The Search for Burger Perfection

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Peculiarities of Burgers in Costa Rica

While in Costa Rica I tried out a few burgers and definitely found them interesting. Though I won’t review them, I would say overall Costa Rica isn’t exactly a burger mecca.

Surprisingly good burger (Six Dollar Guacamole Burger) from Carl's Junior in Costa Rica. Huge!!

Odd burger from a restaurant in Monteverde. The carrot on top nearly made me cry.

Super burger at a cafeteria like place in La Fortuna. They weren't kidding. This thing was bigger than your head.

The Burger Joint – New York City

119 West 56th Street, New York, NY 10107

Few places outside of New York City can boast so many restaurants per square mile and the competition is thus very formidable. One place rated consistently among the best burgers places is tucked away in an unexpected location. The Burger Joint is hidden behind a nondescript curtain in a swanky, chic hotel in Midtown (Le Parker Meridien)  and the entrance is only indicated by an enigmatic neon burger. Once inside you’ll find a gritty, chaotic establishment with handmade signs and posters from cinema long past. The characteristic decor that rebels against the hotel it is nestled in has made it a favorite along locals along with the reputation for great burgers. Some would argue these burgers are the king of kings in New York City and deserve their own burger category.

Cheeseburger

When finally received after a short wait, the cheeseburger isnt known to be neat nor pretty, but down to business presenting itself ready to be consumed by a hungry patron. The burger has few frills but it has no lack for grease and juices. The patty is mildly flavorful and in combination with the classic American ingredients, it is satisfying. It fills the stomach with a satiating sigh but I hesitate to call this New York City’s best burger. The more modern and newer Shake Shack is a rung above. Many may disagree with me but neither burger is made to order (which normally would be a bummer), but Shake Shack retains a stronger, distinctive flavor in its meat. The extras are classic but hardly unique and the presentation is messy and forgettable (even though I wish I could forget the way the bun looked!). This is a decent place for a burger and definitely stop in if you’re nearby and starving for a combination of a down to earth patty, bun, lettuce and ketchup but be prepared to stand in line. In my opinion, it’s not really worth it.

Overall: 6/10

Presentation: 5/10

Meat: 6/10

Bun: 5/10

Extras (lettuce, tomato, sliced pickles, ketchup): 6/10

Cost (cheeseburger):  $7.35 (regular)

Adega Wine Cellars & Cafe

8519 Fenton Street
Silver Spring, MD 20910

This is one of my favorite little operations in the area. Adega offers a casual atmosphere with surprisingly good, creative cuisine and a great wine selection so you can eat and drink to your heart’s content at a bargain. But besides the excellent wines, the other reason I love coming here are for the burgers.

The Bleu’s Burger

Overall: 9/10

Presentation: 9/10

Meat: 9/10

Bun: 8/10

Extras (bleu cheese, green leaf lettuce, crisp bacon, sliced tomato, carmelized onions, and chipotle mustard mayo): 9/10

Cost:  $8.99 (regular)

The presentation is impressively neat. The burger comes to you unroofed but very well put together and tidy. All the burgers are of a good size and definitely will never leave you hungry. As soon as you put it together and take your first bite though, you’ll understand why this is one of my favorite places. The meat is of exceptional taste and quality (order it medium rare!) and the tastes (and juice!) permeates the entire mouth. The toppings all come together with the beef patty and create a heavenly combination of savory, sour, tart and delicious and like a well practiced orchestra, the flavors never overwhelm each other. The bleu cheese in this burger is distinct, palatable but perfect where it is. For a small establishment, Adega has wonderful cuisine  and great wine selection. I’m never disappointed when dining in and always leave very satisfied.

Good burger and good manicure, what else could anyone want?

Elevation Burger

2447 North Harrison Street
Arlington, VA
www.elevationburger.com

Another rising burger star in the DC area, Elevation Burger boasts high quality, organic ingredients and meat derived from grass-fed cattle. The popular chain invokes a similar philosophy to a recently-reviewed competing burger establishment, but unlike Good Stuff Eatery, the menu at Elevation Burger doesn’t boast fancy burger names. The menu is simplistic, but so is the one at  Five Guys.

Simple Menu for simple good food

The Elevation Burger

Overall: 7/10

Presentation: 8/10

Meat: 8/10

Bun: 5/10

Extras (fresh lettuce, tomato, pickles, deli style Chedder cheese, elevation sauce): 5/10

Cost: $5.99 (regular)

Neatly presented in a convenient wrapper, the signature burger of Elevation Burger is layered with cheddar cheese. The packaging is reminiscent of the West Coast favorite and even comes with a double patty and double layer of cheese. In fact, the burger can even be ordered with a custom number of patties (which I have only seen at In-n-Out). Overall, the Elevation Burger is flavorful even though it only comes well done. The meat itself is very moist, and as I have emphasized before, that is the soul of a good burger.

