Edible Reno-Tahoe’s roundup of the region’s can’t-miss summer staple.
Nothing says summer like a hamburger. The quintessential summer cookout food, a burger offers casual simplicity that’s just right for lazy warm days. But a burger’s sensory pleasures — the sizzle of the patty hitting the grill, the smoky aroma and flavor of chargrilled meat — are anything but simplistic. It may be comfort food, but it also is a perfect palette for even the most elegant of dressings.
Here at edible Reno-Tahoe, we’re passionate about burgers. And as the coronavirus pandemic kept us all at home, burgers likely played a role in your life — from hitting the grill on that first warm evening to serving as the ideal takeout meal when you just couldn’t face cooking again.
Fortunately, the Reno-Tahoe area is packed with burger pros at establishments ranging from casual to elevated. Here’s our guide to must-try burgers from around the region.
Let’s start in Midtown Reno, where a preponderance of eateries serves up satisfying burgers for every mood and taste. On Wells Avenue, Ryan’s Saloon & Broiler has been around since 1974. Though locals may think of it only as a watering hole, owners Leigh and Ian Stafford pride themselves on their robust menu of crave-worthy pub food. Notably, there’s the Last Meal Melt, a guilty pleasure that’s essentially a patty melt between a pair of grilled cheese sandwiches. Then there’s the Nevada Burger, a must-try with its half-pound, hand-formed beef patty from Ponderosa Meat & Provision in Reno, cooked on a flat-top grill to seal in juices with a delicious crust. It’s piled high with pastrami, bacon, grilled onions, melted Cheddar and Swiss cheeses, and loads of Thousand Island dressing. All burgers are served with freshly cut, skin-on Kennebec potato fries.
Just half a mile away on South Virginia Street, Beefy’s is a monument to the hamburger. Owner Roy Brennan’s expansive menu offers 22 burger creations, from the locals’ favorite Big Roy — a messy burger made of two patties, a middle bun, two cheeses, house-made tartar sauce, lettuce, and a pickle — to the four-patty Jacob’s Ladder.
Beefy’s burgers feature such distinctive trimmings as shrimp, deep-fried jalapeños, kimchi, and chili (Brennan’s mom’s recipe). But the burger you must have, the one I’m still dreaming about, is the Onion Burger: a juicy, deeply flavorful patty topped with your choice of cheese, lettuce, and three types of onions (freshly sliced, deep-fried strings, and grilled to caramelized perfection) inside a soft, toasted potato bun. The result is astonishing. It’s not at all the one-note, fire-breathing onion flavor you’d expect. It’s rich, sweet, salty, cheesy, and peppery, with a perfect blend of textures: juicy meat, gooey cheese, grilled onions, crunchy fresh lettuce and onion, crispy onion strings, and a soft, moist bun. Order it with a thick, handspun milkshake — perfection!
Across the street, the burger menu at Fat Cat Bar & Grill’s Reno location (its flagship is still open in Tahoe City) is legit, with 16 options featuring beef (from Bently Ranch in Minden), turkey, lamb (from Minden’s Borda Ranch), salmon, and Beyond Meat vegetable patties. Imaginative toppings range from arugula to caramelized honeycrisp apples, avocado salsa, and a lobster claw with knuckles, and the house-made sauces even extend to the ketchup. Its signature burger, according to owner Clint Peetz, is the Cowboy Burger.
It’s a study in layering flavor: a delicious, grass-fed, hand-formed patty of 80/20 (lean/fat) Bently beef seasoned with plenty of garlic salt sits atop a softly sweet bun, toasted to add crispness. The patty is topped with melted Cheddar; sweet, chewy, thick-cut bacon; a thick, beer-battered onion ring; and a touch of spicy barbecue sauce — just enough to add flavor without making the burger a gloopy mess, despite the burger’s remarkable height of nearly eight inches.
