Pittsburghers love burgers. So much that you’d think that’s where the name “Pittsburghers” comes from (and old William Pitt isn’t around to object, so he can’t stop you).  

It wasn’t always this way. The current bounty of great burgers around town is a relatively recent development. There was a time when Tessaro’s stood alone in a sea of sad blobs of beef. 

Thankfully, Pittsburgh has arisen from those dark days and claimed its chargrilled destiny. Good burgers abound. But if you don’t simply want a burger — you want the best — where do you go?

Try these places and you will know, once and for all, who puts the burger in Pittsburgher:

Butterjoint, Oakland

There must be something that the folks at Legume, and its attached barroom Butterjoint, aren’t the best at (um, folding napkins?). But we haven’t found it yet. For more than 10 years — which is like 100 in restaurant years — Legume has exemplified excellence in Pittsburgh dining. And of course, they have a great burger. Rather than overcomplicating their dishes, they simply let the grass-fed beef speak for itself (it says “moo”), with just a few choices of cheese, caramelized onions, bacon and pickle chips as add-ons. You don’t even need toppings, really.

Over The Bar Bicycle Cafe, South Side and Allison Park

The central attraction of this cafe’s peculiar draw — “Bikes, Burgers and Beers” — is a very good burger. All the burgers here have local bike-themed names. For example, the inexplicable Dirt Rag Delight (named after the mountain-biking mag) features the unexpected recipe of pickles, bacon and Wholey’s peanut butter. The Thick (named after Thick Bikes) is slathered with BBQ sauce and melted cheddar, and stacked with thick piles of bacon and beer-battered onion rings. You’ll probably feel compelled to immediately jump on your bike and pedal this one off afterward. But you’ll be smiling.

Tessaro’s, Bloomfield

The classic Pittsburgh burger. Way before the better burger thing was a trend, a cult of burger aficionados kept this place afloat by making their hardwood-fired beef the gold standard. This is a keep-it-simple sort of spot, and the basic cheeseburger lets the juicy half-pound mountain of beef speak for itself. Though they don’t get too wild with toppings, they do old-school right: the gourmet Kelly Burger topped with bacon, grilled mushrooms and onions and cheese is a solid choice.

Kaya Burger. Photo courtesy of Kaya.

Kaya, Strip District

Though Kaya revolves around the various cuisines of the Caribbean, they’ve always offered a killer burger. The Kaya Burger is a giant, juicy, messy concoction with a United Nations of toppings: tomato, bacon, Chihuahua cheese, sunny-side-up egg, avocado, piquant Kaya sauce and pickles. It’s a tasty variety of textures and complementary flavors and never gets old.

Winghart’s Burger & Whiskey Bar, Market Square and South Side

If you were shipwrecked on an island (in the Monongahela), with one burger to sustain you, what would you choose? The Shipwreck from Winghart’s would keep you alive for days. Perfectly cooked beef — ground fresh seven days a week — is topped with arugula, brie, white truffle aioli, bacon and caramelized onions. It offers a richness of flavor that’s borderline overwhelming. Since whiskey is their other specialty, however, you might pick the Jefferson’s Repeal Burger. It’s got barbecue sauce made by flambéing Jameson Irish Whiskey, topped with fried onion straws and “whiskey cheese.”

BRGR, various locations

Michael Machosky

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.