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The top 10
classic burgers in the Portland area
Published: Friday, December 09, 2011, 5:47 AM Updated: Friday, December 09, 2011, 5:49 AM
But the hamburger we crave doesn't resemble these at all. What we want is the classic, a grilled patty, melted cheese and fresh veggies on a toasted bun.
All across Oregon, from tiny trailers next to busy roads to hidden restaurants in downtown office buildings, burger joints selling quality versions of the classic burger are alive and well. Many of these roadhouses, taverns and former drive-ins have been there for decades. Others are new, but have a throwback look.
Last month, we asked Oregonian readers for their favorite basic burgers. The reaction was overwhelming, with more than 100 different suggestions for Oregon and southwest Washington drive-ins and roadhouses coming in via email, phone calls and online comments.
We broiled down that list, narrowing our parameters to burgers within the metro area that cost less than $8. We also threw out any that hedged too close to bistro burger territory. And then we ate.
Craving a classic burger? Hop in the car and try one of our 10 favorites.
1. HELVETIA TAVERN
Set in a bucolic landscape with rolling hills and babbling brooks across a winding road from a donkey farm, Helvetia Tavern is two miles north of U.S. 26 in Washington County -- but feels like it could be a thousand miles away.
Longtime manager Mike Hutchins calls Helvetia Tavern a special place.
"We get a little bit of everyone out here," he says. "You can run into the high-tech Intel guy sitting next to the farmer out here. Who doesn't like a cheeseburger?"
That cheeseburger is about as close to burger perfection as you can find: a soft sesame-seed bun, a thin burger patty with light char and a hint of pink inside (harder than it looks with thinner patties), melted American cheese, thinly sliced tomato, onions, shredded iceberg, tangy mayo and plenty of sliced pickles on the side.
A tavern has stood in this red building since at least 1946. The current owner, Mike Lampros, bought it from his parents, Nick and Mary, a few years ago. The trucker hats famously pinned to the tavern's ceiling aren't going anywhere, but Lampros has made one change: By next summer, the tavern will have a large patio with additional seating in the back.
11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday; 10275 N.W. Helvetia Road; 503-647-5286
2. SKYLINE RESTAURANT
Times have changed since the first restaurant opened in this perch atop Portland's West Hills. The Speck, which opened in 1935, sold fried chicken at a time when Northwest Cornell Road was a fairly significant thoroughfare from Beaverton to St. Johns. There was even a gas station on the corner of this remote intersection with Skyline Boulevard.
The gas station is gone, and fried chicken quickly gave way to burgers, which come today much as they did in the middle of last century. A "butter-brushed" sesame-seed bun holds a seasoned patty, your choice of cheese, full leaves of iceberg lettuce, thin tomato and onion slices, crinkle-cut pickle slices and a healthy coat of mayo on the bottom bun.
"Two fries, two doubles, bacon, cheese," manager Frances Kang calls out while speaking on the phone last week. "We still call the orders back," she explains.
Skyline Restaurant opened a second restaurant, Skyline Burgers, on Northeast Broadway this year. But back on the hill, some things will never change.
"There's still always five or 10 people a day going, 'I'm lost, how do I get to the St. Johns Bridge?'" she says.
11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday-Sundays; 1313 N.W. Skyline Blvd.; 503-292-6727; Facebook: Skyline Restaurant
3. CANYON GRILL
Canyon Grill opened three years ago, making it a relative newcomer on this list. But the small triangular shack on Canyon Road in Beaverton has already gathered plenty of fans.
The burger matches the classic space, decked out in ads for nickel hot dogs and pictures of classic cars.
Owners Parry and Opal Lawson buy Painted Hills beef and have it ground fresh several times a week. Each thicker-than-average burger comes on a French roll and is topped with your choice of Tillamook cheese with vegetables cut fresh daily.
For fans of the Canyon Grill burger who live in Portland, the couple just opened a second spot -- the Glisan Burger Barn and Grill -- on Northeast Glisan Street and 79th Avenue.
11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday; 8825 S.W. Canyon Road, Beaverton; 503-292-5131, thecanyongrill.com
4. MIKE'S DRIVE-IN
Burgerville, the Vancouver-based chain, is well-known for its commitment to local ingredients. But Burgerville isn't alone.
At Mike's Drive-in, your burger can come on a Dave's Killer Bread bun for 50 cents extra (the standard comes from Portland's Franz Bakery) and all burgers come with Tillamook cheese. Burger patties are made daily and vegetables are sliced fresh each morning.
Mike's, the 37-year-old mini chain, serves a tasty cheeseburger with light char and a faint pinkish hue, shredded iceberg lettuce, tomato, onion (raw or grilled) and pickle slices.
There are three Mike's locations, one each in Milwaukie, Oregon City and Portland's Sellwood neighborhood. Each has a classic look, with red and white paint and signature peaked roofs at the Sellwood and Oregon City locations.
