay. But sometimes you just want a big, beefy burger, cooked perfectly and dressed with lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle — and the most creative you want to get is subbing tots or onion rings for fries.
Big, meaty, juicy and almost always cooked perfectly, the Highlander burger (pictured) is an exceptional example of what burgers were long before they were a fancied-up craze. You can go straightforward, you can get a little wild with toppings like pimiento cheese, barbecue sauce or poblano peppers — and you can even order a pitcher of tater tots. The Highlander's been open almost for a quarter century and remains 21-and-up, even if you're just coming in for a bite; that factor also allows for indoor smoking, so if that's a bother, grab a seat outside.
931 Monroe Dr.; 404-872-0060
East Atlanta Village seems to be a hotbed of great bar burgers, and the half-pound Angus beef patty from the bar-slash-music-venue is a real contender for topping that list. There's nothing fancy about it, though there are options to top it with chili, bacon, mushrooms and the like. Side note: the black bean burger's a great veggie option.
488 Flat Shoals Ave. SE; 404-522-3950
One of the best things about this burger from the Oakhurst pub, aside from its perfect cooking and rich beefy taste, is its size. At only five ounces, the Imperial burger may not have the heft of other offerings, but diners are left feeling full rather than gluttonous — and at a time of rising beef prices, more modest burgers are easier on the wallet too.
726 W. College Ave., Decatur; 404-464-5698
Open since the early '80s (a new kitchen augmented a deli that'd been operating since the '60s), this Virginia-Highland spot is a neighborhood institution thanks to its longevity, sure, but that wouldn't have been possible without solid burgers keeping people coming back for decades. Top 'em as suits your fancy, but it's the patty here — either quarter- or half-pound, as you like — that's the star.
1041 N. Highland Ave. NE; 404-892-3648
Operating out of a former bank space since the late '90s, this bar may sport all the signs of rough-around-the-edges heavy metal, but the crew is welcoming and the burgers are eminently satisfying. Sizable patties will require two hands and your full attention, and it's a rare thing that the burgers are ever not cooked just as ordered. That the interior's now a nonsmoking space helps too.
520 Flat Shoals Ave. SE; 404-688-8864
At either its older Little Five Points spot or the newer Midtown location, the Vortex typifies the classic Atlanta bar burger. Open since the early '90s, they were doing outrageous things to burgers since well before it was a trend. But the bread and butter at the 21-and-up space remains its basic burger (stunt food aside).
One nice thing about this Irish pub in Decatur is that while, yes, it's an Irish pub, it's not over the top and garish in a theme-park way. Another nice thing? The basic burger, crafted with Black Angus beef and dressed simply with, lettuce, tomato and onion. Add pimiento cheese and bacon for $4 more.
426 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur; 404-270-9950
The burger called The Classic at this Virginia-Highland neighborhood pub may conjure thoughts of the cheffy, two-patty burger iteration currently all the rage in ATL, but these two slabs assembled together make for a greasy, salty, satisfying mouthful that is what it's called — totally classic.
918 Austin Ave. NE; 404-872-4990