Burger Chains That Are Taking Over America

Before we had soup chains, salad chains, and non-GMO smoothie chains, there were burger chains. Whether you found yourself in the middle of the great plains or swarmed in Times Square, if you wanted a burger from McDonald's, Burger King, or Wendy's, you rarely needed to look far. And the idea of duplicating a food concept in locations all over America — and, indeed, the world — changed the way the restaurant industry operated.

Since the heyday of the big three, loads of other burger chains have popped up around the country, all with varying degrees of success. Perhaps the most recent example of a once-small burger chain blowing up was Five Guys, which is now almost as ubiquitous as the Golden Arches. 

As more and more high-quality burger chains become widespread, the question remains: what are the next big burger chains going to be in the United States and beyond? Some are names you've heard of. Others you may have already tried. Yet more are still gaining steam on their home turf before taking their talents to the rest of America. So take a look below for the next big burger spots that will take over America.

MrBeast Burger

Perhaps you're familiar with YouTube sensation Jimmy Donaldson, also known as MrBeast. According to Forbes, he was the second-highest paid YouTuber of 2020, and thus far has garnered well over 50 million views for his most noted video, "I Opened A Restaurant That Pays You To Eat At It." Of course, looks can be deceiving. What the video doesn't really disclose is that MrBeast Burger isn't a restaurant at all. Rather, it's a virtual dining concept that delivers food straight to your door with no physical location.

The ease of reproducing the idea notched MrBeast Burger hundreds of locations in less than a year of operation. Leveraging off MrBeast's popularity, the chain has exploded onto the virtual restaurant scene, sending out crispy smashed burgers in simple, familiar formats. There's nothing groundbreaking on this menu, which consists of a burger, cheeseburger, and bacon cheeseburger alongside fries and chicken sandwiches. But with the combination of convenience and an Internet celebrity's name attached to it all, MrBeast Burger has already become one of the biggest players in the game.


This 10-year-old burger chain based in Florida, according to USA Today, might be the most lauded new burger joint to hit the scene in decades. Its collection of creative burgers come from 100 percent American Angus beef. Each of its 125 franchised and corporate stores uses cage-free chicken as well. Want Wagyu beef on your burger? BurgerFi can do that too. That's part of why none other than Martha Stewart joined BurgerFi's board of directors in 2021 (via PR Newswire).

In its brief decade of existence, BurgerFi has racked up some pretty impressive hardware too, notching Consumer Reports' accolades in 2020. QSR Magazine also thought enough of Burger Fi to name them its Breakout Brand of 2020, while it also landed a spot on Fast Casual's 100 Movers and Shakers list. BurgerFi doesn't look to be slowing down any time soon, either. According to Eat This, Not That!, it's looking to open up to 80 new locations by the end of 2022.

Slater's 50/50

The trend of over-the-top, have-your-cardiologist-on-speed-dial burgers seems to have subsided just a little bit in the past few years. And while restaurants aren't clamoring to see who can throw more heart-stopping ingredients between a sesame seed bun, this California-based chain is quietly putting out crazy stuff on a massive scale. Slater's 50/50 claims to have been the first burger chain to use a patty that's half bacon and half beef, seriously ramping up the flavor.

Not content to pack flavor into the patty, Slaters has also pioneered the most eye-catching burger creations of any chain in recent memory. The Peanut Butter and Jellousy burger has Angus beef topped with thick cut bacon, peanut butter, and jelly. Meanwhile, the 24K burger tops half a pound of Wagyu beef with truffle cheese, arugula, roasted garlic aioli, bacon, and a brioche bun dusted in gold. No, it's not exactly health food, but these are some truly unique burgers you won't find anywhere else.

Shake Shack

Once upon a time, getting a legendary greasy, gooey Shake Shack burger and its trademark crinkle fries meant going all the way to New York City and waiting in line to get one. But this is not the case any longer, as Shake Shacks seem to be popping up faster than road construction crews in nearly all of our major cities. Its plans for expansion are indeed aggressive. According to Restaurant Dive, the company borrowed $225 million to support its growth. Through the financing, Shake Shack hopes to open up to 90 stores by 2022.

Of course, you don't raise nearly a quarter billion dollars by throwing a greasy bag of food on the table and waiting for the cash to roll in. Shake Shack's success has been proven. In 2018, QSR Magazine reported that Shake Shack earned $630 million in sales, averaging over $4 million per location. In 2019, Business Insider named it one of its fastest-growing chains, with 27 percent growth that year. And they're even getting in on the drive-thru game now, opening their first in Orlando in late 2021 (via Business Insider).


In hamburgers, much like in life, it's important to learn from your mistakes. Such is the case with Colorado-based Smashburger, whose flat grill burger concept was poised for global dominance a decade ago, before quickly learning it had expanded too fast. The result was a big-time brand contraction, with 78 stores closing between 2018 and 2020, according to QSR Magazine. But Smashburger has taken a step back, re-evaluated how to expand, and now plans to open 40 new locations in 2021.

