I have strong feelings when it comes to burgers. And when I say “burger” I mean the meat – everything else should complement the meat, not be the show. So let’s talk about burgers…
Within the last couple years the DC area has become a burger city with new burger joints popping up seemingly everywhere. Many are trendy chains coming from other cities, but some are our own local spots. When it comes to these places (and I’m not talking about fancy steakhouses that serve amazing Kobe beef burgers), I see two distinct styles:
- The thin patties grilled on a flat-top usually stacked 2+ high and loaded with toppings.
- The thick patties usually grilled to the customer’s liking. Sometimes these places load on the toppings, but most often they are more minimalist.
My opinion: #1 isn’t a true burger. It is more like a ground beef patty sandwich. The patties are dry and flavorless; and the toppings are really the show. I’ve visited a few places that serve this style:
- Elevation Burger – They get credit for using real, whole ingredients. Grass fed beef. Fries cut from fresh potatoes. They definitely know what food should be. However… they are still serving scrawny bland burgers. Put as much Elevation sauce and caramelized onions on those bad boys; they are still weak. Of all the places on this list, I would still choose this one. The real ingredients make them stand out from the rest.
- Shake Shack – This place came from NYC along with a TON of hype. People lined up around the block to get into this place. I finally made it there a couple weeks ago… to say I was disappointed is an understatement. Thin dry patties and they don’t even have an abundance of toppings! WTF is that?! If you are going to serve this lame style of burger, at least give me some fancy stuff to load on top! The fries were clearly frozen and out of a bag. The shakes were good… I’ll give them that.
- Good Stuff Eatery – This is Spike Mendelsohn’s place. Yeah, the guy from Top Chef, Top Chef All Stars, and Next Iron Chef Super Chefs. With a resume like that, your burgers better be f-ing good. How could they not be?! Well, they’re not. Small and dry. Yes, there are lots of really interesting and delicious toppings and fry sauces… and the shakes are insanely good. But is this a toppings, sauce, and shake place or a burger place? I *think* it is a burger place. And the burgers suck. To be called an “All Star” and a “Super Chef” you better be able to make more than just sriracha mayo and a good milkshake.
- Five Guys – Listen, folks. Let’s call a spade a spade. Five Guys is fast food. I don’t mean quick food. I mean Five Guys belongs in the same sentence as McDonalds. They are greasy and LOADED with crappy ingredients. Grilled mushrooms on your burger? Out of a can. Jalapenos? Canned. Give me a break. Like it if you want; but they don’t deserve the credit of being in the same breath as these other places.
Ok. Now onto the good stuff… the real burgers. Big fat juicy patties cooked just the way I like it. I want beef juice running down my chin, not fancy sauce or jarred mushroom juice! These places include:
- Bobby’s Burger Palace – I expected this place to be all hype. I generally have low expectations when a celebrity chef of Bobby Flay’s caliber slaps his/her name on something. But these burgers were gooood. Big and juicy. Cooked perfectly. A tad salty for some palettes, but a burger is something that I like a little on the salty side. The fancy toppings list seemed more exciting than they were on the burger. Next time I would order something more basic and add the sauces on the table. Oh, and the “crunchify” option – adding potato chips to the burger – was a nice touch. Two thumbs up from me.
- Burger Joint (BGR) – Burger Joint deserves more credit than I ever hear it get. They know burgers – all types of burgers. Their beef burgers are always perfectly cooked. The place looks unassuming and them BAM! The perfect burger lands on your plate. BGR also makes an incredible turkey burger that is juicy and flavorful, qualities that are hard to achieve. I’ve never had their veggie burger or tuna burger but have heard great things. Love this place. I wish it was closer… or maybe it is for the best that it is a few beltway exits away.
- Ray’s Hell Burger – The legend. When people debate the best burgers in the DC area, they rarely even mention Ray’s. Or it is in a sentence like “it was really good, but not Ray’s good.” It is in its own category. I’ve never been to the Ray’s Hell Burger restaurant; they serve the burgers at the bar at Ray’s the Classics in Silver Spring so I go there. This is burger perfection. BIG. Juicy. Perfect burger-to-bun ratio. Cooked to perfection every time. EVERY. TIME. I like my burger Diablo – grilled with a chipotle sauce. Note: Not squirted on afterward; GRILLED with the sauce. That means it is spicy and delicious, but also gets that yummy caramelization from the grill. Oh man. I need one of these burgers pronto.
- The Stage Burger Lounge – This is the new burger joint in Downtown Silver Spring brought to you by the owners of Pacci’s. I’m going to go easy on them as I’ve only been once and they did *just* open. The burgers were nice and big and juicy. The woman who took my order didn’t ask me how I wanted my burger; I had to ask. She told my coworker that the standard is medium-well. I would’ve been PISSED if I had received a medium-well burger. With a burger that size, I expect to be asked. I ordered mine medium-rare… it was closer to rare which is ok for me, but others might have been put off. In fact, I was with a coworker who is pregnant… she didn’t special order hers so it should’ve been medium-well (according to the server) but it was just as red as mine. She ate around the edges and then gave up. (Undercooked meat is a big no-no for preggers ladies!) The burger needed more seasoning. A lot more. It was on the bland side. The toppings were just meh and the bun-to-burger ratio was noticeably off. I got the hushpuppies and they were ok. I’m from NC where they take hushpuppies very seriously… these would not pass muster there. But for MD, I think they are just fine. Overall I give them a solid meh, but I’ll go back to give them another chance to tighten up the operation. And frankly, this was still better than any of the burgers in list #1.
As for my favorite? Definitely Ray’s no question.