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Published May 06, 2009, 12:00 AM

Here’s the beef: Hi-Ho South's named must-have burger in ND

I didn’t need a half-pound of beef. Most people don’t. Even fewer need it covered with cheese and served with a side of fries.

By: J. Shane Mercer, INFORUM

I didn’t need a half-pound of beef. Most people don’t. Even fewer need it covered with cheese and served with a side of fries.

But, as a journalist, it was my responsibility to research what Food Network Magazine listed as the burger you have to have in North Dakota: the Hi-Ho South double cheeseburger.

The list, comprised of “the most exciting, interesting, wacky or otherwise fabulous burger in every state,” appears in the magazine’s June/July issue. It hit newsstands Tuesday.

Of course, in some sense it’s a Minnesota burger. The original Hi-Ho opened in Dilworth in 1947. The Hi-Ho South, 3051 25th St. S., didn’t open until 1996. But, why quibble? The restaurant is in Fargo, so it qualifies.

Darin Thune was at the Hi-Ho when I stopped in. It’s always the double cheeseburger for him. He says it’s the ultimate burger in North Dakota.

It’s what a hamburger should be, he says, “juicy, full of flavor,” and the grilled onions make it all the better.

I had to find out for myself. Now, everyone knows that a good burger starts with good beef, and the Hi-Ho double cheese boasts two high-quality, quarter-pound patties without those strange, chewy things lurking in some fast-food patties.

Rick Cariveau, who owns the business with his wife, Cathy, says he buys “top-shelf beef.” But when asked where he purchases the meat, he said, “That’s a top secret.” Wherever they get the goods, they got 14 tons of it last year.

They don’t season the beef, a decision that, given my love for bold flavor, I question. But Cariveau says, “We like them the way they are, and people add their own stuff.” And, give Cariveau his due: The burger works great as is.

It’s not all about the beef. If the patties are the engine on this red-meat wagon, the optional fried onions are the high-lift cam that makes this thing rumble and rock like a hot rod at a red light. They give it that smoky depth and richness, adding a layer of yummy.

The fear with a half-pound burger is that the beef-to-bun ratio may be too moo-heavy. But the double cheese at the Hi-Ho holds up on that count. The bun isn’t exotic – like some fancy focaccia bread or something. But this butter-grilled bad boy is a solid enough palette for the

Hi-Ho’s culinary artistry.

“Anytime you top something with fried onions you can’t go wrong,” says Vikki Holte, who stopped in to the Hi-Ho with her husband after hearing about the Food Network Magazine listing.

Dusty Rosenfeldt didn’t even spare his own mother when expressing his feelings about the burger, saying he thought it was even better than her hamburger – and he was only having the single.

His father, Scott, was also having a single. He says the burger is “what you would expect in a burger joint that is not a franchise, that does it right, I guess.”

Given all the grilled beef, cheese, onions and butter, you might expect it to drip a little more than it does. But Marge Morris says, “It’s not greasy.”

Asked if she’ll be back for the burger, Morris says, “Oh, you better believe it.”

Cariveau, whose parents bought the original Hi-Ho in 1947, found out about the Food Network Magazine distinction just last week.

“I think it’s pretty neat for a mom-and-pop shop,” says Cariveau.

Leaving the restaurant, I walked out the door less $8.50 plus tip. That got me a Cherry Coke, fries, onion rings (there was a special where I got them for free) and a burger large enough to intimidate a hungry trucker – and tasty enough to make him order it anyway.

As I was about to check out, the lady in front of me told the cashier, “The hamburgers were delicious.”

Hey, she got no beef from me.

Minnesota’s best

The burger that Food Network Magazine says “you absolutely have to have” in Minnesota is the Vincent Burger from the Vincent – A Restaurant in Minneapolis. The burger is composed of Angus beef with smoked Gouda and braised short ribs inside. Now, excuse me. For some reason, I feel the need to drive to the Twin Cities.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734