NYC Best Burgers: Six Dream-Worthy Burgers From All Around Manhattan

Date September 13, 2013

burger collage

Clockwise from top left:

Coppelia, Blue Collar, The National, Bayard Ale House, Brindle Room, Full Shilling

“I not only think about food all day,” said Henry Miller in “Tropic of Cancer,” “but I dream about it at night.” NYC Food Guy, he dreams about cheeseburgers. Big, dinner plate-sized sandwiches filled with juicy beef patties with neon yellow American cheese dripping from the sides, please. There are few food items whose simple pleasure make me happier. And since many of New York City’s chefs fortunately share my sentiments, I’ve decided to put together a list of six burgers I’ve eaten over the last year, from sources as diverse as an Irish Pub, an Iron Chef and even a Cuban restaurant. Rest assured, these are burgers worth dreaming about.

Coppelia (link)

Photo above: top row, left

Frita Cubana – $8.95
207 West 14th Street at 7th Ave
New York, NY 10011
(212) 858-5001

Upon first glance, you’re not quite sure how to approach this mammoth mutli-species creation from Yerba Buena and Toloache chef Julian Medina. But like the rest of the menu at the 24-hour Latin diner it inhabits, the Frita Cubana burger offers a lot of flavor and technique for a very palatable price. $8.95 gets you a sirloin patty topped with cheddar, shredded roast pork, chicharron (fried pork skin), lettuce, tomato, pickles, and pickled red onion all between two buns. The first thing that hits you is the textural contrast between the pulled pork, the coarsely ground burger and the crispy fried pork skin. The pickled red onions go to work next, their tartness providing a welcome balance to the fatty beef and pork. Whether late night craving or next morning hangover cure, this burger brings it all day long.

Blue Collar

Photo above: top row, center

160 Havemeyer Street b/t 2nd & 3rd Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(347) 725-3837

If your idea of burger perfection is In-N-Out burger, you’d be wise to hasten yourself to Williamsburg, Brooklyn for a taste of Blue Collar Burger. It’s not an exact replica of the chain that legions of Californians pine for daily, but if you’re 3,000 miles away, it’s a damn good replacement; certainly enough to make a West Coaster lose their cool. The kitchen will even oblige in-the-know In-N-Out fans by doing their best approximations of “hidden” menu items (though they may need a refresher on the specifics). On my lone visit, I brazenly ordered a double cheeseburger and a side of fries “animal style.” And while my cheese whiz-topped fries arrived without the requisite special sauce, the burger was a perfectly delicious mess of crumbly griddled beef, crisp iceberg lettuce, bright red tomato, and sweet sautéed onions all inside a griddled white bun. Melted American cheese and special sauce ran like a salty, tangy river of richness throughout. I desperately craved something sweet to top it all off, but as it was near closing time I decided to spare the counterwoman the stress of the heart attack one of their highly recommended milkshakes surely would have induced. Go easy, West Coasters, Blue Collar is here to stay.

The National (link)

Photo above: top row, right

“Ugly” Burger – $18, +$2 for bacon
557 Lexington Ave at 50th Street
New York, NY 10022

The dishes at Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian’s Midtown mecca The National read like Guinness World Record entries for most ingredients in a single menu item. Yet somehow, the layered flavors provide a swoon-inducing trip with every bite. Take the ironically named “Ugly” burger. A colorful garden’s worth of thinly sliced vegetables (punctuated by fiery pickled jalapenos) are topped with the house made “NTL sauce,” which combines ketchup, mustard, mayo, BBQ sauce, and A1 steak sauce; a stoner concoction gone wonderfully wrong. Only the burger itself (topped with cheddar or gruyere and optional baked-then-grilled bacon) allows the kitchen to play one more trick: what seems like an ordinary flame-grilled patty is in fact a Pat LaFrieda blend of short rib, brisket and chuck. The “Ugly” burger is a thing of beauty.

Full Shilling (link)

Photo above: bottom row, left

Burger – $10.50 +$1 for cheese, +$1 for bacon
160 Pearl St #1 b/t Pearl St and Pine St
New York, NY 10005

My brother Craig (aka Lil NYC Food Guy) appreciates a great cheeseburger just as much as I do. In fact, the majority of the best burgers I’ve eaten in my life were alongside him (Peter Luger, the original Donovan’s of Bayside, Rowdy Hall in East Hampton, Burger Joint, and Minetta Tavern to name a few). So when he told me there was a burger near his office in the Financial District that reminded him of the original Donovan’s of Bayside, incredible fried onions and all, I made sure to head downtown as soon as possible. This is a burger I could probably eat a few times a week. Similar to NYC’s most famous pub burger JG Melon, the Full Shilling burger is compact enough to guiltlessly throw back with a few bites. The perfectly cooked patty is just big enough to satisfy and the lightly toasted, simple white bun allows for maximum squishing, an important characteristic when you load up the burger with American cheese, crispy bacon, and onions that are more sautéed than fried. It didn’t put me back in the ripped booth at the old Donovan’s of Bayside, but it definitely delivered the simple satisfaction I hoped for.

