In theory, the hamburger is a simple sandwich — some type of protein patty nestled in a bun. It’s an American staple for backyard barbecues, fast food franchises and any number of restaurants, from upscale to hole-in-the-wall. And while basic burgers can definitely hit the spot when you’re hungry, sometimes you need to zhuzh up your dinner with some decadent toppings.
This list of over-the-top burgers features local 15 favorites, smothered in indulgent ingredients ranging from peanut butter to macaroni and cheese and fried egg to lobster. Use this as a starting point to satisfy your most chaotic cravings.
Need more recommendations? We’ve also included the top 20 reader-voted best burgers for meat-eaters and vegetarians alike from CityBeat’s 2022 Best Of Cincinnati issue.
Arnold’s Bar & Grill: Sean Evans Hot Ones Burger
As Cincinnat’s oldest tavern, Arnold’s Bar & Grill has become a favorite haunt for ghost hunters (and, reportedly, apparitions themselves). But burger fans will find another type of ghost on premises: peppers. These fiery favorites make an appearance on the bar’s Sean Evans Hot Ones Burger, named after the YouTube talk show in which host Evans asks celebrities questions as they sample spicier and spicier hot sauce. Self-proclaimed Hot Ones superfan and Arnold’s owner Chris Breeden says the burger was inspired by a comment Evans made in an episode of the show. “Sean said that his ultimate professional goal was to have a sandwich named after him at a restaurant, so I was like, ‘I am totally going to make that happen.’ And the very next day we put a burger on the menu,” Breeden says. The Evans-approved burger (he featured the bar in an episode and Arnold’s infamous bathtub is his Twitter background) comes three ways. The menu original is “spicy but still accessible,” Breeden says, and features a half-pound custom-blend burger from Avril-Bleh with ghost pepper cheese, fresh habanero and jalapeno, hot sauce aioli and Grippo’s Bar-B-Q chips on a Sixteen Bricks bun. Level up with the “lunatic style” option, which comes topped with bonus crushed Carolina reaper and ghost peppers and four drops of The Last Dab brand hot sauce (no refunds if you can’t take the heat). The third “ODB style” is an off-menu secret. It takes the above burgers and adds more crushed ghost peppers and Carolina reapers, plus four dabs each of Mad Dog 357, Da Bomb Beyond Insanity, Blair's Mega Death and The Last Dab hot sauces. “It is hot enough to make a normal person regret their whole day,” Breeden says. Arnold’s has sold more than 8,000 of the Hot Ones burgers to date. “I know that is not McDonald's numbers, but it is a lot of scorched tongues,” Breeden says. 210 E. Eighth St., Downtown, arnoldsbarandgrill.com.
Bebo’s Artisan Burgers and Frappes: Latin Lover
Bebo’s Artisan Burgers and Frappes’ owner Jeysie E. Torres, also known as Chef Jey, has drawn upon his childhood and culinary training to create the menu at his Court Street burger shop. “All of the burgers and sandwiches that Bebo’s sells take a little section of my life and pour it into a product that is as recognizable as it is delicious,” he says. Torres grew up in Puerto Rico, cooking in a traditional wood-and-clay kitchen with his grandmother, so much of Bebo’s menu features a Latin American lean. “I think we kind of offer a crazy twist on different cuisines, even if we're strong on the Latin American culture,” he says. “In reality, Latin food is a melting pot from many different parts of the world.” Torres says the shop’s most popular burger is probably the Drunken Master, with sharp cheddar, lettuce, tomato, bourbon barbecue sauce, onion straws, pickle and campfire aioli, but the most photographed is the Latin Lover. Offering a little bit of heat, this burger features a quarter-pound blend of chuck, short rib and brisket topped with pepper jack cheese, borracho sauce, beer-battered jalapeno slices, lettuce, tomato, onion and chipotle aioli on an onion bun, all speared with a blistered and fried chile pepper. “I think a lot of people take pictures of that burger because it doesn't look like anything they've gotten before at another restaurant,” Torres says. 29 E. Court St., Downtown, bebosburger.com.