A mile and a half north, at Old Granite Street Eatery in Downtown Reno, co-owner/operator Kevin Stanley designed a menu featuring seven burgers (including beef, veggie, and even bison patties) and sliders. But the standout is the Revision Beer Cheese Burger. This gorgeously gooey burger features two all-beef Ponderosa patties; locally grown, fresh, thinly sliced roma tomatoes, spring mix lettuce, and red onion; and a healthy pour of subtly spicy, house-made beer cheese made with Sparks’ own Revision Brewing Co.’s Revision IPA beer, all between a pretzel bun from Rounds Bakery in Reno. It’s served with the eatery’s signature beer-battered fries, which you will need to mop up all that addictively delicious cheese.
Just behind Old Granite Street, you’ll find Royce, a neighborhood bar that offers drinks and elevated bar food in a cozy setting. Its signature burger, the Royce burger, has quickly become a local institution. It’s your classic messy, drive-in-style burger, complete with two thin beef patties dripping with melted American cheese and stacked high with thinly sliced, locally grown tomatoes, spring mix, and onion and finished with a Thousand Island-style burger sauce.
A couple blocks west, Washoe Public House offers a sophisticated menu of steaks, chops, and handmade pastas, plus a venison patty melt, a veggie burger, and the hearty half-pound Washoe Burger. Chef/owner Brett Moseley explains that what sets this burger apart is the hand-knotted challah bun prepared locally at Rounds Bakery and the patty made with grass-fed beef from Fallon’s own Sanford Ranch. Choose either a regular beef patty or pancetta-and-bacon beef. It’s topped with pickles; chewy, thick-cut bacon; melted white Cheddar; butter lettuce; tomatoes; caramelized onions; and beer mustard. It’s packed with flavor, thanks to those pickles and beer mustard, both made in house. You could order it with regular house-cut fries, but I highly recommend the sweet potato waffle fries, perfected by Moseley so that they’re super crunchy outside and fluffy inside.
At Pignic Pub & Patio, owners Ryan Goldhammer and Trevor Leppek (see a related story in this issue) serve up six utterly unconventional burgers. Goldhammer, Pignic’s culinary director, explains that his burgers pay homage to Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, Conn., which claims to be the first restaurant to serve hamburgers as far back as 1900. They were served sandwich style — a thin patty between two pieces of square, toasted white bread, and Pignic continues that tradition using Grandma’s White Bread from Reno’s House of Bread. The cleverly named burgers at Pignic combine elegant cuisine with all the simplicity of a sandwich you can eat out of your lap on a porch swing.
Take, for example, The French Are Assholes, a rich, savory burger that’s unlike any other burger in town. It’s an explosion of flavor, like French onion soup on toast with extraordinary depth, thanks to a thin burger patty made with a custom blend from Ponderosa Meat comprised of navel, brisket, and top round, in a 76/24 lean/fat ratio. It’s topped with Gruyère and havarti cheeses, fine bird butter (the wing sauce used at the owners’ other restaurant, Noble Pie Parlor), caramelized onions, and Goldhammer’s signature No Joke Egg Yoke, a sous vide egg sauce whisked into a creamy spread for a delicate finish.
Head west to West Fourth Street, and you’re at Whispering Vine Wine Co., a wine bar with a menu of inspired, diverse small plates designed by chef Josh Davis to pair well with wines and highlight local ingredients. The menu features three burgers: a riff on the Cubano sandwich, a flavorful veggie burger, and the Whispering Vine Gourmet Angus Burger. Made with a slim, lean, flavorful beef patty topped with mushroom brie, bacon jam, and Dijon mustard, and served with your choice of shoestring fries or the restaurant’s signature truffle tater tots, it’s a refined burger bursting with flavor, from the tanginess of the bacon jam to the peppery bite of arugula and Dijon.
