The Best Burgers in the World are found along US 50 in Nevada.
Anyone who has driven the “Loneliest Highway” and had a burger along the way will agree. No matter how long ago it was, they can still tell you how that burger hit the spot. It was . . . unforgettable.
This is not a ‘vote’ for the Best Burger. We don’t think there is a single Best Burger along US 50 in Nevada, any more than there’s a ‘best diamond’ in a bracelet that sparkles on a slender wrist. It is the assemblage as a whole that is exceptional, including the wrist, by which I mean the setting.
Here is our Must-Eat burger list, east to west, ranging from picture-perfect classics to unprecedented chin-drippers. If we’ve missed a good one,please add it by way of a comment at the bottom of the page:
Border Inn — Right at the Utah line; you’ll have your burger in Nevada, but if you want to book a room at the motel you’ll sleep in Utah. This is the first stop on the trail of burger superlatives, so make the most of the tasty beauties awaiting you here. We ordered a chili cheeseburger to share, and the cook divided it for us — the photo shows just a half!
As long as you’re here: There’s an Archeological dig with a self-guided tour to acquaint you with the way people lived here in ancient times. You’ll see the turnoff to the left as you drive west on 50 from the Border Inn,. When you’ve gathered in enough understanding of the prehistoric world, continue along the road, it’s a shortcut to Baker. Baker is quiet now, especially in winter, and its business establishments don’t all open every day. A Welcome Center for Great Basin National Park is at the north edge of town just past the access road to the Park, which is about five miles up the mountainside. The Park is open year around with tours available of the Lehman Caves every day.
All Aboard Cafe & Inn — 220 E 11th Street, East Ely (a block from the Nevada Northern Railway depot); 775-289-3959. The basic burger is called the Plain Train, add cheese for a dollar or go for broke with a Caboosey in your choice of flavors. The Blue Caboosey is chopped garlic and bleu cheese inside a half pound of beef; the Bacon Classic Caboosey has bacon and cheddar inside; the Mushroom Swiss Caboosey has sauteed mushrooms and melted Swiss cheese inside; and the Spicy Caboosey has diced pickled jalapenos and Pepper Jack cheese inside. Not only a great burger but an interesting conversation piece when you get home. The cafe is also a B&B if you feel drowsy after lunch.
Racks — 753 Aultman Street; 775-289-3131. This modestly trendy bar and grill has a big game hunting motif, complete with framed photos and trophy heads on the walls, but the ambiance is surprisingly urbane. The burger menu is a list of creative specialties including the Blackened Bleu Cheeseburger and the Big Rack’s Burger, with triple beef patty, triple American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and 1000 island dressing “The old fashioned way!”
As long as you’re here: In East Ely the Nevada Northern Railway, which is one of Nevada’s great treasures, an intact 20th century railroad, from steam engines to diesels, fully operational. Depending on the season, the day of the week and time of day (and the circumference of your wallet) you can buy a ticket on a on a regular or special run — winter’s Fire & Ice Express, for example — or you can actually pilot the locomotive yourself, pull a string of cars out of the yard and roll on down the track. Check out the schedule here. The White Pine Public Museum is on Aultman Street. In downtown Ely a former bank building on the corner of 4th and Aultman has been transformed by the Ely Renaissance Society and is now The Art Bank. It’s a perpetual show & sale of art from the local region with information available on activities at the Renaissance Village and the murals that decorate so many of the exterior walls of buildings downtown.
Pony Express Deli — 101 Bullion St, Eureka (A block west of US 50 at the uphill end of town) 775-237-7665.
This plain but pleasant cafe is operated by a Mennonite family, and is truly home cooking. Everything fresh, everything good. The burger is a classic: big, flavorful and cooked to order, and then dressed in a slice of onion, a crisp leaf of lettuce, then slices of tomato, and pickle, all contained in a perfectly textured bun and served with a smile.
As long as you’re here: The Eureka Opera House is a jewel, open for tours during regular business hours, as is the classic Eureka County Court house across the street. The town itself is an intriguing tangle of streets that give hints of the ups and downs of a mining town over a century and a half. Prowl around for 10 or 15 minutes and come away with a better picture of life in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Toiyabe Cafe — 150 Main Street, 775-964-2220. The burgers here are big, healthy, hearty and good, and are a staple with locals and travelers alike. Many times we’ve picked up the phone at the junction of SR 376 in Big Smoky Valley, ordered cheeseburgers, and picked them up ready to go when we rolled into town. Alas we weren’t able to get a glamor shot of this one because we took it to go. Delicious though.
