Your Guide to South Sound Burgers

Greasy, saucy, and quintessentially American: Nothing hits the spot like a good burger. We searched high and low for some of the best burgers this area has to offer. Here’s what we found.

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Staff Picks

DIY Burgers


The Gourmet Burger Shop

Situated in scenic downtown Gig Harbor, The Gourmet Burger Shop is as quaint and inviting as the town it’s located in. Offering big, bold burgers topped with high-quality toppings and served alongside some of the best shoestring fries around, The Gourmet Burger Shop lives up to its name. The menu features classics like the Bacon Cheddar and All American, as well as some items that would tug at the heartstrings of any epicurean. The Avocado Gorgonzola, for example, is a scrumptious menagerie of chopped bacon, Gorgonzola cheese, avocado, mixed greens, and dressing. Or try the Pastrami Swiss, towering with grilled pastrami, melted Swiss, creamy coleslaw, and house-made Russian dressing. All burgers come served with a choice of chips, coleslaw, salad, shoestring herb fries, beer-battered onion rings, blue cheese potato salad, or the soup of the day. 4120 Harborview Drive, Gig Harbor


Spanky Burger & Brew

Located in Tacoma’s vibrant Sixth Avenue Business District, Spanky Burger & Brew dishes up tasty burgers, delicious sides, and a rotating tap of craft beers in a charming setting. Choose from items like the classic Spanky Burger, the BBQ Burger, or — if you’re feeling adventurous — the Peanut Butter Burger. All burgers are made to order, and — as the name suggests — “spanked to perfection.” When you go, try the Spanky with cheese. This masterpiece features a perfectly spanked ground-chuck patty, melted American cheese, crisp iceberg lettuce, fresh-sliced tomatoes, red onion, and Spanky’s tangy house sauce, all nestled between a golden-brown bun made from spent grain. At just $7.99, this mouth-watering work of art comes paired with your choice of fries or a house salad. 601 South Pine St., Tacoma


The Beast at Stacks Burgers, Shakes & Fries

The Beast at Stacks Burgers, Shakes & Fries


Stacks Burgers, Shakes & Fries

With a location in Federal Way and a traveling food truck that can be reserved for special events, Stacks Burgers, Shakes & Fries is committed to using the freshest ingredients sourced from the communities it serves. All Stacks burgers, for example, are made using 100-percent grass-fed, hormone-free beef from local Double R Ranch, and are served on fresh-baked buns sourced from Federal Way-based The Bread Garden. With a menu as inventive as it is fresh, it’s no shocker Stacks was named Best Food Truck (2016) by Bite of Seattle. When you go, try the award-winning The King, an ensemble of beef, American cheese, bacon, arugula, pickles, peanut butter, and house-made jam, or Stacks’ ode to the city from which it hails, The Fed Way Meal — a 4-ounce beef patty topped with American cheese, caramelized onions, lettuce, pickles, and Stacks sauce (regular fries and soda come included with this one). 1706 S. 320th St., Federal Way


Lunchbox Laboratory

Lunchbox Laboratory is all about experimentation. This Western Washington burger chain — which got its start in Seattle in 2011 before expanding with locations on the Eastside and in Gig Harbor — dishes up inventive burgers, shakes, and sides, certain to sate the appetite of any mad scientist. Cheese curds, fried pickles, and boozy shakes made with Snoqualmie Ice Cream are a few fan favorites, but it’s the burgers that are the real showstoppers. With more than 10 different burgers to choose from, as well as “The List” — which allows guests to customize their order or build their own burger creation — there’s something for everyone. Try the Homage to the Dick’s Deluxe, stacked with American cheese, bacon, grilled onions, and Lunchbox Lab’s Top Secret Burger Sauce, or the Classic ‘MeriCAN, topped with American cheese, shredded lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, bacon, and Billion Island sauce. All burgers are served with your choice of fries or tots, or upgrade at an additional cost to sweet fries, garlic fries or tots, onion rings, Caesar salad, house salad, Brussels sprouts, cheddar mac, mac du jour, or loaded mac du jour. 4901 Point Fosdick Drive N.W., Gig Harbor


Rhein Haus’ “Impossible Burger”

Rhein Haus’ “Impossible Burger”