Unfortunately, the toppings don’t quite match the burger meat. The cheddar cheese, while being “deli style and non-processed”, does not stand out in flavor or quality and the signature sauce is hard to discern (what it is supposed to taste like is still a mystery to me). Albeit one can choose from a variety of toppings, the grilled mushrooms, which are one of my favorites, is missing from the list of options.

The bun was okay, definitely not the best, but not the worst either. It seems that the chain is afraid that a really awesome bun might  “outdo” their meat, by interestingly noting on the wall, that their “buns compliment the burger, rather than compete with it”. I have no problem with a bun that competes with a burger quality wise. If the meat is great, an equally awesome bun won’t hurt in my burger rulebook. But if they are referring to the relative size of each, then it’s a totally different story and I agree, the bun should not “outweigh” the meat.

I have to elevate this burger above those at Good Stuff Eatery, which is likely one of its main competitor in the DC area philosophy wise. Though not necessarily the best it will definitely do the job if you need to stop by for a burger craving.  A good burger comes from quality meat and quality ingredients cooked just right to retain savory moistness and flavor and overall, the folks at Elevation seem to “get it”.

Sun is good for organic grass-fed beef

Good Stuff Eatery

303 Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast
Washington, DC 20003

Already a popular burger hotspot Good Stuff Eatery has taken over this little corner of DC. The founder, former Top Chef contestant Spike Mendelsohn, promises high quality ingredients and a purposeful mission to feed consumers the best burgers in town. The hype has reached much of surrounding DC and if you happen to trek over to the burger joint, you’ll find long lines and eager customers.
Most recently, President Obama took his staff to this little eatery to celebrate the passing of the debt deal. Unfortunately much like congress’s disappointing performance surrounding the debt-ceiling debacle, the burgers fall short of expectations. Though people in the district seem to be in love with these burgers, I’m afraid I’m going to have to downgrade them in my review (no pun intended!).

Spike’s Sunny Side

Overall: 6/10

Presentation: 6/10

Meat: 6/10

Bun: 6/10

Extras (Farm Cheese, Fried Egg, Bacon, Good Stuff Sauce): 7/10

Cost: $6.89 (regular)

The first noticeable shortcoming is size. The burgers are rather small and unlike densely packed burgers found at In-n-Out and Shake Shack, these lack the richness of their burger counterparts. The Sunny Side burger is advertised as messy and this is not an exaggeratiion! The runny egg drips all over this burger and gives this burger a moistness to the patty it would otherwise lack. Unfortunately, the meat itself is mildly flavorful and without its condiments, wouldn’t stand on its own. As always when asked (which was a bit surprising in this fast food type of place), I requested burger medium rare but the patty I received was well done all the way through without a hint of a flame kissed beef. This alone forced me to subtract a point or two. The buns were flat, squished and without any special characteristics as well. All in all, this is really a mediocre burger and only partially recuperated by the toppings (gotta love the runny egg!).

Colletti’s Smokehouse

Overall: 5/10

Presentation: 5/10

Meat: 6/10

Bun: 3/10

Extras (Vermont Chedder, Onion Rings, Bacon, Chipotle BBQ Sauce) : 7/10

Cost: $6.89 (regular)

Again, the same issues that plagued the Sunny Side are repeated here. A very plain, quite squished bun, diminutive size and lack of flavor hurt this burger’s ratings. This burger in fact looked even smaller than the Sunny Side and would just barely be called a meal. Unlike the Sunny Side, the toppings only seem to hurt the flavor of this burger. The BBQ sauce is overwhelming but doesn’t help the dry, chewy patty. The bacon is always welcome on a burger but it’s hardly noticeable and the cheese? What cheese? It isn’t even discernible in this cacophony of toppings. The “medium rare” patty is once again, anything but. And the bun looked as if someone had accidentally stepped on it in the kitchen (no kidding!!!). Though Good Stuff Eatery attempts to put together solid burgers, it isn’t enough. It can only be expressed by one much wiser than myself. “Do or do not, there is no try” – Yoda

More like "This is OK Stuff"

Ray’s Hell Burger

1725 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, VA 22209

Many burgers claim to be “famous” but few actually are. Even fewer are ones that can be called a favorite of the commander-in-chief. Ray’s Hell Burger has hosted presidents of the two nations I have called home so it was inevitable I would find my way there. Can burgers be a liaison for world peace? I believe they can. Renown for its exotic ingredients and massive patties, Ray’s reportedly makes their burgers from steak cuts which contributes to its legendary quality. Ray’s burger establishment is a no-frills kinda place with a simple ordering system, sparse decorations and just so you know, it’s cash only.

This was also known as SALT III...along with ketchup and mustard.

