Cheeseburger at J.G. Melon
Since 1972, this kitschy Upper East Side haunt—pressed-tin ceiling, vintage watermelon images—has been sating meatheads. The cheeseburger is a bite of a bygone era, simple griddled on a flattop and medium-rare juicy. The thick, eight-ounce burger arrives open-faced, peeking beneath a layer of melted American cheese on a pillow-soft, lightly toasted bun, with sliced tomato, crisp lettuce, red onion and dill pickle chips on the side. Skip the cottage fries (undercooked and in desperate need of salt on a recent visit) but don’t bypass the bacon—the deep-fried tangle is cooked under a broiler for extra crispiness and adds delicious textural contrast to the coarsely packed special-blend patty. 1291 Third Ave at 74th St (212-744-0585). $10.50.
Grassfed Burger at Diner
Andrew Tarlow opened this indie-kid institution in 1999, before hipster was the word. So we can forgive Williamsburg’s locavore greasy spoon for serving blasphemous homemade ketchup (Heinz will do, thanks). Their outstanding burger doesn’t need a drop. The key is the house-butchered, grass-fed meat: The plump patty of short rib, chuck and round has an iron-y tang intensified by a proper sear on the grill. You can request cheese—a thin sheath of mild Vermont white cheddar—along with the house toppings of romaine, red onion and bread-and-butter pickles, all bundled in an airy sesame-seed bun made in-house. 85 Broadway at Berry St, Williamsburg, Brooklyn (718-486-3077, dinernyc.com). $15, cheese $2 extra.
Black Label Burger at Minetta Tavern
“That burger will change your life,” whispered a fellow bar patron on a recent visit as the mythical Black Label arrived. Whether you find it destiny-altering or not, this wallet-busting signature has undoubtedly altered Gotham’s burgerscape: The exclusive blend—debuted in 2004 by co-chefs Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson—cemented Pat LaFrieda’s status as Gotham’s go-to burger butcher. And while the Black Label has lost a little of its shine as the competition has caught up, it’s still one of the city’s top brawlers. A muscular nine ounces of well-seasoned and marbled chuck, short rib, skirt steak, brisket and 45-day dry-aged prime rib perches in a light, seeded brioche bun, custom-made by Balthazar bread whiz Paula Oland. Caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato and bright, dill-forward pickles come on the side, along with crunchy fries. 113 MacDougal St at Minetta Ln (212-475-3850, minettatavernny.com ). $26.
Steak House Burger at Brindle Room
Chef-owner Jeremy Spector sources dry-aged and deckle (a fatty cut of brisket) trimmings from his partner’s New Jersey chophouse for this stellar brunch-and-lunch patty. The pedigreed meat, boasting an almost peaty steakhouse smokiness, is aggressively seasoned with black pepper and seared for an admirably thick crust. Caramelized onions deepen the bass notes, melted American cheese provides a velvety layer, and a toasty bun clings to the perfectly proportioned package. 277 E 10th St between First Ave and Ave A (212-529-9702, brindleroom.com). $12.
Original Double Cheese Steakburger at Steak ’n Shake Signature
None other than Shake Shack kingpin Danny Meyer—a St. Louis native—has gone on record to say that Steak ’n Shake inspired his own burger empire. And the Midwestern chain holds strong against the city’s exploding ranks of hoity-toity artisanal incarnations. As with most smashed-style burgers, the way to go is the double. Two all-natural beef patties—featuring a bit of steak, as the name suggests—get a good meat caramelization from a quick sear on the grill. Then they’re topped with melted American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles, and cradled in a squishy, buttery bun. 1695 Broadway between 53rd and 54th Sts (212-247-6584, steaknshakesignature.com). $3.99.
Chargrilled Burger at the Spotted Pig
Just like April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman’s gastropub, the tavern’s much-lauded burger was an instaclassic when it debuted in 2004. Tangy Roquefort cheese highlights the mineral richness of the hulking, char-grilled half-pounder. A fluffy brioche bun ably soaks up all the juices, and a towering stack of tender, rosemary-scented Idaho shoestring fries will sate any hunger pangs the behemoth can’t satisfy. 314 W 11th St at Greenwich St (212-620-0393, thespottedpig.com). $20.
Cheeseburger at Roberta’s
The minimalist creation at this Bushwick game changer is only served at lunch Monday through Friday. But if you’re up for the daytime slog, you’ll be rewarded: A steal at $16, the pan-seared patty’s intense, dry-aged complexity belies its Pat LaFrieda bretheren. An überbuttery house-made roll reinforces the meat’s richness, while American cheese, onion and romaine are able supporting players. 261 Moore St between Bogart and White Sts, Bushwick, Brooklyn (718-417-1118, robertaspizza.com). $16.
The Double ShackBurger at Shake Shack
In a city awash with expense-account burgers, it’s a relief that Danny Meyer’s affordable, critic-approved chainlet has rapidly colonized various corners of Gotham (Brooklyn, the Upper West Side and, soon, Grand Central). Since its game-changing Madison Square Park debut in 2004, the New York–bred institution has maintained its favorite-son status among diners and the food cognoscenti. You may not find a more satisfying burger than the Double ShackBurger: Thin, all-Angus Pat LaFrieda patties are smash-griddled, blanketed in American cheese and tangy special sauce, topped with tomato and crunchy lettuce, and cradled in a perfectly squishy bun. And the price is hard to beat. Various locations; visit shakeshack.com. $7.20.
Cheeseburger at the Commodore
The bar burger at this Williamsburg dive is more Chicago dog than greasy-spoon standard, thanks to its green-garden toppings. Vinegar-doused shredded lettuce and bright tomato slices on top, and pickles and onions below, give the sandwich an abundance of freshness. The boldly seasoned Pat LaFrieda patty, cloaked with American cheese and a slathering of mayo, stands up to the salad-like toppings; and a soft Martin’s potato bun pinned with a drink umbrella ties everything together. 366 Metropolitan Ave at Havemeyer St, Williamsburg, Brooklyn (718-218-7632). $7.
Cheeseburger at Sea Witch
It’s hard to believe that this obscure South Slope bar serves one of the best patties in town. The tidy, wallet-friendly standout features a disc of meat smashed and griddled Steak ’n Shake–style, which owner Andy Hawkins grew up eating in the Midwest. Crisp lettuce, a fresh slice of red tomato, melted American cheese and chopped white onion mixed with ketchup on the bottom of a Martin’s potato bun evoke a fresher version of the McDonald’s classic. 703 Fifth Ave between 21st and 22nd Sts, Sunset Park, Brooklyn (347-227-7166 , seawitchnyc.com). $6.52.