Blue Ash Chili: Sunrise Burger
Blue Ash Chili is well-known for diner favorites — breakfast, double deckers, 3-Ways — but it also boasts a burger-centric section on its menu. With patties made from a special blend of locally sourced beef, Blue Ash Chili owner Nick Insco says the seasoning and cooking style help set his burgers apart. A repeat stop for food celebrity and Mayor of Flavortown Guy Fieri and his Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives TV show, Blue Ash Chili recently was featured on the show’s “Out of Bounds Burgers” episode. Fieri previously had made the trek to Blue Ash Chili to try a Cincinnati-style 6-Way, but this time — as the episode name suggests — he opted for a burger. DDD highlighted the restaurant’s chorizo burger, made with a chorizo-infused patty, chipotle mayo and guacamole. Fieri said it was the type of burger he would feature in one of his California restaurants. But if you want to keep it local, try Blue Ash Chili’s Sunrise Burger, a one-third-pound patty topped with a fried egg, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and Glier’s Goetta. Insco says this option is “a fun way to incorporate breakfast and lunch into a single menu item.” 9525 Kenwood Road, Blue Ash; 11711 Princeton Pike, Springdale, blueashchili.com.
Cafe Mochiko: Hokkaido Smashburger
CityBeat has frequently praised East Walnut Hills’ Cafe Mochiko for its superb ramen and pastries (chef Elaine Townsend was a James Beard Award semi-finalist for "Outstanding Baker" this year). But the streamlined dinner menu also features a dish very much in line with the restaurant’s yōshoku — or Western-inspired Japanese cuisine — ethos. The Hokkaido Smashburger “is an Oklahoma onion smashburger at heart,” says chef and co-owner Erik Bentz, “but we add a few elements to make it our own.” Ohio’s Sakura Farms wagyu beef comes topped with caramelized onion, pickles, American cheese, lettuce and housemade yuzu kosho mayonnaise on a soft, steamed hokkaido milk bun, made fresh daily by Townsend. The burger’s name references the bread, but is also “a little inside joke referring to a famous anime character,” Bentz says. While the bun is decadent on its own, the burger’s crispy, smashed patty is accentuated by the unique — at least for Cincinnati — mayo. “Yuzu kosho is a common Japanese condiment that has bright citrus notes, as well as fermented shishitos,” Bentz says. “It is quite salty; a little bit goes a long way.” 1524 Madison Road, East Walnut Hills, cafemochiko.com.
ESSEN Kitchen: Bacon Cheddar Burger
Indulgent burger options aren’t just for omnivores, as evidenced by ESSEN Kitchen’s Bacon Cheddar Burger. The Findlay Market-adjacent vegan eatery has a focus on sustainability and a “mission to make plant-based food palatable to all kinds of eaters, and accessible,” says owner Patricia Bittner. The Bacon Cheddar Burger — an ESSEN best-seller — is a vehicle to showcase the restaurant’s housemade shitake mushroom bacon and fulfill its tagline of “crave-worthy plant-based food.” A quarter-pound Beyond Meat burger is topped with bacon, vegan cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato and spicy mayo on a grilled Sixteen Bricks Cubano bun. “It’s just a really great-tasting sandwich,” Bittner says. The Beyond brand’s claim to fame is that its plant protein cooks and tastes like beef, and with the addition of fresh produce and quality sauces, Bittner says ESSEN’s option rivals a standard burger. “A lot of our food, we’ve developed it so it’s just as satisfying as a meat or cheese meal,” she says. “We still try to fulfill that experience of it having that savory and sweet and all the elements of texture.” 1 Findlay St., Over-the-Rhine, essenkitchen.com.
Fifty West Brewing Company Burger Bar: Virginia Burger
An homage to the 1950s roadside root beer stand, Fifty West Brewing Company’s Burger Bar serves up burgers, hot dogs, crinkle-cut fries, housemade soda, milkshakes and, of course, Fifty West beer in retro-inspired environs. The brewery is located on U.S. Route 50 as its name indicates, and each protein — a single or double house-ground burger, chicken patty, flat-top dog or black bean burger — comes 12 different ways, named for the 12 different states the roadway travels through. There is a “classic” cheeseburger option, featuring the brewery’s addicting and tangy fry sauce, but the rest of the dozen combos all offer something unique. The Ohio variation comes topped with Cincinnati chili, while the West Virginia burger boasts apple butter and bacon and the Missouri has marinara and love-it-or-hate-it Provel brand processed cheese. “From our 'Kansas' style with bacon, pickle, coleslaw, American cheese and smoky barbecue to our 'Maryland' style with Old Bay tartar sauce, American cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion, we have a burger for every palate,” says Fifty West Vice President Max Fram. The brewery recommends trying the Virginia, with its grilled ham, housemade pimento cheese and pickles, writing on social media, “This burger nods to the colonial times of Jamestown where ham was a serious staple.” 7605 Wooster Pike, Columbia Township, fiftywestbrew.com.
