PM dining critic Hal B. Klein spent months eating scores of hamburgers in and around Pittsburgh. Find out how he narrowed his list down to 19 — and see which ones made the cut.
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photo by nick spanos
The “Marco burger” used to be a regular fixture at the Strip District establishment Bar Marco. Now, it’s only available as a Tuesday-night special and a weekend brunch entrée. Make plans to visit the restaurant on one of those days, because this hamburger, which begins with espresso-rubbed, Clarion Farms ground chuck, is exceptional. It’s seared in a cast-iron skillet and dressed in a thoughtfully constructed, but not fussy, fashion: crisp bacon, tarragon aioli and a smattering of fresh, peppy salad greens. Pastry chef Dianne DeStefano makes my favorite hamburger bun in Pittsburgh — it’s soft, yeasty and cooked buttery and toasty.
[2216 Penn Ave., Strip District; 412/471-1900, barmarcopgh.com]
photo by Hal B. Klein
Miss the legendary Salt of the Earth burger? I do and so do members of the Hamburger Sandwich Benevolence Club. Ryan Peters, chef /owner of brunoise in the Strip District, now is serving what can affectionately be called “Son of Salt Burger” at his Smallman Galley restaurant. Peters — who worked at Salt from 2013 to 2014 — starts his burger with a ½-pound custom blend of chuck, short rib and brisket from Strip District Meats. It’s cooked sous-vide and finished with a hard sear on a cast-iron griddle. Peters is straightforward with his components: aged white cheddar, Bibb lettuce, housemade pickles and dijonnaise, served on a Mediterra Bakehouse challah bun; he’ll add tomatoes only when they’re in season.
[54 21st St., Strip District; 412/281-0949, smallmangalley.org/our-restaurant-concepts/brunoise]
Squirrel Hill Cafe (Squirrel Cage)
I suspect that most cities have a great hamburger hidden in plain sight — a sandwich known only to burger lovers and budget-bite afficionados. For Pittsburgh, that’s the hamburger at the Squirrel Hill Cafe (Squirrel Cage), one of our 2017 Best Bars in Pittsburgh. Cook Tom Tantlinger hand-forms 7 to 8 oz. patties of 80/20 chuck, seasons them with salt and pepper and, just like he’s been doing for 11 years, griddles them on a flat-top. Just before service — no fancy fixings here — he butters a BreadWorks Kaiser bun and toasts it on the flat-top. It’s an ideal bar burger, and at $5.75 for a cheeseburger, one of the best deals you’ll find in town. (This might have to do with the fact that costs are kept low because The Cage still allows smoking.)
[5802 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill; 412/521-3327]