1. Queen & Beaver Public House
35 Elm, at Yonge, 647-347-2712, queenandbeaverpub.ca.
Simply listed on the UK-style gastro-pub's menu as "burger & chips ($17)," chef Andrew Carter's aproximation of a Big Mac is so much more than that. A better description might be 6 juicy ounces of roughly hand-chopped top sirloin cap laced with fatty bone marrow served on an eggy house-baked bun dressed with fabulously thick house-smoked porkbelly bacon and strong blue Stilton cheese. Round it out with house-pickled asparagus, chunky sea-salted fries and the tastiest Indo-spiced ketchup in the GTA.
Lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 3 pm, dinner Monday to Saturday 3 to 11 pm, Sunday 3 to 10 pm. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 3 pm, breakfast both days from 9 am in footie season. Bar till close. Licensed. Access: five steps at door, washrooms on second floor.
2. Harbord Room
89 Harbord, at Spadina, 416-962-8989, theharbordroom.com.
Accompanied by what the card of their ever-hot boîte refers to as "a little salad" - a respectable heap of arugula and radish in a cold-pressed soy bean vinaigrette goosed with fresh tarragon - chefs Cory Vitiello and Curt Martin's much-lauded house burger ($15) is much more impressive than it might initially seem. First there's the burger itself, 8 jus-squirting ounces of house-ground brisket on an eggy Fred's Bread bun. Next the garnishes - sharp aged cheddar, house-smoked bacon cure in maple syrup and Jack Daniel's, grainy Guinness-sozzled mustard, roasted garlic mayo and Vitiello's own ketchup. ("There's lots of shit going on in there, but it's predominantly cumin.") Combine the two, throw in a side of perfectly executed sea-salted russet frites dusted with chives and rosemary at no extra cost and get the perfect burger combo.
Dinner nightly 6 to 10:30 pm, late-night menu till midnight Thursday to Saturday. Licensed. Access: three steps at door, washrooms in basement.
3. Nota Bene
180 Queen W, at Simcoe, 416-977-6400, notabenerestaurant.com.
We might not be fans of this rather anonymous and pricey dining room, but we'll gladly hit its adjacent Manhattan-style saloon for David Lee's cheeseburger ($19). Named for the ex-Splendido owner/chef's wife, the Jennifer finds 8 ounces of naturally raised Cumbrae brisket and chuck on a grilled Epi Breads bun dripping with balsamic-caramelized onions and pungent Stilton. Side with crunchy cornichons and exceptional pommes frites and reach hamburger heaven.
Lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 2:30 pm, for dinner Monday to Saturday 5 to 11 pm. Closed Sunday, holidays. Licensed. Access: barrier-free.
111 Queen E, at Mutual, 416-863-6006, georgeonqueen.com.
It's not all $200 multi-course tasting menus at chef Lorenzo Loseto's chic downtown supper club. At lunch on the lovely garden terrace, his deeply flavourful 5-ounce Ollife veal burger studded with foie gras ($19 with salad) arrives layered with aged cheddar, ripe avocado and local field tomato on grilled house-made flatbread - so luxuriantly so, the whole thing's held together with an upright bamboo skewer.
Lunch Monday to Friday noon to 2 pm, dinner Tuesday to Saturday 5:30 to 10:30 pm. Closed Sunday, holidays. Licensed. Access: four steps at door, washrooms on same floor.
5. Lee Lounge
601 King W, at Portland, 416-504-7867, susur.com.
Susur Lee's come along way from the Peter Pan - backward tasting menus, anyone? - but he's always kept true to the experimentation of his 80s Queen West culinary roots. Who else would have the audacity to deconstruct cheeseburgers by stuffing spring rolls with ground Angus sirloin and aged cheddar, then serve them wrapped in lettuce à la Peking Duck? Finish with smoky chipotle mayo, seeded ripe tomato and baby coriander leaves and reinvent an American classic.
