Is there any food more quintessentially American than the burger? The simple sandwich of ground beef on a bun allows for considerable creativity from the chef or home cook who's making it, and there are thousands of variations, from one end of the country to the other. And when done properly, there are few foods more delicious. We recently published our annual ranking of the 101 Best Burgers in America, and these are the 20 New York City burgers that made it onto the list.
Bobby Van’s steakhouse is a New York institution, but this tiny offshoot, located in a courtyard next to the 45th Street location and specializing in burgers and hot dogs, is somehow still less known than it should be. It shouldn’t be. Loosely packed eight-ounce burgers are made with fresh-ground sirloin and given a deep crust on a griddle before being draped in ample cheese and tucked into a soft and squishy bun. Soft, juicy, and full of flavor.
Paul’s is a bit of a downtown New York institution: They have been serving burgers to Cooper Union students and other hungry New Yorkers for over 25 years (the lines on their 25th anniversary itself were around the block). You can’t really order wrong here, but your best bet is probably the cheeseburger, which is an eight-ounce burger that’s cooked with a metal bowl over it to seal in the juicy goodness. In classic fashion, a wealth of Cheddar cheese is melted on top of the patty, and the whole thing is served open-faced with the top half of the bun, iceberg lettuce, onion, and tomato on the side.
That guy who wins the burger contest every year in Miami and New York City? You mean Josh Capon of B&B Winepub? Yup. That’s the one. Here he is again with another winning burger creation, this one at his outpost in New York’s East Village, Bowery Meat Company. What’s his secret? A dash of confidence, a little cockiness, and a whole lot of knowing what he and his customers want to eat. In this case, that means a cheeseburger with griddled onions, raclette, and tomato aïoli.
When it comes to DuMont Burger, there’s a distinct sadness that locals in the know won’t be able to see far beyond. It wasn’t long ago that chef and owner Colin Devlin was found dead after an apparent suicide, said to have been brought on by the pressures and financial difficulties behind running his three restaurants, DuMont, Dressler, and DuMont Burger. But even after Devlin’s death, the food that brought him into the spotlight can still be found at this Brooklyn burger joint. They serve a burger that satisfies newcomers and long-time fans, a burger that lives up to the expectations of locals and Lonely Planet-wielding Italian and French tourists alike. Yet it’s a simple iteration: A basic thick-patty burger that features pickles (and you’ll want to add cheese), juicy with a slight char; the sweet-smelling, buttery brioche provides just enough handle through to the last bite.
A bun should never steal the burger show, but the fresh, toasted challah loaf bun at Geoffrey Zakarian's Theater District gem The Lambs Club comes pretty close. But the lunch-only burger has plenty more going for it, including Cabot sharp Cheddar, shallot, and just about the highest-quality beef burger you can find. Not to mention the perfect speared pickle on top.
This always-crowded Greenwich Village institution, a semi-dive bar (no real dive bar sells a line of branded casual clothing, or opens outposts in Long Island City), is justly famous for its big no-nonsense burgers, cooked under a salamander-like broiler, draped with American cheese (and crisscrossed with bacon for the signature Bistro Burger), and served on a classic sesame bun with the usual trimmings. Old-timers complain that it isn't what it used to be, but the burgers still taste darn good to us.
Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo, affectionately known as “The Franks” by fans of their New York restaurants, including Frankies 457 and Frankies Spuntino, serve an epic burger at their meat-centric farm-to-table spot, Prime Meats. They start with a half-pound patty made with dry-aged Black Angus trimmings from Creekstone Farms, and it’s so beefy, juicy, well-seared, and full of dry-aged funkiness that it really doesn’t even need toppings or a bun. But the house-made bun stands up to the juiciness, and the additions of lettuce, onion, pickles, and tomato elevate it all to burger glory.
At the East Village’s Brindle Room, chef/owner Jeremy Spector is serving a lunch-only burger that, at $17, is a certifiable steal. The reason? Dry-aged meat. Prime aged beef trimmings and deckle are brought in from his partner’s New Jersey restaurant, and give this burger a pronounced mineral-rich funk. It comes topped with caramelized onions and your choice of cheese, but honestly, would you top a dry-aged rib-eye with cheese? The soft white generic bun perfectly holds it all together.
“Bash Style,” for the uninitiated, means American cheese, onion and bacon jam, pickles, special sauce, and, most importantly, a killer blend of meat cooked medium-rare by chef Josh Capon and his team at B&B Winepub, formerly known as Burger & Barrel. This is the foundation of what you could argue has become unparalleled burger greatness: Capon’s clubby SoHo spot is a veteran winner of Burger Bash, the marquee event of the South Beach and New York City Wine & Food Festivals, having claimed the title five times in six years.
It’s a swanky burger to be sure, served in a bar in one of Manhattan’s trendiest hotels, whose restaurant is helmed by one of the city’s (and the country’s) most well-respected chefs: Daniel Humm (also of Eleven Madison Park). And while the house burger at The NoMad Bar, which has a separate entrance and only starts serving food starting at 5:30 p.m., doesn’t come out of the same kitchen that prepares the signature $89 whole-roasted chicken with foie gras and black truffles, it’s still in the same sphere of indulgence, albeit more beefy and affordable. We’re talking a dry-aged Cheddar burger laced with bone marrow and suet, and dressed with red onion and pickles.
New York City’s best new burger is one of its most elusive, and it has quite the provenance: It’s served at the impossible-to-get-a-table-at 4 Charles Prime Rib, and it’s from Brandon Sodikoff, the brains behind one of Chicago’s best burgers, served at his Au Cheval. Similar to its sister burger in Chicago, this one is made up of two four-ounce prime beef patties, topped with American cheese, pickles, onions, mayo, and Dijon, and served on a soft white bun. It’s got that perfect level of heft, a wonderful char, and an ideal interplay of all its components. Lettuce and tomato, an egg, and bacon are available, but it’s perfect without them.
