Battle of the Burger’s best burgers
The anatomy of a burger here: a mouthwatering blend of prime brisket, short rib and dry-aged rib eye on a soft but sturdy house-made sesame pretzel roll, with bourbon-coated caramelized onions and gooey beer cheese made with melted cheddar, fontina and Brooklyn lager. (Lettuce and tomato are available upon request.) Iron Chef winner Marc Forgione’s modern steakhouse slings its not-so-secret off-menu burger in limited quantities in Tribeca, but its midtown offshoot flips the primo patty every day at lunch and at the bar for dinner.
Don’t get distracted by sexier-sounding options like the spicy jalapeño, smoked mozzarella or BBQ bacon burgers. In life, the simplest things are often the best, and that’s the case at this patty chainlet. The classic cheeseburger, fitted unapologetically with grocery-store grabs like processed American cheese and squirt-bottle Heinz ketchup, doesn’t need fancy gizmos or highfalutin gimmicks to stand out—not when its base is six beautiful ounces of daily-ground, hand-pressed carne, a high-fat custom blend from Pat LaFrieda that’s equal parts char and crumble after a serious smashing on a smoky flattop.
Made with a flavorful fat-rich blend of aged 70 percent lean to 30 percent fat deckle beef and cooked in a cast-iron skillet for a meaty crispness, the contender from Jeremy Spector’s East Village kitchen is topped with soft, sticky American cheese and caramelized onions and is served on a lightly toasted white bun. Although it’s not listed on the menu, just bug your waiter to get your hands on the goods. (You’ll be glad you did.)
The cheeseburger here is as an act of noble simplicity. Found at the semi-hidden restaurant in the lobby of Le Parker Meridien Hotel and its lower-key sibling shop in Greenwich Village, it’s an ode to maximizing flavor without overaccessorizing. One thousand patties are cooked daily, and each five-ounce round of Nebraska-sourced beef-shoulder clod is ground by two in-house butchers and cooked to order, then placed inside a soft Arnold bun and accented with mild Colby and white cheddar cheeses. Dolloped with a balanced proportion of Hellmann’s mayo and Heinz ketchup, with classic accoutrements piled high (iceberg lettuce, beefsteak tomato, onion, pickle), it’s Pipes’s burger opus.
One of the city’s most celebrated burgers, this baby clocks in at eight juicy, uncharred ounces of chuck, round and sirloin. The blend is delivered fresh daily from New Jersey–based New England Meat Co. and is broiled in a Salamander grill so it stays soft and supple, unmarred by a direct flame. It’s draped with melty American cheese and crisp strips of maple-wood–smoked bacon plus simple adornments that tower but don’t teeter: iceberg lettuce, dill-pickle chips and thick-sliced raw white onions, all tied together on a simple sesame-seed bun—the idea being that by keeping the bread “pedestrian,” it won’t outshine the main attraction: the meat.
Pub burgers have been around as long as there have been folks on barstools ready to eat ’em. And you don’t get much more old-school or no-fuss than the one at this 50-year-old Woodside, Queens, fixture. It’s big (eight ounces), broiled and back-to-basics, with a mix of coarse chuck and New York strip arriving medium-rare by default with a crusty exterior and a juicy interior. The unceremonious crown of sliced American, thick-cut tomato and iceberg lettuce just adds to the gruff charm.
This candidate is older than the bar where it’s served. The Park Slope tavern only opened in 2008, but its cheeseburger dates back six decades to the flattop patties co-owner Clay Mallow’s grandfather was flipping back at the family grocery in South Dallas. That homespun history is felt in the routine finesse with which that patty is doled out: squared-off, thin-packed and loaded with a mess of shredded lettuce, chopped onion, sliced tomato, pickle chips, and both mayo and mustard on a spongy, seeded bun. (Don’t even think about putting ketchup on it, Yanks.) Make it a double or triple for a buck or two extra—after all, everything’s bigger in Texas.
Chef Oscar Mendez keeps his meaty ingredients on the DL, revealing only that his patty weighs in at a half pound prior to cooking and is partially composed of ground chuck that’s dry-aged for 28 days (that gives it the beefy flavor) and seasoned with a simple salt-and-pepper blend. To hold in its juices and maintain its crispness, each patty is sizzled on a cast-iron skillet and accented with sweet caramelized onions and a layer of oozy American cheese. A utilitarian white bun holds it all together. Make it a double, if you can handle it.
Pizzerias do pizza well. Burger joints do burgers well. But this Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, favorite from married couple Matt and Emily Hyland is the rare breed that nails both; it’s equally at home topping an oven-primed dough round with marinara as it is capping a hearty Tom Cat Bakery pretzel bun with a mineral-rich puck of beef. That beef is a dry-aged blend from DeBragga, with a meaty earthiness that’s amplified by a quick sear in clarified butter, a finish of Vermont Grafton cheddar, a tangle of caramelized onions and dollops of drippy, house-made red-pepper aioli. It’s all exceptionally messy, but mostly it’s just exceptional.
There are more than 250,000 ways (!) to order a burger at America’s favorite Washington, D.C.–bred franchise, which has 23 locations spread throughout the five boroughs, but the classic cheeseburger is the quintessential fast-food experience. It’s made with fresh ground beef that’s 80 percent lean, 20 percent fat, and it’s cooked well-done. A double is the standard (specify “little” for a single), the patties slapped together on a sesame-seed bun with unlimited toppings (jalapeños, BBQ sauce, relish) or “all the way” with ketchup, mustard, mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, grilled onions and grilled mushrooms.