Pork loin. Peanut butter. Pickled onions. Just a few of the new ingredients finding their way atop burgers these days. What happened to special sauce, lettuce, cheese and pickles on a sesame seed bun? Awesome is what happened. Local chefs seem to be taking on an unspoken challenge to make the best burger in Utah and the competition is fierce. Meanwhile, some old school dives continue to crank out nationally honored burgers that are still my après ski go-to. Here’s a list, in no particular order.
Snowbasin is offering a signature burger at each lodge, each made with Idaho Wagyu beef. Depending on your mood, you can cruise in for the Needles Burger, essentially a Reuben on a bun with Swiss, corned beef, sauerkraut and Russian dressing. Craving something porkier? Try the Basin Burger, loaded with succulent pulled pork AND bacon, covered in cheddar cheese and bbq sauce. One of these and you’ll need to take a few more runs down Strawberry to work it off.
Staying downtown for your ski vacation? In the 9th and 9th area, Pago serves an amazingly simple but delectable burger with fresh cut fries. The key is black garlic aioli, complemented by bacon, Gouda and pickled onion. It all melds perfectly onto the brioche bun. Pago is a neighborhood gem that was recently awarded Best Wine List by Salt Lake Magazine/readers' Choice and 100 Best Wine Restaurants by Wine Enthusiast.
Some will argue with me (fans of Apollo and Astro Burger, similar Greek joints), but my favorite drive-thru burger is the Crown Burger, known for its mountains of pastrami. The creation of this local favorite has a great story, which you can read here, but all you really need to know is that you must eat one. There are seven locations in the Salt Lake Valley.
Further west, across the street from the 1300 South TRAX station is Lucky 13, a bar with above-par food and drinks. While you may have to park between warehouses and watch out for barbed wire, the house-smoked bacon and Bloody Mary cocktails are worth it. Recent winner of the World Burger Championships in Las Vegas, Lucky 13 is a mecca for burger fiends seeking new flavors, such as peanut butter or pork loin. I tried The Celestial, a sloppy mess of goodness with caramelized onions, cheddar and smoky sauce. Always ask to hear the special. You might get “lucky” and score a rabbit burger, flavored with wild game seasoning, seared and topped with melted jalapeno jack cheese on a fresh local French rosette bun. The crispy fries boast a dusting of garlic, rosemary, herbs and oil that is addicting.
The Cotton Bottom. Oh, The Cotton Bottom. It’s old, dark and smelly beer bar and the bathroom is so small you can’t turn around. The service is chilly. But none of it matters because the garlic cheese burger is so darn good. Tucked in the cottonwood trees mere minutes from the canyons, The Cotton Bottom serves a simple, juicy garlic cheese burger on a sub roll. It’s big, tasty and cheap and once you have one, you’ll crave it the rest of your life. Tip: Don’t ask for fries. Your burger comes with a bag of chips.
Most have heard of The Shooting Star Saloon, Utah’s oldest bar with a burger as famous as the stuffed St. Bernard on the wall. But I can’t not mention it, especially when it’s the perfect après ski joint in the neighborhoods of Powder Mountain, Wolf Mountain and Snowbasin. The Star Burger is a feat to eat: two beef patties, cheese, the usual burger fixings and a grilled knackwurst on top. It’s hard for a lady to take a bite but worth it once you can wrangle it. This should be on everyone’s ski bucket list.