George Motz is a reputed burger scholar, filmmaker, and author of The Great American Hamburger Book: How to Make Authentic Regional Burgers at Home. You can follow him @MotzBurger.
Burger lists make me crazy—except, of course, when they are mine. Most are maddening because they claim to direct the unsuspecting and hungry to the very “best” patties in the city. And as readers of these lists might suspect, a mention of one (whether it’s deserving or not) inevitably leads to a mention on the next, creating a yawn-inducing echo chamber. Yes, we all love Shake Shack, and Umami Burger has its own rabid fan base, but don’t other establishments deserve to share some of that limelight? What perplexes me is how some of the great burgers this city has to offer are not featured in these “definitive” round-ups—burgers that are created by chefs who pour their souls (and bank accounts) into their creations; burgers that I return to often, and wonder why they are not celebrated as they should be.
As a new burger joint seems to open here once every three weeks on average, the field expands, and so do the dining options. In a city exploding with bun-and-patty establishments, it’s not entirely surprising that a few of the noteworthy burgers slip through the cracks. But NYC is also an endlessly diverse place, and these lists should reflect that. Every regional method found throughout the country can be discovered here, from the green-chile cheeseburger of New Mexico, to the smashed patties of the Midwest. The oversight is not only a disservice to NYC’s ravenous burgerhounds, but it also undermines what makes burger culture in NYC vibrant in the first place.
Maybe you’ve been to a few of places on this list, and one may even be your go-to. But here I present to you a collection of under-appreciated burgers that must battle it out in an ultra-competitive field. In light of the burger’s humble roots, the best way we can honor its form is to root for the underdogs. Now, go get ‘em.
Address and phone: 33 St Marks Pl (212-677-3132)
Neighborhood: East Village
Why it’s underrated: If you’ve been to Mark, you get it. The St. Marks joint consistently cranks out the burgers of your dreams in the form of tiny sliders. But I’ll take a leap of faith and assume that most indulging in them are unaware of their historical context. The sliver of a restaurant serves near-perfect facsimiles of what I consider to be America’s original burger. They are not mini-burgers, but rather the result of a method employed by just about every diner at the dawn of the hamburger. Small balls of fresh beef are smashed flat on a griddle and covered with a handful of thin-sliced onion. American cheese is applied on the flip, and the burger is served on a warmed Martin’s Potato slider roll. The result is a burger that looks as if it was scraped off the floor, but is primordially seductive. The old-school method was celebrated this past February when Miami’s Jersey Dawg entered a classic slider into competition at the Burger Bash—and won! That’s the equivalent of a Golden Retriever winning Best In Show at Westminster. It’s the kind of validation that made me well up with pride.
Address and phone: 191 Grand St (646-726-4633)
Neighborhood: Little Italy
Why it’s underrated: When Michelin-starred chefs embark on a quest to create great low-brow versions of the American classic, I usually cringe. Most have an inability to erase all they’ve learned in cooking school and just make a fucking burger. Brad Farmerie is an exception to the rule. The Super Duper Double Stack marries two perfectly griddled patties, American cheese, and pickles to a simple white squishy bun. There’s a secret sauce in there that ties the whole thing together. It’s exactly what you’ve been craving.
Address and phone: 167 3rd Ave (212-473-5150)
Price: $6 (without fries)
Why it’s underrated: Joe Jr. doesn’t give a crap about burger lists. All they care about is making sure their loyal customer base is fed. I’ve been going to Joe Jr. for years but realized I hadn’t been in a while. So I paid a visit the other day to find that absolutely nothing has changed—and that’s the way it should be. It’s still a ridiculously simple formula—fresh-ground beef, served with a slice of American cheese melted onto each bun half. The patty itself is supple and loaded with copious juices, no matter what temperature you request. (And that’s all you should ever ask of your local diner.) Places like Joe Jr. exist throughout the five boroughs—you just need to turn off your artisanal-gourmet-celebrity-chef radar and get back to basics.
Address and phone: 687 6th Ave (718-499-5623)
Neighborhood: Greenwood Heights, Brooklyn
Why it’s underrated: Greenwood Heights is a tiny, quiet Brooklyn neighborhood with not much to offer in the way of dining options. Lot 2, however, is a standout, but the place would shine in any part of NYC. That success is largely due to chef Danny Rojo, who cut his teeth training in fine-dining kitchens like Bouley. And oh, how fortunate for those who live nearby, because the burger at Lot 2 is unquestionably one of the greatest under-the-radar burgers in Brooklyn. The thick, beefy patty is cooked in a skillet and served with nothing more than cheddar on a big, soft bun. Rojo has mastered the nuance of burger greatness and keeps the focus on the beef rather than tinkering with too many elements. Be warned, though—this burger is a squirter. The first bite will send glorious juices right into your face, and stain your chin. Not a bad keepsake.
