I don’t have a culinary degree, but I do feel qualified to teach a master’s degree class on the subject of burgers. Recently, my wife and I embarked on a two-year-long effort to taste the top 22 burgers in Michigan based on a report by Thrillist. The concern at the time was that none of the burgers on the list were from Traverse City, yet this place is considered a “Foodie Town.”
After that two-year quest, we can report that many of the Thrillist burgers deserve to be on the list. Others? Not so much. At the same time, we concluded that the list was sorely lacking without important Traverse City burger joints.
Grab your notebooks, read carefully and prepare for a test at the end of this class. The test will be tasty.
Many of the top Michigan burgers not only had great food but they also had interesting stories. Slabtown Burgers in Traverse City has its own interesting story. Located in a house that was once a home built for workers in the growing lumber industry, a section of TC called Slabtown, it’s now home to one of the best burgers in Michigan. In fact, Trip Advisor called it the fifth best burger in America.
Slabtown Burgers is a no-frills place that serves up hand-pattied burgers with fresh-cut fries. Spend a little extra for the pretzel bun, you’ll find it’s well worth it. Add some chili cheese fries and a shake and this can be your sinful indulgence of the week. And vegetarians can rejoice as well because they offer one of the best veggie burgers in town.
Don’s Drive In
This is a true experience that is built around a burger. Don’s Drive-In on US-31 West takes you in a time machine back to the 1950s. It’s a carhop restaurant that’s been putting out fresh ground beef burgers since 1958. You won’t find Richie Cunningham there, but occasionally you’ll see some beehive hairdos and really cool cars.
Don’s features freshly made burgers, cooked on a grill and topped with any combination you want. To get the full drive-in experience you must order the thick-cut fries and the tremendous shakes.
You have options here between dining in your car, eating on a picnic table, or inside dining. There’s always takeout, but what’s the fun of that when you are at a genuine drive-in restaurant.
Oakwood Proper Burgers
A relative newcomer to the Traverse City burger scene, Oakwood Proper Burgers on Eighth Street is making its mark. Located in a tiny building, it has developed an oversized customer base. They hang their hat on creating craft burgers. That means burgers sourcing local ingredients wherever possible, including Michigan-based beef. The Oakwood owners are proud to know the farmers and know their farming practices.
An important element often overlooked on the Thrillist Top 22 burgers list was the bun. The bun at Oakwood Proper Burger is not an afterthought. It’s an important element of their success. They use a super fresh honey oat bun from Old Mission Bakery. The smash burgers have a seared exterior and a juicy interior.
A trip to Oakwood wouldn’t be complete without savoring their hand-cut fries, especially the Garlic Parmesan Fries with House Sauce. Perhaps cave in one more time and enjoy a Hand-Spun Shake made from Moo-ville ice cream. Peanut butter fans will find a shake made just for them.
There are lots of other great burger places in the Traverse City area. Locals will talk about J&S Hamburg, Blue Tractor, Bergstrom’s Burgers, Bubba’s, Sleder’s, and more. They are all great options. But if you have limited time to dive into Traverse City burgers: Slabtown, Don’s, and Oakwood are worthy – they certainly deserve to make it on the next Thrillist Top 22 Burgers in Michigan list.
Now for the test. Have a burger for lunch or dinner. Try one of these and you are guaranteed to score an A+.