The new Smashburger will be getting a new look, too, according to Business Insider. These will include city-specific designs, more options for contactless pickup, and food lockers to keep orders warm while people wait. This new expansion will be focused on suburbs around Brooklyn, New York, Chicago, and Washington, DC, setting up shop next to big-box retailers where customers can refuel after a grueling Saturday at Target. Interestingly, Smashburger is not chasing down the ghost kitchen craze like some other chains. Smashburger president Carl Bachmann told Business Insider that fast casual is as much a real estate game as a food one. Instead, he sees long-term value in real locations where customers can sit down to eat.

Habit Burger

The smash burger style seems to be all the rage right now, where a high-fat meatball is pressed onto a seasoned grill, and most of the fat is trapped inside the seared, caramelized outside. But lest we forget there's a good number of people who prefer their burgers with less grease and more smoke. And for that forgotten set, there is The Habit Burger Grill, a Southern California-based chain that appreciates the beauty of a good charbroiled burger.

The chain that started in Santa Barbara, California in 1969 (via The Habit Burger Grill) now boasts 280 locations in 14 states, as well as 11 overseas. But it's not just numbers that bode well for Habit Burger's success. Burger aficionados at Thrillist cited it as one of the most underrated burger chains in the nation, for one. Meanwhile, the continued growth of The Habit Burger Grill seems a lot more likely after Yum! Brands acquired Habit Burger in 2020 for a reported $375 million (via QSR Magazine).


What started as a small midwestern custard stand raked in an astonishing $1.7 billion in sales in 2019, according to QSR Magazine, now lures in throngs of customers with its butter-basted burgers and fresh frozen custards. A huge part of the Culver's appeal is the cholesterol-rising creation that is the butterburger. That's where fresh beef is grilled, then placed on a bun with a generous helping of — what else? — butter. It's a favorite in Wisconsin, where Culver's got its start, and accompanies stuff like cheese curds and frozen custards on Culver's dairy-heavy menu.

But it's not just cheese-happy Wisconsinites who love the stuff. Thrillist named Culver's as one of the top regional fast-food chains in the country, with staffer Meredith Heil calling the butterburger "one of the wonders of the fast food world." Though calling it "regional' would be a bit of a stretch after the runaway expansion experienced by Culver's in recent years. It's already landed itself at number 5 on Entrepreneur's Franchise 500 list, Culver's third straight top 10 showing, and its highest ranking ever.


With notables like Mario Lopez opening a virtual torta truck and other big names getting into the fast food biz, it might seem that celebrities are suddenly discovering that fast-casual restaurants are an ideal way to diversify their portfolios. But long before Mariah Carey knew how to make a cookie, the Wahlberg brothers were in on the game, starting the cleverly named Wahlburgers back in 2011 in Massachusetts. But it wasn't New Kid on the Block Donnie or Entourage-inspiration Mark who got the inspiration for this fast-growing burger chain. It was lesser-known brother Paul Wahlberg, a chef who had a dream of starting a family-run restaurant and turned it into a 49-location juggernaut (via Walhburgers).

And while, yes, Wahlburgers still carries a famous name, the man who's overseeing the restaurant's rapid expansion is actually CEO John Fuller. His plans, as he explained to the Boston Globe, are to see the business expand to 300 locations in the next five years, with only 30 of those corporate-owned. With locations in 20 states as well as Germany and Canada, Wahlburgers clearly has the right stuff in the opinion of its many customers.

Dog Haus

Yes, the name of this Pasadena, California-based chain of all-beef gourmet hot dogs might lead one to think it's slightly misplaced in a list of up-and-coming burger chains. But then one would also probably have never tried the chain's Hangover burger, made with American cheese, smoked bacon, chili, and egg on a sweet Hawaiian roll. Because if those doubters had, they'd immediately know the Dog Haus does burgers as well as it does upscale hot dogs.

According to Hospitality Technology, the chain saw same-store sales up 13 percent in pandemic-plagued 2020, a number bolstered mostly by Dog Haus' shift towards virtual kitchens and delivery-only concepts. This uptick in revenue is part of the optimism Dog Haus has towards expansion, bolstered by deals for up to 350 new locations signed back in 2017 (via QSR Magazine). And though that hoped-for meteoric rise hasn't quite come to fruition yet, Dog Haus is still on track to open 15 new stores in seven states. That's not to mention Dog Haus's Absolute Brands virtual kitchens, which include a burger concept among their family of offerings.

