The Layered History of the Humble Hamburger and Where to Find It in New Orleans

09:44 June 07, 2017
By: Jonathan Adler

The hamburger. A sandwich that is, for better or worse, ubiquitous in the American diet. The hamburger comes in many forms. In Connecticut, you can get a steamed burger with steamed cheese en route to visit the (often disputed) birthplace of the hamburger, Louis’ Lunch. In Minnesota, the hamburger is famously adapted with the cheese stuffed inside the burger, known as a Juicy Lucy. Toppings vary from Southwestern green chili to bacon, eggs, and simple ketchup and mustard. The amount of fat in a burger changes the flavor profile, as do the different cuts of beef you use. Some places use chuck while others may use brisket. There really is no creative ceiling for the hamburger.

The humble sandwich traces its etymology back to Hamburg, Germany. However, precursors to the sandwich date back as far as the fourth century, when Romans would bake a meat patty mixed with kernels and spices. The word sandwich was not used until the mid-18th century, named after the English aristocrat John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. Later, it gets a little foggy as to who is credited with creating the first modern hamburger sandwich. The Library of Congress credits Danish immigrant Louis Lassen of Louis' Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut, with selling the first hamburger sandwich in 1895, so let’s just go with that. The hamburger bun, as we know it, was not invented until 1916 by a fry cook named Walter Anderson, who co-founded White Castle in 1921. As the working and middle classes rapidly grew, mass production of these sandwiches became vital to the out-of-house American diet.

The German farmers, whom many credit with the early survival of New Orleans, settled the area in the early 18th century. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that New Orleans’s burger scene is one of the best in the country. I’m going to guide you through the Crescent City’s top burger joints and what to order at each one.

The Layered History of the Humble Hamburger and Where to Find It in New Orleans

Ted’s Frostop

Four years ago, I went into this 50s-style diner for a couple reasons: it was close to Tulane’s campus; my roommate’s family friends own the place; and if I hadn’t gotten something in my stomach right away, the collective hangover from the weekend might actually have killed me. Today, I go to Ted’s for the quality of ALL their food, the great value, and the ability to walk in and smell the meat on the grill and know what time it is: burger time. Order the classic Lot-O-Burger for a divine and juicy taste of one of New Orleans’s best burgers. It can come dressed with mayo, mustard, onion, lettuce, tomato, pickle, or you can add toppings such as a fried egg, grilled onions, cheese, and more. Since I detest mayonnaise, I go with no mayo, light mustard, add cheddar and grilled onions. Any way you do it, it’s a win-win.

The Layered History of the Humble Hamburger and Where to Find It in New Orleans

Bayou Burger & Sports Company

When you have the word “burger” in your name, you better live up to the hype. Bayou Burger does exactly that and then some. With their new location Uptown on Magazine Street, you can enjoy their menu wherever you are. Taste creative burgers like the Thai Breaker: a homemade Gulf shrimp patty with Thai spices, shredded cabbage, sliced green tomatoes, sriracha mayo, and fried wonton strips alongside panko-breaded alligator and cochon nachos. My absolute favorite has got to be The Ultimate Cure: two burger patties hugging a grilled cheese and bacon sandwich, lettuce, tomato, pickles, red onions, and Tabasco mayo on a brioche bun. The atmosphere is lively and the bar is plentiful.

The Layered History of the Humble Hamburger and Where to Find It in New Orleans

Camellia Grill

I promise I’m not always in need of post-night-out sustenance, but that is also how I was introduced to the Camellia Grill’s burger four years ago. I had been to the Uptown favorite several times for their massive breakfast omelets and delicious desserts. This day was different. Or was it night? Well, Lundi Gras was turning into Mardi Gras fast, and I needed something to support me through Zulu. Alas, I sat down at the Camellia Grill and had my eyes locked on one thing: the burger. Let me just say that the combination I created was certainly inspired by a particular state of mind, but I have had it since and it’s still delicious. I ordered the burger with onions, lettuce, tomato, and pickles. Here’s where it gets a little more interesting. I also order the fried mac-n-cheese triangles and used them as the cheese on the burger. For a full-fledged gut-busting experience, add their house-made chili to it, and you’ll be full for like a week. Or in my case, like two hours.

