There are more "Best Burger in New York" lists out there than anyone needs, but last night I found myself dipping into a Wendy's and for some reason the toppings of my Jr. Cheeseburger Deluxe (just tasty enough in the moment) lead me to ponder the hamburgers I've eaten during my ten years here so far, and also how much the hamburger landscape of the city has changed while I've been here.
When I got here in 2003 there were basically three hamburgers I heard people talking about: The Corner Bistro Bistro Burger, the burger at Diner in Williamsburg (which I didn't just hear people talk about but lose their minds over), and the fancy burger at db Bistro Moderne, which people were just talking about for being fancy.
In 2004, the Burger Joint at the Parker Meridian and the first Shake Shack opened up, and things started to change. Back then it seemed like you had to be either Team Joint or Team Shack and I was very much a Burger Joint person. Now there's so many burger places in the city that it doesn't seem like a violation of my loyalties to grab a Shackburger (and with increasing frequency, as Shake Shacks are beginning to fill the entire city) and there seems to be a hot new burger to try at almost every restaurant I visit.
Anyway, in my reflection at Wendy's, I came up with my list of the most impressive burgers I've encountered in the city.
The 3 Best Burgers:
Cheeseburger from the Burger Joint — The platonic ideal of burger perfection, it is to burgers what the Parm Meatball Parm is to meatball sandwiches. All the qualities a cheeseburger should possess are exemplified in this perfect burger. Traditional in its toppings, but there's something special about it having two types of cheese on it and when I think of this burger the sense memory of mustard/ketchup/mayo smacks just right in my mouth. Worth the wait at the Parker Meridian, but also worth not waiting for at their newer, much much larger location in the Village.
Cheeseburger from Peter Luger's — After years of ignoring this burger, I let it come crashing into my life last year. Now that I've had this monster 4 times, I'm inclined to ease off for a little while. But I'm telling YOU that you need to have it at least once. Ground together from the steaks of the restaurant and topped with just a slice of American cheese and a ring of raw onion on the side, the burger doesn't require anything else to get the job done (although I encourage you to order bacon with it, but trying to put the bacon on the burger is like topping a burger with a pork chop . . . you'll see what I mean when that bacon shows up). When I think of this burger I think of the bun between my fingers, firm on the outside but soft on the inside, and a ton of burger juice leaking out at first bite. Treat yourself. That's all I have to say (after writing a great big long paragraph about it).
Steakhouse Burger from Brindle Room — I've only had it once, but respectable critics have called this the best burger in the world, and I see where they're coming from. An absolute marvel of high quality house ground meat and exceptional smash style cooking technique, this burger eats far too quickly, you'll start feeling sad that it's going away after your first bite but also not be able to keep from gobbling it up as fast as you can. I don't think I'm selling it right right here, but Trust: get this burger.
The Honorable Mentions:
Smoked Meat Burger from Mile End — Another burger I've only had once, I'm dying to get it again. I don't think this is because it came with poutine, but it might have been.
Lamb Burger from the Breslin — I don't think I can put a burger of lamb in my official list of best burgers, but this thing is a son of a gun. I mean, just as good as my top 3 burgers, but kept out of that list for pure protein prejudice. If you're worried, it does not taste too strongly of lamb. It tastes strongly of amazing. Also, it's the one burger on the list that I don't seem to have a photo of. But there are a ton on Google Images.
Cheeseburger from Bill's Bar n Burger — For a few months this smash-style burger was my favorite in the city, then the RUB Burger came along. I haven't had a Bill's Burger since 2010. But look at that guy! What a clean cut-looking perfect example of a cheeseburger. I need to go back.
Most Dearly Departed Burger:
RUB Burger from RUB BBQ — There was a stretch where this wonderful smash-style burger was my absolute favorite in the city. Served only on Monday nights, and with a long wait for each individually mothered and cared for patty, it was too beautiful to last forever. Plus I hear the BBQ at the restaurant wasn't spectacular. So it closed. And looking at that picture I posted above breaks my heart a little.