Keens is primarily famous for its longevity (in business since 1885) and its incredible steaks (seriously among the best you’ll find anywhere), but few visitors spend much time in two of its most charming rooms: the bar and the pub, which each have their own entrance and share a more casual, less expensive pub menu. The star of this menu — if it's not the celebrated prime rib hash — is certainly the hamburger, which, in our opinion, is just as worthy of praise as the legendary mutton chop. The thick half-pound patty is made with trimmings from the restaurant’s dry-aged steaks, and it’s rich and insanely juicy, slightly funky from the dry-aged beef, perfectly crusty and salty, packed just loosely enough, and just barely held together by its soft bun. Top yours with a slice of red onion; no cheese or ketchup required.
There are now four P.J. Clarke's locations, including one in D.C. and a Philly outpost in the works, but the Third Avenue Manhattan original is the feisty little brick building that refused to make way for the 47-story skyscraper that now looms over it. It is also the one that created the terrific pub-style burger known as The Cadillac — a juicy patty on a classic bun with smoked country bacon and American cheese as well as lettuce, onion, and tomato, with shoestring fries on the side. The name, by the way, was bestowed on the thing by Nat "King" Cole, who dubbed Clarke's "the Cadillac of burgers."
To New York burger-lovers and the tourists lining up in front of the ridiculously tall curtain it’s “hidden” behind, the idea that Burger Joint is a secret is, well, silly. Still, you could argue it doesn’t have the national renown that it should. This is a very simple burger, folks. And in a very satisfying setting: a fancy hotel’s corner pocket of dive bar with scribbles on the wall, signs asking you not to scribble on the wall, bare booths, paper wrapping, servers who are rude (possibly with good reason, depending on your perspective), and buns taken straight out of the bag. The Burger Joint’s namesakes have all their components on point, which makes for one of the best total-package cheeseburgers you’ll ever taste. If you can’t make it to the original, there’s now a second location down on Eighth Street, and additional locations have opened in Brazil, United Arab Emirates, South Korea, and Singapore.
Because of this burger’s location in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and its lunch-only appearance on the menu, out-of-town visitors free to venture over during the week are likely to have an easier time than locals experiencing one of New York City’s best burgers. There are no bells and whistles, but Peter Luger has been handling meat since 1887, and its rich, half-pound Luger Burger, made from porterhouse and prime chuck roll trimmings, is worth figuring out how to sneak out of the office for a long lunch. Burgers are molded into a coffee cup, emptied onto the high-temperature broilers used for the restaurant’s steaks until they develop a dark crust, and then settled into a sesame-studded bun. For a few dollars more you can have cheese and thick-cut bacon, but either way, if the famously gruff waitstaff unsettled you when you sat down, you’ll have forgotten them after the first bite. Just make sure to arrive before 3:45 p.m., which is when they stop serving it.
According to legend, burgermeister George Motz wanted to include J.G. Melon's definitive bar burger in the first edition of his book Hamburger America, but nobody at the place would return his calls — maybe because they were too busy actually turning out the darn things. The burger is simple and classic: a healthy slab of ground beef (the exact formula is kept a secret) sizzled on the griddle, served draped with American cheese on a toasted bun, with pickles and red onions on the side.
The idea of the “chef-inspired” burger, in all its renown and prominence, can be hit or miss these days. Lately, it seems like all chefs feel like they have to have a burger on the menu. But while some are just paying lip service to the trend, some of them really, really hit the mark. In that regard, it’s very hard to disregard the importance of the Original db Burger, created by esteemed French chef Daniel Boulud for his db Bistro Moderne. A sandwich that’s simultaneously very American and very French, the db Burger is a sirloin patty filled with braised short rib, truffles, and foie gras, and served on a parmesan bun — the ultimate upscale juicy Lucy, so to speak. Indulgent? You bet. Juicy? Absolutely. Salty, sweet, and savory with a bit of a bite? Oh yeah.
Chef Joey Campanaro knows his way around a burger, and the one that he serves at his West Village restaurant The Little Owl was named the world’s best by The Guardian. Campanaro starts with a three-quarters-inch-thick patty of ground Pat LaFrieda brisket and short rib; seasons it liberally with a curry powder-kicked spice blend; grills it; tops it with American cheese, bacon, lettuce, onions, pickles, and tomato; and serves it on a homemade bun. It’s rich and meaty and hits all the right notes.
Sure, the côte de boeuf, roasted bone marrow, and various ungodly delicious potato renditions are big reasons why Minetta Tavern was called the city’s best steakhouse and awarded three stars by The New York Times. But no less the stuff of legend is the Black Label Burger. Prime dry-aged beef, sourced and aged for six to seven weeks by Pat LaFrieda, is well seasoned and cooked on a plancha with clarified butter, developing a glorious exterior. The fussed-over burger is nestled onto a sesame-studded brioche bun designed specifically for it, topped with caramelized onions, and served with pommes frites. Juicy, savory, salty, soul-satisfying… these words lose meaning in the presence of a burger this good.
The burger at the Spotted Pig, a restaurant that is widely considered responsible for launching the high-end gastropub trend, is a wonder. Chef and co-owner April Bloomfield created a half-pound behemoth of prime grilled beef, topped with a layer of creamy, stinky Roquefort, and sandwiched inside a brioche-style bun. Served alongside rosemary-scented shoestring fries, it’s the kind of burger that will force you to close your eyes after taking the first bite and just be with the beefy, cheesy decadence. This is a burger that you’ll be dreaming about for weeks to come, and is the best in America.