Not all fast food burgers are on a level playing field, and as Americans we pride ourselves on the delicious quirks of our local burger joints and feel the rest of the country is missing out. From old-school smashed burgers to sliders and the upscale, here are the best regional burger chains the rest of the country desperately needs to taste.
Region: Midwest, South
Culver's opened in Sauk City, Wisconsin, in 1984 and has expanded to more than 600 locations in two dozen states. Fans flock to its signature Butterburgers -- never-frozen local beef that's smashed and seared and served on a well-buttered, toasted bun, which pairs perfectly with the chain's creamy, slow-churned frozen custard. True Cheeseheads won't skip the fried cheese curds, made with Wisconsin cheddar.
You can spot this 67-year-old Texas-based favorite easily (and tell it from the Virginia-based What-A-Burger) thanks to its distinctive orange-and-white-striped packaging and A-frame roof. Whataburger really shines with its Southern charms, including specialty burgers such as the green chile double and avocado bacon burgers, patty melts on buttery Texas toast, and biscuits for breakfast. Order a burger "all the way" and wash it all down with sweet tea or a malt.
Region: West Coast, Southwest
This California legend, with its endearingly retro style, has earned legions of fans since opening in 1948. Celebrated for its never-frozen, freshly made burgers, In-N-Out loyalists can customize infinitely with the not-so-secret menu, including the popular "Animal Style." The chain can now be found in Nevada, Utah, Texas, and Arizona, but may not go much further, given the company's emphasis on freshness.
Region: Pacific Northwest
Since opening in 1961 in Vancouver, Washington, Burgerville has expanded slowly through the state and into Oregon, while maintaining eco-friendly and progressive business practices. Beloved for its locally, sustainably sourced burgers topped with Tillamook cheddar, fans also champion seasonal specials such as Walla Walla sweet onion rings and milkshakes with farm-fresh ingredients.
Region: Midwest and Mid-Atlantic
White Castle opened in 1921 in Wichita, Kansas -- in competition with A&W for first fast food eatery -- and earned a loyal following for its sliders, low prices, and castle-shaped buildings. The small, square burgers are grilled atop shredded onions, with the bun atop the burger; a pickle slides in after the steaming. The chain has inspired songs and movies, yet still hasn't taken over the country.
Region: Texas, Southwest
Austin-based Hopdoddy -- named for the "hops" in beer served there and "doddy," a breed of Scottish cow -- is one of the newer chains, but building a following quickly for its creative burgers with fresh and local ingredients, as well as its charitable efforts. From the Llano Poblano with peppers, bacon, and jack cheese to the Greek with feta and red onions, these are hearty, upscale burgers.
Milo's has locations only in Alabama, but the legend of its burgers smothered in a secret sauce has spread far and wide. Milo's burgers feature a grilled patty with a small bit of patty added on top for "a little something extra" and is topped with onions, pickles, and plenty of sauce, all on a toasted bun. Follow it up with a sweet tea and a hot fruit pie.
Found mostly in New Mexico with a few locations in Arizona and Texas, Blake's Lotaburger is best known for topping its Angus beef patties with Hatch green chiles, New Mexico's celebrated, smoked chiles with a kick. Lotaburger even made a cameo in the TV series "Breaking Bad." Fans also go for the Frito Pie -- Fritos topped with chile con carne and toppings.
Considered the Southern equivalent to White Castle, Krystal began in Tennessee in 1932 and has since expanded to a dozen states throughout the South. The small, square sliders feature a grilled beef patty topped with diced onions, dill pickle, and mustard on a squishy bun, with cheese and bacon options. Even its hot dogs and chicken sandwiches come in miniature form.
PAL'S SUDDEN SERVICE
Region: Tennessee, Virginia
Easily spotted by the massive fiberglass burgers and hot dogs outside, Pal's Sudden Service has been going strong since 1956, found only in east Tennessee and southwest Virginia. Pal's is known for friendly and super fast service, loyal customers, and quality burgers -- fans flock for the double Big Pal with two one-third pound beef patties, mayo, lettuce, tomato, and onion, with the option of cheese and bacon.