Our journey begins at Pijama, a small, cosy locale with great credentials: the owners are Gal·la Requena and Nelson González, former maître d' and head chef, respectively, at La Royale. "We just wanted to make hamburgers where profit wasn't more important than quality," says Nelson. "It's just the two of us, so we can't take more than eight diners at a time," Gal·la stresses. The most important thing, assures Nelson, is that "each hamburger is a real sandwich, not something that looks like a traffic accident". Take, for example, the 'francesa', with black olives, 'alioli'(garlic mayonnaise), tomato, potato, bacon, onion and Emmental cheese. Breathtaking. Just because the burgers are fab, doesn't mean you have to skip the tapas: the Peruvian 'tiradito' (raw fish) is superb, and the homemade croquettes have lots of personality (do not miss the chorizo and manchego cheese ones).
Our next stop is Bernie's Diner Grill & Bar, a careful reproduction of a North American diner, right down to the furniture shipped over from the States. What sets it apart from other similar establishments, explains co-owner Argentinean Martín Stefandis, is the wide selection. "It's not just a burger joint - this is an American restaurant with a grill for cooking ribs, rib eye steaks and fillet steaks," along with specials like the 'escalope a la napolitana'. "Like in the United States, restaurants owned by immigrants have their own specialties," he says. They boast a stone grill, so the meat gets cooked on hot volcanic rock and comes out with a fantastic smoke flavour.
The last stop on our little tour takes us to El Club de la Hamburguesa, where Felipe Español - also Argentinean, like the owner of Bernie's – explains that "the key to our success is a great value and variety, with quality ingredients." These aren't gourmet burgers, but they sure are satisfying, with carefully thought-out recipes and nice presentation: try the 'mexicana', a refreshing option with guacamole, chilli, tomato and cheddar.
And here's something new: burger fever has reached the Boqueria. At stall 280, Boqueria Burger, with its do-it-yourself spirit, wide selection of toppings - mushrooms, 'samfaina', curry, blue cheese - special buns and 26 types of sauce, all in individual packets. For €8, you can get everything you need for two hamburgers, some assembly required.
The beef: 160 grams of tasty dark veal from Lleida. It's not premium, but it's got excellent flavour and texture.
The bun: Crunchy and light, almost non-existent.
The recipe: Tomato and basil sauce with toasted pine nuts, thick roasted mushrooms and Parmesan. Scrumptious.
On the side: Chips fried in olive oil. Fantastic, and only €2.
How it holds up: The bun is very light, but solid and thick enough so that the whole thing doesn't fall apart.
The beef: 200 grams of Eusko Label certified veal cooked to four possible temperatures. Made on a stone grill, it comes with a hint of smoke flavour.
The bun: The classic, soft hamburger bun.
The recipe: Cheddar cheese, onion rings, bacon, lettuce, tomato and a thick, finger-lickin' barbecue sauce.
On the side: Chips like God intended and grandma used to make, €2.
How it holds up: The weak spot: if you put it to the test and cut the burger in half, it tends to fall apart. A more durable bun would help.
The beef: 200 grams of veal straight from the Boqueria, just like all of the ingredients.
The bun: Crispy roll with lots of sesame seeds.
The recipe: Pesto, tomato, rocket and, most important, a slice of mozzarella that adds freshness and originality. Truly tasty.
On the side: Chips that, though supposedly homemade, lack flavour. Needs improvement.
How it holds up: Phenomenal: this is a huge, two-hander of a burger, and with just a flick of the wrist we managed to cut it in half without any of it coming undone.
Restaurante El Club de la Hamburguesa