Burger Me in West Reno (also with locations in South Reno and Truckee) is a burger aficionado’s heaven. Owner/general manager Jordan Spenella created the menu to include a wide range of offerings, from the patties — beef, bison, elk, chicken, turkey, lamb, ahi, cod, and veggie — to its hefty selection of toppings, including house-made chipotle mayo and pesto. Plus, a burger of the day capitalizes on seasonal flavors; for example, the Caprese burger is summer in a bun with fresh mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes, balsamic glaze, and pesto. Then there’s the spectacular, surprising Southwest Turkey Burger. It’s not a typical dried-out, flavorless turkey patty; it’s bursting with juicy flavor thanks to Spenella’s family recipe featuring chopped apples, celery, green onions, and a special blend of seasonings. It’s topped with bacon, pepper jack cheese, Ortega chiles, crunchy iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and that deliciously smoky, creamy chipotle mayo. Paired with Spenella’s crisp sweet potato fries with flaked salt, it belongs on every burger lover’s list.
FiftyFifty Brewing Co. offers a comfortable patio, cozy interior, distinctive beers, and pub fare that includes a handful of hearty, satisfying burgers. Honor local lore by ordering the Donner Party BBQ Burger. Choose your patty (beef, turkey, veggie, or chicken breast), and savor it topped with wood-smoked bacon, Cheddar cheese, fresh iceberg lettuce, crunchy dill pickle slices, and barbecue sauce made in house with FiftyFifty’s own Donner Party Porter beer. It’s everything you want from a western-style burger — a thick, hand-formed beef patty dripping with barbecue sauce, combined with the crunch of mounds of fresh lettuce and thick slices of pickle. A neat burger it ain’t, but it’s so deeply satisfying, you won’t regret the mess.
Char-Pit is a roadside icon in Kings Beach that’s been a favorite of locals and travelers alike since its founding in 1962. President and chef Bobby Starbard believes what has drawn folks here for decades is its quarter- and half-pound Kobe/Angus beef blend burger patties cooked on a char rock grill, which make for the distinctive, memorable flavor, not to mention his method for toasting the buns that crisps up their edges.
The 13-burger menu offers a variety of standard and unusual combinations, but the one Starbard calls the locals’ favorite is the Swiss Burger. It’s a simple formula of real Swiss cheese, crispy bacon, and Thousand Island. I highly recommend adding the optional grilled onions. The burger is packed with chargrilled flavor and drippy, saucy burger decadence. Trust me: Order a basket of onion rings and a thick, creamy milkshake to go with it.
On the opposite end of the lake sits Edgewood Tahoe, a resort where three restaurants offer a range of dining experiences, from post-golf casual to upscale. At The Bistro Edgewood, the Bistro Burger sits somewhere in the middle of that range. As Edgewood’s executive chef Lonny Huot explains, the half-pound gourmet patty is a special blend of ground chuck, brisket, and short rib, lending a somewhat smoky barbecue flavor. It’s topped with aged white Cheddar, applewood-smoked bacon, heirloom tomato, sweet gem lettuce, and a brioche bun. It’s elegant in its simplicity and complemented by perfectly prepared, herb-topped, wedge-cut fries.
On any trip through our state capital, be sure to stop at Gather, a delightful little farm-to-table gathering place in the heart of downtown. Certainly its steaks, seafood, risottos, and pastas are worth the trip, but don’t underestimate Gather’s burgers, which showcase just as much culinary craftsmanship. There’s the Bently Ranch Grass-Fed Beef Burger — made with a half-pound, hand-formed, seasoned patty — served with Dayton Valley Aquaponics tomatoes, lettuce, and onions, house-made dill pickles, and house-made burger sauce, in a bun from South Lake Tahoe’s Sugar Pine Cakery & Café. If you like, top it with cheese from Sand Hill Dairy in Fallon (Cheddar or gorgonzola), thick bacon, avocado, or grilled onions. But chef Howard Jachens says Gather’s signature, most popular burger is the Hot Pepper Bently Burger — that delectable beef patty is covered in sautéed jalapeño and pepperoncini peppers, pepper jack cheese, house-made ranch dressing, and matchstick potatoes, which add texture and crunch.
