Pound for pound, this Kentucky city offers up some of the best burgers in the South.

kaelin's mini cheeseburger platter
Kaelin's serves up miniature versions of its famous cheeseburger.
| Credit: Gary Clark

I recently had a hankering for a good, juicy burger, and I heard rumors that Louisville had offerings that would put the fast-food brands to shame. So I refilled my cholesterol medication and went in search of the best beef on a bun. Faster than I could say, "Open sesame seed," I discovered a Bluegrass burger bonanza. Here's a look at four of my favorites.

Where the Cheeseburger Began
In 1934 Carl Kaelin threw caution to the wind--along with a piece of American cheese on a hamburger patty--in his new restaurant. A culinary delight was born, and Kaelin's still claims to be the birthplace of the cheeseburger. I really enjoyed the miniature version ($6.25 for a half-dozen). A full-size cheeseburger platter comes with fries and creamy slaw ($7.50). Best Side Dish: fresh hash browns ($3.95). Best Dessert: Hands down, it's the creamy Dreamsicle Shake ($3.50). Kaelin's: 1801 Newburg Road, Louisville, KY 40205; (502) 451-1801.

Sometimes Bigger Is Better
When I walked into Genny's Diner and passed the mirror ball and aquarium, I saw the biggest hamburger I'd ever seen: the Sweet Daddy Burger. I not only needed a fork but also a forklift to hoist it. The triple-decker is made of 1 1/4 pounds of ground chuck and was as delicious as it was huge ($10.50). Best Side Dish: Frickled Pickles; these delicious fried pickles are served with a horseradish dipping sauce made of homemade Ranch dressing and hot sauce ($5.95). Best Dessert: peanut butter cream pie ($5.95). Genny's Diner: 2227 Frankfort Avenue, Louisville, KY 40206; (502) 893-0923 .

What? No Bun?
I had heard a scandalous tale that Bristol Bar & Grille served a burger on an English muffin and topped it with Danish blue cheese ($5.95). It sounded odd and un-American--but the taste proved irresistible. Although planning to take just a bite, I ate it all. Using one iota of restraint, I did forgo the accompanying chips. Best Side Dish: green chile won tons ($7.95). These bite-size gems--filled with Monterey Jack cheese and jalapeños--are habit-forming, so much so that Bristol ships them from coast to coast. Best Dessert: white chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce ($4.75). Bristol Bar & Grille: 1321 Bardstown Road, Louisville, KY 40204; (502) 456-1702 .

Dining in the Dark
By this time I had telltale burger stains, so I opted for Jack Fry's, a dark and friendly restaurant with easy-to-slide-into booths. The folks here create another wonderful burger. The Jack's Burger ($8.25) came with caramelized onions; Cheddar, Stilton, or Swiss cheese; bacon; and fries on the side. The onions made the difference here, and the atmosphere made the meal even better. Best Side Dish: tomato-artichoke soup ($3.50). Best Dessert: crème caramel with strawberries ($4.50). Jack Fry's: 1007 Bardstown Road, Louisville, KY 40204; (502) 452-9244 .

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This article is from the March 2005 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.