Bill’s Bar & Burger in Meatpacking District Overrated By Critics

Date November 23, 2009

Just when you thought the burger frenzy had calmed, Bill’s Bar & Burger hits the scene about a month ago garnering Shake Shake comparisons and “best” burger praise from A Hamburger Today, Ed Levine at Serious Eats, Josh Ozersky (RIP Feedbag), and Rob and Robin at NYMag. Bill’s, the brainchild of Stephen Hanson (B.R. Guest), employs the “smashing” technique (adored at Shake Shack and originally proliferated by Midwest fast food chain Steak n’ Shake) resulting in a griddled burger that’s supposed to offer a crispy, salt-crusted exterior surrounding a juicy, meaty interior. Hanson, according to Ed Levine, claims to have been honing this process for over a year. Unfortunately, the best laid plans often go awry. I had the displeasure of finding this out not just once, but twice (any place getting this much praise deserved a second look). Read on to find out why…


Visit Number One

My friend Mark and I arrived at Bill’s on a Saturday afternoon a few weeks after the opening. We were immediately seated in the far corner of the back room surrounded by tables of tourists, hungry college football fans and young parents with a burger in one hand and a baby in the other.

NYC FOOD GUY 153 comp

The service seemed to be juggling more than they could handle as well. Our overwhelmed waiter failed to bring plates with our Boneless Buffalo Chicken Wings ($7.95), a few hearty breaded fingers coated in Frank’s Red Hot. While tender and moist, the chicken was slightly sinewy and the breading was soggy from the sauce. A small tin of sharp bleu cheese sauce did nothing to reverse the mediocrity


I kept an open mind when the burgers arrived; first The Sunset and Vine ($5.95), the standard “Bill’s Classic” burger with American cheese, topped with lettuce, tomato and special sauce, all on a toasted Arnold sesame seed bun.

NYC FOOD GUY 142 comp

Upon first bite, I realized the kitchen forgot the special sauce. Perhaps this was a sign from the food Gods to leave well enough alone because when the special sauce arrived I cringed at the super sweet flavor offering hints of honey and perhaps cinnamon. The special sauce did even less to enhance the burger (below, at left), which despite delivering the heralded crunchy, salted crust was fairly dry and flavorless in the middle.

NYC FOOD GUY 137 comp

I hoped for redemption from the Fat Cat ($6.95), two burger patties (oddly not listed as such on the menu) sandwiching melted American cheese and topped with caramelized onions all on a buttered, toasted English muffin. Overall this was a tasty sandwich but most of the credit was due to the flavors of butter and caramelized onion mingling above the once again flavorless burgers.

NYC FOOD GUY 149 comp

French fries ($3.50) arrived crispy (”As always” according to our waiter) and well salted but lacked the inner-creaminess you’d hope for from a fry this thick.

NYC FOOD GUY 145 comp

Beer Battered Onion Rings ($3.50) were standard but refreshingly well-cooked, crisp and less greasy than your average ring. Unfortunately this was a brief phenomenon because as soon as the rings cooled, the crispiness disappeared. The one positive note is that the onion actually remained in it’s fried casing throughout each bite

NYC FOOD GUY 144 comp

Visit Number Two

I found myself in walking distance of Bill’s around 10:30PM this past Tuesday (Nov. 17) and decided to give it another chance at burger perfection. Bill’s is open until 11pm Sunday through Wednesday, midnight Thursday and 4AM Friday and Saturday, so if it wants to be the prime late night neighborhood option over Corner Bistro and Pastis, creating a great burger on a quiet  Tuesday should be child’s play, right?

The mainly empty front bar area was illuminated by the glow of a few flat screen TVs and the kitchen’s light. Service was slow but once my waitress arrived, I cut to the chase. “One ‘Bill’s Classic’ with cheese. Special sauce on the side. Also, a side of caramelized onion, please.”


A few minutes later, a burger arrived overflowing from its toasted bun. An enticing crown of crunchy burger crust rested atop the thin patty and savory burger juices soaked the bottom bun. I lifted the flimsy burger with two hands and took a big bite, chewing slowly and paying close attention to what I was tasting. Had I grasped the Holy Grail?

NYC FOOD GUY 084 comp

Not quite. The burger was much juicier this time around but overall it was still lacking the delicious depth of flavor you’ll find in the Shake Shack burger. The special sauce was still super sweet, failing to create any cohesive flavor with the burger while the caramelized onions failed to exhibit any caramelization and instead stewed in their own grease. One lonely slice of tomato sat in the center of the large, flattened burger patty creating an uneven flavor from one bite to the next. “Forget it,” I thought, as I dropped the last bite of my burger back onto the plate. For once, it’s the critics, not the bloggers, who were quick to shower praise where it’s obviously not due.

Other Concluding Thoughts:

Bill’s menu states that the “Bobcat Burger” ($6.50) is topped with “New Mexico Green Chiles.” This, as George Motz at Hamburger America confirms, is extremely false. After speaking with the restaurant it was learned that the burger is actually topped with “Anaheim chiles, poblano chiles and jalapenos.”

To their credit:

  • Adam Kuban at A Hamburger Today says Bill’s burger can compete with Shake Shake though later admits “You simply can’t declare that after one very controlled advance tasting, but it’s damn, damn fine.”
  • After saying Bill’s burger is “already one of New York’s best,” Rob & Robin at accurately admit that ” it’s not as juicy and cohesive as its Shake Shack rival, and its construction can err, depending on the night and the cook, on the wrong side of floppy.”
  • Ed Levine at Serious Eats counters that notion and also offers advice I was never made aware of at Bill’s: “Bill’s burgers actually have more crunch per square inch than their Shake Shack counterparts, are very well-salted, and can also be just as juicy if you order it extra-juicy.

Bill’s Bar & Burger

23 Ninth Avenue near 13th Street
New York, NY 10014 (Google Map)
(212) 414-3003 Sun. to Wed., Noon to 11PM, Thurs. Noon to Midnight, Fri. & Sat., Noon to 4AM

Bill’s Bar & Burger Menu (Click to enlarge)


3 Responses to “Bill’s Bar & Burger in Meatpacking District Overrated By Critics”

  1. bbqmackster said:

    Ed levine, as a demi god as he might be, has lost his mind with that comment, extra juicy?? who the hell orders like that? and why should you when it’s a burger we’re talking about! and this dump is opening as 5K Rock Center 250 seater? Crap!

  2. Epicurean420 said:

    OMG! I TOTALLY & COMPLETELY agree with bbqmackster!! Bill’s Bar & Burger is a dump!! There are so many other better tasting burgers and buns throughout this city that don’t get the publicity they derseve for their fine product unlike Bill’s that has gotten good publicity for a less than average burger just b/c of the owners puffed reputation in the market place!!! I find most NY’ers are sheep when it comes to food and just follow the herd and don’t understand or appreciate their own taste buds! I have eaten here twice and was just OK w my burger. I wouldn’t rush to go back – at all!!! The second time my friend dragged me bc she wanted to check it out since she leases to a lot of great restaurants in the city as a retail broker. I can’t believe they are coming to Rock Center either!!! I hope it is not successful and we can actually get Shake Shack to lease the space. Where are you Danny Meyer!!?? It might do well cause it is a tourist area! O NO!!!

  3. zosa120 said:

    I had a total different experience at Bills. I visited Bills recently and loved it. The best burger I ever had.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>