International Hotel — 59 Main St, 775-964-1225. We haven’t stopped here to eat for a few years, but a recommendation on our Facebook page prompted us to stop. The International Hotel was transported from Virginia City by wagon and reassembled here about 150 years ago. This was the most historic burger venue on our journey. The cafe is open early for coffee daily, and the burgers are ready when you are. We had the traditional bacon cheeseburger — excellent! — and what may have been the best french fries of the trip.
As long as you’re here: The recently restored St. Augustine’s Catholic Church is a secular community center now, the historical Museum is just a few steps uphill from the Toiyabe, and Stokes Castle is around the shoulder of the canyon overlooking Reese River.
Middlegate Station — 47 miles east of Fallon on US 50, 775-423-7134. This historic roadhouse — it was a Pony Express station and a station on the Overland Stage — is the progenitor of the Burger Boom on US 50, the first place in northern Nevada to develop a buzz about its burgers. Middlegate’s relative isolation, interesting history and exotic character had something to do with it and there are other tasty choices on the menu, but it was the burgers that made their reputation.
As long as you’re here: Soak up the ambience while you’re eating the most famous burgers on this storied route, strike up a conversation with the locals or other travelers and leave with a memory to last you even longer than the Monster Burger — unless you can eat the whole thing, in which case the memory of it will stay with you forever. Before you get back into the car, pause long enough to scan the horizons and think about how lucky we are to live now and not in, say, 1861 when Orion and Sam Clemens came through here on their way to Carson City on the Overland Stage. No a/c, no NPR on the radio, no way to refrigerate the beer. Gives you the shivers, doesn’t it? Okay, back on the road, crank it up to 70. There are three points of interest on the way west from Middlegate. The Shoe Tree you’ll see on your right a few miles down the road, a stately cottonwood festooned with trash — [don’t get me started]. There was another one similarly insulted there until someone cut it down. A mercy killing I think, and now a second tree is being fitted out with the fatal accoutrements of shame. Sand Mountain, more popular than ever with sandspraying doodlebugs, and the remnants of the Sand Springs Pony Express Station are further west, and further still are the ‘message rocks’ arranged by passersby, most of them to celebrate their affection for one another, some just for your amusement.
Five Years Ago in the NevadaGram
I attended the Governor’s Conference on Tourism in December. The event had been a landmark on the Nevada Tourism calendar since 1984 until the recent and ongoing financial disaster prompted cancellation of the 2008 event.
I attended the first conference as a member of the Tourism Commission staff, and I’ve attended most of them since. I rate this as one of the best conferences ever, with none of the bloat and overkill of previous efforts.
This year’s Conference was built from a different blueprint from the splendid affairs of the past, both in the sparse agenda and the monastic menus of food and drink. Instead of trying to create a 3-day Tourism University embracing workshops and presentations on every aspect of this multi-faceted industry, with banquet suppers and luncheon feasts interspersed, the planners pared everything down to the not-quite-bare essentials.
There was no chocolate fountain this time, no trays of champagne; there was not a caviar spoon to be seen, not a single shrimp in the room. Once upon a time Pete Barbutti entertained(?) the multitude at dinners fit for kings. This time: no Pete Barbutti, no dinner, no kings. Revolutionary.
The first general session began at 1:30 on Tuesday afternoon with a presentation on “The Economic Outlook for Nevada’s Target Market” (it’s not great), followed by presentations on brand development and new modes of communication with travelers — broad topics of general interest rather than narrower slices interesting to some but not all attendees.
And then instead of a dinner came an Evening Reception with a no host bar and some low-end hors d’ouvres. At first I worried that the more habituated attendees might suffer the bends when confronted with breaded cheese pops and chicken fingers. But if no-one was overwhelmed by the largesse, they still babbled eagerly away together and found enjoyment aplenty in one another’s company.
Top Gun Restaurant — 66 West Center Street, 775-636-8686. A food reviewer on Yelp calls the bacon cheeseburger here “One of the most outstanding cheeseburgers of our time.” More than outstanding, this burger is unique: it’s served on a longitudinal bun, and you pay by the inch. There are four other “steakburgers” on the menu, a simple Cheeseburger, Mushroom Swiss, Bacon Bleu and Western, each magnificent in its own way.