Rhein Haus

It looks like a burger, smells like a burger, and even tastes like a burger, but the Impossible Burger is not a beef burger. It’s a vegetarian alternative that so closely resembles an all-beef patty, you might just mistake it for the real thing. That’s because the Impossible Burger is a science-backed patty containing soy leghemoglobin, a type of protein that gives the Impossible Burger its distinct meat-like flavor and texture. Still a skeptic? The Impossible Burger really does live up to its hype, and luckily for South Sound residents, it’s available at Rhein Haus, located in Tacoma’s Stadium District. Try it for yourself, loaded with thin-sliced white onions, tomato, arugula, and sauce, all wedged between a buttery bun.
649 Division Ave., Tacoma


Flipping Out Burgers and Fries

This greasy spoon may not seem like much on the outside, but what Flipping Out lacks in ambience and décor, it more than makes up for with delicious burgers at great prices. The restaurant’s regular menu features a handful of classic-style burgers and sides, while a blackboard on the counter highlights specialty burgers, like the John Wayne and Chuck Norris. When you go, keep it simple, and try the bacon cheeseburger. A menu over the register indicates what toppings come included with each burger, as well as other options that you can add (or omit) to further customize your order. Most burgers on the menu range in price from about $4-$6, and they are quite large, so be sure to bring your appetite (or a friend). When it comes to large portions, the same goes for Flipping Out’s perfectly crisp and golden fries, which are always served hot and are another must-try menu item. Note: We’d be remiss not to give Flipping Out’s Chicken Sandwich an honorable mention, which — in this food-loving reporter’s humble opinion — is the best in town. 4008 S. 12th St., Tacoma


Shake Shake Shake

Retro vibes, shakes, fries, and delicious burgers — Shake Shake Shake in Tacoma’s Stadium District is a blast from the past. The restaurant’s ambience is one that pays homage to the ’50s in a very modern and tasteful way, beckoning families, students, and white-collar professionals alike to settle into its colorful vinyl seats and feast on greasy burgers and fries. When you go, try the Single or Double Classic Deluxe. It’s a quarter-pound burger patty (or two) served on a golden brown bun and topped with melted cheese, crisp lettuce, diced onions, pickles, and Shake Shake Shake’s signature house-made secret sauce. Order it with a side of Shake Shake Shake’s shoestring fries and — if you still have room — one of its legendary shakes. 124 N. Tacoma Ave., Tacoma


The Habit Burger Grill

Founded in Santa Barbara, California, in 1969, The Habit Burger Grill has expanded over the years to include locations across the country. Thanks to the iconic burger chain’s recent migration into Western Washington — which began in 2016 with the opening of locations in Kent, Tukwila, Shoreline, and Silverdale — Tacoma-area residents now too can enjoy celebrated menu items like The Habit’s signature Charburger or its famed Tempura Green Beans, at its new Pearl Street location, which opened earlier this year. Made using 100 percent fresh ground beef, all of The Habit’s burgers are chargrilled to perfection over an open flame. 2601 N. Pearl Street Suite 105, Tacoma


Stack 571 Burger & Whiskey Bar

At Stack 571 Burger & Whiskey Bar, burgers are the name of the game. Each burger is made using certified all-natural beef and piled high with fresh toppings and sauces. With options like the Bahn Mi and Three Pepper Bomb, the inventive menu at this Point Ruston eatery is worth savoring in itself. You may need a knife and fork to clean up your plate, but these burgers are worth the added effort. During your visit, try The Fatted Sow, a behemoth of a burger topped with bacon, bourbon bacon slaw, bacon onion jam, Tillamook cheddar, pickles, marinated tomato, and Stack sauce. Yum. 5061 Main St., Tacoma


Fire Soul Burger at Burger Seoul

Fire Soul Burger at Burger Seoul


10 Burger Seoul

An unassuming food truck located in a convenient store parking lot in Tacoma, Burger Seoul is a must-try for any burger lover. Operated by owner Young La, Burger Seoul is a delectable fusion of American and Korean cuisine. The menu is simple, but extraordinary. Fan favorites include the Seoul Burger, a 100-percent beef patty served on a bakery-fresh brioche bun and topped with cheddar cheese, crisp lettuce, spinach, onions, and Soul Sauce, and the Bulgogiger, a generous serving of Korean grilled ribeye dressed in Black Soul Sauce and topped with lettuce and pickled Korean cucumber. These gourmet-level burgers range in price from $7-$9 and are worth every penny. But they are messy, so be sure to ask for extra napkins. 1750 S. Prospect St., Tacoma


