By Kimberly Rebman
Photos by Steven Kovich
After a long day of bare footing in the warm sand and frolicking in the cool ocean surf, what could taste better than a thick, juicy burger and an ice cold brew? We did the work of finding the hottest burgers on the beach for you, and believe us, if you’re not from around here you may never have found them. We asked the locals what they thought and they told us. We’re not judging because we think they are all spectacular in their own way!
Willy’s Burger and Booze
Nestled behind a wall of palms sits a kooky little beach shack that serves the cheesiest of burgers and the coldest bottled brew around. Willy’s Burger and Booze, St. Pete Beach’s hidden gem, is putting the goo back in cheeseburgers and the crunch back in tater tots.
Menu prices are small and portion sizes are big at Willy’s. If you stop by to have a burger here, be sure to wear your finest pair of sweatpants. Willy’s Big One is a 10-ounce belly buster. Flavorful, yet simplistic and once you start the munching, you won’t want to stop; which is why those loose fitting pants come in handy. The Big One’s eccentric cousin is The Big Blue, a blue cheese burger that has certainly earned its share of praise with Willy’s patrons.
The Big Gooey, the most famous of Willy’s burgers, is as messy as it sounds. Keep that roll of paper towels on the table close because this is one heck of a cheesy burger. It’s melt-in-your-mouth heaven on a plate good. Simply put, The Big Gooey is overindulgence at its finest. Order up a side of tater tots, generously heaped on the plate, and you will be amply satisfied.
Willy’s burgers are beautifully constructed with the freshest of toppings- crisp lettuce, perfectly ripened tomatoes and juicy onions. Each one is made from certified Angus beef and is hand patted with a secret blend of herbs and spices. Now, the key word here is secret, so don’t bother asking any of the staff for the burger recipe. Bartender Lynda insists the burgers at Willy’s are so good because of a certain method the cooks use while grilling. “They like to slam down shots of tequila.” She then added, “Or maybe it’s because the burgers are made the same way my grandma used to make her meatballs.” Lynda’s straight face and matter-of-fact tone could have probably fooled anyone at first, but she quickly gave way to a smirk and a chuckle.
Willy’s Burgers and Booze is the epitome of a classic beach bar with deliciously good grub, specifically those well-seasoned meat patties that have become so famous. It’s where Jimmy Buffet meets Lynyrd Skynyrd, flip-flops pair perfectly with sunburned toes, and beef and gooey cheese become beach burger bliss.
Sand Bar Bill’s Bar and Grille/Bon-Aire Resort Motel
As the deep orange sun melts into the warm waters of the Gulf and a lone seagull scurries across the sand, a handful of beach-goers pull out the last few remaining chairs at Sand Bar Bill’s Bar and Grille waiting to toast St. Pete Beach’s most beautiful time of day.
Located just behind the legendary Bon-Aire Resort Motel, Sand Bar Bill’s serves up the beach’s best Rum Runners and juiciest burgers. The tiki bar is a local favorite and ranks high in Old Florida seaside charm. After all, it’s part of the Bon-Aire, a beachfront beauty dating back to the 1950s. Vactioners and staycationers alike have been visiting the boutique hotel and returning for generations. The Bon-Aire has kept much of its original character; in fact, walking through its courtyard is like taking a step back in time. Surrounded by tropical foliage, room doors painted turquoise face the hotel’s shuffleboard courts and two heated pools.
As the sun sets and the steel drum band plays, Mai Tai in hand, the smell of a freshly grilled burger fragrantly fills the air. Ah, Sand Bar Bill’s burgers are just about as famous as the sunsets are at the beach. It’s quite unexpected though. I was more than surprised to think a hotel tiki bar could boast best burger around town. In fact, some locals claim that Sand Bar Bill’s burgers are the best in the state. This hidden gem is confident when it comes to its famous dish and knows exactly why it stands above the rest. According to one of Sand Bar Bill’s bartenders, Jackie, it’s because the burgers are made with IBP beef, are hand patted and made with the freshest of ingredients. The tomatoes are perfectly sliced and richly red, while the onion and lettuce are so crisp they taste as though they have just been hand-picked right out of the garden. The meat patty is hearty and easily could be shared with a friend. But, what really makes this burger is its immensely flavorful chargrilled taste. It’s not every day a burger is cooked “just right,” with each bite chock-full of savory goodness.
So, if you are looking for a little romance, perhaps a dose of nostalgia and have a hankering for a really good burger, then get on over to Sand Bar Bill’s this evening and find out for yourself why this “cheeseburger in paradise” is creating such a stir along the beaches, and quite possibly, all of Florida.
Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish Restaurant
They may be famous for their smoked fish, but surprisingly Ted Peters’ burger is one of the most requested items off the menu.
Now, don’t get us wrong. The restaurant’s smoked fish is like heaven on a plate, and their fish spread served with crackers is an absolute must try, but locals swear Ted Peters’ meat patties are by far the best in all of St. Petersburg. “I love that one of the finest burgers I ever had came via a fish restaurant,” raves a Ted Peters patron.
For over 50 years, the Florida-style roadside shack with its rustic picnic table seating and nostalgic charm has been serving up one heck of a tasty burger. In fact, it’s so good, some people will travel from a few hours away to eat it.