Brindle Room (link)

Photo above: bottom row, center

Burger is only listed on the brunch menu, at dinner and lunch it’s offered but only if you ask for it
$12 at brunch, $14 at lunch and dinner
227 East 10th St b/t Avenue A and 1st Ave
New York, NY 10009
(212) 529-9702

Chef Jeremy Spector says it best in a Food Curated video dedicated to his cast iron skillet cheeseburger, “It coats your lips in fat and kind of makes them stick together.” There are few words a dedicated carnivore would rather hear. Nestled on a quiet stretch of 10th street near Avenue A in the East Village, Brindle Room offers Spector’s juiced up take on hearty classics; bruleed French Toast and bananas at brunch, perfectly cooked double-fried French Fries alongside mussels bursting with flavor, and freshly fried donuts that would make Homer Simpson swoon. But it’s his deceptively decadent cheeseburger that keeps me coming back for more. It’s essentially a deckle burger, composed mainly of fatty trimmings from dry aged steak. The flavor is rich and faintly funky like a finely aged rib eye. Caramelized onions cooked in the burger’s leftover fat offer a subtle sweetness complemented by the welcome, salty tang of melted American cheese. Spector wisely packages his creation in a simple white bun allowing the burger to continue to steal the spotlight.

Bayard’s Ale House

Photo above: bottom row, right

533 Hudson Street near Charles Street
New York, NY 10014

A buttered and griddled bun, crispy curls of bacon, nicely melted cheddar, an expertly grilled burger, and dark, double fried French fries make Bayard Ale House a neighborhood pub worthy of distinction. And with its corner location on a quickly burgeoning stretch of Hudson Street (perpetually packed Swine and Red Farm are next door, classic cocktail spot Employees Only is one block over)the secret of their perfect pub burger is bound to attract burger lovers soon enough. It’s just too bad their kitchen stops serving at __ instead of 4am as I’d happily choose Bayard over Corner Bistro any night.

8 Responses to “NYC Best Burgers: Six Dream-Worthy Burgers From All Around Manhattan”

  1. Lil NYC Food Guy said:

    Nothing says he’s back like a burger-off…keep em coming brother

  2. The NYC Food Guy said:

    @Lil NYC Food Guy,

    Thanks for the love brother. Burgers felt right, because after all, perhaps no other food item speaks to our excitement more than burgers. That and pizza have to be the two things we’ve eaten most together. Either way, going to keep the dream alive and keep the posts coming. If you have anything you want to add, the floor is always yours!

  3. Amy said:

    we are going tonight! but brindle it’s 14.

  4. Phil said:

    Ok so couple of things… I’ve done my fair share of drinking at Bayards but no way do I recall the burger looking the delicioso. Guess i need to have my memory checked.

    Out of curiosity, what is the most random ingredient you’ve ever had on a burger that at first glance made you think to yourself “no way that could work”, but then upon tasting made you lose all concept of reality? The Frita Cubana above seems like it might have some of that in it. I once had a breakfast burger with a sunny side up egg, maple syrup, bacon and hashbrowns on it.. blew me away.

  5. The NYC Food Guy said:

    Love the question-posing here in the comment section! Keep it coming. This is a good one.

    Your breakfast burger sounds incredible. I once had something similar at a sandwich place called Mile End over on Bond Street off Bowery. It was a crispy on the outside, tender inside veal sausage patty topped with cheddar, a fried egg and maple butter, and it was all between housemade English muffins that soaked up the maple flavor and basically transformed into two donuts. HOLYSHIT.

    Most random burger topping for me had to be peanut butter and bacon down in New Orleans. It turned out to be incredible. I know it’s not that outlandish but I literally had ZERO interest in trying it but a friend who has been a loyal NYC Food Guy fan for years implored me and I’m happy he did. The burger was charcoal grilled which added a great smokey complement to the rich peanut butter. The bacon meanwhile was diced finely which upon first glance was confusing, but you need it like that so you can bite into the whole sandwich and get a bit of everything. It was from a crazy burger place called Yo Mama’s that looked like a hole in the wall bar of Bourbon Street where people go to drink away their sorrow.

    Check out a photo here on my Instagram and if you don’t follow me there yet, it’s time! I post even more food porn there than here!

  6. Audrey said:

    Looks like I’ll have to move and settle in NYC since Paris is a desert when it comes to great burgers! The ‘Ugly’ burger looks anything but ugly, wow!

  7. The NYC Food Guy said:

    Thanks for the comment from across the Atlantic. I once read in the NY Times that there is a Brooklyn food truck revolution in Paris and there’s even a burger truck. Have you indulged?

  8. Greg said:

    I’ve been touting the burger at Bayard’s for years…glad it’s getting recognition!

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