Time Out New York’s Battle of the Burger is back and with it comes yet another juicy crop of formidable burgers to choose from. This year’s pack ranges from barroom burgers to bistro patties, comforting cheap burgers from diners and luncheonettes to fancy numbers from fine dining restaurants. These are your 40 Battle of the Burger contenders, presented by Budweiser.
RECOMMENDED: See more on the Battle of the Burger
New York City chefs are caught in a comfort-food holding pattern—what’s a restaurant these days without a porkcentric menu, fried-chicken specials and classic cocktails? In this era of culinary regression, unassuming Brindle Room offers something audacious: well-executed international fare that’s mature and refined without being stuffy. The team has compiled an equally disciplined menu, featuring a list of “spreads," small plates and entrees that include a burger boasting pedigreed meat (dry-aged and deckle trimming).
Kitsch and chichi mingle at this tiny, hidden spot in the posh Parker Meridien. It’s a perfectly re-created burger emporium circa 1972, down to the “wood” paneling, vinyl booths and iconic ingredients, such as Heinz ketchup and Arnold’s buns. The burgers are picture-perfect, too—juicy and flavorful with the perfect degree of char. Get “the works,” with tomato, lettuce, pickle, mayo and red onion. The fries are only fair, but milk shakes are thick and good.
Even the food touts the bar’s history: A towering double cheeseburger ($28), stacked with crispy shallots and smeared with bone marrow, is dubbed the 86’d Burger, after lore that the term was born at Chumley’s. (Police would warn bartenders to “86” drunken guests through the front entrance—86 Bedford Street—before coming through the alley door during Prohibition-era raids.)
British chef Jason Atherton focuses on no-fuss tavern fare done well at the Clocktower, his handsome, mahogany-trimmed partnership with Philadelphia restaurateur Stephen Starr inside the New York Edition Hotel. There’s no toad-in-the-hole Anglicism on the menu (only imported Dover sole and upmarket fish-and-chips tip to the chef’s English heritage), but there’s a beautifully seasoned, ruby-centered skirt steak with triple-cooked chips and a gravy boat of thick béarnaise, and a duteously funky dry-aged burger, laden with salty bacon, melted cheddar and Churchill sauce.
The Commodore in Williamsburg, with its old arcade games and stereo pumping out theKnight Rider theme song, offers the city’s best cheap-ass bar eats, served in a seedy venue where folks come to get blotto. The short menu reads like a classic collection of beer-soaking comforts: Fried chicken is extra-crisp, with peppery skin and tender brined flesh, and the burger is dutifully messy, with blankets of melted cheese, chopped raw onions and shredded lettuce.
Locals will find the beloved Bistro Burger (broiled beef, cheese and bacon on a sesame-seed bun) at the Long Island City outpost of the West Village institution, along with 12 draft beers (Bud Light). The decor also takes its cues from the flagship location: The laid-back 75-seat tavern features a mahogany wood bar and booths, antique brass chandeliers and a pressed-tin ceiling.
Situated on the edge of Rockfeller Center with a large, patio-style outdoor seating area, it serves as a secluded hideaway from hordes of milling tourists in a neighborhood populated primarily by Irish dives and bank-busting fine dining spots. Here, you’ll find all the hallmarks of a chain restaurant, albeit an upscale version. Diners post up at the brass bar counter or settle into rows of brown-leather banquettes for rib-sticking dishes like truffle macaroni and cheese, smoked pork chops with bourbon-apple glaze and a double-stacked cheeseburger with red onion and sloppy sauce.
Located in a tricked-out 1920s dining car that was once home to a greasy spoon, Diner has earned iconic status as the pioneer of Williamsburg’s restaurant scene. Locals steam up the windows in the winter and cram the patios during the summer for stylish, seasonal dishes. Even the burger is elegant: A plump patty of short rib, chuck and round is seared on the grill and crowned with mild Vermont white cheddar, red onion and bread-and-butter pickles.
