The 9 best burgers in NC you (might) not know about

The pimento cheese burger at Miller's Restaurant in Mocksville. Thank your grandmother for this great idea. (Photo via Visit NC)

By Billy Ball

January 25, 2024

We’re living in a burger renaissance. But amid all these choices in NC, you need someone to separate the best burgers from the pretenders.

Burgers are situation-proof.

How are you feeling today? What’s the weather? Where are you? None of that matters. Stop it. I bet you still want a burger, and chances are there’s a burger joint down the street that understands the assignment.

But with all these options, how do you separate the burger wheat from the burger chaff? How do you distinguish between the mouth-watering burger joints and the junk chains that are trying to sell you the worst thing they could put between bread without going to jail? Hi, Hardee’s!

That’s where we come in. This guide is to the 9 NC burger joints you (might) not know about.

Read More: Small towns, big burgers—A guide to NC’s 7 best under-the-radar burger spots

It’s possible you do know some of these. It’s also possible there are places I left out. If so, write me and tell me what I missed! Happy eating.

Alley Twenty Six

Website

320 E. Chapel Hill St., Durham

 

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This one is going to surprise some people, but there’s a reason I put it first.

Alley Twenty Six is a cocktail bar. Some people might be wearing blazers or handlebar mustaches. Don’t let that deter you.

This burger is roguishly unpretentious. It hangs out next to lobster rolls and mushroom risotto and—at an affordable price—makes everything else look overdressed.

What makes a good burger is simple. It’s good beef, not overcooked (if your doctor allows it), lots of salt and pepper (also, if your doctor allows it), fresh vegetables, and a good bun.

Alley Twenty Six serves eight ounces of ground chuck & brisket with a bourbon bacon jam, chipotle aioli, and arugula on a potato roll. That’s a fancy way of saying a zesty bacon burger.

This was as good as any burger I’ve ever had in North Carolina. I’ll say that again. As good as any burger I’ve ever had in North Carolina.

And in case that burger’s too big, they pack a pint-sized, four-ounce version too. This is what you eat when your friends are having a fancy cocktail night and you’re just hungry.

I have to stop. I’m going to eat my fingers.

Highway 55 Burgers Shakes N’ Fries

Website

2720 S. Horner Blvd., Sanford

Let’s go south of the Triangle. Different vibes here in Sanford, the “brick city.”

This burger joint started in NC as “Andy’s Cheesesteaks and Cheeseburgers.” You’re a real North Carolinian if you’ve heard of it.

Now it goes by the name “Highway 55” and they have nine locations in NC. It’s not rocket science. They sell five kinds of burgers. Appropriately, the “Carolina Classic” loads it down with chili, slaw, mustard, and onions.

It makes me sad that somewhere up in New York or thereabouts there are probably people who don’t understand why you should eat a burger this way.

Brooks’ Sandwich House

Website

2710 N. Brevard St., Charlotte

Some years ago, I lived in the NoDa area of Charlotte and this little red shack was across the street.

I saw all the people with hard hats going in there at lunch time and I knew something was up. People with hard hats are usually hungry as hell and they know what they want to eat.

They were right about this one. Brooks’ Sandwich House makes its name on speedy, delicious burgers. Add the chili and onions please.

They’ve been serving up burgers since 1973, which means all the trendy condos here grew around them like weeds and they stayed the same. Respect the little red shack.

Nick’s Old Fashion Hamburger House

Website

6999 Old U.S. Hwy 52, Lexington

Nick’s serves up smashburgers. Which means they smash it down on the grill, searing the outside and keeping those juices inside.

It’s better this way. The worst kind of burger is like a perfectly round, dry hockey puck. No chance of that with a smashburger. For an upcharge, put it on Texas Toast.

Nick’s diner keeps it simple too, with a small menu and a big taste that brings in drivers from all over the state. Lexington’s known for barbecue. And burgers will never supplant barbecue. But this is one heck of a try.

Bar Virgile

Website

105 S Mangum St Unit #1, Durham

 

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This is going to surprise some people too.

Like Alley 26, Bar Virgile is an upscale cocktail bar in downtown Durham. And like Alley 26, the cheapest thing on their menu is a burger that’s as good as any friggin’ burger you’ll find.

The space is small. But that gives it a real ambiance, and you can see the cooks searing these burgers over an open flame. It’s just an eight-ounce burger, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, Duke’s mayo. Why is it so good?

Johnson’s Drive-In

Website

1520 E 11th St, Siler City

This place has been around since 1946.

Let that sink in. Harry Truman was president. Civil War veterans were still alive. The first Baby Boomers were being born.

And since then, this Chatham County landmark has been serving it up hot. When it comes to burgers, basic is good. Johnson’s makes basic an art form. It’s basically burgers, fries, and hot dogs, although if you want to go even more basic, check out the lettuce and tomato sandwich. I’m game.

Beaches Burgers

Website

6551 Beach Dr SW, Ocean Isle Beach

Jimmy Buffett made himself a billionaire by singing about things like eating cheeseburgers on the beach. He was on to something.

So is Beaches Burgers, an Outer Banks destination that’s legit, and you can tell because they serve their food on that red and white checkered wax paper that all the best diners use.

They have something called a “biggie challenge.” If you can eat their large chili cheese fries and their “biggie”—a “huge” double cheeseburger—you get a free Koozie.

Magazine writers write about this place all the time because it’s good, and they want an excuse for an assignment where they eat burgers on the beach.

Char-Grill

Website

9 locations in the Triangle area

These guys have been serving burgers since 1959. That’s not the oldest on this list, but you can’t fault them for trying.

Places are usually good when you have to walk up to the window to order it. Char-Grill is no exception. If you’re in the Triangle region and hungry, this basic grill does not fail. The menu’s small, but it also includes a chocolate or a vanilla milkshake.

Sure, CookOut has more options. But it’s OK to do two milkshakes really well too.

Miller’s Restaurant

Website

​​710 Wilkesboro Street, Mocksville

Two words: Pimento cheeseburger. It’s like putting good on top of good. That always works.

It’s trendy now to slop pimento cheese on a burger. Hipsters at the cool restaurants are pretending they discovered it. They didn’t. Their grandmas did.

Miller’s in Mocksville did it before it was cool. They don’t have a big web presence, which is also probably a good sign. They’re too busy being delicious.

They also have one of those diner menus so large that it should have a table of contents.

Shake Shop

Website

505 W. Church St., Cherryville

Ok, look past the fact they don’t serve shakes anymore. This article is about burgers anyway, and these burgers are the real deal.

The menu is on paper, and roughly half of it is about burgers or some manifestation of burgers like “the chuck wagon.” The sandwiches run between $6 – $8, which is a steal.

“Slow service, good food” is their motto. I don’t care when the burgers get here, as long as they get here.

Happy burger-hunting! If you enjoyed this, make sure you share it with your friends and get them in on the conversation.

Author

  • Billy Ball

    Billy Ball is Cardinal & Pine's senior community editor. He’s covered local, state and national politics, government, education, criminal justice, the environment and immigration in North Carolina for almost two decades, winning state, regional and national awards for his reporting and commentary.

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