Hopdoddy Burger Bar

While you're arguably not going to find a low-quality burger anywhere on this list, this Austin-based chain of burger and beer joints takes the dedication to freshness to another level. Not only are Hopdoddy's beef patties all ground in-house, but they also bake all their own bread, surely a big reason why Thrillist named them one of the nation's most underrated burger chains. Writer Lee Breslouer also called out Hopdoddy's red velvet milkshakes for a special accolade; they're made with actual red velvet cake, of course.

Hopdoddy has taken a slower approach to expansion, as they have currently only 32 locations spread over five states. It's worth noting that only one of those states, Tennessee, is east of the Mississippi. Still, the spot named after hops and the Scottish nickname for cows saw impressive growth in the late 2010s, with a 55 percent increase in sales between 2016 and 2017 (via Restaurant Business).

Super Duper Burger

"Taking over America" might be a bold way to describe this Bay Area-based chain, with 16 locations spread around greater San Francisco and San Jose. But its growth has been intentional and methodical, surely a big reason why of the 50 restaurants listed in Restaurant Business' Future 50 in 2020, this was the only burger spot to make the list.

The burger chain carefully selects where it puts each new location, working with neighborhood suppliers and the local community to make sure the store isn't just a business, but part of the local neighborhood. "We believe that the restaurant is a community endeavor and not just a machine that makes food," says founder and co-owner Edmondo Sarti (via Restaurant Business).

Sarti isn't just spouting marketing speak, either. Super Duper Burger says that it sources its beef from a family-owned ranch in Southern California, while its buns come from a bakery in San Franciscok. The cheese comes from a dairy farm in Tomales Bay, California. So when you eat at Super Duper Burger, it's a true taste of California.

Next Level Burger

Once venerable burger barons McDonald's and Burger King decided to start putting plant-based burgers on their menus, you knew it was only a matter of time until we encountered an entire fast-casual restaurant full of meatless meals. And so we have it with Next Level Burger, a Bend, Oregon-based burger spot, that in true Oregon fashion gives us a menu of full plant-based burgers.

Founders Matt and Cierra de Gruyter started the spot in 2014 with an honest determination to help change the world by promoting more sustainable eating habits (via Next Level Burger). The result is a menu of sandwiches you're not going to find at any other burger spot, all made with organic and non-GMO ingredients. There's the original American burger, made with a plant-based patty and tempeh bacon. There's the SoCal burger, a mushroom quinoa patty also with tempeh bacon. Next Level's even got a line of vegetarian "Chik'n" sandwiches too, and while it's not yet challenging Popeyes for spicy supremacy, it's still a solid substitute. 

Burger Boss

Burger Boss has opened only five locations since its founding in 2011, but its focus on using stuff like grass-fed beef and a build-your-own menu is a big part of why it may well be the future of hamburgers. Taste of Home thought enough of the concept to list it as the lone burger joint on its list of fast food restaurants to watch. And, as Burger Boss offers franchising despite its small size, it seems poised to grow far beyond its roots in Orange County, California.

Burger Boss says that "more restaurants are in the process of opening throughout Southern California," although it didn't offer more details beyond that. But the menu is nonetheless enticing, with everything from eggs to turkey bacon to avocados available to customize your burger. With better-for-you food, Burger Boss is a welcome change to the burger world. In fact, it may well become the new norm.

Wayback Burgers

Sometimes it takes a while for a classic to catch on. Or sometimes, like David Hasselhoff, you have to find fame in another country before your home country can really appreciate you. Such is the case with Wayback Burgers, which was founded in Delaware back in 1991 but never made much of a national splash. Fast forward to 2020, when one franchisee in Manitoba was awarded a contract for a whopping 11 franchises in Canada, immediately making them the fastest growing franchisee in the company (via Franchising.com).

That agreement is part of Wayback's Master Franchise program, which, according to Franchising.com, has Wayback developing locations in 38 countries. Currently, the chain boasts a respectable 153 locations in over 30 states and 10 countries but is poised for much more. Its exponential franchise growth in the 2010s also helped land it on Franchise Chatter's list of best hamburger franchises, in which the site also called out Wayback's charitable work with the Boys and Girls Club as part of its appeal.

Liberty Burger

Oftentimes, it's better to be clever than big. That's clearly the philosophy in action at Dallas-based Liberty Burger. Their menu of creative burgers includes names like Woodstock, The Libertine, and Jackie O. Each description is written in the first person, as if your prospective lunch is trying to sell you on its own merits. "No need to change out of your sweatpants for me," The Nooner — covered with smoked bacon, American cheese, hashbrowns, and a fried egg — tells you. "In fact, that elastic waistband might come in handy."

Despite having only six stores around the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Liberty Burger still pops up on national lists of best burger chains. QSR Magazine listed it on its list of 40 best fast-casual startups in 2020, even though the chain has only been around since 2011. Franchise Chatter similarly cited Liberty Burger on its list of best burger franchises of 2017-2018, calling out the alcoholic milkshakes and local Texas beers as big reasons why Liberty Burger stands out amongst the crowd.