The Best Campus Burgers

Revisiting the restaurants that have sustained generations of meat-eating Badgers.

Dramatically lit photo of a Dotty Dumplings Dowry cheeseburger and fries.

A classic offering from Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry, served with a heaping side of nostalgia. Bryce Richter

Asking a Badger to pick the best burger is like forcing a parent to choose a favorite child. There are too many classic spots by the UW–Madison campus, too many fond memories stored inside their walls. Instead, I decided to revisit four favorites, each hamburger served with a heaping side of nostalgia.

My journey starts in the intimate booths of Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry. I order the best-selling Melting Pot, a six-ounce patty topped with cheddar, Swiss, and provolone cheeses; smoked bacon; and English garlic sauce on a fresh-baked seeded bun. The plated Melting Pot lives up to its name, with the cheese trifecta dripping over the edge of the burger. The medium-pink beef bursts with flavor, but the rich fixings provide the memorable, mouthwatering punch. It only takes one taste to realize why Dotty’s has been a Madison staple for 50 years.

A trek up State Street leads me to the old-timey Plaza Tavern and its famed Plazaburger. The quarter-pound sensation, which has sold in the millions since its 1962 debut, is all about the white sauce. You can taste sour cream and mayo in the mix, but the rest is classified. My $7 order is prepared on a small grill behind the bar, smothered in the special sauce, and served on a starchy whole wheat bun. I’m reminded instantly that there’s no other bite like it.

Next is the Nitty Gritty, the “Official Birthday Place.” My special day isn’t for a couple weeks, so a free drink and souvenir mug aren’t on the menu. But there’s always the award-winning Gritty Burger. The standard six-ounce patty is served medium well on a honey wheat sesame seed bun. It’s the bulkiest burger of the bunch, with char flavor reminiscent of backyard grilling. The Gritty Sauce, while secret, smacks of Thousand Island. It’s a satisfying meal, even on the 364 days that aren’t your birthday.

And at the Memorial Union’s Der Rathskeller, I order the Signature Stacked Burger — a double quarter-pounder with American cheese. It’s a worthy rendition of the classic pub burger that comforts regulars at neighborhood joints across Wisconsin. For a touch of tangy flavor, I add some Rath Sauce — a divine, orange-ish mix of ranch, mayo, ketchup, and barbecue and adobo sauces.

I take my last burger bite as the UW men’s basketball team upsets Purdue on a projector screen in front of a packed Rath crowd. It tastes a lot like home.

Published in the Summer 2024 issue


No comments posted yet.

Post a comment

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