10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday; Sellwood: 1707 S.E. Tenino St., 503-236-4537; Milwaukie: 3045 S.E. Harrison St., 503-654-0131; Oregon City: 905 Seventh St., 503-656-5588 (Oregon City location closes one hour earlier); Facebook: Mike's Drive-In
5. GIANT DRIVE IN
With its A-frame roof, Giant Drive In could almost be mistaken for a ski cabin, tucked amid tall trees off Boones Ferry Road. But the restaurant's bright yellow sign, of a large man eating a large burger, lets drivers heading to and from downtown Lake Oswego know what they're in for.
Inside the bright space, the throwback burger comes on a nicely toasted bun, with a thin patty cooked medium-well, with melted American cheese, onions, tomatoes, shredded iceberg and mayo.
Bill and Gail Kreger opened Giant Drive In in a former Mr. Swiss, a bygone sandwich and soft-serve chain. Using custom ground sirloin -- never frozen -- the Kregers expanded the menu to 30 types of burgers, including the signature (and massive) giant. Order at your own risk.
10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 15840 Boones Ferry Road, Lake Oswego; 503-636-0255
This little trailer has sold burgers and hot dogs -- mostly hot dogs -- from its Milwaukie location since the 1930s. If you've ever driven past, you might remember it best for the sign mounted on its top, showing a long red dog outlined in neon.
And though Roake's is known for its long hot dogs -- local high school kids once called the place Long John's -- their burgers are a classic, too.
A quarter-pound burger patty comes with a grilled sesame-seed bun and melted American cheese, shredded iceberg, thin tomato slices, pickles and house mayo-based sauce on the bottom bun.
On the walls are key dates in Roake's history. According to one poster, in the 1970s, the trailer served 175,000 people each year.
10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 18109 S.E. McLoughlin Blvd., Milwaukie; 503-654-7075
7. HUMDINGER DRIVE-IN
"It's your first time here? How long have you been in Portland?"
That's a one-liner you might hear from the cashier when you walk into Humdinger Drive-In, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it Southwest Barbur Boulevard burger spot.
A restaurant has occupied this space since the late 1950s, but it's been Humdinger since the early 1980s, and the menu seems to have kept expanding since. There are burgers, of course, but also more than 40 milkshakes, as well as fried oysters and clam strips.
Stick to the burger, which comes on a soft sesame-seed bun holding a well-done patty layered between two slices of cheese, slices of tomato and plenty of pickles. It's served in a tight, memento-cluttered dining room small enough that the cashier can hand your food over the counter while you're sitting in one of the four booths.
11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 8250 S.W. Barbur Blvd.; 503-246-8132
On a recent night at Stanich's, the classic Northeast Portland sports tavern, a table of large guys were plowing through a few burgers. As they got up to leave, a server approached and asked the men -- players for the Portland State University football team -- to sign a school pennant.
The pennant was surely destined for Stanich's wall, where it would join hundreds of others -- some for sports teams at colleges, like Albertson, that have since changed names.
Stanich's first opened in 1949, and it's become one of Portland's burger standbys.
The burger comes with a hand-formed patty on a soft French roll with gooey American cheese, chopped iceberg, tomato and mayo on the bottom. It's a traditional burger (though I wouldn't mind a little more char on the patty), except for one twist: Instead of pickle slices, each burger comes with a spread of sweet relish on the bottom bun.
10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 4915 N.E. Fremont St.; 503-281-2322; stanichs.com
9. DEA'S IN & OUT
Dea's In & Out (no relation to the California In-N-Out burger chain) has been serving burgers in Gresham for more than 50 years.
The burger stand, with its long rectangular burgers, has moved once, onto Northeast Burnside Road, but little had changed inside.
Dea's still cooks everything to order, with the same thin burger patties. They still make their own flour-dusted buns in house as well, and serve each burger and tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, pickles, minced onion and their house sauce.
It's a time capsule. Walk inside on any given day and you'll see several generations of Dea's fans sharing a meal.
5 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, 755 N.E. Burnside Road, Gresham; 503-665-3439; facebook.com/deasinandout
10. GEORGE'S GIANT HAMBURGERS
The draw at Tigard's George's isn't necessarily the burger -- with its beef fresh-ground daily -- it's the salad bar.
All of George's burgers, from the giant on down to more modest sizes, come unadorned, with a lightly seasoned burger patty and melted American cheese.
But, just inside the front door, there's an array of condiments and toppings, from fresh sliced vegetables to mayonnaise to pico de gallo salsa.
The real fun comes in stacking up your burger with fresh lettuce, or, for serious pickle fans, as many slices of dill or scoops of relish as you want.
11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11640 S.W. Pacific Highway, Tigard; 503-639-8029
-- Michael Russell
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