Gordo’s Pub & Grill: Hangover Burger
The neighborhood-dive-style exterior of Gordo’s Pub & Grill in Norwood belies its chef-crafted selection of over-the-top burger options. With menu items ranging from a PBJ burger (fried banana, chunky peanut butter, cream cheese, jam and smoked bacon) to the Korean (kimchi, fried egg, pork belly, pepper jack cheese and Sriracha mayo), even the basic Gordo — with roasted poblano, onion, mushrooms, smoked bacon and Boursin cheese — is anything but. When asked how the team came up with its burgers, Gordo’s manager Ray Mond jokes, “You gotta smoke a lot of weed,” and adds, “but really we’re just trying to do something different and unique.” Using a base of a locally-sourced 81/19 burger blend (or a black bean patty), Mond says Gordo’s owner, Raymond Gordo, took menu inspiration from his time as chef de cuisine at a fine-dining restaurant downtown. “He started to incorporate different types of high-end product, different ingredients that we use in fine dining, and incorporated neighborhood pub-and-grill items and put it on the menu,” Mond says. Bridging that high-low concept is Gordo’s Hangover burger. Located near Xavier University, the pub is a popular spot for college kids after a night of drinking, Mond says, and the Hangover incorporates ingredients purported to help with its namesake: lots of protein and grease. The burger is stacked with smoked gouda, smoked bacon, sausage and Canadian bacon, cheddar cheese, American Cheese, onion strings and chipotle-barbecue mayo. “And it does help,” Mond says. 4328 Montgomery Road, Norwood, gordospub.com.
The Governor: The Governor Burger
Helmed by brothers Paul and Neil Barraco, Milford’s The Governor is a modern diner — complete with subway tile, industrial decor and a walk-up window — that serves everything from egg sandwiches and patty melts to boozy slushies. The restaurant’s menu-staple Governor Burger features a partnership with another neighborhood eatery, Pop’s Donut Shop. A prime brisket chuck blend is topped with melted American cheese, pickles, housemade maple thousand island sauce and “onions that are just grilled so they are sweet with some crunch still,” says chef Paul. This all comes on a Pop’s donut bun — not a literal donut, but a version of one. “I thought about how a donut before glazing is really just a yeasty, delicious, fluffy warm bun, and we asked Pops if we could try using one of theirs as a sample,” Paul says, “and after a little bit of trial and error, we nailed it.” In addition to this simple-yet-elevated option, the Governor offers burger specials on Mondays and some weekends, which Paul says “always sell out.” A past favorite? The JaMarvelous Burger from the Bengals Super Bowl run, which featured two wagyu smash patties, sharp cheddar, Kansas City barbecue, burned brisket ends and onion rings. “It was great and got so much attention that the NFL Network actually showed up,” he says. 231 Main St., Milford, governordiner.com.
Keystone Bar & Grill: B.B. King Burger
Keystone Bar & Grill is renowned for its creatively-topped macaroni and cheese, featuring cheesy noodles infused with everything from smoked brisket to basil pesto and donning music themed-names (e.g. the Fleetwood Mac). While you could just eat their mac straight out of a skillet, why not try it on a burger? On Wednesdays, Keystone’s Covington location offers $5 build-your-own burger specials (including a vegetarian option), plus a menu of over-the-top options. Using a signature blend of brisket, steak trimmings and chuck from Lexington’s family-owned Critchfield Meats as a burger base — plus secret seasonings — Keystone’s inventions include the popular B.B. King Burger. A riff on the mac and cheese dish of the same name, the burger comes topped with cheddar cheese noodles, bacon and barbecue sauce on a challah bun. “The B.B. King is our most popular mac and cheese dish and menu item, so we wanted to find a way to incorporate this signature item into our burger selection,” says Keystone Marketing Manager Maureen Murray. Other Wednesday specials, like the Egg Man (fried egg, chipotle ranch, tomato and lettuce) and Tangled Up in Bleu (sauteed mushroom, caramelized onion and blue cheese dressing), “were designed by our chefs and showcase some great ways to get creative with all of our toppings,” Murray says. And all keep in line with the restaurant’s commitment to musical monikers. 313 Greenup St., Covington, keystonebar.com.