Overland Restaurant & Pub is a cozy, homey, friendly eatery in a historic Gardnerville building. Owned by Reno Local Food Group (founded and helmed by local-food champion Mark Estee), Overland’s menu features distinctively handmade, locally sourced food with a barbecue-joint slant, including its burgers, which feature Bently Ranch patties and brioche buns. I’d be remiss if I didn’t single out the Overlander, a western-style, half-pound burger smothered in melted Cheddar cheese; arugula from Prema Farm in Reno; house-cured, smoked bacon; house-made barbecue sauce; and crispy fried onion strings. It hits all the right flavor notes, thanks to the peppery onion strings perfectly complemented by the sauce’s sweet smokiness.
Lest you think Fallon is a culinary wasteland, be reminded that its nickname is The Oasis of Nevada for a reason. This town one hour east of Reno boasts fertile soils that make it ideal farming country. At The Slanted Porch, chef/owner Steve Hernandez takes that seriously. He sources his beef and lamb from his own family’s H5 Ranch, also in Fallon. He even grows much of the produce himself in the hoop house behind the restaurant. The menu features six distinctive burgers, including the signature Slanted Porch burger, a delicious Angus burger with the standard fixings: tomatoes, lettuce, onions, pickles, and Thousand Island dressing, all on a potato bun. But this place is known for its lamb burger. It’s offered only as a daily special, and when it’s available, locals drop everything to get it. Service members from the nearby Fallon Naval Air Station sometimes call in orders of 80 or 90 at a time, according to Hernandez. And for good reason. The fresh H5 Ranch lamb patty is topped with crunchy slices of Persian cucumbers from Dayton Valley Aquaponics, lettuce, and house-made ranch dressing. The combination is packed with fresh herb flavor that’s worth a trip to Fallon.
Fortunately, the Reno-Tahoe area is full of food-and-drink establishments serving any kind of burger you can dream up — this certainly isn’t an exhaustive list. We recommend you spend the summer working your way down this can’t-miss list, then adding your own discoveries to it.
Jessica Santina is the managing editor of edible Reno-Tahoe magazine. She and her family conducted “research” for this burger story in April. She’s sure the opportunity to taste test burgers for a month was the universe’s way of keeping the family sane during quarantine.
1300 S. Virginia St., Reno
775-870-1333 • Beefysreno.com
North Reno: 6280 Sharlands Ave., Ste. 101 • 775-737-9404
South Reno: The Summit, 13963 S. Virginia St., Ste. 901 • 775-851-2002
Truckee: 10418 Donner Pass Road • 530-587-8852
8732 N. Lake Blvd., Kings Beach
530-546-3171 • Charpit.com
Fat Cat Bar & Grill
1401 S. Virginia St., Reno
775-453-2223 • Fatcatrestaurants.com
FiftyFifty Brewing Co.
11197 Brockway Road, Ste. 1, Truckee
530-587-2337 • Fiftyfiftybrewing.com
402 N. Carson St., Carson City
775-433-0200 • Gathercc.com
Old Granite Street Eatery
243 S. Sierra St., Reno
775-622-3222 • Oldgranitestreeteatery.com
Overland Restaurant & Pub
1451 Hwy. 395, Gardnerville
775-392-1369 • Overland-restaurant.com
Pignic Pub & Patio
235 Flint St., Reno
775-376-1948 • Find Pignic Pub & Patio on Facebook
115 Ridge St., Reno
775-440-1095 • Roycereno.com
Ryan’s Saloon & Broiler
924 S. Wells Ave., Reno
775-323-4142 • Find Ryan’s Saloon & Broiler on Facebook
The Bistro Edgewood
180 Lake Pkwy., Stateline
888-769-1924 • Edgewoodtahoe.com/dine-imbibe
The Slanted Porch
310 S. Taylor St., Fallon
775-423-4489 • Slantedporch.com
Washoe Public House
275 Hill St., Reno
775-322-2710 • Washoepublichouse.com
Whispering Vine Wine Co.
