Beef Jerky

The 2024 Iowa’s Best Burger Announced

Erika Osmundson | May 1, 2024

Contact: Kylie Peterson, Director of Marketing & Communications, Iowa Beef Industry Council, 515-296-2305
Erika Osmundson, Director of Communications, Iowa Cattlemen's Association, 515-296-2266

From cheese curds to chip dust, burgers as big as dinner plates to multiple patty burgers, fresh veggies to cheeses, and sauces to spreads, this year’s Top 10 Iowa’s Best Burger restaurants had it all! However, only one can claim the title of Iowa’s Best Burger in 2024 and this year’s winner goes to JJ’s Tavern + Grill in Ankeny, Iowa.

Owners Rick and Lilia Romero and Michael Roberts, also the general manager, and Liberty Van Genderen, say JJ’s Tavern + Grill is about family. They have worked diligently to build this for their employees, but also want their customers to recognize the family vibe. Michael even went as far as to say they’d like it to have the television show Cheers, “everyone knows your name” feel.

The intimate atmosphere and upscale smaller space naturally lend themselves to that feel. When you go, expect to talk with Rick and hear about the inspiration for the restaurant’s name. You might get a hug from Lilia. And, Michael will be there making food recommendations along the way. Lilia said that it is rare to see owners participating in the business every day and they are trying to prioritize that at JJ’s.

JJ’s Tavern + Grill offers a wide selection of elevated bar food offerings. As Liberty described, there is something for everyone’s palate. The Best Burger Contest’s timing is intentional and celebrates the kickoff of Iowa’s May Beef Month. JJ’s has several beef options, but today it is all about the burgers! The menu currently features eight smash burger selections. All look delicious, but Rick and Michael highlighted the JJ’s Smash Burger, the Brock Curdy Burger, and the Jalapeno Cheddar. Each smash burger can be a single patty or double, but for that robust beef taste, we recommend a double!

JJ’s Smash Burger is a classic, with tavern sauce, gooey American cheese, and notably fresh lettuce, tomato, red onion, and pickle. Rick said their smaller venue promotes their freshness standards because they have limited storage so they get regular food deliveries. Yes, the Brock Curdy Burger is named for San Francisco 49ers quarterback and former Iowa State player, Brock Purdy. This burger is loaded! On the patties, there is BBQ sauce, ranch, American cheese, cheese curds, pulled pork, and bacon. Michael said the third burger they would highlight is the Jalapeno Cheddar Burger which gives a little spice and has been quite popular. This burger is topped with tavern sauce, cheddar, bacon, and of course, jalapenos.

To pair with your burger, you’ll find a unique offering of sides from hot honey Brussels sprouts to edamame, traditional fries to mouth-watering cheese curds, and more. They also have an array of fun cocktails and scrumptious desserts. Michael talked about the creativity of the menu and said it is a partnership. They work closely with their distributor, Matthew Hanscom who is also a chef, listen to their customers, find inspiration from other restaurants, and allow their team to try and create new recipes.

“To me, a lot of restaurants are the same, just with a different name,” said Michael. “One of our goals with JJ’s was to be totally different. We wanted to focus on the quality of food, the atmosphere, and customer service at a reasonable price point."

The competition and being named as a Top 10 contestant in Iowa’s Best Burger competition has already had a significant impact on their business. Since being named a Top 10 contestant on March 12, they went from selling 13 burgers a day to over 36 burgers a day.

JJ’s recently opened in late November 2023. They have recently added a patio for an outdoor dining experience and additional seating. Rick shared that thanks to the contest they may consider moving up plans for a second location.

“We’ve always talked about a second location,” said Rick. “This might be our dream spot, but we like the concept of a second spot and our name is out there now. We have great customers and they have really supported us.”

This was the 15th year for the annual Iowa’s Best Burger Contest and had the added excitement of allowing previous winners the chance to be nominated again. We had three previous winners in the list of Top 10 contestants. The Best Burger Contest is sponsored by the Iowa Beef Industry Council and the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association to showcase the valued partnership between Iowa’s cattlemen and food service providers through delicious burgers crafted by Iowa’s talented chefs and restaurateurs.

Michael shared that being a part of this contest and being selected as the winner was like the Michelin star for restaurants. He said that getting into the Top 10 had been his vision from day one.

“As I sat down with Rick, I said we have got to get into the burger contest,” said Michael. “You know, if you get into the Top 10 it is going to change your world. If you win, it’s going to change it even more. To me, I think it is the biggest competition in Iowa.”

“We’re now sealed with some of the great restaurants in Iowa,” said Rick. “So for the next five to 20 years, our name is going to have the star next to it. I’ve said for a long time, that there hasn’t been an award-winning burger in Ankeny, well now there is.”

About JJ’s Tavern + Grill

(1975 N. Ankeny Boulevard, Ankeny, Iowa 50023)
Hours:  Sunday through Thursday – 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday & Saturday – 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

As mentioned, the venue is smaller and more intimate. The Iowa Beef Industry Council and Iowa Cattlemen’s Association kindly ask new and existing customers to be patient and courteous to restaurant staff. Former contest winners have reported an influx of sales well after Iowa’s Best Burger announcement was made. We hope you will understand the potentially longer wait times. One recommendation to reduce wait times is for large parties to break into smaller groups. Regardless, it will be worth the wait!

Please direct all media inquiries for JJ’s Tavern and Grill to Michael Roberts at [email protected] or 515.230.3822.

About Iowa’s Best Burger Contest:

The designation of Iowa’s Best Burger comes after a two-phase competition. The first phase is based on votes from the public. To qualify the burger must be a 100% real beef patty and served on a bun or bread product. From February 12 to March 12, 2024, more than 7,500 votes were cast for more than 500 different Iowa restaurants. The Top 10 are narrowed down by votes and announced. The second phase includes a group of anonymous judges who visit each restaurant to taste-test the burger and score based on taste, doneness, and presentation. Judges' scores are tallied to determine who the title of Iowa’s Best Burger is awarded to.

Previous Iowa’s Best Burger winners include: 2023 – Flight Bar + Grille of Huxley; 2022 – The Flying Elbow of Marshalltown; 2021 – Bambino’s of Ossian; 2020 – Twisted Tail Steakhouse & Saloon of BeeBeeTown; 2019 – Wood Iron Grille of Oskaloosa; 2018 - Café Beaudelaire of Ames; 2017 – The Smokin’ Hereford BBQ of Storm Lake; 2016 – The Chuckwagon Restaurant Adair; 2015 – The Cider House of Fairfield; 2014 – Brick City Grill in Ames; 2013 – 61 Chop House Grille in Mediapolis; 2012 – Coon Bowl III in Coon Rapids; 2011 – Rusty Duck in Dexter; and 2010 – Sac County Cattle Company of Sac City.

To learn more about the contest and this year’s Best Burger contest winner, JJ’s Tavern + Grill visit 


About the Iowa Beef Industry Council: The Iowa Beef Industry Council is funded by the $1-per-head National Beef Checkoff Program and the $0.50-per-head Iowa State Beef Checkoff. Checkoff dollars are invested in beef promotion, consumer information, research, industry information and foreign market development, all with the purpose of strengthening beef demand. For more information, visit

About the Iowa Cattlemen's Association: The Iowa Cattlemen’s Association represents nearly 8,000 beef cattle producer families and associated companies dedicated to the future of Iowa’s beef cattle industry. ICA’s mission is to “Grow Iowa’s beef cattle business through advocacy, leadership, and education.”

Enclosure: Pictures can be found on Iowa Cattlemen’s Flickr page (