But here’s the deal, folks. If you’re looking for a long list of hip and trendy burgers, Ted Peters is not the place for you. Their no frills menu offers up only a hamburger and cheeseburger. Perhaps that may not seem particularly exciting to some, but to those who have tried the old-fashioned burgers know simple is better. Who needs all the fancy extras when the meat is so delicious and full of flavor? The jumbo 1/3 fresh ground beef patty is served with just the basics- lettuce, tomato and onion. As for sides, be sure to try their famous German potato salad (you’ll know why it’s famous after just one bite), and a serving of yummy, crisp coleslaw or a cold, crunchy dill pickle. Of course you’ll want to wash it all down with a frosty mug of beer, whether it be root or draft.
Ted Peters is a definite favorite among both locals and out-of-towners alike. It’s a must stop if visiting, and a promise to return if a resident. Upon dining you may often hear customers fondly recall, “This tastes just as good today as it did back when my grandpa brought me here as a kid.”
And if you have only tried Ted Peters’ fish, then perhaps it’s time to move outside your cuisine comfort zone because once you sink your teeth into this delectable burger dish you may have a hard time going back to the fish.
*Closed Tuesdays, cash only
RumFish Grill at Guy Harvey Outpost
When it comes to the RumFish Grill at Guy Harvey Outpost, situated in the heart of St. Pete Beach, there is a little something for everyone, such as the beautiful assortment of Guy Harvey paintings for art lovers and marine life appreciators alike, and the well stocked gift shop for your best “shop til you drop” friend. Of course, we must consider the elaborate 33,500-gallon aquarium for all those stressed out souls to dreamily stare at after the end of a grueling workday.
There is nothing quite like the RumFish Grill at Guy Harvey Outpost, which is part of the Trade Winds Island Resorts, because even though the food is top notch, the grill is more like a tourist attraction and less of a restaurant. Overall, it’s a pretty amazing place to visit, especially as an out-of-stater. Beautifully polished wood and deep blue hues throughout create a very classy and elegant beach feel. The enormous aquarium is definitely the restaurant’s focal point, taking up an entire wall of the dining area. It creates a serene backdrop while eating, with its vibrant array of brightly colored fish and coral; much like a Guy Harvey painting that has been brought to life. The aquarium is actually quite famous, and not just because people from all over the world come to see it or that wide-eyed children beg their parents to grab a table next to it. After all, Wayde King and Brett Raymer of Animal Planet’s hit series, “Tanked” built it, and that’s pretty darn impressive.
With its two bars- one large, indoor and the other, outside and a bit more informal- there is no surprise that the RumFish Grill at Guy Harvey Outpost has an extensive drink menu featuring a lengthy list of specialty cocktails and beer.
And though the grill is best known for being a seafood restaurant, they also happen to have one of the best burgers in town. The Angus burger is a mouth-watering masterpiece. It’s, by far, one of the prettiest burgers I have ever laid eyes on, or teeth in. This burger may not have a fancy title, but it definitely is gourmet and can stand on its own in a restaurant recognized primarily for its fish and Caribbean cuisine. The Angus comes with caramelized onions, aged Vermont cheddar cheese and is topped with a delicious horseradish aioli on a brioche bun. This is one hefty-sized burger, so be sure to bring your appetite. Each bite is just as flavorful as the last, so even though you may think you can’t possibly store another bite, your taste buds will beg you to reconsider. At $15 some may argue that the price is too steep for a burger, but then again, this isn’t any ‘ol, average burger. For this one to be served alongside Guy Harvey paintings, it has to be a work of art and taste just as amazing. And indeed, the Angus burger has accomplished that and then some.
Boulevard Burgers and Tap House
At Boulevard Burgers and Tap House, you’ll get just that. This Gulf Boulevard newcomer is just a stone’s throw from the beach and offers up a variety of decadent, mouth-watering burgers that are sure to entice even the most discerning of palates.
Boulevard’s burgers are eight hearty ounces of blended brisket, Angus chuck and short rib meat. Choose from their list of traditionally prepared burgers or the ever-so-indulgent stuffed burgers.
The Chili Burger does not disappoint and is perfect for a Florida “sweater weather” kind of day. The homemade chili is deeply flavorful and richly aromatic. And be sure to slather on the sunscreen for the Sunny-Side Up Burger topped with Applewood smoked bacon, American cheese and a sunny-side up egg. The generously sized Bleu Moon Burger, stuffed full of blue cheese and bacon, satisfies not just in portion but also largely in taste. Feeling gangster? The Godfather may be just the burger for you.
As if fresh mozzarella and sautéed mushrooms stuffed inside a perfectly grilled meat patty wasn’t delicious enough, it is then finished off with marinara sauce and creamy ricotta cheese. Leave the cannoli. Take the burger (shown in photo)
All burger selections are topped with your choice of brioche, potato or sesame buns and served with Boulevard’s “soon to be famous” sidewinder fries, a potato lovers dream-come-true.
Be sure to pair your delectable dish with a frosty beer (the restaurant offers an impressive selection) or a sinfully sweet hand-spun shake for a most divine dining experience.