A grass-fed burger with griddled onions, sharp cheddar cheese on a brioche bun, with crunchy fries, a pickle and ketchup from the Palace Diner in Biddeford. Gordon Chibroski/Portland Press Herald

What makes for a truly praise-worthy burger? For some, that would be the beef – its quality, whether it’s grass-fed or how thick the patty is, and if it’s cooked to the exact specifications (rare, medium rare, etc.) you requested. Or it could be about the bun: Maybe you’re a fan of the crispy, buttered and grilled versions. Or prefer the puffy, cloudlike numbers.

For still others, it’s just as much about the toppings: Do you crave a sharp cheddar or gooey swiss? Caramelized onions and sauteed mushrooms so rich in flavor that they almost match the patty in their heartiness? Do you revel in a newfangled homemade special sauce or just want that beloved classic triumvirate: lettuce, tomato and mayo?

But of course cost can also be a prioritized characteristic. And no one should have to give up their favorite things just to save some money. Stellar burgers come in all price brackets, after all, as the following tried and true spots prove.

The cheeseburger at Rapid Ray’s in Saco. John Patriquin/Portland Press Herald

Cheap: Rapid Ray’s

When Renald “Ray” Camire started peddling burgers out of an old food truck in 1953, he ground his own beef daily and the spot soon became a favorite late-night hangout. It’s still owned and operated by the same family, still grinds its own meat every day and has become even more of a favorite late-night spot. That’s largely due to the popularity of The Big One, the kitchen’s thick patty crowned with oozing American cheese – chopped onion, tomato and relish are optional – all between a bun toasted to warm, chewy, crumbly perfection for just $5.50.

WHAT: Rapid Ray’s


WHERE: 189 Main St., Saco

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

INFO: (207) 282-1847, rapidrays.net, @rapidrays on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter


Moderate: Palace Diner

One step into Biddeford’s much-lauded gem housed in a 1927 diner car and within seconds you’re greeted with a bellowed “Welcome!” from behind the counter. Such is the friendliness factor served up by co-owners Chad Conley (formerly of Hugo’s in Portland and Jean-Georges in New York) and Greg Mitchell (of Gramercy Tavern in New York). They bought the place in 2013 and started serving exceptional-quality classic diner dishes, to immediate fanfare. Their cheeseburger and fries, which together ring in at $11, is something to behold – and taste. That’s thanks not only to the grass-fed beef patty from local farms, which they drape with a melted slice of cheddar and silken grilled onions, but also the exemplary brioche bun. 


WHAT: Palace Diner

WHERE: 18 Franklin St., Biddeford

HOURS: 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily

INFO: (207) 284-0015, palacedinerme.com, @PalaceDinerMe on Facebook, @palacediner on Instagram


The Kobe beef burger at M.C. Perkins Cove rings in at $26, but the water views come at now extra cost. Photo courtesy of M.C. Perkins Cove

Expensive: M.C. Perkins Cove


The first thing people will tell you about M.C. Perkins Cove is its drop-dead beautiful ocean view, complete with sweeping skies and careening tides. But the next thing they’ll mention is the food, and it’s no less dramatic. Witness the Kobe beef burger: At $26, it’s a melt-in-your-mouth, splurge-worthy indulgence if there ever was one. In it, co-owners Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier (previously of Arrows fame, where they racked up fine dining accolades before moving on to open this more casual spot) have melded fancy ingredients with informality in one luscious handheld creation. Oh, and for $10 less, there’s a cheeseburger offered at lunchtime that also deserves its own fan club.

WHAT: M.C. Perkins Cove

WHERE: 111 Perkins Cove Road, Ogunquit

HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 5-8:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. Sunday

INFO: (207) 646-6263, mcperkinscove.com, @MCPerkinsCove on Facebook and @MCPerkinsCove on Twitter

Alexandra Hall is a longtime New England lifestyle writer who recently moved to Maine.

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