Battle of the Burger’s 2017 burgers
If steak is too formidable, Marc Forgione, the chef-owner behind the swanky steakhouse chain, has crafted a meaty ode to Mickey D’s ubiquitous Big Mac. Like its predecessor, Forgione’s upmarket version contains a house-made special sauce, onions, pickles and American cheese on top of a beefy blend of brisket, short rib and Wagyu beef.
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.
While culinary fusion can sometimes get lost in translation, BarKogi’s Short Rib Bulgogi Burger is one flavor combo that just makes sense. The Korean joint gives the classic burger a sweet and savory accent inspired by traditional bulgogi (Korean for “fire meat”) barbecue. The eight-ounce short-rib patty is marinated in a mix of soy, sugar, sesame and garlic, topped with a spicy kimchi slaw and paired with a side of truffled shoestring fries for a transcontinental flavor explosion.
Don’t get distracted by this Manhattan minichain’s compulsively Instagrammable loaded milk shakes: The elevated diner’s eponymous patties are things of beauty that deserve at least as much smartphone love as their dessert-menu cousins. The classic all-American edition is a prime Pat LaFrieda patty marbled with plenty of unctuous fat, a gooey cap of American cheese, mayo-based special sauce, lettuce and sliced pickles and tomatoes, all piled onto a perfectly toasted, squishy white bun. The loaded plate on which it’s served, burdened with plenty of golden fries, makes a pretty picture—and tastes damn good, too.
People love to feel like they’re privy to insider intel, which, in part, explains the crowds at this scrappy favorite “hidden” inside the lobby of midtown’s posh Le Parker Meridien hotel. (To be fair, though, the secret’s been out, like, forever.) But the real reason for the lines is the quality of the burger: A juicy, fast-food–style five-ouncer atop a humble Arnold bun, the patty is lashed with classic condiments (Hellmann’s, Heinz) and embellished with Colby and white cheddar cheeses. For a less circuitous and less crowded route to burger heaven, hit the storefront location in the West Village.
True to its name, this Gramercy–Flatiron District fave is all meat, all the time. The modern butcher-shop–restaurant churns out one of the heartiest burgers in the city, with melted Cabot cheddar, aioli, house-cured bacon and pickled chilies slopped between a sesame-seed bun.
A staple for tipsy imbibers since the well-worn bar’s opening in 1961, this usually no-fuss burger features a half pound of beef topped with a slice of American cheese, a legit handful of crispy, curly bacon strips, plus iceberg lettuce, thickly sliced tomato and rings of raw white onion. Clutching your pint in one hand and struggling to contain the massive burger inside its seeded bun in the other will, we swear, make you happy to be alive. (The Queens outpost doesn’t have the original’s storied history but gets the job done.)
A chain we dig in midtown and Fidi? Don’t scoff. This upscale comfort-food fave grills up one hell of a burger. Centered on a hefty double stack of two USDA prime patties shaped from a 28-day–aged blend of brisket, short rib and chuck, the towering sammie gets two slices of American cheese plus lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickles and a generous dose of tangy tomato-and-mayo Sloppy Sauce. On the side, opt for the exemplary sweet-potato fries.
The buzz around NYC hot spots tends to wax and wane, but one storied New York eatery that’s immune to diners’ whimsy is Donovan’s in Woodside, Queens, a no-frills Irish pub that’s quietly been crafting one of the city’s best burgers since 1966. A hefty, well-seasoned patty is broiled, tucked into a toasted sesame-seed bun and served alongside chubby steak fries; the neighborhood-name-checking burger gets a melty cap of sharp cheddar and a tangle of crisp bacon. Order it medium-rare, nab a frosty pint, and soak up the atmosphere of this five-decades–strong institution.
Okay, so the recipe behind this Park Slope spot’s classic is a third-generation family secret. But we can say that this 60-year-old Dallas import has thin squares of beef topped with American cheese and dressed with shredded lettuce, tomato, onions and pickles, plus a mix of mustard and mayo rather than the standard squirt of ketchup. Those in the know opt for the double-patty version, which has the optimal meat-bun ratio.
Sammies at this pint-size, Crown Heights diner can be made with whatever type of patty (beef, turkey, lamb, chicken, veggie) your stomach hankers for. Try the namesake burger with cheddar, sautéed cremini mushrooms and caramelized onions in addition to the standard fixins of the potato sesame bun, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles.
