New Yorkers love their pizza, their pastrami sandwiches, their bagels, but if you stop there, you’re forgetting a big one: burgers. And why not? A perfect burger is a beautiful thing — and many a restaurant’s reputations have lived and died by its burger. When it comes to picking the best (not an easy task), we attempted egalitarianism. Our favorite burgers in New York include some whose patties are smashed thin and others that achieve the platonic ideal of thick and juicy. Some are piled with toppings, others eschew even cheese; some are made with premium dry-aged beef, one isn’t made with beef at all. Without further ado, here are our top 10 burgers in New York, across the boroughs and across burger styles.
The question has been asked a thousand times: How could a burger possibly be worth $28? (And it doesn’t even have cheese?) Minetta Tavern’s Black Label Burger in the Village is no ordinary creature. It starts with a prime-grade blend of dry-aged rib eye, skirt steak and brisket straight from Pat La Frieda, the NYC meat purveyor by which all others are judged. The aging gives it the appealing, slightly mineral funk of any good dry-aged steak. A thick patty of the proprietary grind is griddled for an appealingly dark crust and served on a custom brioche-like bun made at Balthazar Bakery (run by the same restaurant group). A pile of deeply caramelized onions tangle on top, and double-fried frites round out the plate. Is it an indulgence? Of course. But one that’s worth every penny. 113 Macdougal St., 212-475-3850, minettatavernny.com
New York’s homegrown burger chain appeals to so many because, at its core, it doesn’t feel like a chain. Danny Meyer’s burger brand got its start in 2004 with a small kiosk in Madison Square Park that attracted hour-long lines and rabidly enthusiastic fans. A decade later, Shake Shack has locations across the country and, increasingly, the world, but its burgers haven’t changed: thin, fast-food style patties, with a custom meat blend from Pat La Frieda (noticing a trend?), served on a Martin’s potato roll with cheese, lettuce, tomato and the mayo-based, addictive “Shack Sauce.” They’re simple, unpretentious, reasonably priced, and as appealing as a burger can be. Multiple locations, shakeshack.com
If Shake Shack is a new classic, J.G. Melon is just straight-up classic. Dating back to 1972 — though it looks decades older — this bar-with-burgers is the sort of worn-in, no-nonsense spot you trust to get your burger right. In a world of extremes, J. G. Melon is the Goldilocks: its burger is big enough to satisfy, but not too big to finish; made from high-quality beef, but nothing too fancy; not unadorned, but topped with just enough American cheese, pickle and red onion to highlight the beef. 1291 Third Ave., 212-744-0585
Believe it or not, this Harlem burger joint was named before the Internet meme came along. But whatever it’s called, this uptown newcomer (opened in 2013) gets its burgers right, with super-smashed patties that develop an impressive crust and tons of griddled flavor, atop butter-toasted Martin’s potato rolls. The extensive menu includes the classic (a double cheeseburger with American cheese, onions, pickles and special sauce), the Hot Mess with pickled cherry pepper-bacon relish and chipotle mayo, and the Harlem Jerk topped with jerk-style fries. Yum. 100 W. 124th St., 212-222-8300, harlemshakenyc.com
This charmingly low-key East Village burger spot won fame for its Juicy Lucy, its take on the Jucy Lucy first served in Minneapolis: a burger with cheese stuffed into the center, resulting in a hot, gooey molten core. At Whitman’s, it’s pimento cheese, which melts beautifully and lends a distinctive flavor besides. But Whitman’s other burgers are equally worth an order, such as its Upstate Burger, a simple but super-juicy creation with onion, lettuce, tomato, pickles and special sauce. Adding cheese never hurts. 406 E. 9th St., 212-228-8011, whitmansnyc.com
April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman’s gastropub The Spotted Pig is justifiably famous for its massive Roquefort-topped burger with shoestring fries, but its lamb burger at The Breslin is just as impressive. The lamb patty is chargrilled, topped with creamy feta and a distinctive cumin mayo and then served with Bloomfield’s almost indecently delicious thrice-cooked chips, the crispest thick-cut fries you’ve ever come across.16 W. 29th St., 212-679-1939, thebreslin.com
This classic Irish pub has charm in spades, what with its fireplaces, expert Guinness-pouring bartenders and top-notch burger. Massive and juicy and simple as can be, it’s a super-juicy specimen that’s broiled until crusted and cooked through. 57-24 Roosevelt Ave., Queens, 718-429-9339, donovansny.com
Fritzl’s Lunch Box
Bushwick’s contribution to the New York burger scene is Fritzl’s Lunch Box, which dishes up a massive cheeseburger. It’s a substantial patty whose meat is ground onsite, cooked to the temperature specified and served with fully melted cheddar — should you desire — along with pickles, caramelized onions and special sauce. The sesame seed bun adds to the sense of classic Americana. 173 Irving Ave., Brooklyn, 929-210-9531, fritzlslunchbox.com
As its name suggests, Blue Collar’s appeal is in its simplicity; after all, aren’t burgers a blue-collar pleasure at heart? This Williamsburg joint, whose sign reads simply “Hamburgers, French Fries, Milkshakes, Beer,” keeps its standard burger and cheeseburger cheap, and they’ve got all the hallmarks of great burgers: a good crust, juicy center, fully melted American cheese, a squishy potato roll and fresh toppings of lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and a secret sauce. 160 Havemeyer St., Brooklyn, 347-725-3837
This steakhouse, a Brooklyn landmark since 1887, needs no introduction. But even its fans might not be familiar with the Luger burger, served only at lunch for an incredibly reasonable $12 (for comparison, the “steak for two” clocks in around $100). Just like the steak, it’s served to highlight the meat, with a minimum of fuss; and that beef is worth highlighting indeed, as it’s made from Luger’s steak trimmings, ground and shaped into a half-pound patty. Cheese is a smart move … as is an ice cream sundae for dessert. 178 Broadway, Brooklyn, 718-387-7400, peterluger.com
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