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Let Iowa's top ten burgers be your guide across Iowa on your next road trip. Brian Taylor-Carlson/The Register

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Iowa burgers are becoming almost as iconic as the tenderloin sandwich — almost.

Burger-makers all across the state are doubling down on decadence with melty cheeses, toppings, and buns. And there's a hyperlocal pride pushing restaurateurs to invest in the quality of the beef. It's not just about putting a slab of beef on a bun anymore, kids.

In this guide  to Iowa burgers worth the trip, we included all burgers on the Iowa Beef Council's 2017 Top Ten list, from which a winner will be announced on May 1. But we do have some disclaimers: Please take this all in fun. We've organized the burgers by region, but we're by no means telling anyone to go on a road trip and eat three or four burgers in one day.

We also threw in some suggestions for what to do near the burger joints,which  include several ideas, like getting some fresh air and exercise. And things to do with the kids. And beer.

Northwestern

BW's Burgers

Operated by Brandon Waldron, the restaurant is coming up on its two-year anniversary in May. The Waldron family also owns The Rusty Duck in Dexter, managed by Brandon's father, Brad, which won Best Burger in 2011. The Rusty Duck is well-known for its steaks, so the family is well-versed in beef. "We do all the burgers he does out there, plus our specialty ones," Brandon Waldron said. BW's uses a 75/25 ratio for its 14-ounce charbroiled burger — served with its hot toppings on the burger itself and the cold toppings on the side. Each burger comes with a choice of three kinds of fries. ($11-$15)

While you're there:

Take a stroll on 5th Street in Valley Junction or explore Raccoon River Park.

When you go:

Find it: 3701 EP True Parkway, West Des Moines

Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Closed Sunday and Monday.

Contact: (515) 327-7007; Facebook


Ankeny Diner

The Ankeny Diner has been around since 2003, and burgers have been on the menu since the beginning. It all starts with a seasoned half-pound 80/20 burger cooked on a charbroiler and topped any way you like it. But the most popular burger is the Hawkeye Burger, with sauteed mushrooms, onions and cheddar cheese. All burgers are served with pickles and a choice of fries or salad. Manager Mike DeVries recommends getting the onion rings for 59 cents more. ($7.79-$8.99)

While you're there:

Take a bike ride up to the High Trestle Trail or grab an ice-cold beer at Firetrucker Brewery. Or take the family to The Playground for Kids.

When you go:

Find it: 133 SE Delaware Ave., Ankeny

Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Contact: (515) 965-1987; ankenydiner.com

Interested in Iowa food news? Follow @BriinDSM on Twitter and @briindsm on Instagram.


Doc's Stadium Bar & Grill

Doc's Stadium Bar & Grill uses only beef from Mike Holden, whose private retail beef business, Moo Meat, has been supplying Doc's since it opened four years ago. "I told Brett (Cranston) and Amanda (Burbank), the owners, that with the casino opening up, you guys need to have a signature sandwich," said Holden. They collaborated on the concoction in July 2015. The grilled 1/3-pound beef patty's over 90 percent lean, hormone-free and antibiotic-free, and aged 20 days. It's topped with melted Swiss and American cheeses, two strips of bacon, two slices of ham and finished with Cranston's own homemade sweet chili sauce. From that day forth, it was called "The Carni." But with two patties, the name is fully lengthened to "The Carnivore." ($5.75-$11)

While you're there:

Check out the Wild Rose Casino & Resort or climb to the top of Mahaney Bell Tower across the courthouse square. Thomas Jefferson Gardens is also a nice stop.

When you go:

Find it: 113 N. Chestnut Street, Jefferson

Hours: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Saturday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Closed Sunday.

Contact: (515) 386-2111; Facebook


Smokin' Hereford BBQ

Smokin' Hereford BBQ opened in October 2015 in an old train depot. The floors are repurposed from a local high school gym floor, and people love the burgers made from Iowa beef. "Our beef comes locally from Coon River Farms in Nemaha," manager Natalie Schumann said. "Many people assume it is Angus beef, but it is 100 percent Hereford." Schumann said the patties have a better flavor because of the steak that's used in the grind. The burgers began as a special, but they became such a big hit with customers that Smokin' Hereford BBQ added them permanently to the menu. All seasoned burgers are topped with a choice of cheese and are served with lettuce, tomato, pickles and onion, a choice of side and corn bread. Additional toppings are available, like bacon and spicy mac and cheese for a nominal surcharge. ($9.99+)

While you're there:

Check out King's Pointe Water Park or take a stroll or bike ride on the trails around Storm Lake. You can also have coffee at Grand Central Coffee Station or an adult beverage at Brewsters.

When you go:

Find it: 1605 West Milwaukee Avenue, Storm Lake

Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Contact: (712) 213-3750; Facebook


Southwestern

Elm's Club

The Elm's Club is one of the oldest bars in Iowa, opening its doors for business in the 1880s. But Mike and Donna King bought it in 1976, and two years later they added a food menu. Mike's family has always been in the restaurant business, and his brother, Gus, came in as a partner in 1988. But the burgers have spoken, and the restaurant's been an Iowa Beef Council's Top Ten Best Burger nominee for five consecutive years now. "We hand-patty all of our burgers fresh every day," Donna King said. The 1/3-pound, 80/20 burgers are cooked on a flattop and served open-face on a Rotella bun with the veggies on top. All burgers are served in a basket. Get there early on Saturdays. ($4-$6.75)

While you're there:

Check out the restored Phillips 66 Gas Station and the Hurley Creek/McKinley Lake Restoration Project. Or go for a hike on one of Creston's many walking trails.