Mad Mike’s Burger & Fries: The Goliath
While burger toppings are truly only limited by the imagination, it’s hard to go above-and-beyond when it comes to a bun. You can do a pretzel bun, a wrap, a piece of lettuce... But Mad Mike’s upgrades its Goliath burger with something novel: two grilled cheese sandwiches. Yes, two quarter-pound Black Angus beef patties, three pieces of applewood-smoked bacon, American cheese, barbecue sauce, tomato and grilled onions are bookended by two literal grilled cheese sandwiches on Texas toast. Weighing in at nearly a pound, Mad Mike’s owner Sam Edaili says of the Goliath, “The traditional burger bun is great, but we wanted something to pack in a lot of extra cheese, but still be coated and toasted with butter. We didn't want to just throw extra bacon, beef and cheese on a traditional burger, because it's just like saying ‘I want a large pizza instead of a small,’ and this is when we had that lightbulb moment. We tried it with toast at first, but it didn't quite fill the vision until we tried it with two grilled cheese sandwiches, and it was an ‘ahhhh’ moment.” Edaili says Mad Mike’s has spent more than two decades perfecting its creative burgers and up to seven months on each one to find “thoughtful ingredients that give a kick without being too bold.” 342 Monmouth St., Newport; 6420 Dixie Highway, Florence; 194 N. Brookwood Ave., Hamilton, madmikesburger.com.
Mid-City Restaurant: The Skipper
In October, the team behind Longfellow in Over-the-Rhine opened a new bar and eatery called Mid-City Restaurant on the recently revamped Court Street Plaza. It’s an unassuming but geographically accurate name for one of downtown’s best new spots to grab a classic cocktail (the list includes a Gibson, Manhattan and Tom Collins) and small plates. The food menu adapts to the seasons, and you can follow along on social media (@midcitycinti) to learn about specials. One recent invention is The Skipper, a special-turned-permanent secret-menu item, according to owner Mike Stankovich. Featuring a beef blend from neighboring Avril-Bleh, melted cheese and Skippy peanut butter on a “good, squishy bun,” the interpretation of a classic cheeseburger was inspired by a childhood viewing of Twilight Zone: The Movie, Stankovich says. “There is a scene in the movie where a kid wishes for (a peanut butter burger) at his family's behest, and at 7-years-old it sounded delicious,” he says. Some people may be intimated by the peanut butter at first, despite the fact the flavor combo is seen in dishes across the globe. “We often remind people that in other cultures peanut butter is often used with grilled meats, like as in chicken satay,” Stankovich says, adding, “Once they try it, they love it. Not unusual to sell two to the same person.” And now there’s more space for those who want to indulge — Mid-City added another wing to its dining room in April. 40 E. Court St., Downtown, midcitycinti.com.
Sammy’s Craft Burgers & Beer: Jucy Lucy
Opened by former professional Mexican soccer player Sammy Flores, Sammy’s Craft Burgers & Beer in Blue Ash has been around since 2009. The focus here is on fresh: Ingredients from the meat to the bread to the greens are sourced from local purveyors and the team makes everything from the guacamole to the ranch dressing in-house. Each hand-ground, steak-blend burger features an elevated topping — whether that’s a spicy maple glaze, sunny-side-up egg or local Fretboard Brewing beer cheese — on a bun emblazoned with a seared “S.” But Sammy’s takes the stuffed Minneapolis-style Jucy Lucy to the next level by infusing the hand-pattied burger with bone marrow and then topping it with bacon, onion, sharp cheddar, jalapeno straws, Kentucky bourbon sauce and smoked barbecue sauce. “Some people put the cheddar cheese in the meat [of a Jucy Lucy]. We chose not to do that,” says Jimmy Rochetta, partner at Sammy’s. The burger is served with a side of chicken barbecue macaroni and cheese, nestled inside the marrow vessel. “It gives it that wow factor,” Rochetta says. “Everything that comes out of the kitchen is truly made with the decision to wow people.” Can’t decide on which burger to try? Opt for the you-pick Party of Three and sample a few. 4767 Creek Road, Blue Ash, sammyscbb.com.