As long as you’re here: The Churchill County Museum is at 1050 south Maine, a few blocks south from US 50 and well worth a visit (closed Mondays). So is the Oats Park Art Center, located on the east side of Oats Park, four blocks east of the junction of Highways 50 and 95 (Maine Street). The busy schedule of exhibits, performances, films and personal appearances may provide a reason to stay the night in Fallon. And Lattin Farms on the southwest fringe of the town is a must-visit: a 400-acre certified organic farm growing crops for local consumption, offering fresh produce and home-cooked food as well.
Roadrunner Cafe — 140 Douglas Street just west of US 50, 775-246-0205. This popular cafe opens at 6 am and closes at 2 with an even dozen burgers on the lunch menu.
As long as you’re here: Drive west on Main Street (which becomes Cemetery Road) up toward the big water tank to the cemetery. Some notable Nevadans are buried here along with any number of solid citizens and nameless scalawags, and the view back over the town and the Carson River is superb. Or go to the east edge of town on US 50 to Dayton State Park, developed along the river for camping and group activities and spend some time in solitude and reflection.
Red’s Old 395 — Red’s half-pound Mighty Burger is the springboard for a half-dozen tasty variations, but don’t ignore the Thunder Humper, the open face chiliburger topped with cheese and onions ($11.49). Oh, and lurking in the background is a 16 oz. cheeseburger called Carson’s Colossus ($12.99). You can choose from a daunting list of beers and ales, porters and stouts plus anything else a full bar can produce; service is friendly and nimble.
Sassafras Eclectic Food Joint — 1500 Hot Springs Road (Google directions), . A dozen creative variations on the basic burger, including a classical half-pound burger and a Veggieburger, all the way up to the astonishing Fried Cheese Cheeseburger “served with a medley of crispy, gooey fried cheese”. Sides are hand-cut french fries, homemade potato chips, sweet potato chips, breaded onion rings and four different salads.
As long as you’re here: Carson City is a nifty little city with a lot more than burgers to offer. The Nevada State Museum is at 600 North Carson Street, open 8:30 am – 4:30 pm Tuesday through Sunday, presenting Nevada’s history and prehistory in the former US Mint building. The State Capitol, on Carson Street at the center of the city, is a historic artifact in its own right, open to visitors during normal business hours and well worth an hour of your time. It’s not Versailles, but it’s a nice example of 19th century sandstone grandeur. Go upstairs to the old Assembly chambers (the legislature has its own building next door now) for the Sesquicentennial exhibit celebrating the state’s 150th birthday in 2014. The Nevada State Railroad Museum is farther south; turn west at Fairview Street, a collection of magnificent machinery restored to operating condition. Rides available some days, open daily except Monday.
Marla Bay/Zephyr Cove, Lake Tahoe
Sam’s Place — You can always count on a tasty burger at Sam’s Place at 611 Hwy. 50, just south of Zephyr Cove Lodge. Sam’s is closed just now for remodeling but will reopen in February. Order the Sam’s Burger: a quarter pound burger with avocado, bacon and cheddar cheese on a sourdough bun. A side of spicy fries and a tall frosty beer make it even better, and you can have it outside when the weather is good. Because of the remodeling, no burger is available to taste and photograph.
As long as you’re here: Zephyr Cove is right next door, a popular beach scene plus the paddlewheeler Dixie in the summer, snowmobile rentals in the winter.
Stateline, south shore Lake Tahoe
Lucky Beaver — 31 Highway 50 in the former Bill’s Casino a few doors east of Harrah’s at the California line. 775-580-7770.
This popular cafe has built its menu around the burgers, which are large and lavish variations on the theme. You need both hands to eat these big boys, and they take a while to get down, even with a pint of cold beer to assist.
As long as you’re here: Are you kidding? This is the epicenter of hospitality at Lake Tahoe, and here’s your guide to what’s happening all around you today.
Ten Years Ago in the NevadaGram
A romantic interlude in . . . Lovelock?
Yes! It’s not as farfetched as you think. While in China to open the new Nevada tourism office there, Nevada Tourism Director Bruce Bommarito encountered the Chinese tradition of symbolically locking one’s love by fastening a lock on a chain. In the Yellow Mountains, miles of lock-laden chains snake through the landscape, and he realized the custom, would be a perfect fit for Lovelock.
“Locking your love is a beautiful sentiment,” he says, “and we hope it will entice travelers to leave a lasting symbol at Lovers Lock, and then stay and see what else this picturesque high desert town has to offer.”