It ain’t always about the za. At Williamsburg’s Emmy Squared, the Detroit-style deep-dish pizza joint from Emily owner-couple Matt and Emily Hyland, there’s an underground burger lounge you shouldn’t overlook. Beef from pasture-raised, grass-fed cattle from Fleishers Craft Butchery makes up the two three-and-a-half-ounce patties, which are wet-aged, scorched to medium and crowned with white American cheese. Bread-and-butter pickles add crunch while sambal-laced Sammy Sauce brings heat, and the whole thing is contained within a Tom Cat Bakery pretzel roll.
A minichain begat by one sole recipe, 5 Napkin began life as an offshoot of Nice Matin, the Upper West Side brunch staple beloved for its Frenchified omelettes and salads. The popularity of the restaurant’s oversize burger—a formidable 10-ounce patty that’s oozy enough, so it goes, to warrant the use of five napkins—inspired the opening of this now five-locations–strong spot. The titular burger also highlights French flavors. With hints of French onion soup, it’s draped with imported Gruyère and piled with sweet caramelized onions and a schmear of rosemary-garlic aioli.
This Washington, D.C.–born chain brought its endlessly customizable patties to New York streets about a decade ago and now counts a whopping 20 spots within the boroughs. It’s easy to account for the burger’s popularity. Although mass-made, the three-ounce patties retain some individualistic flair: They are coarsely ground, loosely packed and griddled to a deep-brown, crunchy crust. Each burger counts two of these bad boys per sandwich, swaddled in two melty Kraft Singles and available with unlimited free toppings including umami-rich grilled mushrooms, sticky grilled onions and more textbook offerings like mayo, mustard and pickle slices.
Hop over to this multipurpose Williamsburg venue to cram in a work project during the day, boogie down to a DJ at night or eat this delicious beauty (crafted simply with Bibb lettuce, American cheese, a special house sauce, pickles and a side of crispy fries) at any hour.
Inspired by a highway snack, Genuine Roadside’s Super Duper Stack Burger layers two beef patties, American cheese, sweet pickles and special sauce in a too-juicy-for-drive-thru sandwich that’s worthy of a detour. Grilled on the flattop at AvroKO’s Gotham West Market outpost, the fatty mix of hanger steak and Angus beef chuck evokes the quintessential greasy-spoon experience. Consider it a city slicker’s spin on a Route 66 road trip—no traffic required.
For those whose appetite for beef cannot be tamed, the city now offers two locations at which to feast upon half-pound, nearly dinner-plate–sized burgers: the original Upper East Side location of the famed NYC tavern J.G. Melon and its recent downtown expansion. The storied burgers flaunt juicy meat served open-faced and topped with rings of red onion and tangy crinkle-cut pickle slices. Up the umami factor with broiler-crisped bacon or a pile of earthy sautéed mushrooms.
Time at this old-old-school, white-tablecloth joint could easily be divided into two epochs: Before Burger and After Burger. Luckily for us, we’ve been living in the A.B. age since 2009, when restaurateur Keith McNally added the eatery’s much-loved superpatty to the menu. A generous nine-ounce puck of dry-aged beef, it’s bathed in clarified butter, then seared to medium-rare. Once placed on a fluffy Balthazar seeded bun, the patty is swaddled with a silky layer of sweet caramelized onions and nestled next to a mound of crisp pommes frites.
Operating out of a 1974 Airstream trailer parked outside Williamsburg’s William Vale hotel, Andrew Carmellini’s burger and soft-serve stand is a whimsical take on retro fast food—kicked up a notch. The simple Double Dip stacks two succulent, just-larger-than-slider–size patties on a steamy bun and adds plenty of creamy aged cheddar and peppery secret sauce. There’s no lettuce or tomato here, just big beefy flavor that’ll have you ordering seconds.
On warm days, the breezy back patio of this Williamsburg BBQ joint fills with neighborhood folks gorging elbow to elbow. Regulars know to head straight for the kitchen’s burger, a standout eight-ounce Pat LaFrieda blend that is barely contained by its generously seeded bun and is stacked high with curly Bibb lettuce, thickly sliced beefsteak tomatoes and peppery red onion. Bonus: The hand-cut fries hold their own next to the meaty behemoth.
