12 Burger Chains to Watch in 2012

Filed under Fast Casual, Franchising, Marketing

Happy Holidays from BurgerBusiness.com. Here’s hoping the holidays are merry and 2012 is brighter for loyal subscribers and occasional readers alike. Our warmest thoughts go to the good folks at Red Gold, a wonderful brand that keeps this site’s lights on.

Traditionally, the year closes with a roundup of burger chains worth watching in the coming year. We’re not counting Smashburger, Elevation Burger, Epic Burger or any of the others that already have established themselves (see last year’s list). The 12 chains below are up-and-comers that shouldn’t fly under your radar. Check ’em out:

Umami Burger

Bareburger, New York City (six open). The beef’s organic and grass-fed or you can choose lamb, wild boar, elk, bison or ostrich. The Ruby burger has Havarti cheese, pastrami, blackened maple bacon, fried bread-and-butter pickles, apple-smoked onion and horseradish mayo, and it’s $11.95. I wish my neighborhood had a Bareburger.

Umami Burger, Los Angeles (seven open). When even the Wall Street Journal raves about your burgers and the James Beard Foundation blog calls your Stinkburger (garlic confit, Taleggio cheese, raw onions and anchovy tempura) one of the year’s 10 best dishes, you know you’re onto something good.

Burger 21’s Shroom Burger

Burger 21, Tampa, Fla. (two open). Owned by the company that also operates casual-fondue chain The Melting Pot, Burger 21 has big plans, as executives told BurgerBusiness.com in a September interview.  The Tex-Mex Haystack burger brings together lettuce, tomato, applewood-smoked bacon, smoked Cheddar, guacamole, crispy onion strings and chipotle-jalapeño sauce on a brioche bun.

M Burger, Chicago (four open). M Burger is one of the less-ambitious concepts developed by Rich Melman’s Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises empire, which runs many of Chicago’s best restaurants (Everest, Shaw’s, Mon Ami Gabi, etc.). Like New York City’s Shake Shack, M Burger is simple and crowded.

Bagger Dave’s Blues Burger

Bagger Dave’s Legendary Burger Tavern, Southfield, Mich. (six open). Parent Company Diversified Restaurant Holdings also develops Buffalo Wild Wings stores, but Bagger Dave’s is by far the cooler concept. The menu has beer and wine pairing suggestions for each burger. The Santa Fe Chipotle Burger? How about a pilsner or brown ale, or perhaps a Riesling or Torrontés?

Tom & Eddie’s, Lombard, Ill. (four open). When we interviewed former McDonald’s Corp. execs Tom Dentice and Ed Rensi a year ago, they had just opened their first Tom & Eddie’s. Now there are four with more to come, proving they learned about expansion as well as burgers at the Arches. I’m still partial to the Bushel & A Peck burger with Granny Smith apple slices, house-made walnut butter, melted Brie cheese and caramelized onions on a roll.

Tom & Eddie’s Tried & True Burger

The Works Gourmet Burger Bistro, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (11 open). A Canadian chain? Sure, Canadian now but like Tim Hortons, The Works could one day come on over. Even if it doesn’t, it’s worth keeping an eye on if only because the menu lists 70 or so signature burgers. The $12.78 Peppercorn Broiler, for example, has a crunch black-pepper crust, Gouda cheese and bacon.

Stout Burgers & Beers, Los Angeles (one open). There’s just the one Stout now—in Hollywood—but satellites in Studio City and Santa Monica, Calif., are under construction. Stout also pairs burgers and brews. Go IPA with the $10 Goombah burger (Parmesan flakes, smoked mozzarella, crispy prosciutto and lemon-basil aïoli).


Meatheads Burgers & Fries, Bloomington, Ill.  (six open). A straight-forward concept in the Five Guys mold. Build your own, starting with a half or third-pound Angus patty or chicken breast, or pick one of its “Chef-Inspired Burgers.” The $6 Cajun Sunrise has a fried egg, pepper-Jack cheese, bacon, blue cheese sauce, lettuce, tomato and fresh jalapeños.

Kraze K. Onion Burger

◘ Kraze Burger, Seoul, Korea (one US location open). The Korean burger chain has opened in Bethesda, Md., and plans more in the Washington, D.C., area. The K. Onion Burger is topped with a deep-fried onion ring and cream-cheese sauce. Rockin’.