Woodside, Queens, bustles on, but this worn Irish pub stays the same. Well-lubricated old-timers line the front bar, while the wood-paneled dining room—made all the more classic with stained-glass adornment—recalls an honest age of prechain family dining. Irish-American pub fare like steak, roast beef and shepherd’s pie dominate the menu, but it’s the renowned burger that justifies the trek: loosely formed from freshly ground New York strip, broiled to a perfect char and simply decorated with lettuce and tomato—cheese and raw onion optional. In a city lousy with buzzworthy patties, this simple warhorse is still among the best.
Microbrews and copious amounts of Scotch, whiskey and bourbon are the poisons of note at this woodsy, two-floor watering hole—though a frosty mug of Smuttynose IPA is an ideal match for Dram’s solid griddle-cooked double cheeseburger. Settle in at the 33-foot bar or bring your brew to a spacious booth. Attractions like pool, darts and shuffleboard, favored by the postcollegiate crowd, stand to give the bocce courts at nearby Union Hall a run for its money.
Matthew Roff opened this burger joint connected to his Crown Heights bar, Franklin Park. Until 11pm, diners can order from a menu that includes grilled seven-ounce burgers like the Dutch Boy (cheddar, mushrooms, caramelized onions); after the restaurant closes, bargoers can continue to order the full menu at the bar.
Historically, pizza-crazed New York has been more readily welcoming to the za styles of the Italian motherland—the coal-fired Neapolitan; the spongy Sicilian square—than those of its stateside counterparts. (Jon Stewart’s infamous and impassioned diatribe against Chicagoan deep dish—in which he compares the regional specialty to “an above-ground marinara swimming pool for rats”—is cutting proof.) There are exceptions to the shunning rule: the provel-cheese–topped St. Louis round at Speedy Romeo, the Chicago tavern pie at Emmett’s and, now, the Detroit-style pizza at Emmy Squared, the much-hyped Williamsburg follow-up to Matt and Emily Hyland’s wood-fired Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, darling, Emily. Inside the 50-seat, casual-sleek parlor—where overalls-clad Brooklyn moms juggle a newborn with one arm and a slice with the other, and off-duty chefs in snapbacks unload with on-tap rum punch—the married couple serves six-slice rectangles that have all the hallmarks of the Detroit pan-baked style: air-pocked, puff-and-fluff dough that’s thicker than the New York slice but thinner than the Windy City deep dish; cheese baked right into the crust until the buttery, barely risen cornicione takes on an addictively crispy frico texture; and sauce that’s Pollack-splashed on top rather than pooled in the center. It’s a hearty Midwestern framework that the pair builds off of (neither is a Michigan native; their first taste of the style was from the Grand Poobah of Detroit pizza parlors, Buddy
The red-and-white–tiled burger chain—born in Arlington, VA, in 1986—opened its first NYC branch in College Point, Queens in 2007 and has since expanded with 20-plus locations throughout the five boroughs, earning a cult following with its brown-bagged fries, bottomless shell-on peanuts and local-beef burgers.
The best reason to visit is spelled out right there on the awning. The namesake burger, a delicious Franco-American handful, features sweet caramelized onions, Comté cheese and herb-infused aioli. Encourage your kids to ignore most of the menu, and stick to the burgers (seven styles in all) and all-American desserts like the rich and generous caramel-brownie sundae.
This is a burger with a mighty reputation. The American Cheeseburger at 4 Charles Prime Rib—the low-ceilinged steakhouse speakeasy from Chicago restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff, located inside a Charles Street town house—is a near replica of the widely acclaimed burger at Au Cheval, Sodikoff’s Windy City diner concept. And it’s a good one, especially considering the griddle-smashed patties are crowned not with ritzy toppers like foie gras and gold leaf but with no-frills additions like onions, pickles and plastic-wrap American cheese.
The grassy, spacious outdoor area of this bumping Williamsburg hangout is an apt setting for a cold Bud and a house burger, finished with pickled onions, American cheese and special sauce. Once you’ve had your fill, you can challenge your bargoing buds to a match of outdoor Ping-Pong.
