FOOD AND DRINK
A New York Burger Bucket List
The five boroughs have all the kinds of delicious burgers, from simple classics to masterpieces made from heritage breed cattle
The debate about what makes a great burger can be fierce. How many toppings are too many? Can a patty be too juicy? How expensive is too expensive?
New York makes an ideal locale to sample all sides of the debate: Whatever your idea of a perfect burger is, you can find it here. What you can’t really do is keep up with all the options: There are simply too many burgers of note, plus constant additions and losses that prevent the creation of a master list of great burgers. Even if one did exist, it would be ill advised, health-wise, to try and check all of those boxes.
Instead, use this comprehensive list, which identifies iconic, unique, and consistently great burgers in a range of styles to ensure your quest for a great burger ends in satisfaction. Go forth, and eat.
This casual neighbourhood bar is a place of comfort. The beer is good and the simple cocktails have nothing to do with the latest mixology trends, making Royale a throwback to simpler times in the now-hip East Village. It’s also a favourite among locals for a burger under $10, which is best enjoyed in the open-air backyard or spacious sports-bar-esque main room. The burger itself is thick and juicy, cooked to order and comes with the standard lettuce, onion and tomato, and the option to upgrade with the usual suspects, like bacon, cheese, mushrooms, jalapenos. While the tiny kitchen has no plans of pushing the boundaries of modern cuisine, it’s consistent in delivering a damn-near-perfect American burger.
157 Avenue C, 212-254-6600
Now a national sensation, this New York-born staple from restaurant mogul Danny Meyer fills an important void in the hearts and stomachs of those who long for fast food satisfaction and top quality ingredients at the same time. The small-ish burgers are simple, with patties made of all natural Angus beef, served on a soft non-GMO potato bun with lettuce, tomato and house sauce. The accompanying shakes and fries create a solid and focused replica of your favorite fast food chain. Service is friendly and efficient, despite long lines, and each location embodies the laid-back atmosphere of the original open-air Madison Square Park location. Pro tip: Check out the breakfast sandwiches in the morning hours.
This spacious and airy eatery from Jean George Vongerichten epitomizes contemporary downtown dining. The thoughtfully curated space is decorated with elements from its sister business, ABC Home, to feel effortless and casual, as if you were on the set of an interior design magazine shoot. The menu uses the freshest organic and local ingredients to create unfussy food that manages to be inventive without crossing over into pretentious. The Akaushi cheeseburger with herbed mayo and pickled jalapenos is well worth the $24. The restrained condiments add subtle hints of flavour without overwhelming the high-quality beef, which is what you’re paying for. If expensive burgers are your thing, this one won’t disappoint, just be sure to make a reservation. It’s a hot spot on everyone’s list.
35 East 18th St., 212-475-5829
Courtesy ABC Kitchen
This New York institution has been serving hungry Midtowners expertly cooked beef and mutton for nearly 150 years. While it would be blasphemous not order the mutton in the main dining room, the must-try item from the pub menu is the burger ($19.50). The dry aged beef patty is large, and one of the juiciest burgers in town – it will definitely soak through the bottom bun (unless you order the “Miss Keens burger,” which is served bunless). It’s all about the flavourful, juicy meat here. You won’t be scoffed at if you order it with cheese. The atmosphere alone – classy, wooden and dark – makes this one of the most sophisticated burger experiences in town. Filled with suited office workers, the room feels old fashioned, and an old fashioned is exactly what you should order to help wash down the rich meal.
72 West 36th St., 212-947-3636
Paul’s Da Burger Joint
A family run throwback to a 1950s eatery, this East Village gem is too often overlooked, despite the human-sized double burger. You start with an eight-ounce patty for $6, and that is just the beginning: There are seemingly endless ways to top and customize, which makes this an especially good option for those who are starting to explore their burger obsession. The checkered tables and egg creams create a subtle nostalgia without going overboard, drawing in all types of diners from families, local downtown artists, and in-the-know tourists. Don’t be surprised if the cooks strike up a friendly conversation at the counter seats; it’s all part of the experience.
131 2nd Ave. 212-529-3033
A quality bar burger is a New York essential, and can draw a bigger late night crowd than fancy cocktails and beer/shot deals (all of which are excellent here). A relative newcomer to the Lower East Side, Boilermaker has a touch of retro – a welcome change from the overly themed bars that have been popping up in the neighbourhood lately. The understated leather, wood and exposed brick space draws an industry crowd interested in good drinks that aren’t offensively expensive. The burger is just $8 and turns out to be one of the best fusion burgers in the city. Designed by chef Miguel Trinidad, who also heads up nearby Filipino gastropub Jeepney, the burger comes topped with pickled vegetables and fig aioli along with lettuce, tomato and onion; cheese and bacon optional. The flavours work, hitting all the right classic burger desires with a little something extra. Wash it down with one of the cocktails on tap; they taste dangerously close to soda.
13 1st Ave., 212-995-5400
This hipster haunt located at the base of the Williamsburg bridge is always crowded with model and artist types that may bring back some high school trauma, unless you were one of the cool kids (not that most of them were cool back then, either). Their menu touts painstakingly sourced local and organic ingredients, and even though most items are rotating specials, the burger is a lunch and brunch staple, currently priced at $14. The grass-fed beef, ground in house, makes a surprisingly juicy patty, complemented by pickled red onions for a burst of acidity, and lettuce for crunch along with the grilled crust. It’s big enough to share in case you want to take advantage of actually getting a seat to try a few other things on the menu. Diner doesn’t accept reservations, so be sure to get there early or be prepared to wait amidst chain smoking, existential chatter, and ironic selfies.
85 Broadway, Brooklyn, 718-486-3077
Peter Luger Steakhouse
Still run by the family who rescued the restaurant following the death of Peter Luger, there is a lot of Brooklyn charm to be had inside this rustic classic steakhouse. And the burger could easily be nominated as the classic American burger standard by which to judge all other burgers. The simple sandwich is made up of house ground dry aged beef, broiled and served with red onion, American cheese and stuffed inside a puffy sesame bun. At $15, it’s a steal, and would easily outdo many of the newfangled fancy burgers costing upwards of $25 across the bridge in Manhattan. The burger is only served during lunch hours, until 3:45 p.m. Reservations are recommended.
178 Broadway, Brooklyn, 718-387-7400
Courtesy Peter Luger Steakhouse
Too many toppings on a burger is usually a sign of mediocre ingredients or sloppy composition, but not here, where the burgers are served Aussie-style, meaning they’re topped with fried pineapple, pickled beets, and an egg sunny side up. A different animal than a traditional American burger, the extras create layers of sweet and tangy complexity while still letting the top quality beef shine through. This messy monster of a dish is one of their most popular menu items, drawing a young foodie crowd to the medium-sized, airy gastropub at all hours of the day and night. While it might not become your new go-to burger style, the indulgence is worth a trip to Greenpoint.
18 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn, 718-383-5345