Burgers aren’t just for buns anymore–but grilled cheese is. Olive oil and balsamic vinegar can split before-and-after duty on crisp French fries. And house-made veggie burgers peacefully coexist on a menu with a “Vertigo Burger” that dares you to stack to the ten-patty, two-pound limit. At Elevation Burger, fast food sizzles with innovation.

The first Michigan franchise in a forty-three-store, Virginia-based chain is now battling Five Guys and all other guys in town. Set back in a strip center west of Arborland, it compensates with big windows and bright graphics of snow-capped mountains. The tables are bamboo, the serving pockets are “high post-consumer content paper,” and the staff grinds organic, grass-fed beef onsite. The burgers are juicy and flavorful, and, if you’re avoiding carbs, you can get yours wrapped in lettuce instead of a bun.

One dispenser offers tasty cold cinnamon-orange tea, while a sleek touchscreen fountain squirts seemingly endless varieties of soft drinks–five flavors of Diet Coke alone. Towering over the counter is a limited menu and extensive list of toppings; together they produce a spectrum of sandwiches.

Most vegetable toppings (except sauteed mushrooms) come free, and the most expensive is a slice of organic bacon that sets you back a buck and a half. If you pass on the lettuce wrap, the potato buns have a brioche sweetness that goes well with the burgers. That same bun is turned inside out, crust in, to make gooey little grilled cheese sandwiches (with cheddar, the only cheese offered). Of the two veggie burgers, I preferred #2, the vegan option, because its corn kernels and other veggies have more complex flavors than the cheesy but bland #1. They’ll combine either one with beef patties for a combo called “Half-the-Guilt.”

You’ll be happiest at Elevation Burger if you stop counting calories, accept that premium ingredients cost more, and then treat yourself to a generous pile of toasty fries, always cooked to order. One friendly worker explained there’s no heat lamp or microwave in the building, and several alluded to Elevation’s secret process for getting olive oil hot enough for deep frying. The free house-made balsamic vinegar dressing is great for dipping, but the touted “Elevation Sauce” is standard Thousand Island. If you order a salad (fresh but not particularly exciting), you’ll have several more dressings to choose from.

Super-sweet pecan-chocolate Elevation Cookies have all the guilty pleasure of sneaking tastes of cookie dough. A variety of made-to-order shakes and malts earned raves at our table, particularly the key lime and Oreo varieties. Start to finish, Elevation raises the bar.

Elevation Burger 3365 Washtenaw 585-0467


Daily 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

Sandwiches $3.29-$23.31, salads $2.69-$4.99, desserts $1.59-$4.49

Wheelchair accessible