Dinner Monday to Saturday 5:30 to 11:30 pm, bar till close. Closed Sunday, holidays. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor.
70 Fraser, at Liberty, 416-588-0005, schooltoronto.com.
Come patio weather, Brad Moore's insanely popular Liberty Village lunch 'n' brunch spot triples in capacity, making it that much easier to get your hands on the ex-Xacutti chef's house cheeseburger ($14 with chili-peppered frites), 7 ounces of pink-centred organic beef finished with aged cheddar, lettuce, tomato, red onion and peppercorn-studded brandy sauce.
Monday and Tuesday 8 am to 4 pm, Wednesday and Friday 8 am to 11 pm, Saturday and Sunday 9:30 am to 11 pm. Brunch till 4 pm, dinner from 5 pm. Closed some holidays. Licensed. Access: barrier-free.
7. Fanny Chadwick's
268 Howland, at Dupont, 416-944-1606, fannychadwicks.com.
Once you learn that Fanny chef Joel McDonald has worked under both Susur Lee and Lorenzo Loseto, it's no surprise his seemingly simple burger ($11.95 at lunch with soup, salad or fries) packs this spectacular a punch. Blame 6 ounces of expertly grilled Rowe Farms brisket on a big Doughheads bun optionally spread with house-made ketchup and pickled asparagus. At dinner, he drowns the beast ($15.95 with fries and salad) in veal jus before layering it with artisan cheese and a whole lotta house-cured pancetta-like bacon (both $2.25 add-ons at lunch). Sweet!
Lunch Tuesday to Friday 11 am to 4 pm, for dinner Sunday, Tuesday to Thursday 6 to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 6 to 11 pm. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 4 pm. Closed Monday, holidays. Licensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement.
96 Tecumseth, at Whitaker, 647-352-6000, thebeastrestaurant.com.
Located on a leafy side steet in the storefront that was once Susur Lee's iconic Lotus, Scott and Rachelle Vivian's low-key neighbourhood bistro celebrates the animal in all of us. Take their cheeseburger ($16), 6 glorious ounces of grilled Cumbrae chuck on a house-baked English muffin decked out with house-smoked peameal bacon, aged Quebec cheddar, house-made mayo and a runny fried free-range egg, sided with organic greens and the couple's creative take on tater tots. Woof!
Dinner Wednesday to Saturday 6 to 11 pm. Brunch Sunday 10 am to 3 pm. Closed Monday, Tuesday, holidays. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washroom on same floor.
488 Wellington W, at Portland, 416-979-1990, marbenrestaurant.com.
Talk about locavore! Named for owner Simon Benstead's dad John, not only does chef Carl Heinrich's haute barnyard burger ($17 with fries and mustardy slaw) spotlight 6 ounces of braised beef ribs from Bradford's Dingo Farms, local aged white cheddar and house-made Branston pickle, but its side of ketchup comes courtesy of one H.J. Heinz of Leamington, Ontario.
Tuesday to Thursday 11 am to 11 pm, Friday 11 am to 2 am, Saturday 10 am to 2 am, Sunday 10 am to 11 pm. Kitchen closes 11 pm nightly. Brunch Saturday and Sunday till 3 pm. Closed Monday, holidays. Licensed. Access: seven steps at door, washrooms on same floor.
354 King E, at Power, 416-777-9339.
For someone with no prior restaurant experience, Constance Guitard has created what most chefs dream of but few ever achieve - a cozy 30-seat neighbourhood bistro that's booked solid virtually every night of the week. Foodies flock for the self-taught cook's retro burger ($15), 8 grilled-to-order ounces of secret-grind triple A sirloin - we're guessing garlic - on an appropriate bun loaded with aged cheddar, lettuce and tomato, a mess o' fabulous frites dusted with freshly snipped taragon and chives on the side. Sometimes, simple is better.
