Minnesota Burgers: Beyond the Juicy Lucy

By Erica Wacker

The Juicy Lucy—Minnesota's claim-to-fame burger that features molten cheese oozing from the center of the patty—has lured countless tourists, numerous TV shows and even President Obama to get a taste of its chin-dripping, finger-licking goodness. Twin Cities hot spots like Matt's Bar, 5-8 Club and The Nook jockey for bragging rights as the top spot to savor this signature dish, and variations of it are served at restaurants throughout the state.

But burger lovers needn't stop there. From creatively topped varieties and non-beef options to greasy diner-style classics, a smorgasbord of America's favorite sandwich awaits visitors and residents alike in every corner of Minnesota. Here are just a few delicious options to whet your appetite:

Gordy’s Hi-Hat, Cloquet

Burger and shake at Gordy's Hi Hat, CloquetSummer road trippers en route to the North Shore, Iron Range or Voyageurs National Park would be wise to plan their drives around a mid-day stop at this local legend. Dishing up fresh hand-pattied hamburgers, homemade onion rings and other classics since 1960, Gordy’s was a hot spot long before Guy Fieri put it in the national spotlight.

The burgers come in single and double portions, with variations including the bacon deluxe, mushroom and Swiss, and pizza burger. Pair yours with the famous onion rings, French fries or cheese curds, and wash it all down with a freshly blended shake or malt in flavors like Oreo, butterscotch and classic chocolate.

King’s Bar & Grill, Miesville

Located between Hastings and Red Wing on Highway 61, the tiny town of Miesville is home to quite possibly the biggest burger menu in the state. At any given time, there are more than 60 options to choose from at King’s, with toppings like bacon, peanut butter and maple syrup—all on one burger. They’re always trying out new recipes, so even the regulars don’t have to order the same thing twice.

The best part? Every burger is less than $8.

The Barn, Brainerd

A Midwestern institution since 1926, Maid-Rite is more akin to a sloppy joe than a burger, combining loose ground beef with onions, pickles and mustard on a warm bun. There are only two Maid-Rite franchises remaining in Minnesota (the other is in St. Cloud), and The Barn just outside downtown Brainerd is a local icon. In addition to the sandwiches, The Barn serves breakfast starting at 5:30 a.m. and is famous for its homemade pies.  

The Blue Door Pub, St. Paul & Minneapolis

Blue Door Pub burger
Photo courtesy of The Blue Door Pub

The closest thing to a Juicy Lucy on this list, the Blucy is a kicked-up version of the classic, with around a dozen varieties featuring fancy cheeses on the inside and some unexpected additions on top. Try the original Blucy stuffed with blue cheese and garlic, or opt for more adventurous iterations like the Bangkok Blucy with coconut-soaked mozzarella, pickled ginger mix and a side of curry.

The original location is in St. Paul, with a newer outpost in Minneapolis. While you’re waiting for a table, check out the impressive list of local Minnesota beers and tempting appetizers like Spam bites and deep-fried pickles.

Fitger’s Brewhouse, Duluth

Sometimes, it’s not the beef that makes the burger. Minnesota’s state grain, wild rice, is enjoyed in many forms throughout the state, and one of the tastiest ways is on a bun. The historic Fitger’s Brewhouse serves it up three ways: the classic, with cheddar, sprouts and garlic mayo; pub style with sautéed onions, mushrooms and Swiss; and one topped with blue cheese and jalapenos.

Also in Duluth, Grandma’s Saloon peddles its own version with lots of veggies on top, and the Duluth Grill serves it as a melt with pepper jack cheese on grilled multigrain bread. Another popular patty can be found at Black Woods in Duluth, Proctor and Two Harbors.

Newt's, Rochester

There are now four Newt's locations in Rochester, with the downtown original maintaining its status as a local legend. Come hungry for the massive hamburgers served with a mound of fries: the signature Works Burger is a 3/4-pound patty covered with American cheese, hardwood-smoked bacon and blue cheese sauce on a grilled and buttered Kaiser bun. Other topping options include fried onions, peanut butter and fresh guacamole.

JL Beers, Moorhead

JL Beers burger and fries, Moorhead
Photo by Nicholas Kolnik

The drinks aren’t the only thing that have patrons flocking to this local chain. The Moorhead location (there’s also one in Minneapolis) dishes out a dozen specialty burgers, ranging from the Original with pickles and special sauce to the Philly Cheese Burger with grilled peppers, onions and provolone. The fries are also noteworthy, tossed in your choice of seasonings or topped with extras like buffalo sauce and blue cheese.

As for the drinks, there are 40 beers on tap—including a couple house-made brews—plus imported bottles, domestic cans, and beers served as flights, mixed with other beers or in cocktail form. Leave the kids at home; JL is a 21+ establishment.

Culver’s, Austin

Sure, you can find Culver’s restaurants in more than 20 states, serving more or less the same menu of ButterBurgers and fresh frozen custard. But there’s only one Culver’s in the country where you can get a Spam burger, and that’s the one in Austin, Minn., home of Hormel and the family favorite Spam Museum.

Order it one of four ways—as a cheeseburger, a melt, a BLT, or with Swiss on a hoagie bun—and pair it with the signature crinkle-cut fries and custard flavor of the day.

Find even more Minnesota restaurants in our Drink & Eat directory.