Formerly parked in tucked-away Mill Basin, Brooklyn, this serious burger truck quickly achieved a cult status among patty aficionados that propelled it onward and upward to easier-to-access Williamsburg. Ground beef purist Andrew Zurica now slings his improbably juicy single-, double- and triple-stacked burgers from behind the Pfizer Building. Get 'em hot with free raw or grilled onions, lettuce, tomato, pickles and jalapenos.
The signature offering is a burger that invites comparisons to the revered Corner Bistro’s. Melon’s is pricier, at $11.25 for the very basic model, but it’s arguably just as tasty. Served austerely with a few slices of red onion and pickle, these handfuls must be eaten quickly, before the juice soaks through the bottom of the bun. Several of the genial bartenders, hosts and servers (in genteel ties and sweater vests) have been greeting patrons by their first names since the pub opened in 1972.
For three decades Keith McNally’s New York restaurants have defined effortless cool, generating the sort of overnight buzz—and long-running exclusivity—institutions are made of. His hot spots have become pop culture touchstones—delivering intangible pleasures that go far beyond food. That’s not to say there aren’t gastro pleasures to be had: The restaurant’s Black Label Burger, with caramelized onions and a mountain of pommes frites, is a modern-day New York legend.
As part of his three-prong culinary takeover of the William Vale Hotel, Andrew Carmellini and his Noho Hospitality Group roll out this burger and soft-serve stand operating out of a 1974 Airstream trailer parked on the hotel’s elevated promenade. Manned by executive chef Anthony Ricco (Spice Market), the retro RV offers four griddled burgers: a single or double with aged cheddar, a Swiss-topped veggie burger and a rotating special, with the opening option fixed with hatch chilies and Monterey Jack cheese. Beyond the bun, there are waffle fries and “dairy dips,” ice-cream cones in flavors like Jacker-Crax (buttered caramel popcorn with salted peanuts).
For the white-collared wayfarers wandering the streets north of Madison Square Park, NoMad is a depressingly apt name. Sure, the neighborhood has seen a much-welcome rise in upstanding restaurants, but finding an any-day gastropub that doesn’t reek of postgrad brewskies is harder to come by. Who better to fill the void than Daniel Humm, Will Guidara and Leo Robitschek, the James Beard Award–winning trio behind neighborhood stunners Eleven Madison Park and the NoMad, who expanded the latter to include this elegant saloon inside the NoMad Hotel.
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, a well-seasoned prime rib or primo burgers like a 20-ounce Kobe number. Any way you carve it, this place stands the test of time.
Although a slew of Luger copycats have prospered in the last several years, none have captured the elusive charm of this stucco walled, beer-hall style eatery, with well-worn wooden floors and tables, and waiters in waist coats and bow ties. Excess is the thing, be it the reasonably health- conscious tomato salad (thick slices of tomato and onion with an odd addition of steak sauce), the famous porterhouse for two, 44 ounces of sliced prime beef, or the decent apple strudel, which comes with a bowl full of schlag (whipped cream). Go for it all—it’s a singular New York experience that’s worth having.
The Pig Beach pop-up got a permanent residency in Gowanus in spring 2016, and now the team branches out further with another pork-named project two blocks south of Washington Square Park. The similarly caloric, if slightly more elevated, menu from Del Posto vet Matt Abdoo is filled with comfort-food twists including deviled steak and eggs, smoked-cod fritters with red-pepper jelly and a double-patty burger crowned with secret sauce and house pickles.
The celebrated saloon is long in the tooth (132 years old), but a modern-day face-lift (augmented menu, nightly specials) revitalized the old boy. The bar up front attracts the after-work pinstriped crowd, while the dining room pulls in a slightly older, blazer-wearing set. The hamburger is still honest and juicy; go ahead, customize it with cheese, bacon, chili or béarnaise sauce.
Reynard is the new cool kid on the block without ever trying to be, a Balthazar for Brooklyn, urbane and ambitious, mature and low-key. Its kitchen serves casual breakfast and lunch to a drop-in crowd, including a terrifically earthy grass-fed burger (served at the bar between 3–6pm). The menu, which changes often—sometimes daily—becomes much more serious at night. There’s no fanfare at any time to the spare list of dishes, no trendy buzzwords, and barely any descriptions at all. Reynard's thoughtful food, portioned to satisfy and priced to move, mostly speaks for itself.
