The Best Burger in America Is In A Tiny College Town You've Never Heard Of

·2 min read
Photo credit: Courtesy of Al's Burger Shack
Photo credit: Courtesy of Al's Burger Shack

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If you were a betting man and I asked you where the best burger in America came from, there's a solid chance the guesses would go something like this: Shake Shack. Five Guys. Maybe In-N-Out, if you're a west coaster. But if you're from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, you'd say Al's Burger Shack. And according to the good people of TripAdvisor, the Tar Heels have it right.

Earlier this month, TripAdvisor announced its list of the Top 10 Burger Restaurants in the U.S. based on thousands of user reviews. Coming in first with 4.5 out of 5 bubbles was Al's, a tiny little burger joint in Chapel Hill, home of the University of North Carolina (of which I am a proud alumnus). Al Bowers opened the restaurant in 2013 — fittingly, on National Cheeseburger Day — and in 2017, added a second location across town. Both restaurants have the same simple but delicious menu: burgers, fries, hot dogs and drinks.


Photo credit: Alicia Stemper
Photo credit: Alicia Stemper

In TripAdvisor's write-up of the establishment, they named the Bobo Chili Cheeseburger (chili sauce, slaw, chopped onion, yellow mustard, and American cheese) the restaurant's signature burger. While that one is popular, according to Al, the Classic and Sean's Bacon Cheeseburger — named after his brother — are ordered most often.

The line for Al's is almost always out the door, and since being named the top burger in the U.S., business has been crazier than ever. "I'm still in disbelief," Al told Delish of the ranking, and being the only North Carolina restaurant in the top 10. "There are a lot of good hamburger joints around here, so that makes us feel fantastic."

As for what pushed Al's into the number one spot? "I think the food, first, it's fantastic," Al says [Ed. note: Can confirm]. "I think there's a fair amount of nostalgia when you walk in. It's kind of small and quaint and quirky, and it just has a lot of personality to it. Our staff is extremely friendly and very welcoming. When you put all those things together, it makes for a pretty good experience."

Where it is: 516 West Franklin St. Chapel Hill, NC

What to order: The Kenny J (bacon, grilled onions, Cheerwine BBQ sauce, spicy pimento cheese), rosemary crinkle-cut fries, and a Cheerwine.

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