When you go:

Find it: 108 N. Elm Street, Creston

Hours: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Closed Sunday.

Contact: (641) 782-2615; Facebook; Instagram


Vaughn's Cafe and Bakery

Robin Larson's first job in high school was at Vaughn's. She worked there for five years before leaving to become a culinary coordinator at two long-term care facilities. But in March 2015, she came back. She not only bought the place, but she added a bakery. Vaughn's signature burger is the Wrap It Up Burger, which has a 1/3-pound seasoned hand-pattied burger with four strips of bacon, sauteed onions and green peppers, taco meat and two slices of provolone, all wrapped in a 12-inch flour tortilla. It's deep-fried and served with a choice of side. Larson and her dedicated staff are always showing customers a great time. ($6.85-$8.50)

While you're there:

Take a tour of the Glenn Miller Birthplace Museum and Nodaway Valley County Park. Don't forget to check out the other Top Ten burger nominee in Clarinda, Down Right Delicious.

When you go:

Find it: 112 E. Washington Street, Clarinda

Hours: Monday through Sunday, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Contact: (712) 542-3323; vaughnscafeandbakery.com; Facebook; Twitter


Down Right Delicious

This third-year nominee has been creating burgers since December 2011. Laura Risola began the restaurant as a bakery, but quickly added more food items.  Now, the burgers are getting some recognition. "We started doing 'burger bar' once a week on Fridays," Risola said. "You could order a burger however you wanted — and that was so popular, as we grew, the burger menu grew as well." There are now 13 specialty burgers on the menu, but you can still build your own. The buns are made in-house. Fareway provides a special grind for the 6-ounce burger cooked on a flattop grill. And your burger's topped with your choice of cheeses, homemade sauces and other playful additions. ($4.50-$10)

While you're there:

Have a beer at Shiddlee-E-Dee at 505 E. Glenn Miller Drive, or head on over to relax at Jessie Field Shambaugh State Historical Marker at Clarinda City Park. Or see the birthplace of 4H at the Goldenrod Schoolhouse at 1600 S. 16th Street. Don't forget to check out the other Top Ten burger nominee in Clarinda, Vaughn's Cafe and Bakery.

When you go:

Find it: 120 S. 15th Street, Clarinda

Hours: Tuesday, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Wednesday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Closed Sunday and Monday.

Contact: (712) 542-6319; Facebook


Eastern

BeerBurger

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BeerBurger's stackable 6-ounce smashed burgers became an overnight sensation in North Liberty after opening on New Year's Eve. All burgers are served on a pretzel bun, and customers can order additional items like bacon-onion marmalade and dry-rub pulled pork. BeerBurger's 288-keg-holding glass cooler keeps people coming back for more with 36 self-serve beer taps located throughout the restaurant. And kids get to join in the fun with their own self-serve root beer fountains with other pop brands. ($9-$14)

While you're there:

Check out nearby Lake Macbride State Park or Quail Creek Golf Course. Or take an off-road bike ride on the Sugar Bottom trail system.

When you go:

Find it: 575 Cameron Way, North Liberty
Hours: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. 
Contact:beerburger.com/FacebookTwitterInstagram


Saucy Focaccia

In 2013, Saucy Focaccia began as a food truck. It found a spot in Newbo City Market in Cedar Rapids in 2014 and then opened a new location in The Fountains shopping center in May 2016. The signature burger, the Triple Double Burger, has three kinds of cheese and two quarter-pound beef patties."We started building the concept around the bun," said Paul Andreason, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Alycia. He created the bun from a recipe for focaccia, and the burger's made from 80/20 Iowa beef and cooked on a flattop grill. All of the gourmet burgers come with ketchup, mayo, lettuce, tomato and onion. ($4.99-$8.49)

While you're there:

Catch a show at the Paramount Theater or check out the booths, shops and events at Newbo City Market. The Sky Zone Trampoline Park is also a lot of fun.

When you go:

Find it: The Fountains, 5100 Fountains Drive NE, Suite 100, Cedar Rapids; Newbo City Market, 1100 3rd Street, Cedar Rapids

Hours: The Fountains: Sunday to Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Newbo City Market: Thursday to Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Contact: The Fountains: (319) 294-6772; Newbo City Market: (319) 200-4019; Facebooksaucyfocaccia.com


The Irish Shanti

The Irish Shanti's claim to fame is the Gunderburger, which is the burger that put the town of Gunder — just east of Elgin — on the map. The restaurant's been in business for almost 12 years, but the Gunderburger was invented by grill cook, LaVonne Christianson, in the mid-1970s when the building was a general store and tavern. She made the burger for locals, and it became so popular she put it on the menu. The Gunderburger's popularity has grown as the building evolved into a full-service restaurant, but the owner, Kevin Walsh, hasn't changed the original recipe. The 20-ounce 80/20 Gunderburger is cooked on a flattop at a lower temperature, and it cooks down to a true full pound of meat. It's so big, it hangs off the edge of the Quillin's Bakery bun. ($5.99-$8.49)

While you're there:

Go fishing, canoeing, kayaking or tubing on the Turkey River Recreational Corridor. Or go antiquing in nearby Elkader. And only 45 minutes east is Effigy Mounds National Monument.

When you go:

Find it: 17455 Gunder Road, Elgin

Hours: Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Thursday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Closed Monday.

Contact: (563) 864-9289; thegunderburger.comFacebook

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