Tickle Pickle: Hammstein
Northside, the green-leaning enclave home to hippies, hip millennials and a handful of rock & roll bars, is the perfect location for Tickle Pickle. The burger restaurant’s menu features options for all types of eaters, from omnivores to vegetarians and vegans and even kids. Dish names riff off of classic rock favorites, like the straightforward Breadzeppelin cheeseburger or the spicy Red Hot Chili Peppers burger with pepper jack, grilled peppers and onions and jalapeno poppers. “All our burgers are amazing because a lot of time and effort went into taste-testing flavor combinations to make some killer burgers to rock your taste buds,” says Tickle Pickle owner Lea Dickman. Drawing inspiration from German industrial metal group Rammstein, the Hammstein burger adds sauerkraut — a Deutschland favorite — on top of a beef patty with thousand island dressing, Swiss cheese and bacon, all on a pretzel bun. Vegetarians and vegans can create their own Best Of Cincinnati award-winning veggie burger with a housemade black bean patty, Impossible Burger or mushroom cap. 4176 Hamilton Ave., Northside, ordertickle.com.
Turf Club: Build-Your-Own
A Cincinnati staple, the quirky, neon-lit Turf Club on Eastern Avenue — formerly known as Terry’s Turf Club — got new owners in 2019. Now helmed by seasoned local culinary professionals Tom Kunkemoeller (former general manager for the Montgomery Inn Boathouse) and his brother, Marc (who also owns Deer Park’s Chicken on the Run with Tom), the ownership may have changed but the restaurant’s beloved menu staples haven’t. The Turf Club’s claim to fame is still its build-your-own-burger concept. Top your 8.5-ounce Angus chuck patty or half pound Lehr’s Prime Market filet mignon burger — seasoned with a secret spice blend and nestled on a Sixteen Bricks bun — with any combination of 13 international cheeses, 13 housemade sauces and 14 specialty toppings, ranging from Spanish Manchego to mango curry sauce and Nueske’s double-smoked bacon to a lump crab and lobster cake. “I don’t know that anybody in Cincinnati has an 8.5-ounce burger. They’re big. They’re juicy. We cook them to medium unless people specify otherwise. They’re just kind of over the top,” Kunkemoeller says. “I always tell people we put plenty of napkins on the table because you’re going to need them.” 4618 Eastern Ave., Linwood, turfclubcincy.com.
Yuca: Chilaquiles Burger
From chef Jeremy Faeth comes Bellevue brunch spot Yuca, a sister eatery to Cedar in Covington. Boasting a Latin American menu, inspired by his family’s love of global cuisine, Yuca’s Chilaquiles Burger puts the popular Mexican breakfast dish on a bun. A housemade 80/20-blend ground beef burger is topped with Monterey jack cheese, housemade salsa verde, chilaquiles, a sunny-side-up egg and chili lime mayonnaise on a Sixteen Bricks challah bun. Faeth says he uses house-cut chips to make the chilaquiles, which are cooked in salsa verde before being sandwiched on top of the burger patty and under the egg. A side of fresh-cut fries — dotted with spiced cotija and cilantro and “tossed in our proprietary seasoning,” per Faeth — accompanies the burger. 700 Fairfield Ave., Bellevue, yucabycedar.com.
Best Of Burgers
These favorite dining destinations took home top-10 honors in CityBeat’s annual Best Of Cincinnati issue for Best Overall Burger (Non-Chain) and Best Veggie Burger.
Best Overall Burger
- Zip’s Cafe
- Nation Kitchen & Bar
- Tickle Pickle
- Quatman Cafe
- The Turf Club
- Stellar Street Eats
- Bard’s Burgers & Chili
- Sammy’s Craft Burgers & Beer
Best Veggie Burger
- Tickle Pickle
- Krueger’s Tavern
- Nation Kitchen & Bar
- Maplewood Kitchen and Bar
- Taste of Belgium
- Nine Giant Brewing
- Essen Kitchen
- BrewRiver at Sonder Brewing
- Dead Low Brewing