New York City may be home to the World’s Best Restaurant, but amidst all the fancy tasting menus and gourmet, fine-dining restaurants, let’s not forget the little things that make New York City great. The best burgers, for one. And while great burgers (or veggie burgers) can be found at top-notch establishments for more than $20, spending your entire food budget on a single burger is totally unnecessary when there are so many great cheap burgers throughout the boroughs!
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best cheap eats in NYC
Best cheap burgers in NYC
Danny Meyer's wildly popular Madison Square Park permanent food kiosk is mobbed with hour-long lines during the summer; in chilly weather, heat lamps provide the warmth for you to get your burger fix. The iconic ShackBurger tops specially blended beef patties with melted American cheese, leafy lettuce, thick-cut tomato and a proprietary ShackSauce. Single $5.55, double $8.35, (23rd St Madison Square Park, 212-889-6600).
New York City’s answer to the East Coast’s lack of In-N-Out burger, these fast-food–style patties can be stacked up to three a burger and can come topped with your choice of lettuce, tomato, diced or grilled onion, mushrooms, pickles and jalapeño, all on the house. (Bacon, chili and cheese are available at a surcharge.) Served on a warm, buttered potato roll, these burgers prove beefy competition to their West Coast rivals. Single $6, Double $9, Triple $11, (230 Park Ave, 646-747-0810).
Simultaneously understated but over-the-top in what a burger should be—juicy patty made of freshly ground Nebraska-sourced beef-shoulder clod, capped with crisp toppings (iceberg lettuce, beefsteak tomato) on a soft bun—this hidden burger joint inside Le Parker Meridien Hotel serves up one of the best bargain burgers in Manhattan, to be topped with cheese and bacon if you’re feeling truly indulgent. Hamburger $8.75, (33 W. 8th St, 212-432-1400).
This dimly-lit lounge’s fat, broiled beef burgers, hooded in American cheese and crispy bacon ($10.75), are legendary and New Yorkers are known to wait in line for one. Though it make take a while to get your hands on the patties, dirt cheap drafts like McSorley’s Ale and Stella Artois, and a heaping plate of shoestring fries should help pass the time.
For the creative burger lover, this DIY-friendly mini-chain allows you to create your own monstrous sandwich, with choice of grass-fed, pasture-raised patties (options include classic beef, vegetarian-friendly sweet potato and more oddball stuff like bison, elk and ostrich), bread (bun or wrap), cheese, plus dozens of cooked and raw vegetables and house-made sauces that make each creation completely unique. Burger $8.90, (23-01 31st St, 718-204-7167).
This diner inside Gotham West Market serves up a simple, truly tasty hamburger that’s difficult to put down until the last bite—so hold off on those chili queso fries until after you devour the beef patty topped with cheddar, house sauce, lettuce, tomato and dill pickles. Not too greasy but just indulgent enough, this burger hits the spot when you’re craving some elevated fast food. Classic Burger $8.04, (600 11th Ave, 212-582-7941).
One of New York’s most famous hamburgers is barely a burger at all: Del Posto alum Brooks Headley’s creation is a veggie patty built from fruit and veggie pulp that’s spiced with just enough of a kick to leave you wanting to order a second round before you’ve even finished your first. Superiority burger $6, (430 E 9th St, 212-256-1192).
We fantasize about the satisfying squelch of chomping into a Juicy Lucy—a Minneapolis burger variant cooked with cheese inside the patty rather than on top. If you can't hop a Delta flight to track down the original article, find a locavore spin on the regional specialty at Whitmans. The handsome one-hander boasts prime ingredients, like a proprietary Pat LaFrieda rib blend, a Martin's potato roll and crunchy McClure's pickles, along with an added Southern twang: a gooey pocket of pimento cheese bubbling away in the medium-rare center. Juicy Lucy $12, (406 E 9th St, 212-228-8011).
This pristine counter spot serves a burger that you'd expect to find at a California drive-in: Enclosed in waxed paper, the sandwich is overstuffed with iceberg lettuce, vibrantly colored tomatoes, thin slivers of raw onion and melted American cheese. There's also a special sauce akin to Thousand Island dressing that drips all over it. Biting into it elicits an audible squelch and a rush of beefy flavor—you'll want extra napkins for this one. Single $4.75, Double $5.99, (30-17 30th Ave, 718-267-6300).
Following in the food steps of the infamous ramen burger, this rice-bun burger debuted in the East Village circa 2014, and while the granular buns have not yet replaced bread in the city’s diverse burger landscape, they’re worth seeking out. The completely gluten-free tsukune burger most closely resembles a traditional hamburger, made with a ground chicken patty doused in sweet-and-spicy special sauce and topped with shishito peppers and scallion. Tsukune Burger $7.95, (238A East 9th Street, 646-669-9785).
Step out of Brooklyn and into the Midwest, where this Wisconsin-style Juicy Lucy burger oozes heaps of American cheese. Available until 2 a.m. on weekends, you’ll want to chase down this just-greasy-enough, spicy-mayo–slathered eight-ounce beef burger with a pint and a side of fried cheese curds, of course. Jucy Lucy $10, (506 Grand St, 347-889-7793).
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In Astoria, just off the bustling shopping district of Steinway Street, lies a hidden treasure. Gaijin, meaning “outside person” in Japanese, is an apt moniker for Chef Mark Garcia’s modern take on Japanese food. Garcia and co-owner Jay Zheng met working in Chicago restaurants and planned for five years to open their own place. They brought their ideas—and nearly their entire staff—to the Big Apple for a soft opening last October. The staff look chic in crisp white button-downs and leather suspenders, with jaunty newsboy caps for the cooks. Jazzy pop provides unobtrusive background music for diners. The appetizers are divided into cold and hot plates and should not be ignored. The steak tartare ($21) topped with herbs and a diminutive quail egg is a religious experience. Sesame and paper-thin scallions give the raw meat an almost charred taste. Once a special, the bone marrow ($14), a cross-cut bone sprinkled with charred scallion, Chinese onion and parsley, is now a mainstay. Scoop out clouds of gelatinous joy to spread on griddled baguette with a tiny wooden spoon. A tuna flight ($24) offers three levels of fattiness—akami, chutoro and otoro—all superb. And in one of the most innovative presentations ever, three toothsome gyoza ($8) arrive attached, as part of a single pancake. The sleek, modern eatery seats 30, including eight chairs at the long, white sushi bar where Garcia holds court, turning out exquisite, jewel-like pieces of sashimi and nigiri with delightful topp
Venue says: “Gaijin is a modern Japanese inspired restaurant serving fresh fish from the Tsukiji market, Japan and robata delicacies with binchotan.”