Classic cheeseburger with fries at Rosie’s Restaurant & Pub in Portland. John Patriquin/Portland Press Herald

For all of the countless improvements on the burger that have been tried over the decades, has anything actually ever surpassed it? Few foodstuffs are more iconic, more emblematic of the summer backyard barbecue, or more coveted on a sunny day than a glorious, juicy burger.

No matter what you like on it, from artisanal pickles and perfectly ripe tomatoes to roquefort cheese and sharp onion slices, it’s the meat and the bun together that make the real difference between a ho-hum, perfunctory version and one that’s truly extraordinary. And they can make a big difference in the price, too; after all, even at its most humble and simple (no cheese, no fancy brioche bun, no whole grain mustard, or secret sauce), if the beef isn’t good quality or cooked just exactly the way you like it, then the whole thing is a miss.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean a top-notch burger needs to be a big investment, either. When you know which places take real pride in their patties, you can relax and know you’re in for a delicious experience, regardless of cost. Here are three truly terrific burger spots in Greater Portland, from simple to extravagant – at least as far as burgers go.

The loaded hamburger with onion rings from Harmon’s Lunch in Falmouth. Gordon Chibroski/Portland Press Herald

Cheap: Harmon’s Lunch

This cash-only, lovably anachronistic roadside joint has been around since 1960, and not much seems to have changed – prices included. Cross the checkerboard formica floor, pass the shelves stacked with old-fashioned milk bottles from local dairies, and step up to the counter to order one of the house beauties. (The patties are thin, so grab a single for $3, $3.25 with cheese if you just want a snack; a double for $5.50 or $6 with cheese, if you’re hungry; and two doubles if you’re up for a true meal). Want to experience it at its apex? Order it “loaded”– meaning, for no extra cost, it will come topped with a slice of American cheese, sweet and velvety cooked onions, red pepper relish and mustard, all on a hot, puffy buttered roll. All burgers are cooked to medium, and forget about asking for lettuce or tomato. And after one bite, you won’t miss them, anyway. 

WHAT: Harmon’s Lunch

WHERE: 144 Gray Road, Falmouth

HOURS: 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday

INFO: 797-9857, @Harmonshamburgers on Facebook

 

Moderate: Rosie’s Restaurant & Pub

Sure, you could test the waters at this watering hole by ordering the Cajun burger, the veggie burger or Rosie’s Nasty Habit – a patty smothered with sautéed mushrooms, onions and peppers, mozzarella, lettuce, tomato and the house “black magic” sauce. But why mess with success? The tavern was opened in 1987 by Steve and Rose Harris (the building dates back to the 1800s), and since then, the kitchen has perfected the Rosie’s classic burger – an inch-thick, 8-ounce patty with lettuce, tomato and mayo, for under $10. They’ll cook it exactly the way you order it and hand it to you on a wheat or white bun that’s just crusty enough to stand up to the beef’s juiciness.

WHAT: Rosie’s Restaurant & Pub

WHERE: 330 Fore St., Portland

HOURS: Noon to 1 a.m. daily

INFO: 772-5656, www.rosies-oldport.com, @RosiesOldPort on Facebook

 

The burger at Woodford F&B in Portland is made with a mix of ground beef and brisket. Photo by Mat Tronger

Expensive: Woodford F&B

At first, your taste buds will be a little confused as they try to parse just what it is that makes this creation so divine. The answer? There is no one thing. Instead, it’s the orchestration of it all: blended beefs (traditional ground beef mixed with brisket), bacon crisped in some parts and chewy in others, house-brined pickles, sweet grilled onions and shallots, cheddar, dijonaise and a sesame seed bun from Ten Ten Pié bakery. At $18 (including phenomenal fries and handmade aioli for dipping), the burger is a lot like the restaurant serving it: a playfully elegant spin on diner culture.

WHAT: Woodford F&B

WHERE: 660 Forest Ave., Portland

HOURS: 5-9 p.m. Monday; noon to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; noon to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday

INFO: 200-8503, woodfordfb.com, @woodfordFandB on Facebook, @woodford_fb on Instagram

Alexandra Hall is a longtime New England lifestyle writer who recently moved to Maine.

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