B.I.G. Poppa

Overall: 8/10

Presentation: 8/10

Meat: 7/10

Bun: 5/10

Extras (blue cheese, grilled onions, and cognac and sherry mushrooms): 10/10

Cost: $ 7.95 (regular)

This burger has some amazing toppings that really spice it up! It fits the name well because it is HUGE. The black peppercorn crust (Au Poivre) adds a spicy bite to the meat, perhaps a bit too spicy to my taste. The tangy bleu cheese gives off a strong aroma and sharpness to the overall flavor. Combine this with the cognac & sherry sauteed mushrooms with the Ray’s signature heck sauce and you get a very flavorful and delicious burger. Still, there is one fundamental aspect that’s missing from this and other burgers from Ray’s that I’ve tried. Even though the meat is cooked precisely the way it should be, it lacks the savory juiciness that I’ve had in the best burgers. The juices just weren’t seeping out of these patties. That really prevents these burgers transitioning on this review from “good” burgers to “great” burger. These are by no means bad burgers and overall, they are very good! But by the strict palette here at BBC, I can’t say they are the BEST. In the burger Olympics, these would be one-maybe even two steps down on the podium.

Soul Burger Number One

Overall: 8/10

Presentation: 8/10

Meat: 7/10

Bun: 5/10

Extras (swiss cheese, smoked bacon, cognac and sherry mushrooms and grilled red onions): 10/10

Cost: $ 8.95 (regular)

Bacon, Onion and Mushroom. Can you really go wrong with these classic burger toppings? Every restaurant from fast food to high end has a variation of this type of burger. But does it have enough soul? It’s definitely a good burger. Again Ray’s does well on the toppings. The onions are nicely grilled. The mushrooms well sauteed and as a mushroom lover, the sherry and cognac very nicely appreciated. The bacon is crisp, not burnt, with a salty fatty goodness that only bacon can give. All together, the toppings make this a good burger too. I have to stress again though my burger dogma – what made the Soviet hockey team so dominant? Strong fundamentals. Just like these burgers, the meat is good but not great and that is what is at the heart of the best burgers. This won’t be the last time I visit Ray’s and I thoroughly enjoy their burgers. After all, I love a good burger.

Big Poppa has big flavor!

Shake Shack

691 8th Avenue
New York, New York 10036

Shake Stack

Overall: 9/10

Presentation: 5/10

Meat: 9/10

Bun: 8/10

Extras (fried portobello filled with melted muenster and cheddar cheese, Shake Sauce): 10/10

Cost: $ 8.50 (regular)

Finally, I take on the legendary Shake Shack! This establishment holds a special place in the heart of New Yorkers for its legendary burgers and for good reason. These burgers are plump, juicy and flavorful and deserve the coveted title of burgasmic! The first thing I’ve noticed about these little burgers is that they are compact but pack a dense savory patty that retains precious juices of the beef. Their small size, amazing flavor and fresh bun and patty paired with milkshakes remind me of the west coast legend, In-n-Out. For all those from the West, this burger is as close as you’ll get to a double-double. Though you don’t really have a choice of how your burger is cooked, the folks at Shake Shack seem to get it just right with enough pinkness inside the meat to retain its juices without turning it into a Lady Gaga accessory. The extras on the Shake Stack are just somehow and impossibly perfect! WOW! The fried portobello mushroom with two different kinds of cheeses meld together with the burger like Beluga caviar on butter – seamlessly the flavors blend together, amazing and so delicious. I have yet to encounter a burger with such perfect toppings, sauces and cheese. Burgers like the Shake Stack show that it has its own worthy entrees and set it apart from its distant West Coast rival. The fries are crisp, fresh and divine as well. The Shake Stack is a creation of a true burgermaster and this critic is definitely a convert to Shake Shack house of worship.

Shack Burger

Overall: 8/10

Presentation: 5/10

Meat: 9/10

Bun: 8/10

Extras: 8/10 (Shake Sauce, lettuce, tomato)

Cost: $ 7.00 (regular)

The Shack Burger with a double patty very much resembles a Double-Double. It retains the wonderfully savory meat and combines it with the simple burger extras like lettuce and tomatos. For those who like their burger relatively “pure” without too many extras this is definitely on the path to burger nirvana. Much like the Shake Stack it has a strong meaty flavor overflowing with juices and though small and compact like many stylish Apple products it won’t empty your wallet. This burger is among one of the best classic burgers I’ve ever encountered and I will definitely be returning for more. The Shack Sauce that is on both burgers is an amazing condiment and really adds to the overall burger. I wish I could bottle the sauce and take it home! Shake Shack excels well in both classic style burgers and creative cousins and its obvious why Shake Shack fever is gripping the east coast.

You can never have too much Shake Shack! Some people take that literally it seems!

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