Toro Burger Bar, El Paso, Texas (three open). Proud to be #4 on Texas Monthly’s list of the state’s best burger joints, Toro serves Angus beef (except for the Angus-chorizo-mix Border Burger) on toasted sesame brioche buns.

Original BUBBA burger Grill, Jacksonville, Fla. (four open). It’s not unusual to see restaurant brands show up in grocery aisles. BUBBA is the opposite: a retail frozen-burger brand that now is opening restaurants that feature its product. A regular BUBBA (100% USDA Choice Chuck beef) is a family-friendly $4.89; specialty BUBBAs are $5.89.

22 Responses to 12 Burger Chains to Watch in 2012

  1. Ray

    I believe our company Relish Gourmet Burgers in Atlantic Canada is also a burger chain on the rise. Counter service with energy and flair plus delicious burger combinations make us a unique burger experience.We have 11 locations throughout Atlantic Canada and have our eye on the New England market. We Relish our people that run our stores and Relish our customers and brand.

    Chef Ray Henry
    director of burgers

  2. Scott

    Burger 21 in Tampa is by far the best burger joint I’ve eaten at. I think they are coming to Orlando soon which has me pumped. My favorite is the Chicken Parm Burger.

  3. There are two main elements to making a great burger – the ingredients AND how you cook it. Umami prepares their burgers on an Evo flattop grill. Enhanced searing capabilities allows them to capture that “fifth taste”.

  4. Q

    I’ve eaten at Tom & Eddies. It’s basically gourmet McDonald’s for around $15 a person. It looks like McDonald’s, and tastes like McDonald’s. The only real difference is they take the time to grill you a fresh patty like McDonald’s did in the past, and bring your order to your table. Meatheads on the other hand is pretty amazing. Cheaper than both 5 Guys, and Smashburger. Fresh patties with a multitude of topping options at a fair price. I can get out the door for around $10 and that includes a chocolate shake with my order. The fries are the best fresh cut fries I have ever had! Crisp outside, not too greasy, and a great taste!

  5. It is a wonderful article. As a burger lover, I truly enjoyed reading more about the up and coming burger chains. Keep it rolling.

  6. John Hendrie

    I think you missed one in Northern New England – Wild Willy’s – just a superb operation, product authenticity, customer service oriented and growing franchises.

  7. Bill Deichler

    What about Beck’s Prime in Houston? They are one of the best burgers I have ever eaten. All the beef is black angus.

  8. Mike

    You’re missing Burger Lounge – 7 locations in San Diego & 1 in LA… One under Construction in Beverly Hills.

  9. On the contrary, Burger Lounge was included last year.


  10. Marsha Middleton

    Burger Tap is another one to keep all eyes on! They just opened a bustling location in Atlanta a week ago with plans of blanketing the southeast with their concept. Gourmet burgers! Amazing prices!

  11. Jaime

    Looking forward to Stout Studio City and Santa Monica – love the Charlie’s Special which I suggest you put on the menu!

  12. Peter J

    You forgot Larkburger in Denver and Boulder. Truly excellent.

  13. Urban Stack Burger Lounge in Chattanooga, TN is awesome. Dont know if it is a chain yet or is going to be.

  14. Jammie

    As a PittsBURGER lover, the new gourmet burger places Burgatory and BRGR are amazing, but still nothing beats a big greasy 5 Guys burger! I’m happy to see new burger places gain some steam, maybe I’ll see one opening up here soon :)

  15. Jeff

    Not only are the burgers at Burger 21 in Tampa incredible, but their shakes are to die for.

  16. Thom van Eeghen

    Two words: ELKRANCH BURGER / The Works Gourmet Burger Bistro (Canada)
    Love the taste of Elk .. its a healthy alternative, lean but not dry, those burgerheads have it right!

  17. Chris C

    You forgot the Habit Burger Grill (CA chain, currently expanding). Best burger I’ve tasted in a LONG time.


  18. Jerry

    what is happening to CHEESEBURGER CHEESEBURGER ?

  19. John

    How can you leave out Cheeburger Cheeburger!!

  20. Easy. It started in 1986, so it’s hardly an “up-and-comer,” is it?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>