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Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger

May 26, 2009

Courtesy of | Photograph by Romulo Yanes

Food trends can take on mythical qualities. They are the place where a child’s simple pop rocks suddenly find themselves serving as a key ingredient in a high-end restaurant’s signature dessert.

While I am not exactly qualified to predict or analyze such trends, I am however, a consumer, and I know what I notice. If 2008 was the year of the pig, the cow is handily pushing it aside to take center stage in 2009. Specifically, the burger… lately, everywhere I turn its burgers, burgers, and more burgers. From gourmet ones made from Kobe beef, to mini versions overtaking appetizer menus (don’t let the word slider fool you) to Padma selling (out) greasy Carl’s Jr. versions.

Now, the hamburger concept isn’t new (it originated in the late 18th century), but the gourmet craze is. Here’s the flipping truth about burgers and the dining outposts that have put them on the trend map. But, chew slowly my friend, as yesterday’s tapas makes way for today’s gastropub.


Leave it to Las Vegas to make a high-end proposition out of the humble hamburger. The brains behind Mandalay Bay’s, Burger Bar is none other than gold-standard restaurateur Hubert Keller (Fleur de Lys and Sleek). Their expansive menu goes way beyond beef with buffalo, turkey, vegetarian and even vegan options. Burger Bar was on the forefront of the fancy burger trend and many have tried to emulate its success.


All it takes is some a-hole selling something that costs $10 to make, preparing a high-end version and selling it for more than $100 and it makes national news…and it couldn’t be done anywhere else than Manhattan. Need proof? When I worked at an unnamed cable news network (see bio) we devoted a 2-minute piece on it…I remember the hoops that were jumped through in order to get the live shot of the anchor eating the burger and many people behind the scenes trying to keep it warm. Yes, folks, that’s why I was paid the big bucks. Anyway, this year, that famed burger has been trumped by the Wall Street Burger Shoppe’s $175 Kobe beef burger topped with gold flakes, black truffles, seared foie gras and aged Gruyere.

Pop Burger boasts two NYC locations of upscale burgers and takes the concept one step further with the entire brand being hip and Warhol-esque. Also – the Shake Shack (3 NYC locations) gets points for being unpretentious and just plain good.


I cannot write a burger piece without an In-N-Out Burger mention. This fast food chain established more than 60 years ago just outside of Los Angeles is one of the rare fast food places we’ll stop. Although, I’m still paying for the time I told my husband I didn’t want to eat there for lunch once, while in California. In-N-Out puts the Golden Arches to shame.


Travel north-northwest to San Francisco, a city whose epicurean sensibility has always been to offer quality food with a fresh, local, organic approach, not because it’s hip, but just because it is.

And at Balboa Café and The Brazen Head, the tradition continues – manifested in the best-reviewed burgers in the city. Both establishments offer no-frills, but solid, classic versions of the burger.


Politicos and journalists alike head to Clyde’s – a Washington institution with outposts throughout the city. If it’s good enough for the Commander-in-Chief, it’s good enough for me. Another notable – BGR: The Burger Joint located in Bethesda, Maryland.


No burger tour would be complete without a visit to Chicago’s Billy Goat Tavern – the hole-in-the wall that inspired the infamous SNL skit with John Belushi, Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd deflecting customers requests for anything except cheeseburgers. No Pepsi, Coke.


Some might be surprised to learn that the South is actually the home of (drum roll please), The Wall Street Journal’s pick for the number one burger in the country – Ann’s Snack Bar! Set aside a full day to fast prior to trying the Ghetto burger, a patty slathered with onion, bacon, chili and cheese. PS – no surprise here, no website needed for Ann.

I must also mention Top Chef alum Richard Blais’ Flip Burger Boutique. Amazing shakes, sides, and house-made condiments complement these fine burgers. In addition to the traditional beef, Flip also has lamb, chorizo, tuna and salmon burgers (just to name a few).

I must note though, my favorite place for a burger in the ATL is The Vortex, no question, it’ll suck you in. A half-pound of deliciousness that is perfectly charred and juicy. They also make a mean meat-free black bean patty.


In February, 8 oz Burger Bar expanded from Los Angeles to Miami’s South Beach and hosts your standard upscale burger joint. On par is Twenty-One Toppings, which also goes the gourmet route and allows customization galore for even picky eaters. For a bit more rustic experience, try the burgers at Tobacco Road, Miami’s oldest restaurant.

No matter if you like your burger topped with caramelized shallot, classic yellow mustard or pepperjack, this past weekend officially kicked off grilling season. So spank that stuff into a patty and fire it up…