Here’s the problem: This excerpt from a motorcyclist’s travel blog illustrates the barrier to perception that blinds newcomers to rural Nevada —
State Hiway 50 has the moniker “the Loneliest Road” and I can see why now. We cross the hiway (no traffic) and continue through Nevada, an endless empty plain bisected by occasional roads and tracks.
Everyone passes through hurriedly, a State to be endured on your way to somewhere better, somewhere more habitable, easier on the eye. I find it strangely restful and starkly photogenic though. I’m in my own little headspace most days as we track across country. Keep your wits about you out here – sharp washouts and rocks amongst the sand threaten to unseat the unwary. We cross a wide open prairie flanked by low craggy ridges. The horizon shimmers in the distance.
He finds rural Nevada “strangely restful and starkly photogenic” — positive qualities surely — and yet characterizes what he sees as “to be endured on your way to somewhere better”. Better? Or simply more familiar and more completely predictable?
Quick Note From Beyond the Mountains — While winter weather drives us to find warmer spaces, why not tune in to some Jazz? In Carson City on January 26th see the Mile High Jazz band for a “Jazz Extravaganza” at the Community Center. Click Here for tickets.
. . . On January 29th head on down to the Brewery Arts Center Performance Hall for the Dusty Green Bones Band, a “newgrass” quintet from the Bay Area in California. Doors open at 7:00pm (courtesy of Brewery Arts) . . . In North Tahoe go to the Burton Mountain Festival at Northstar Ski Resort on January 8th through the 10th. The festival takes over Northstar and transforms it into a “Demo Village”, surrounded by piling snow and fun for all ages . . . In Tahoe Donner on January 23rd go to the first ever Winterpalooza at Tahoe Donner Snowplay. This is an all day event of intertubes, snowman building, relay races, a snowstrider course and more. Snow’s a-plenty this year around Lake Tahoe and visitors from all over the world are making multiple sweeps through pillows of powdery snow of the Sierra Mountains. This sort of invigorating activity can make one pretty hungry! Luckily Lake Tahoe’s Restaurant Week titled “Made with Altitude” is scheduled to being on the 8th and run through the 15th, with 25 of the lake’s best restaurants participating. Click here to view the full details and a map to Tahoe’s Restaurant Week. The Lucky Beaver, mentioned above is also participating in the event. . .
Down the hill in Reno on January 23rd The University of Nevada Reno will host a TEDx event that will host talks from intrepid thinkers and a few youth bands . . . Over in Sparks at the Nugget Casino & Resort come out to the annual Sheep Dip, held on January 22nd through the 23rd. . . In Virginia City on January 21st go to Canvas and Cocktails on the Comstock at St. Mary’s Art Center, a paint and sip event where you will be able to create your own masterpiece among cocktails and there will be plenty of snacks . . . In Carson Valley don’t miss Minden’s Main Street Mingle “Sip Happens” on January 26th at 5:00 pm through 6:30 pm . . . A short jaunt off Highway 95A in Yerington, Lacy J. Dalton will play the On The Trail benefit concert for Yerington Theater of the Art’s at Jeanne Dini Center on January 22nd . . . In eastern Nevada, Elko hosts its annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering at Western Folklife Center on January 25th through the 30th . . . Also on the eastern border in Baker come to the Sheepherders’ Ball that is scheduled for January 15th through the 16th . . . Wintertime in Ely is quite festive, immediately after the Sheepherder’s Ball, begins the White Pine Fire and Ice Festival at Cave Lake that runs from January 15th through the 17th . . . And on January 18th is the Fireworks Express at Northern Nevada Railway where a fireworks display is let loose FROM THE TRAIN! . . . Then on January 30th Ely hosts an Ice Fishing Derby, the top tagged fish get’s a hefty prize of $5,000 dollars . . . Down south in Boulder City is the Hoover Dam Lodge & BC Art Guild Exhibit with an artist Meet ‘n Greet that is held on January 10th at the Lodge. Refreshments hosted by Hoover Dam Lodge . . . Across the valley in Las Vegas on January 14th through the 17th check out the WFG Continental Cup of Curling Championship, originating in Scotland this is one of the more unusual sports featured in the Winter Olympics . . . In Pioche on January 16th at Spring Valley State Park there will be a Ice Hole Golf Tournament. The event starts at 9 am and runs through 2 pm . . . To the east look skyward at the Mesquite Balloon Festival that is held on January 23rd and 24th. Bring your camera!
Parting Shot —
The V&T’s Polar Express bound for Virginia City through the snowy night, a beautiful, evocative and hopeful farewell to 2015. Photograph by Kevin LeVezu.