At Salvation Burger inside the Pod 51 Hotel—the patty analogue to chef April Bloomfield and partner Ken Friedman’s midtown Mexican canteen Salvation Taco—the Michelin-starred toque serves a worthy counterpart to the Spotted Pig’s starring dish, the Rocky Balboa to its Apollo Creed. It might not better its opponent outright, but boy, what a fight. The strapping house burger clocks in at $25 (sans fries, mind you—you’ll have to pay an extra seven bucks for those), but you’ll forget about the markup once you get your fangs around an eight-ounce puck of sublimely tender, downright steaky beef, butchered and dry-aged in-house and fired over wood.
Blame talented toque April Bloomfield for the inevitable wait at this still-hopping West Village gastropub—a pioneer in the kind of meaty go-big-or-go-home grub that’s proliferated since the spot’s 2004 opening. The Pig still serves one of New York City’s best burgers, a rare patty heaped with intense Roquefort cheese and served with a tower of rosemary- and garlic-kissed shoestring fries.
Venue says: “Voted winner in the Time Out Love New York Award 2016! Come enjoy our delicious, made-from-scratch, Authentic American cuisine”
The only New York outpost of the bison-centric restaurant chain is in Midtown, and adventurous meat-eaters flock from all over the city to taste the lean protein. It’s not all bison burgers, either—though you could certainly sample one with bacon and cheddar or another with gruyere, blue cheese, caramelized onions and arugula. Sample the bison nachos with pepper jack cheese, dabble in the barbecue bison short ribs or go all out with the aged bison filet.
Burger buffs, brace yourselves—Adam Fleischman's L.A. patty sensation has finally come east with this much-hyped Village outpost. A champion of umami—that hard-to-place savory "fifth taste" found in everything from Parmesan to mushrooms—Fleischman spotlights the funky flavor-bomb in sixteen burgers, including the beer-cheese–and-lardon-topped Manly Burger; a mook-baiting truffle-and-roasted-garlic variety; and an NYC-exclusive five-spice duck burger with peach-apple chutney. The meat comes coarse-ground and medium-rare—no substitutions allowed—on Portuguese-style buns branded with the signature "U" logo. Also on offer are truffle fries; "secret menu" Cheesy Tots; and ice-cream sandwiches built with Blue Marble ice cream and Good Batch cookies. The bi-level 128-seat space—decked out with red leather banquettes and a framed portrait of umami-discovering scientist Kikunae Ikeda—features two full bars stocked with eight tap beers (Sixpoint Sweet Action, Allagash White) and 17 location-specific cocktails: The 21-U Club is a tribute to the supposed birthplace of the Bloody Mary, while the Bobcat—a mix of cognac, black-cherry soda and lemonade—is named after NYU's mascot.
The force is strong with the new incarnation of Union Square Cafe, the beloved flagship of the formidable Danny Meyer empire that stood on East 16th Street since 1985, long before a Shake Shack patty ever sizzled on a griddle top. The most crucial holdover is in the kitchen, where executive chef Carmen Quagliata—who headed the original USC for a decade—can still be found overseeing staples like ricotta gnocchi and the restaurant’s beloved burger.
California cuisine has always been a curious thing. It’s local but globally inflected, lean but filling, as driven by its ingredients as by the chef seasoning them. The vague concept is more an aura than anything else—for a homegrown likeness, see the farm-to-table Brooklyn-eatery stereotype—and that Golden State glow radiates throughout Upland, a glossy tribute to chef Justin Smillie’s hometown nestled at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains. Blistered shishito peppers, shellfish-crammed cioppino and a lunchtime burger with peppadew peppers and avocado tout to Smillie's Cali bona fides.
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que - Harlem
At this famed roadhouse, tykes can enjoy "dino" sliders ($4 each) made with pulled pork or brisket. The eatery scores extra points by offering temporary T. rex tattoos to children.
Venue says: “Harlem Dinosaur has a Happy Hour! Every Mon-Fri from 3pm-7pm at the bar. Check out our website for $2-$6 happy hour specials”