Northern Wilds Magazine
The menu at Dubh Linn’s in Duluth is classic pub fare with a focus on locally sourced ingredients. | VIRGINIA GEORGE
North Shore Dish

Finding the Best Burgers

The idea of meat on bread is nothing new, and in fact can be traced back to a Roman cookbook in the first century C.E. Throughout history there have been many iterations of the burger, from hamburger steak and bread to hamburger steak on a bun. While many have claimed to be the first, it seems that the origin of the hamburger was likely a natural culinary progression, which over time has become an American icon.

Burger and fries. Burger and beer. The burger is a staple in American culture from pubs, burger joints, and fast-food restaurants, to the backyard barbecue. Burgers are almost an expected part of American cuisine. Conveniently, they are also highly customizable, making them a great choice for cookouts and gatherings, whether eating at home or out on the town.

There are several critical elements of a good burger. The bread or bun, the patty itself, the toppings, the sides, and the environment in which you enjoy it. Each of these elements is an important factor in determining where to get a good burger, thus, it is impossible to get a consensus on which is the best. So, maybe today we won’t crown the Best Burger in the Northland, but we can talk about some darn good ones.

What you’ll see below are a handful of interesting burger joints, that will provide you with a dining experience that will be unmatched in most other places. In addition to traditional burgers, three of the restaurants below offer vegetarian options. Even if your favorite burger joint isn’t on the list, you’re bound to find a new burger to enjoy.

Dubh Linn Brew Pub, Duluth

The Dubh Linn Brew Pub is a classic Irish pub located in a historic building in downtown Duluth. The atmosphere is lively, and the pub offers free darts, shuffleboard and pool all day every day. Additionally, Dubh Linn holds weekly trivia nights on Wednesdays and comedy shows most Saturday evenings.

The menu at Dubh Linn’s is classic pub fare with a focus on locally sourced ingredients. From the fish to the vegetables to the bread, Dubh Linn purchases much of their “fine Irish food with [a] family twist” from locally recognizable businesses. Dubh Linn also has a popular 15-minute lunch promise; if your lunch isn’t delivered to your table within 15 minutes, your entrée is free! Burgers at Dubh Linn’s are 1/3-pound, locally sourced ground beef. The menu includes basics, like the standard California and bacon cheeseburgers, but Dubh Linn’s also offers unique twists like a spinach artichoke burger, jalapeno burger, and a (pretty tasty, if I say so myself) veggie burger.

Ely Steak House, Ely

The Ely Steak House is a favorite of many Boundary Waters paddlers. After a week of dehydrated food and filtered lake water, nothing sounds much better than a real burger—and air conditioning. Of course, it’s a steakhouse, so you can get yourself a mighty fine steak as well, but notably, the Ely Steak House is home of the famous Bucky Burger. The Bucky consists of a “chargrilled half-pound hand-pattied lean ground beef, [with] bacon, cheddar, grilled onion,” and it’s finished off with their famous Bucky sauce. They say that if it’s your first, it won’t be your last.

The Ely Steak House is home to the famous Bucky Burger, consisting of a half-pound of chargrilled lean ground beef with bacon, cheddar, grilled onions and topped off with their famous Bucky sauce. | ELY STEAK HOUSE

In addition to steak and burgers, Ely Steak House offers a variety of other foods that would be expected at a steakhouse. Appetizers, soup, salad, sandwiches, baskets, and traditional “supper” dishes are all on the menu. They also have a thorough kids’ menu to satisfy those ages 12 and under.

Ely Steak House offers free pool to all patrons and this fall, they will celebrate 25 years in business. Ely Steak House has delicious food that locals and tourists alike can rely on.

Bonobo’s, Thunder Bay

Bonobo’s isn’t your traditional burger joint. In fact, some may be surprised to see it on this list, as Bonobo’s is a plant-based restaurant and serves no meat at all. An internet search of best burgers in Thunder Bay will, however, bring up Bonobo’s, among herbivores and carnivores alike. Everything at the restaurant is vegetarian, and can be made vegan by switching the cheese, which provides a great alternative for those seeking a plant-based diet who want to get in on a solid burger.

In addition to their burgers, Bonobo’s has what I would call a café style menu, with soup, salad, sandwiches, and a light kids’ menu. Evidently their poutine is legendary, and Bonobo’s is committed to including local suppliers in their menu choices.

My Sister’s Place, Grand Marais

Lastly, let’s talk about My Sister’s Place. This restaurant may have a special place in my heart since it was the first meal I ate after getting off the trail in the winter of 2004. We had attempted to build an igloo and there wasn’t enough snow, so we improvised and had a pretty chilly night. My Sister’s Place is a unique conglomeration of North Shore and outdoor paraphernalia, and serves up some seriously good grub.

When it comes to burgers, choose between ground chuck, grass-fed free-range bison, or chicken for any of their standard burger combinations. My Sister’s Place has a vegetarian wild rice burger, as well as stone oven cooked pizza from scratch, calzones, soups, salads, and fresh locally caught fish.

No matter whether you prioritize the atmosphere or the food itself, there are some great burgers to choose from here on the North Shore. Dubh Linn Brew Pub offers pub fare, the largest whiskey collection in Minnesota, and free games all day for a fun dining experience. Ely Steak House has a cozy dining experience with delicious food and free pool all year long. Bonobo’s provides a strictly vegetarian dining experience, with burgers so yummy even the carnivores sing their praises, and My Sister’s Place has been a reliable Grand Marais staple since 1998. Which one will you try first?

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