After the bagel and pizza slice, perhaps the most celebrated New York food item is the reasonably priced burger. Foodies, critics and even those with unrefined palettes can all agree that places like Corner Bistro and JG Melon serve unassailable patties in refined environs, combining the classic charm of an old Manhattan spot with the satisfaction of eating a big meal for cheap. So reliable are these options that they can sometimes let us forget that they’re far from the best burgers in the city – the top tier lies elsewhere, and the top tier is expensive. By now the haute burger craze has cooled, but the artifacts of that era’s boomtime can be elegant, bombastic and life-affirming all at once.
Sometimes it’s absurd to pay $30 for a burger, and sometimes it’s absolutely necessary. Here are the most indulgent burgers in New York.
db Bistro Moderne
55 W 44th St.
New York, NY 10036
Note: In April 2000, a French terrorist organization bombed a McDonald’s in Brittany, killing one worker and injuring others. Why they targeted the fast-food joint was a mystery, but a tragic one nonetheless. In response, Daniel Boulud, the celebrated Lyon-born chef who was known for serving impeccable cuisine from his homeland to New Yorkers, decided to reclaim the burger for his country as a patriotic act against terror. The result was the DB Burger, served at his db Bistro Moderne restaurant, and it set off a trend of high-end burgers that’s basically still going strong. Boulud Frenchified the American staple in the most gonzo of ways: he mixed into his sirloin burger liberal heaps of black truffle, shirt rib, and a big chunk of foie gras right in the middle. Flipping patties might not be the most effective way to stop terrorism, but the craze set off by the DB means the best burgers in America’s biggest city might be made by the French. And, yeah, it costs $32.
Peter Luger Steak House
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Note: The reputation of Peter Luger Steak House, the venerated Williamsburg chops mecca that has been serving sirloins for over a century, is such that regulars assume to know the entire story. It’s a place to go for a special occasion, where the Old World ambiance extends from the original taxidermy on the walls (Freemans didn’t invent the look, people) to the enormous trays of meat arriving on the table. It’s a menu of little variation; dinner in 1930 could not have been too different than dinner today. It’s surprising, then, that the Peter Luger burger has stayed unheralded. Here are the details: it’s only served at lunch, and the patties are constructed from the famous porterhouses, ensuring that the quality of meat between the two sesame-flecked buns will far exceed even Pat LaFrieda’s finest. Add to that a perfectly melted heaping of cheddar, a slice of fresh white onion and, to complete it, bacon. The bacon at Peter Luger is not like other bacon – it’s thicker than Canadian, more crispy than rubbery, and served in an unholy portion. When all these assets combine, you have a sandwich so transcendent you’ll hear symphonies in your head. Paired with a good friend and a couple of strong, well-mixed martinis, it’s a lunchtime masterpiece that’s more than the sum of its perfectly constructed parts. Tell the cabbie to head to the Williamsburg Bridge and bring an appetite.
16 W 29th St.
New York, NY 10001
Note: April Bloomfield has a thing for nose to tail eating. The cover of her cookbook, “A Girl and her Pig,” shows the British chef extraordinaire with a whole hog draped over her shoulders. She once detailed to New York Magazine her preferred ways to eat every single bit of the animal. (The kidney is “kind of caramel-y and sweet” and “quite snappy in texture” while the snout is “confited and then roasted until it got a bit crispy, then drizzled with some lemon vinaigrette.”) But if you go to The Breslin, Bloomfield’s restaurant in the Ace Hotel, and decide to avoid treif for the night, the best option is the perfectly constructed lamb burger, perhaps the city’s best use of that wonderful meat. The patty comes spilling out of the lovely buttered bun, topped with mouthwatering feta cheese and innovative cumin mayo. The thing will set you back more than Shake Shack, but it’s worth the extra scratch. Maybe someday Bloomfield will go even further and create, say, a pig’s trotter burger, but this is her best patty yet.
113 MacDougal St.
New York, NY 10012
Note: There are so many reasons everyone flocks to Keith McNally’s Minetta Tavern. It’s located in the heart of MacDougal Street, the last strip of Greenwich Village that still conjures images of Bob Dylan as a young guitar-carrying troubadour, gigging for his dinner before making it big. It’s swathed in the charm of a bygone city, with natty waiters and checkered marble everywhere. And, perhaps most of all, it has the Black Label Burger. Often considered the town’s pinnacle of burgerdom, the Black Label features a secret mix of New York strip, brisket and skirt steak, along with a bit of the ribeye that goes for $90 elsewhere on the menu. On top of that goes specially sauteed onions, grapeseed oil and clarified butter. There’s no cheese and you don’t need it. The ingredients go together so well that when served, it looks no more elaborate than a patty fried up at a luncheonette, but a single bite will reveal the intricacies behind the creation of this wonder. Sure, it’s $26, but when you get to eat a gem of a burger in a room as nice as Minetta, you’ll know it’s worth it.
Burger & Barrel
25 W Houston St
New York, NY 10012
Note: Among the charms to behold and Burger and Barrel, the chic beef-heavy spot on the northern edge of Soho, is their habit of cutting the burgers in half. A simple gesture, sure, but it does more than make the behemoth easier to eat: It reveals the full cross-section of the creations. This quirk is best applied to the White Truffle Burger, a $45 miracle that, when on the menu (the fantastic fungi have to be in season) drives diners into a frenzy. It’s a sight to be seen when it’s sliced down the middle. On top of Pat LaFrieda meat goes ample salt and pepper, and once the pink outsides start browning it’s topped with tangy Robiola cheese, while toasted buns get slathered on the underside with truffle aioli. After the patty is grilled to perfection and placed on the bun, on goes a heap of shaved rare white truffle. Then, of course, it’s cut in half, letting the patron see exactly what went into their very pricey burger. Look for it when white truffle season is back in full bloom.