11 Pick-Quick

Established in Fife in 1949, Pick-Quick Drive-In is a South Sound institution. Over the past 70 years, this popular burger stop has soared in popularity, ushering two new locations in Auburn and — most recently — Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood. With most burgers ranging in price from about $3-$6, Pick-Quick is a great value. When you go, don’t be surprised if there’s a long line — it’s just a testament to Pick-Quick’s success and delicious menu options, which include the always-popular double bacon cheeseburger. Order it piled high with grilled onions and a side of fresh-cut fries. 4306 Pacific Hwy. E, Fife; 1132 Auburn Way N., Auburn


12 Eastside Big Tom

When it comes to burgers in Olympia, Eastside Big Tom is the place to go. Established in 1969, the popular drive-through has been an Olympia favorite for nearly 50 years. And with classic-style burgers loaded with fresh toppings and smothered in Big Tom’s signature Goop sauce, why wouldn’t it be? If it’s your first time visiting, the Big Tom is a must. Boasting two meat patties, double cheese, lettuce, pickle, onion, tomato, and Goop sauce, and served on a sesame bun, it’s the star of the menu. 2023 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia


Staff Picks

Hop Jack’s Black and Bleu Burger, various locations
Whenever there is bleu cheese on a burger, it’s always my pick, and Hop Jack’s does it right. The crispy onions and spicy mayo make it extra good. All their burgers are delicious — and they come with addictive Jack’s potato chips.
— Jeff Burlingame, editor in chief,
South Sound Business

Boss Mama’s Kitchen (Food Truck), Peanut Butter and Bacon Burger, Puyallup
This is the most flavorful, delicious burger I have ever had. Totally surprised me. Peanut butter — who knew?
— Bob Cody, account executive

Zombiez (all the burgers) Vashon Island
We first went there because my Minecraft-loving 8-year-old wanted to go on a date with his stuffed zombie, Derrick, and me. But what we found was a fun and eclectic family diner with the best burgers around. We’ve been back out to Vashon twice just to get burgers, fries, and the best chocolate shake I’ve ever had.
— Joanna Kresge, assistant editor

Lefty’s Burger Shack, Cheeseburger and Frings, University Place
This is a must! I always go for the cheeseburger with a big side of Frings (fries and onion rings). So good! And if you have room, definitely order a shake.
— Shelby Rowe Moyer, assistant editor

Burger Ranch, Double Cheeseburger, Tacoma
I’ve been going there for over 40 years. It’s a total classic from Tacoma. They have an amazing history here. Used to be part of the Arctic Circle franchise. My all-time favorite.
— Lander Martinson, director of sales

Frisko Freeze, Cheeseburger, Tacoma
I am a simple Tacoma girl. I like my regular cheeseburger from Frisko Freeze.
— Aubrey Pike, client service coordinator


DIY Burgers

By Danielle Kartes
Photos by Michael Kartes
Making the best burgers at home is pretty simple if you just leave it, well, simple. Here are our top tips and recipes.

Quality Ingredients Matter
Splurge on the meat. Go to your butcher or grocer’s meat counter, and get 2 pounds of a top-quality 80/20 or 85/15 blend (this makes about eight, 4-ounce burgers), and try to get ground chuck if you can. These numbers are simply the meat-to-fat ratio: 85 percent meat to 15 percent fat. You need the fat for juicy burgers.

Make a PattyMake it Hot
Preheat your grill for at least 10 minutes on high. Clean the grates, and continue to heat it up.

Make a Patty
Don’t overwork or overhandle the meat. I try to pull off a handful of about 4 ounces, and gently press the meat into a round patty. Work quickly, and don’t pack the burger too tightly.

Poke It
Once your burger is formed into a circle about 11/2 inches thick and 4 inches wide, press your finger into the center, and make a small well. This keeps the burger from shrinking into a hockey puck with a thick center while cooking!

Sprinkle Simple Seasoning
Season your burgers with salt, pepper, and a touch of oil. Once the grill is preheated, place the burgers on the grill, lower the heat to 375 degrees, and close the lid. Watch for flare-ups, because these burgers are juicy.

Flip Out
After about 4 to 6 minutes, the juices will be pooling on top of your burgers, and this is your sign that they are ready to flip. Flip them once, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. This will give you a burger that’s medium-well, cooked-through, and juicy, but not overdone. Allow the burgers to rest under foil once they’re fully cooked. If you want to be sure they are done, use an internal thermometer, and when it reads 160 degrees, it’s done.