Tuesday to Saturday 5:30 to 10 pm. Closed Sunday, Monday, holidays. Licensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement.
11. Against the Grain
25 Dockside, at Queens Quay E, 647-344-1562, atgurbantavern.ca.
Who says dining near the lake means tacky tourist traps and prefab pub grub? This self-described gastro-pub at the foot of Jarvis next to Sugar Beach proves the exception to the rule, especially executive chef Sera Antheunis's spectacularly plated 8-ounce naturally raised local Angus burger ($15 with sweet potato fries) piled so dramatically with pulled stout-braised short ribs, blue cheese, house-smoked bacon and frazzled onion rings that she has to stick a chopstick through it to stop it from falling over.
Monday and Tuesday 11 am to 11 pm, Wednesday and Thursday 11 am to midnight, Friday 11 am to 1 am, Saturday 10:30 am to 1 am, Sunday 10:30 am to 10 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free.
249 Victoria, at Yonge-Dundas Sq, 416-364-7517, thesenator.com.
Burgers have been on the menu of this lovingly original luncheonette since it opened back in 1929. True, they weren't always of this calibre, 8 ounces of custom-grind Cumbrae chuck on a correctly retro Silverstein egg bun topped with cheddar, bacon, thickly sliced field tomato and leaf lettuce ($13.95 lunch/$17.95 dinner) with creamy coleslaw and hand-cut fries and served on vintage Fiestaware. And don't forget the super house-made corn relish. But remember, as the card warns, if you're hoping to catch an early curtain at one of the several theatres nearby, "please allow 20 minutes for well-done."
Breakfast and lunch Monday to Friday 7:30 am to 2:30 pm; dinner Tuesday to Saturday 5 to 9 pm. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 8 am to 2:30 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, booth seating, washrooms in basement.
13. Earth Bloor West
2448 Bloor W, at Jane, 416-763-2222, thinkglobaleatlocal.ca.
Executive chef Kevin McKenna's comfort food carte is widely trumpeted as one of the most locally sourced lineups out there. Witness his Earth burger ($17), 6 grilled ounces of house-ground Wellington County rib-eye piled with melted Ewenity Dairy cheese curds, sweet roasted red pepper relish and a leaf of Boston lettuce - grown nearby, no doubt - all on a properly pliable house-baked bun. Side them with Maldon-salted frites fried in duck fat. Who knew eco-consciousness could be so delish?
Lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 3 pm, dinner Monday to Wednesday 5 to 10 pm, Thursday to Saturday 5 to 11 pm. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 3 pm. Licensed. Access: four steps at door, washrooms in basement.
143 Danforth, at Broadview, 416-463-3086, allens.to.
Urban myth has it that the house burger at this long-running saloon is so special, only regulars know to order it because it's not on the menu. But there it is in clear sight on the card right next to the Ulster fry-up - 4 hand-formed ounces of grilled-to-order grass-fed Angus sirloin garnished with stinky blue cheese ($11.70), though it's suggested, if you want more, that you "enquire of staff re permutations and combinations."
Daily 11:30 am to midnight. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement.
15. Peter Pan
373 Queen W, at Peter, 416-593-0917, thepeterpanbistro.com.
If this venerable and influential diner goes down in history for only one thing in its eventful, more than 30-year run, the Pan will be forever known as the resto where Susur Lee flipped his very first burger. And what a burger it be ($13 lunch or brunch/$14.95 dinner) - 8 ounces of freshly ground beef on a house-baked bun tiered with lettuce, tomato and onion, sided with hand-cut Yukon fries and mixed organic greens in honey mustard dressing. For anyone still pining for Bemmelmans on Bloor, here's the next best thing.
Lunch Monday to Saturday noon to 4 pm, dinner Monday to Wednesday 4 to 10:30 pm, Thursday 4 to 11 pm, Friday and Saturday 4 pm to noon; brunch Sunday noon to 4 pm, dinner to 10 pm. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement.