There are few things more divisive than a conversation about which restaurant in your city makes the best burger. It’s not like choosing best risotto; almost every restaurant has their take on the American classic. In the last few years, Saskatoon food culture has been seeing a welcomed rush of culinary change, so there are a lot more burgers to argue the merits of.
What makes a good burger? Well, that’s subjective, I suppose. Some people, especially in Saskatchewan, have great memories of rink burgers from their favourite hockey rink. For me, whether it’s served at the rink or in a fancy restaurant, it’s all about making a real burger, as opposed to those freeze-dried chemical patty pucks that are more fit to be passed around by players on the ice. I’m talking actual beef, hand-shaped, and placed lovingly on a homemade bun, with fresh, vibrant ingredients.
Let’s talk about the best hamburgers in Saskatoon. Rather than narrowing it down to one, or even a few, here’s a list that should give you a run for your money. This is in no particular order, but if you love burgers and you haven’t been to all of these places, you should check them out. For the sake of brevity, I’m not counting fare like the elk burger at The Yard and Flagon, the veggie burger from Amigos, or the turducken burger from Prairie Harvest Café (but let’s consider these delicious takes on the venerable classic to be honourable mentions).
While I find the construction of the burger to be a bit tall to fit in one’s mouth, it’s nothing a good squishing down can’t fix. With Top Chef Canada winner Dale MacKay behind the helm, it’s no wonder that Ayden has got one of the better gourmet burgers in town, with all the freshness of ingredients that I went on about above.
Natasha’s Bar & Grill
It’s hidden in the North Industrial part of town, in a non-descript building that is actually a rugby club, overlooking the playing field. In the furthest place from fanciness or pretention, you will find one of the most amazing burgers in Saskatoon. There is a variety, of course, but these are huge handmade six-ounce patties, sometimes messy creations. After eating the double burger at Natasha’s, you’ll be more meat than man (or woman).
Riversdale’s 20th Street is a part of Saskatoon that was once referred to as ‘The Harlem on the Prairie,” but the face of the west side street has been fast changing. No matter what you think about gentrification, Park Café was there before it happened, and it will be there after it’s all said and done. Like Natasha’s, it has a selection of burgers with different cheeses and delicious accoutrements. The flagship Park Burger itself is a pretzel bun, a five-ounce Angus patty, smoked cheddar cheese, bacon, BBQ sauce, and lettuce, tomato, and onion. Timeless.
Ace Burger Truck (and Congress Beer House)
Until recently, Saskatoon was admittedly behind the curve when it came to food trucks. It wasn’t the fault of local restaurants and foodies. It just took the city a long time to finally pull the trigger on handing out permits. One of the first trucks to appear was the Ace Burger Truck (made by the fine folks that brought us Congress Beer House) and it has held its own as one of the best and most popular of the street-meat fleet. It’s a juicy burger with some great combinations of toppings. Try the Sriracha mayo.
Man, I feel sorry for the rest of Canada. Saskatoon is the only place left with a Fuddruckers and we’re darn lucky for it. In a fast food age, it is cranking out quality handmade burgers and buns baked in its own on-site bakery. My favourite part though, is the condiment bar, where you can customize your burger to your exact specifications. Also, pump cheese. No wait. Make that, jalapeno pump cheese. (Homer Simpson’s noises ensue).
My message to today’s crop of 50s diners all over the world is that in the 1950s, diners didn’t have pictures of Marilyn Monroe or James Dean on the walls. But you can forget little things like that when you bite into the classic malt shop burger from Pink Cadillacs. And while I don’t want to stray too far from talking about burgers here, it’s worth a mention that this place has boozy milkshakes, you know, for when junior is making too much noise and Daddy needs his stress to melt away? I’ve never seen it, but apparently the waitresses dance in their poodle skirts on the countertops a few times a week.
It’s a down-to-Earth, downtown gourmet burger bar, with a vast array of burgers to choose from. You can build your own burger, too, with the type of meat, some of the toppings and the type of bread you choose. Last time I was there, I went with the Bistro Brie burger on brioche. It was smothered in smoked brie cheese, sautéed onions, micro-greens, and an apple aioli. My, how burger ingredients have changed from the ketchup and a Kraft slice I remember as a child. There’s something so very right about brie on a burger.
McDonalds (Clearly, this is not a "best burger" option)
Forget everything I just said about fancy ingredients and hand crafted beef. Sometimes you just want a good, old-fashioned fast food burger to make the pain go away. Some may like BK, some may prefer Wendy’s or A&W, but I am a sucker for the original fast food burger served under the Golden Arches. I see the detractors in Internet think pieces and I've read Fast Food Nation and yet I still love a visit to Mickey D’s for a Big Mac.