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The Day's readers decide which restaurant has the best burger in the region

One of the best arguments you can have with someone is: who has the best (name whatever food item you’d like here) in the area?

It’s a win-win. Even if you disagree, you might learn of another great offering that you hadn’t known about.

The Day’s readers have been here to help. Over the past year, they have weighed in on best lobster rolls, best pizzas, best breakfasts. Now comes best burger.

First, readers nominated venues, and our burger bracket started off with the top 64 nominees. Throughout January, the public voted as the field kept getting narrowed down.

The final four were:

Dog Watch in Mystic/Stonington

Engine Room in Mystic

Recovery Room in New London

Sneekers in Groton

And the winner is: Dog Watch!

The Day’s writers went out to sample each of the finalists’ offerings, and here is what they experienced.

DOG WATCH CAFE

194 Water St., Stonington, and 20 Stonington Road, Mystic

There is nothing quite like sinking your teeth into a juicy burger when you're hungry, a sensation that I describe as what a burger should first and foremost be: satisfying. I'm pleased to report that the Big Burger — which I ordered takeout from the Mystic location — is indeed satisfying.

The 8-ounce burger ($14) is a customizable one, and I added crumbled bleu cheese, sauteed mushrooms, and sauteed onions ($17), and I got a side of cornbread. (I should amend that to say that I got cornbread the first time and mac 'n' cheese the second; I ordered this burger twice because I forgot to take pictures the first time.)

In addition to the included options of lettuce, tomato, mayo, or chili mayo, you can pay extra for red onion, avocado, bacon, American cheese, cheddar cheese, Swiss cheese or sauteed pepper.

I ordered my burger medium well, and it came on a brioche roll that was toasted to perfection, adding a nice bit of crunch and a different texture. Unlike many burgers I've had, the structural integrity was superb, with no sogginess.

— Erica Moser

ENGINE ROOM

14 Holmes St., Mystic

Want the recipe for an outstanding burger? Start with beef from a nearby farm, add some locally sourced cheese and maybe a topping. It's that simple, and that delicious.

The Engine Room uses beef from two local farms, JW Beef in Stonington and Beriah Lewis Farm in Westerly. Some of their burgers are topped with Mystic Cheese Co.'s Melinda Mae and Seacoast mushrooms from Stonington.

I went simple, ordering what they call their Grass Fed Burger ($18), because I wanted to taste the meat. It came with Swiss cheese, caramelized onions and sourdough croutons. I knocked off most of the croutons because they were getting in the way between me and my burger. The JW beef was exactly what I expected: so much more flavor with a nice chewiness that you don't get at chains.

Other choices are a double stack of two three-ounce patties ($13), the Mushroom Mae ($16) and the Hot Fire with habanero cheddar sauce and bread & butter pickles ($16).

— Tim Cotter

RECOVERY ROOM

445 Ocean Ave., New London

I know what you're thinking: doesn't everyone go to the Recovery Room for the pizza?

Well, yes, the New London dining fixture is renowned for its pies, but there are indeed other things on the menu that are just as enticing.

The Recovery Room has two burgers on its regular menu, but on Saturday, they had a special as well. We ordered the BBQ Bacon Cheese Burger, which is a menu fixture, and the Chili Burger, which was a special of the day.

The Chili Burger ($14.95) was quite tasty, but the BBQ Bacon Cheese Burger ($12.95) was downright superb.

The BBQ creation was piled almost comically high. It looked like a burger version of a Dagwood sandwich. But I was able to wrangle it into my hands and take a bite.

The barbecue sauce added a nice jolt of sweetness, and the Applewood smoked bacon and thin, crispy onion rings piled on the burger provided great snap and flavor. All the different tastes mixed beautifully. (Also part of the construction: lettuce, tomato and melted cheddar cheese.) The certified angus beef was generous — a half-pound, according to the menu — and delectable, in the medium-cooked version we ordered.

The chili burger was plenty toothsome. It boasted a Cajun burger, chili, cheddar, and red onions, and was topped with avocado.

We didn't try it, but also on the regular menu: Black Angus Burger, with ½ pound of certified black angus beef on a brioche roll, served with lettuce, tomato and raw onion.

The burgers come with a side, and, splitting the caloric difference, we chose fries and a salad.

Be aware that burgers are on the lunch menu, which is served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

— Kristina Dorsey

SNEEKERS CAFE

568 Poquonnock Road, Groton

I don't think there's any data available to support the following conjecture, but: There's something about the food at what I'd call a regular's bar that makes it distinctive from what you'd find in a stand-alone restaurant, a fast-food joint or even a chain tavern/grill op like a Chili's or 99. It's almost as though there's a spiritual element or a collective and subtle vibe that seeps throughout the room and into the beer taps and bandstand and kitchen grill.

I get this preternatural energy at Sneekers, the iconic Groton hangout whose "Big Ass Cheeseburger" ($11) was one of the four finalists in the competition. The name alone explains why it's the only burger on their menu — as if to say, "Why would you need anything burgery other than a Big Ass Cheeseburger?" And to eat one of these creations is indeed good voodoo. Forget special sauces or secret seasonings or using a combo of ground elk/beef/quail or honey-infused buns or whatever else the designer places might throw at you.

A half-pound of beef, grilled crispy on the exterior, consistently juicy on the inside. Melted American cheese bubbling atop the patty. A leaf of fresh Boston Bibb lettuce larger than some kites I've flown. Two discs of tomato. A bun whose halves have soaked up a bit of that grease from the griddle. No ketchup, no mayo, no mustard. Thick discs of tart pickle on the side, along with a slew of toothsome french fries.

This is a great, welcoming burger that reflects the hearty personality of Sneekers in all its glory. Open wide and dig in.

— Rick Koster 

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