Carolina's Best Burgers
Just in time for Memorial Day, we eat our way across the state from Charleston to Clemson to find the best spots for burger bliss
Macintosh's chef Jeremiah Bacon (to see more of him turn to "Off the Eaten Path" on page 36) puts as much effort into his beef on a bun as he does the other tasty dishes served up at this neighborhood eatery on Charleston's Upper King Street.
Order: The Mac ($13). This hefty burger is made from house-ground beef and topped with applewood-smoked Nueske's bacon and aged Cheddar cheese. 479B King Street; themacintoshcharleston.com or 843/789-4299
Moe's Crosstown Tavern
When Mike Tronoski bought this popular Wagener Terrace neighborhood bar in 1998, he knew not to mess with the burgers. They're still made from freshly ground beef and come off the grill hot, juicy, and with the slightest taste of char.
Order: The Eye-Opener ($8). The specialty burger combines the best of the cow and chicken, using the gloriously runny yolk of a sunny-side-up egg as a silky sauce. 714 Rutledge Avenue; moestaverns.com or 843/641-0469
Ike's Korner Grille
Locals rule at Ike's Korner Grille, a Spartanburg institution that's been run by the Rodgers family in the same unassuming location since it opened 50 years ago. Third-generation owners Neil and Angela Rodgers haven't changed a thing—from Neil's grandmother's chili recipe to the dollar beers.
Order: The Bologna Burger ($5.50). There's so much fried bologna, bacon, chili, and more on this burger that many regulars ask for it without the spicy stuff ($4 sans chili). 104 Archer Road; 864/542-0911
Pawleys Front Porch
There really is a porch at this casual hangout in the Five Points area near the University of South Carolina campus, and it's filled day and night with students and locals. Famous for some of the most creative burgers in town (grilled pineapple, pickled green tomatoes, and fried pickle chips are just a few of the addons), Pawleys Front Porch also turns out a terrific fish taco.
Order: The Wadmalaw ($10.50). Named for an island near Charleston, this burger makes great use of those fried pickles, combining them with bacon and Cheddar and slathering the whole thing with chipotle barbecue sauce. Don't forget to order a side of buttermilk ranch dressing for dipping. 827 Harden Street; pawleysfrontporch.com or 803/771-8001
Edgar Allan Poe spent a year on this barrier island when he was stationed at Fort Moultrie, and this namesake bar remembers the haunted writer. One of its brick walls is covered with a portrait of Poe, and all of the hamburgers are named for his works.
Order: The Annabelle Lee ($12). When you're craving a burger but the salt air is saying "seafood," satisfy both appetites with this crab cake-topped burger that comes with a house-made veggie rémoulade sauce. 2210 Middle Street; poestavern.com or 843/883-0083
St. Helena Island
Looking for a way to supplement their income, Bob and Hilda Upton opened Shrimp Shack in 1978. Today the laid-back eatery on the road leading from Beaufort to the Atlantic is a favorite of beach-going families and hungry boaters who pull up to the dock across the street from the Shack to buy fresh shrimp from the family's seafood company.
Order: The Shrimp Burger ($6.25). Bob and Hilda's version of this traditional beach treat relies on small, tender shrimp for its sweet, slightly briny flavor. You can get it with tartar sauce, mayo, or a dollop of homemade cocktail sauce. 1925 Sea Island Parkway; 843/838-2962
If you don't think a fancy restaurant can fix a burger as well as a joint, just head to Bistro 217. Using a house-ground blend of ribeye, filet, and strip steak, chef/owner Adam Kirby (who's usually known for his creative sauces) shows restraint and enhances the flavor of his burgers with nothing more than just a sprinkle of salt.
Order: The Monster Bistro Burger ($10 bar menu, $11 lunch menu). Although cheese and applewood-smoked bacon are offered as toppings, this is one burger that tastes great all by itself. But if you do crave a little more flavor, order it with a side dish of Adam's mild, vinegar-style slaw. 10707 Ocean Highway; bistro217.com or 843/235-8217
Henry's Grill & Bar
When Henry Lees decided to open a restaurant along Devine Street, he knew it would have to appeal to the families and young professionals who live in the neighborhood. It did, and his place has been jammed since it opened last year. Part of the reason is a menu that features chicken fingers and fried mushrooms, as well as sandwiches, soups, salads, and (of course) burgers.
Order: The Signature Burger ($9). Sautéed mushrooms and onions covered with Dijon-infused Red Dragon white Cheddar imported from Wales transforms a simple cheeseburger into this dressed-up version. 2865 Devine Street; henrysgrillandbar.com or 803/708-4705
The Clock Drive In
The Clock started ticking in 1953 as a drive-in where carhops on skates delivered barbecue sandwiches and milk shakes. These days, burgers have replaced barbecue as the top seller, and car service is no more. But the decor and the burger recipes at the original haven't changed in nearly 60 years.
Order: The Chili-Cheeseburger ($3). Made the way they've been since the 1950s, with a slice of American cheese and a hefty scoop of homemade chili. 1844 Wade Hampton Boulevard; 864/244-5122
BGR The Burger Joint
Early or late, the Clemson location of this burger chain (the only one in South Carolina) is filled with students, faculty, visiting parents, and a creative array of burgers.
Order: The Clemson Burger ($9). A pimiento cheeseburger with a shot of the Joint's signature horseradish Mojo sauce. 378 College Avenue; bgrtheburgerjoint.com