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Wert’s Cafe / Wert’s Cheeseburger – $7.25
Allentown, PA | wertscafe.com
If you Google “Best burger in the Lehigh Valley”, you’ll notice Wert’s Cafe towards the top of the search results, and on almost every best local burger list you can find. Wert’s is also a perennial stalwart on Lehigh Valley Style Magazine’s Best of The Valley list for “Best Juicy Burger”. That’s a lot of buzz around a single burger.
Wert’s Cafe opened in July of 1968, so they’ve been serving happy customers from their Allentown location for about a half-century. No wonder they have such a loyal following.
I’ve lived in the Lehigh Valley for the majority of my life, so I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that I had yet to discover Wert’s until tonight. But, obviously, it would be sacrilege to write a burger blog without trying what is widely considered by many locals to be one of the best – if not THE best – burgers in the Lehigh Valley. So, here we go!
Located at the intersection of 18th and Early Streets in Allentown, just a block from the fairgrounds and slightly off the beaten path, Wert’s feels like a bit of a hidden gem when driving up to it. We arrived around 6:30 pm to a mostly full parking lot, which is to be expected for a Saturday dinner service. Walking in, you can tell you’ve just stepped into a quaint neighborhood joint filled with folks who are clearly all regulars. Mostly an older crowd, it’s obvious these patrons have been coming here for decades, and this Saturday night dinner is just another happy visit amongst the hundreds of times they’ve already dined here. I can’t help but feel a like a bit of an outsider at this point, realizing I’ve been missing something great for all of my life.
The decor is noticeably dated, but in that charming, quaint, and homey kind of way. We are seated to our table in the busy dining room, adorned with paper placemats and laminated menus, so everything is feeling a lot like the good ol’ local diners that I used to frequent back in the day.
I ordered the Wert’s Cheeseburger – one of the burgers they’re known for – which is stuffed with mushrooms and onions and topped with Velveeta cheese. Clearly, there will be no frills with this burger.
The burger arrives looking pretty much just as expected. Nice plump patty with melty, golden Velveeta cheese oozing out around the edges, sitting on a light kaiser bun. Yes, this is one very, very juicy burger, not to be confused with greasy. Achieving that amount of juiciness without the fatty greasiness is quite an achievement. Outside of the cheese, there are no toppings to speak of on this burger. Nothing to get in the way. This is all about the burger and it’s onion and mushroom stuffing. The patty itself is well-seasoned, likely helped by those delicious onions inside. The mushrooms are clearly of the canned variety. This was disappointing to see, as I was expecting fresh, sautéed mushrooms from such a widely renowned burger.
Overall, the flavor and texture is good, almost reminding me of a salisbury steak, with noticeable peppery, savory notes. The Velveeta cheese works well, as it provides that salty gooeyness that every good burger needs. The kaiser bun is un-toasted, soft, light and perfectly chewy. This burger doesn’t need a pretentious brioche bun.
On to the fries. At first sight, they look perfect. Golden in color with a nice, irregular hand-cut size. They don’t seem to have any salt or seasoning, but that’s usually not a huge issue for me, since you can always add as much salt as you like at the table. While the fries could’ve been much crispier in my humble opinion, they are reasonably adequate. Although not pertinent to the review, yet definitely worth mentioning, we also ordered the Wert’s Special Fries. These are the same fries topped with cheese, lump crab meat, and Old Bay seasoning. Do yourself a favor and order the Special Fries, you won’t be disappointed.
Final thoughts: I enjoyed the Wert’s Cheeseburger, and it absolutely lived up to it’s billing as the Lehigh Valley’s “Best Juicy Burger”. No real complaints here (other than using canned mushrooms instead of fresh). Normally, I’d offer my thoughts on how I think the burger could be improved, but doing so doesn’t feel like the right thing to do in this case. The Wert’s Cheeseburger is exactly what it needs to be, and nothing more… a very good diner-style burger, and something that reminds you of home.
In a city that is reawakening in a cultural and culinary resurgence, with modern restaurant concepts and a shiny new downtown, it’s nice to know a place like Wert’s exists. A mom-and-pop joint that will always have that small neighborhood shop feel, with a ton of history and a lot of hometown character. Some things just can’t be replicated.