Add Cheese, Please
At this stage, you can add cheese and watch it get soft and melt on the hot burger.

Toasted Buns
When it comes to the bun, toasted is better. Use a light smear of butter on the inside of the top and bottom, and throw them under the broiler, onto the grill, or into a frying pan just long enough to slightly toast, a minute or two.

Build It
To build your perfect burger, think flavor combos. I always love an interesting mayo, bacon, crunchy lettuce, and onions. If you are going for the all-American classic, think crunchy pickles and juicy tomatoes.


Ultimate Classic Bacon Burger

8 brioche buns

1/2 cup sliced red onions

6 to 8 tomato slices 

1/2 head crunchy green leaf lettuce 

4 thick slices of cheddar cheese 

1 pound thick center-cut bacon, cooked 

Ketchup, mustard, and mayo to taste

Follow the method above to make a perfect beef patty, then assemble with the ingredients above. Makes eight 4-ounce burgers.


Teriyaki Pineapple Chicken Burger

Teriyaki Pineapple Chicken4 brioche buns 

1 pound ground chicken 

1 garlic clove, crushed

1/2 teaspoon pepper 

1 tablespoon soy sauce 

1 tablespoon brown sugar 

1 egg 

Dash of hot sauce 

1 tablespoon
cooking oil 

4 thick slices fresh pineapple

2 cups arugula 

Spicy Aioli:

2 tablespoons sambal 

1/2 cup mayonnaise

Squeeze of fresh lime juice 

Pinch of cracked black pepper 

Preheat the grill to 350 degrees. Mix the chicken, garlic, pepper, soy sauce, brown sugar, egg, and hot sauce with a fork. Form the meat mixture into four to six even patties, and brush with oil. Grill the patties for 6 to 8 minutes on each side alongside the pineapple until they are completely cooked through. While the chicken burgers are cooking, mix up the aioli. To assemble the burgers, put 1 tablespoon of aioli on each side of the bun, and place the pineapple on the bottom, the chicken burger on top of that, and finish with arugula and top bun. Makes four burgers.


Banh Mi Burger

Banh Mi Burger4 brioche buns 

1 pound ground pork 

1 egg

1 scallion, chopped 

1 teaspoon sesame seeds

1 garlic clove, crushed 

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil 

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 

1/2 teaspoon black pepper 

Quick Pickles:

1 bunch of radishes, sliced 

1 English cucumber, sliced 

1 cup white vinegar 

1 teaspoon kosher salt 

½ teaspoon black pepper

1 tablspoon sugar 

Spicy Soy Mayo:

1/2 cup mayonnaise 

1 tablespoon dark soy sauce or Tamari 

1/2 garlic clove, crushed 

1 tablespoon Sriracha

To make your burger, preheat your grill on high for at least 10 minutes. While the grill is heating, mix the ingredients for the mayo, and place in the fridge. Put the sliced veggies, vinegar, sugar, and salt together for the pickles, and leave at room temperature. Mix the meat with the spices and seasonings, and form into four patties. Do not overwork the meat. Place the patties on the hot grill, and lower the heat to 375. Close the lid and cook for 5 to 6 minutes on each side, until the patty is cooked through and well done, but not dry. To assemble the burger, place a patty on the brioche bun bottom, top with a few of the quick pickles, and slather the top bun with mayo. Makes four burgers.


Spicy Brie and Tomato Sliders

Spicy Brie Tomato Sliders1½ pounds ground chuck 85/15, or nicely marbled meat you’d get for a pot roast

8 slider buns, like brioche

8 slices of brie, 1/8-inch thick

8 slices tomatoes

1 cup mayonnaise

½ cup sriracha

8 slices thick-cut bacon

Baby dill pickles for garnish

Grind the meat, and form patties. Preheat the grill to medium. Meanwhile, prep the buns, slice the Brie and the tomatoes, and set aside. Mix the mayo and sriracha, and place in the refrigerator until ready to use. Start grilling the patties and the bacon, cut in half, at the same time, but beware of flare-ups, and turn down heat if you need to. Flip the burgers and bacon, and about 30 seconds before the patties are done, melt the cheese on top. Now you are ready to assemble your sliders. Spread your sauce on the top and bottom buns, place a patty on top, add a layer of tomato and bacon, and secure it all with a toothpick if you’d like. Adding the little pickle on top with the toothpick is also a nice touch.


is a staff writer at South Sound magazine. Email her.
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