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Long before David Hasselhoff became a Teutonic favorite, Germany gave us the cooked-meat puck known as the hamburger, and we think it’s safe to say we came away the victors in that cultural trade-off. Yes, the hamburger is America’s sandwich, and as an American, it’s your Xenu-given right to stuff your American maw with American ground beef cooked to the American temperature of your choice. Your definition may be rigid (beef plus bun ONLY equals burger), but burgers in this city come in all shapes, sizes, and combinations, and each iteration probably deserves its own list. For our purposes, we’re focusing on the best of beef, though lamb does get an honorable mention. Here are the 10 best burgers in NYC, which you might try eating Hasselhoff-style: on the floor while disappointing your family.
10. Zaitzeff, 72 Nassau Street
Owner Zachary Zaitzeff take on this classic tops the burger charts with an unconventional Portuguese muffin bun, grilled onions, and a quarter or half pound of grass-fed D’Artagnan beef or wagyu from Nebraska’s Morgan Ranch. The patties stay plenty juicy–a boon for both the sweetness and sturdiness of those buns and the sharpness of Vermont white cheddar. High quality lettuce and tomato come standard if you swing that way, but the onions alone do a great job of highlighting the meat.
9. Korzo Burger, Brooklyn Beet Company, 7205 Third Avenue, Brooklyn
The beast that spawned three restaurants (South Slope’s Korzo, the East Village’s Korzo Haus, and now Brooklyn Beet Company in Bay Ridge), the Korzo burger is a rare-to-medium-rare mound of organic fresh-ground beef stuffed inside lángos, a fried Hungarian flatbread. Enrobed in dough, the meat comes padded with bacon, Emmentaler cheese, house-made beer mustard, and dill pickles. Though it’s already a busy burger, it’s hard to resist slathering each bite in another house-made condiment: crimson beet “ketchup.”
8. The Smoke Shack, Shake Shack, multiple locations
At its best, Shake Shack is a guilty pleasure that’s more than worth the wait (and hoo boy, those waits). At its worst, it’s still miles ahead of larger chains, though you know Danny is gunning for some of that Mickey D’s cheddar with locations in Dubai and, most recently, London. With the Smoke Shack, Meyer and Co. now have a burger that wrestles with the original Shack Stack for best item on the menu. The smoke in the title comes from Niman Ranch applewood bacon, though the star of the show is a tangy cherry pepper relish, which imparts a slow burn that ties the heavier elements together.
7. The Brindle Room, 277 East Tenth Street
Chef Jeremy Spector’s dry-aged steak burger arrives smothered with caramelized onions and a choice of cheddar, gruyere, or blue cheese. A generic bun lets the funked-out beef shine, and the fact that Spector gets his steak scraps from his partner’s steakhouse in New Jersey helps explain why a burger with this pedigree only costs $13.
6. JG Melon, 1291 Third Avenue
This is a simple burger but a standard-bearer nonetheless. Several ounces of coarsely ground, loosely packed beef is both delicate and succulent, the juice breaking through the griddled crust to all but soak the toasted bun. The meat is accompanied by slices of raw red onion and snappy bread-and-butter pickles, a formula that’s only heightened by the addition of melted American cheese.
5. Peter Luger, 178 Broadway, Brooklyn
What to do when the hankering for dry-aged steak comes calling? You could go all-out at Peter Luger with the porterhouse and a bevy of sides, or you could make a lunchtime pilgrimage for this fresh-ground ode to the beefy days of yore, when America was still the fattest country in the world. This burger comes on a sesame seed bun with a slice of raw onion and, if you choose, American cheese or some of that famous thick-cut slab bacon. If only temperature consistency was as reliable as the surliness of the waiters. Even so, the cooks hit their mark more often than not.
4. Whitman’s, 406 East Ninth Street
These might just be the juiciest, lucy-est burgers outside of Minneapolis. Short rib adds richness and texture to the burger, which comes with a near-liquid core of pimento cheese (tack on a preparatory bib). Caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato, and spicy pickles all blend together with a layer of mayo-based special sauce. Whitman’s is a prime example of a very specific regional specialty done right.
3. Thai Burger, Ngam, 99 Third Avenue
Before running one of the better Thai restaurants in the city, chef Hong Thaimee was a runway model. Maybe that’s why her hefty, spiced-up number comes dressed to the nines with cilantro-lime mayo and zippy green papaya sauerkraut. A sai oor curry paste is mixed in with the ground beef, resulting in a burger with an almost meatloaf-like consistency. It’s an experiment that works, even more so with a pile of kabocha squash and sweet potato “Chiang Mai” fries on the side.
2. Patty Melt, St. Anselm, 355 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn
You can argue all you want about whether or not a patty melt is a burger. Then take a bite of this robust sandwich and see if you still care about anything else except this generous puck of ground beef and pork topped with Swiss cheese and a healthy dose of caramelized onions on thick slices of toasted rye bread. Another straightforward foodstuff gussied up, the meat is packed with purpose, and this tighter formation ensures that all the components meld together in harmony. Spicy pickles add much-needed acidity.
1. Cheeseburger, Fritzl’s Lunch Box, 173 Irving Avenue, Brooklyn
Very much representative of Bushwick’s ongoing gentrification, Fritzl’s manages to offer highbrow versions of lowbrow food at more affordable prices, an ethos that translates to a burger that both celebrates and elevates the classic through its bold mixture of beef cheek and fatty chuck and a sweet relish of pickles and onions. The patty gets a blanket of nicely sharp cheddar and a fine textural contrast from the toasted sesame seed bun, but it’s the charred miso aioli that catapults Fritzl’s to the top. Unctuous isn’t a word that should be used lightly (if at all), but it’s hard to find a better descriptor of such a refined burger condiment.
Honorable Mention: Lamb Burgers at The Breslin and Northern Spy Food Co.
April Bloomfield and her team at The Breslin serve the city’s best lamb burger. There’s not much else that needs to be said, as all the evidence required comes from one bite of the monster chuck and leg meat patty, topped with slivers of French feta and red onion. Over in the East Village, Northern Spy Food Co.’s ovine offering uses Elysian Fields lamb and pairs the boutique meat with tart pickled onions and semi-firm cow’s milk cheese from New Hampshire’s Landaff Creamery. Though not as aggressively “lamb-y” as The Breslin’s burger, Northern Spy’s accoutrements achieve pleasant balance.