4201 W. Fourth St., Reno
775-786-1323 • Whisperingvinewine.com
Break Out of Your Burger Routine
Inspired to create your own perfect summer burger? Skip the boring old standby toppings and shake it up with these suggestions from our burger pros:
Make your meat special. Clint Peetz, owner of Fat Cat Bar & Grill, emphasizes the importance of seasoning your beef, especially if it’s lean; he’s generous with garlic salt in his hand-formed patties. Edgewood Tahoe executive chef Lonny Huot encourages home cooks to get creative with meat blends; he’s used foie gras and truffle oil, and he recommends using leftover shredded pork barbecue or rib meat stuffed inside a handmade patty. And all our pros suggest that a higher ratio of fat to lean makes for juicier, more flavorful patties. Opt for somewhere around 76/24 (lean/fat) or 80/20.
Mix up some sauces. Break out of the ketchup-and-mustard routine by trying inspired homemade sauces, from the beer cheese, chipotle mayo, and green chile aioli recipes appearing below to a homemade ranch, pesto, salsa, or a twist on Thousand Island that uses chili sauce, Sriracha, capers, or horseradish. Ryan Goldhammer, co-owner/culinary director of Pignic Pub & Patio, says it’s not difficult to make a quick bacon jam: Just chop up a few slices of bacon, sauté them in a frying pan until they begin to render, spoon out some of the fat if necessary, then add some cherry tomatoes, apple cider vinegar, and brown sugar until thick. Sauces are a great way to impart an unusual flavor.
Get creative with toppings. One of the best aspects about a burger is that anything goes topping-wise, so why not try something outside the box? Leigh Stafford, co-owner of Ryan’s Saloon & Broiler, says Ryan’s burgers of the month showcase the cooks’ creativity — case in point, peanut butter and bacon. Peetz has tried mac and cheese. Roy Brennan at Beefy’s likes a Korean burger with kimchi and Sriracha. Brett Moseley, owner/chef of Washoe Public House, loves a fried egg and pork belly on a burger.
Layer properly. Owner/chef Steve Hernandez of The Slanted Porch shares one little-known secret about his special burgers: They all look like they’re upside down. His “toppings” sit underneath, not on top of, his meat patty, which he says ensures the juice from the meat gets all the way through the burger, infusing flavor throughout.
Give the bun a finishing touch. Goldhammer says a toasted bun is the key to a satisfying texture, and it keeps your toppings from soaking through the bread. Spread both inside surfaces of your bun with a thick coating of mayonnaise and grill them face down in a skillet until golden brown and crispy. The techniques offer a satisfying crunch that won’t leave you with a soggy sandwich.
Revision IPA Beer Cheese
(courtesy of Kevin Stanley, owner, Old Granite Street Eatery in Reno. Makes about 3 cups)
Revision Beer Cheese burger from Old Granite Street Eatery in Reno. Photo by Jaci Goodman
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup butter
2 cups Revision IPA
2 cups water or stock
3 cups heavy cream
2 cups shredded cheese (the chefs at Old Granite Street use 1 cup white Cheddar and 1 cup smoked gouda)
4 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons paprika
4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
In a pot, melt butter, then add flour to make a roux. Once nice and smooth, add beer, water/stock, and cream. Stir until thick and then add cheese and seasoning. Mix until desired consistency.
Green Chile Aioli
(courtesy of Clint Peetz, owner, Fat Cat Bar & Grill in Reno and Tahoe City. Makes 6 quarts)
6 green chiles
5 garlic cloves
1 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
6 cups (48 ounces) mayonnaise
4 cups (32 ounces) sour cream
4 cups (32 ounces) buttermilk
1 tablespoon salt
Roast green chiles, cool, de-stem, and remove skin. Combine tomatillos, jalapeños, and garlic in a large pot of water and boil until soft. Pour mixture into blender or food processor and process until smooth.
Combine cilantro mayonnaise, sour cream, and buttermilk in large bowl. Add green chile mixture and salt, then whisk by hand until smooth. Enjoy!
(courtesy of Jordan Spenella, owner, Burger Me in Reno and Truckee. Make ½ gallon)
½ gallon mayonnaise
8 ounces chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
Juice of 1 to 2 limes (to taste)
In blender or food processor, combine chipotle peppers and juice from 1 lime until smooth. In a large bowl, stir pepper mixture into mayo, adding more lime juice if desired.