Ah, the burger. It might be the quintessential cheap meal. It's a humble sandwich — patties between buns, topped with whatever condiments you desire — but the best ones are filling, satisfying and, best of all, different everywhere you go. It's also one of the few food items for which "cheaper" doesn't necessarily mean "lesser."
There are obviously hundreds of burgers to choose from amongst Inland Northwest restaurants — from Hudson's in Coeur d'Alene to Wolffy's near Gonzaga to Humble Burger in Moscow to the old, reliable Zip's — but here are five regional burgers that have tickled our fancy recently. We're mixing it up between delicious, inexpensive to-go fare and more upscale, sit-down burgers that won't break the bank.
Smoke & Mirrors Saloon,
404 W. Main, 315-4613
This new downtown saloon, formerly Santé, has already built up buzz with its $18 cheeseburger. But its more price-conscious burger option offers up a side order of surprise. Like the titular restaurant in Bob's Burgers, Smoke & Mirrors' burger special has rotating toppings, and the odds are good they'll be delicious. On my visit, I enjoyed an 8-ounce burger with pickled jalapenos (adding a semi-sweet, spicy kick), bacon and cheddar, topped with pickled fresno aioli. It also comes with your choice of side: potatoes, soup or salad. Pair that with one of their classic cocktails — undeniable classics like Kentucky mules, greyhounds and French 75s — for less than $20. If you dine-in during their happy hour times (3-6 pm and 9-10 pm), save an additional 30 percent on your bill.
The Thrifty Scotsman,
12024 E. Sprague, 928-2214
This Spokane Valley staple is an ideal candidate for Cheap Eats — "thrifty" is right there in the name. The small storefront, open since 1980, has become locally famous for a handful of reasons: its retro, wood-paneled look, its steady stream of customers and its delicious, no-frills burgers served up for a fair price. I opted for the Super Bacon — because why wouldn't you want to try something called the Super Bacon — which boasts two patties, bacon, cheese, lettuce and tomato on a rectangular poor boy bun. Add an overflowing batch of hand-cut fries for just $3 and it's still thrifty.
Paul Bunyan Pak-Out,
602 Northwest Blvd., Coeur d'Alene, 208-664-2725
Every time I'm in North Idaho, it's nearly impossible to not stop at the Paul Bunyan Pak-Out on the main drag of Northwest Boulevard. With its giant wooden cut-out of the winking lumberjack of lore, the drive-in offers a genuinely great burger for just a couple bucks. Its Coeur d'Alene location opened in the early 1950s — and the prices are still low enough to make you think you've stepped back in time — and other storefronts have since popped up in places like Rathdrum, Post Falls and Hayden Lake.
1625 N. Division, 323-7130
You simply can't talk about local burgers without mentioning D. Lish's. For more than 20 years, the old-school takeout diner has been slinging some of the freshest tasting burgers you can get from a drive-thru. My favorite: The D. Lish's Double, with its two hefty patties and gooey cheese, topped off with lettuce, tomato and their delicious burger sauce. And, of course, they give you the option of grilled or fresh onions. I have yet to gather up the gumption and try their four-pattied burger, but there's still time.
Allie's Vegan Pizzeria and Cafe,
1314 S. Grand, 321-7090
Because non-meat eaters shouldn't be exempt from enjoying a good burger, Allie's is here to help. The vegan South Hill restaurant offers up a delicious alternative, with a patty made of brown rice, black beans, sunflower seeds and carmelized onions. This isn't the kind of meat substitute that's attempting to approximate the taste and consistency of a standard beef patty; it has a smoother texture, which inexperienced carnivores might not be used to. But the flavors are undeniable, and the tempeh bacon and vegan barbecue mayo mean you won't be missing red meat anytime soon. ♦