Address and phone: 25-36 Jackson Ave (718-392-0424)
Neighborhood: Long Island City, Queens
Why it’s underrated: Burger Garage does a bang-up business in their corner of Long Island City, providing greasy sustenance to the neighborhood—especially those nearby in the Citi Tower and high-rise apartments. The rest of NYC would be wise to consider it a destination burger joint. The clean and simple brick-and-mortar was opened by the Pileski family, direct descendants of the famous Palm steakhouse. The pedigree has transferred well, and Burger Garage cranks out hundreds of classic griddled patties a day. The BG Burger comes with the ubiquitous lettuce-tomato-pickle-onion, but for a real treat switch out the raw onion for caramelized ones. “We cook them for over four hours at the lowest possible heat, and no peeking,” Jimmy Pileski told me.
Address and phone: 285 W 12th St (917-566-7400)
Neighborhood: West Village
Why it’s underrated: Chef Angie Mar is a powerhouse. The self-described “meat-head” and kitchen dynamo took the helm of the recently revamped Beatrice Inn and has created a handsome specimen: the 45-day dry-aged cheeseburger. There are similarly great, funky dry-aged burgers out there, like the Black Label Burger at Minetta Tavern, but Angie’s may very well be the best of its class. Unlike the others, the funk is not as overwhelming, or perhaps it is just tempered by the red-wine caramelized onions and creamy d’Affinois cheese. And unlike Minetta, which bastes its burger in butter to create an extremely rich flavor profile, Beatrice cooks over an open flame to develop a wonderfully pronounced char. The price tag is high ($38), but it’s worth every penny.
Address and phone: 282 Atlantic Ave (718-596-2282)
Neighborhood: Boerum Hill, Brooklyn
Why it’s underrated: It’s amazing what Shake Shack has done to the eating scene in Downtown Brooklyn. After the chain announced its plans to cross the bridge, many followed suit, and now the neighborhood is peppered with commendable options. But before Shake Shack arrived, there was Two 8 Two. Only a few short blocks away, the bar-and-burger joint on the bustling Atlantic Ave is one of the only in the city to truly embrace the New Mexican green-chile cheeseburger. For those who have tried one, there is no erasing that memory. The slow burn of the roasted green chile creates a euphoric buzz that goes beyond the joy you’ve already received by simply eating a great cheeseburger. Owner Billy substitutes roasted poblanos in the off-season (see photo above), but come August, Two 8 Two uses real hatch chiles, straight from the source.
Address and phone: Multiple locations (212-826-8100)
Why it’s underrated: Somehow Schnipper’s consistently manages to be left off best burger lists, but it clearly hasn’t suffered, having expanded to four locations in NYC. You may be more familiar with the brothers’ Schnipper first enterprise, Hale & Hearty Soups, which has become a formidable grab-and-go lunch titan in Manhattan thanks to its high-quality products and quick service. That formula translates to the burger operation too, which uses fresh ground beef and serves beer on tap. I tend to gravitate towards the Hickory Bacon Blue Burger, with crispy onions, blue cheese, and barbecue sauce. The simple, griddled patty comes to life with the addition of these elements, all of which create a deliciously smoky, rich flavor profile. And, I don’t often say this, but the salads at Schnipper’s are also fantastic. Balance is everything.
Address and phone: 583 Argyle Rd (718-284-0005)
Neighborhood: Ditmas Park, Brooklyn
Why it’s underrated: This super-cozy bar/restaurant on the far edge of Ditmas Park is just what the neighborhood needed. When reports started to surface that it had a stellar burger, I was skeptical because it was completely off my radar. The burger menu here is varied, but I can’t get away from the Good Ol’ Boy, topped with sautéed mushrooms, melted cheddar, and bacon. In true pub-style, this beauty’s thick, hand-formed patty is grilled over a hot flame and is intensely beefy. As a fully-formed package, the Good Ol’ Boy is truly special—the kind of burger that gives you a valid excuse to visit friends who made the move to the Brooklyn ‘burbs.
Address and phone: 43 E 7th St (212-982-3006)
Neighborhood: East Village
Why it’s underrated: While Jimmy’s No. 43 has long been heralded as an East Village craft-beer institution—miraculously surviving the terrible gas explosion that ravaged a large chunk of the block—most do not realize that the bar (run by the exuberant Jimmy Carbone) also churns out a formidable, Asian-inflected burger. Recently, the kitchen started using Fleishers’ course-ground 70/30 beef, quelling any doubts about its pedigree. The patty is decorated with Sriracha mayo, American cheese, and a refreshing layer of atchara made from julienned carrots and daikon. When you’re tasting the latest IPA from Other Half, you’ll be glad to have this burger within reach.