Opened in 1868 as a dockworkers’ chophouse, this clubby establishment draws a laid-back New York crowd (MePa’s glamazons need not apply). But even those finicky eaters would be impressed by starters such as a tender-as-sashimi seared yellowfin tuna, and by ever-fresh raw bar selections. Still, folks come here for the beef. Spring for the flavorful strip steak, or a well-seasoned prime rib. Any way you carve it, this place stands the test of time.
Diners whose exploration of the menu at this hallowed hall of beef begins and ends at the steak section are missing out: Luger’s lunchtime burger, available daily until 3:45pm, displays the kitchen’s meat mastery as deftly as any other dish. A full half pound of coarsely ground meat, trimmed from the saloon’s dry-aged steaks, is molded into patties, then seared under a broiler to a deep brown crust on the outside and a perfect medium-rare inside, adorned only with a slice of raw onion.
Sure, this historic ’hood fave is more known for pints, but it also serves Irish-influenced American pub fare that includes the family-named burger made with a blend of short rib, brisket and chuck steak with aged cheddar, red onion, pickle and “fancy sauce.” Each of the Chelsea burgers come with steak fries or tater tots with a choice of cheese like American, cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella and Muenster.
True to its name, the refined comfort-food haven Pig Bleecker boasts plenty of pork, but burger lovers need not be deterred from the ultimate prize: the double-decker house offering loaded with two beefy patties, zippy Big Mac–style secret sauce, plenty of oozy cheese and slices of house-made pickles. A blend of brisket and short rib brings big bovine flavor and plenty of juiciness to the burger, and the crisp, salty fries on the side are the platonic ideal of fast-food–style frites.
Danny Meyer’s West Coast–inspired chain, with 17 locations citywide, has a perpetually long-ass line for one reason and one reason only. Not the salty, crinkle-cut fries. Not the creamy customizable Concretes. It’s all about the ShackBurger. And for good reason: With a custom Pat LaFrieda blend of sirloin, chuck and brisket smashed on a griddle until well browned, the juicy patty is draped with taxicab yellow American cheese, smeared with tangy mayo-based ShackSauce and nestled into a toasted, generously buttered Martin’s potato roll. Sliced Roma tomatoes and green-leaf lettuce foil the richness, and after one bite, you’ll forget you spent your lunch hour essentially queuing for fast food.
Don’t let the name scare you: The Angry Burger, which comes dipped in Frank’s RedHot sauce and is served with a cooling dollop of Maytag blue cheese, is sure to make you smile. If you need to temper the heat, wash it down with a selection from the 150 different bottled beers or 25 drafts at the chainlet’s Midtown West flagship.
If there’s one area where multitalented chef April Bloomfield’s expertise shines extra brightly, it’s in her meat cookery—master, as she is, of the juicy steak, the rare rack of lamb, the crispy pig’s ear. Bloomfield’s burger is no exception: The moist, still-pink patty heaped with funky Roquefort cheese and wedged between a toasted brioche bun is—and we’re not being hyperbolic—legendary. On the side, a veritable tower of rosemary- and garlic-scented shoestring fries defies diners to finish the whole plate.
The menu at this nationwide chain headed by media mogul and outdoorsman Ted Turner is inspired by the cuisine of the West, which means there’s only one way to go when choosing your burger: bison. At diners around town, the lean, flavorful protein is frozen into preformed disks, but at Ted’s the ranch-raised bovine is ground twice daily for maximum freshness. You can taste it in the well-seasoned burger, which remains moist despite its low-fat content. Missing those omega-3s? Add bacon, cheese or both.
While NYC and L.A. maintain a mostly friendly rivalry (just kidding—screw you guys), even Gothamites tend to get excited when a new West Coast food import arrives on our shores. Such was certainly the case in 2013, when Adam Fleischman’s über-popular Cali-born burger spot emphasizing the so-called “fifth taste” opened in the West Village. By now, the lines have mostly died down, but the burger is still a stunner: six ounces of house-chopped beef layered with the umami bombs of silky roasted tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, caramelized onions and the coup de grâce of a crispy, lacey wafer of Parmesan.