The Layered History of the Humble Hamburger and Where to Find It in New Orleans

Mellow Mushroom

I know what you’re thinking. Why would I go to a hippy pizza place for a nice juicy burger? Well, for one reason, they have the best veggie burger in town made from quinoa, kale, brown rice, and roasted mushrooms. It is seasoned with roasted garlic and shallots and topped with fresh avocado, cheddar cheese, garlic aioli, romaine lettuce, sliced tomato, and onion. But if it is beef patties you seek, look no further. The ‘Shroom has a massive half-pound, USDA-choice, black-Angus beef patty made with beef from Harris Ranch. The burger is finished with Swiss cheese, caramelized onions, garlic aioli, romaine lettuce, sliced tomato, and pickle chips all on a grilled brioche bun. It doesn’t hurt that the Mellow Mushroom has killer pizza, bottomless drink deals on Sunday and Monday, and some of the most fun trivia around!

The Layered History of the Humble Hamburger and Where to Find It in New Orleans

Gordon Biersch

Head down to the CBD to have a fulfilling lunch at this brewery-restaurant chain. While they have all the classic pub food like wings and nachos, they also have a more refined side of the menu including wild caught salmon, beer-infused mussels, and lobster mac-n-cheese. I come here for one thing (well, other than the dozens of beers): the burger. They have so many variations including the Kobe-style Wagyu beef burger and the Double Bacon Double Cheeseburger. My favorite, however, is the Gastro Pub Burger. The humungous ¾-pound burger includes house-made bacon jam and bleu cheese sauce, mixed greens, tomato, Gorgonzola cheese, and caramelized onions. It’s the perfect place to grab lunch or a bite and drink after work.

The Layered History of the Humble Hamburger and Where to Find It in New Orleans

Port of Call

This French Quarter favorite is credited with creating the first “New Orleans-style” burger. The cheese is shredded onto the burger instead of melted. It is served with a baked potato and not fries. Both of these differences were not necessarily on purpose. The owner explained that the fryer broke so they started doing baked potatoes and people loved it! As for the shredded cheese, the owner said, "If we had a place to melt it, we might melt it." I guess it’s not the worst problem in the world. Also, be a pro and get it with the sautéed mushrooms, you’ll thank me because it is truly sensational.

The Layered History of the Humble Hamburger and Where to Find It in New Orleans

The Company Burger

On top of local and national best-of lists sits The Company Burger. They never cease to amaze me. Every time I walked into the restaurant, which, ironically, used to be next to a gym, the only question I had was whether I should get a single or a double. The move here is to get the single with grilled red onions and just-made bread-and-butter pickles. But the real key here is the fried egg. I tend to avoid adding the bacon as well, because c’mon, that’s so 2009. When you bite into the perfectly cooked burger, you are sent into the stratosphere of tasty meaty goodness as the yolk pops and creates an even more delicious flavor profile. YES!!

The Layered History of the Humble Hamburger and Where to Find It in New Orleans

High Hat Café

Another Freret Street favorite comes from the Southern kitchen of the High Hat Café. While you can find favorites like gumbo, chicken and waffles, and a killer drink menu, the mouthwatering burger topped with pimento cheese is not to be missed. The classic Southern recipe made from (duh) pimentos, various cheeses, spices, and (don’t make me say it) mayonnaise creates a uniquely savory dish that can even convert a mayo-hater such as myself.

The Layered History of the Humble Hamburger and Where to Find It in New Orleans

Mint Modern Vietnamese Bistro & Bar

It’s not every day that Vietnamese food is synonymous with scrumptious burgers, but that’s exactly what happens at yet another Freret Street restaurant. Mint’s distinctive take on the burger derives from its use of kimchi in lieu of the vinegar-soaked pickled. The fermented and seasoned cabbage pairs beautifully with the juicy burger and melty cheese. Plus, it comes with sweet potato fries with the added option of a fried egg.

The Layered History of the Humble Hamburger and Where to Find It in New Orleans

Toup’s Meatery

Honestly, the first time I had this burger I think I just blacked out I was enjoying it so much. The pork-and-beef blended patty allows for distinguished texture and flavor, differentiating itself from the typical 80/20 beef patty. If you close your eyes and envision succulence, this is it. The pickled squash is the perfect topping alongside a herbaceous aioli and perfectly crisp bacon. Plus, Isaac Toups is the nicest guy in the world, and his new restaurant, Toup’s South, is out of this world.

The Layered History of the Humble Hamburger and Where to Find It in New Orleans

La Petite Grocery

One of the most beloved Southern kitchens whips up one of the most decadent and downright tasty burgers imaginable. The thick patty has Gruyere mixed into the meat, and it is topped with whole grain mustard, arugula, house-made pickles, and an aioli and onion marmalade served with hand-cut fries. It is utterly delicious.

The moral of the story is: let your arteries clog every once in a while; just, for the love of God, please don’t go to a McD’s or Wendy’s. Thank you.

Sign Up!