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Mecklen's burgers 

The good kind of joints

Hankering for that rare or medium-rare burger in North Carolina? Well, you just can't have it. Whether a restaurant grinds it own meat onsite or not is "immaterial," according to Bill Hardister of Mecklenburg County Health. Rule 2609(e) issued by North Carolina's Department of Environmental and Natural Resources states "ground beef and foods containing ground SHALL be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 155°F." According to the USDA, color is not a reliable way to indicate temperature; only an instant read temperature is reliable. So when your server asks, "how do you want that cooked?" the only safe response is "at least to 155 degrees for 15 seconds" (the USDA recommends 160 degrees for ground beef).

With that said, some newly opened gourmet burger joints are waging battle for the bragging rights to the best burger in town.

One prime contender is veteran restaurateur Frank Scibelli's (Mama Ricotta and Cantina 1511) Big Daddy's Burger Bar in Dilworth. The Big D (the latest reincarnation of a veteran spot) has diamond-plated aluminum wainscoting, concrete floors, old metal advertisements, a projection screen television and a plastic Shoney's Big Boy near the front counter. The menu says these ground chuck burgers are six ounces (management claims eight), range from $7 to $10 more with add-ons and include one side. Kobe beef is $7 extra. The beer list is lengthy and competitively priced. Sides include string onions (greasy), fries, sweet potato fries, tots or a wedge. Burgers can be constructed to taste, but several combinations are featured, including the Carolina burger, Southern (bean-filled) chili and cole slaw, which becomes a rather messy affair. When the Big D is packed, parking is a premium. Walk if you can.

Big Daddy's Burger Bar, 1626 East Blvd., 704-714-4888. Kitchen closes at midnight.

The Counter: Custom Built Burgers in South Park Village is a gourmet burger franchise from southern California owned locally by Alan Springate. Modern blues, browns and shiny metals spell out an interior while walls sport 1960s black and white photographs, some of musical legends Mick Jagger and Bob Marley. Black Angus burgers (1/3 pound $8, 2/3 pound $10, one pound $13) as well as turkey and veggie burgers can be ordered in 312,120 different configurations, including topped with a fried egg for those with Downunder tastes. One burger, the Counter, arrived extremely rare. Fried pickles, fries, sweet potato fries and onion strings (less greasy than Big Daddy's) are among the sides. Straws won't stand up in these shakes (perhaps a SoCal diet sensibility?). A curried shrimp burger with pickled mango, February's burger of the month, was tasty but cost a whopping $14, a price not noted on the table tent.

The Counter: Custom Built Burgers, 4310 Sharon Road, Suite X05, 704-365-1922.

Fenwick's, in Eastover to be precise, but Myers Park for newcomers, has been a favorite neighborhood spot for nearly 25 years. At lunch and dinner the eight ounce ground chuck burger ($7.95 including one side) shines, although entrees such as steaks are offered, too. Fenwick's, owned by Catherine and Don Rabb, still has the aura of small town ambiance, including a challenging parking lot.

Fenwick's, 511 Providence Road, 704-333-2750.

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