The history of the hamburger is a hotly contested one, with several families and restaurants across the US claiming credit for its invention. Some say this American favorite is named for Hamburg, Germany, where the world’s most high-quality beef came from in the 1800s; the owners of a restaurant chain in Ohio claim their great-grandfather invented the dish out of necessity when he ran out of sausages to sell at the 1885 state fair in Hamburg, New York.
Still others insist the burger started out as street fare, with the cities of Chicago, New York, and Reno all claiming that local vendors were the first in the nation to serve burgers. While we don’t know the exact origin of the burger, we do know that White Castle began cooking and serving them up in bulk in 1921, paving the way for chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King, and Carl’s Jr. in the 1940s and 1950s.
As burgers became popular fare at fast food chains, steakhouses and bistros began experimenting with “upscale” takes on the burger – New York’s ’21’ Club debuted a burger made with duck fat and fennel seeds in the 1950s, which cost $2.75 at the time and sells for $30 now. Today, you can find burgers on the menus of mom-and-pop diners and gourmet establishments alike. My love for burgers goes back decades (proof below) and I’ve mentioned before that I like my burgers medium rare with American cheese, but every once in a while I like to change it up.
Here’s where you can find my current favorites in NYC:
219 Mulberry Street (Nolita)
This Australian-influenced cafe serves seven different burgers, but my favorite is the Bronte: premium ground beef, tomato, lettuce, cheese, mayo, and sweet chilli. It’s served on a panini-style bun, and is a perfect mix of sweet and savory flavors.
919 Fulton St, Brooklyn (Clinton Hill)
This Clinton Hill restaurant is, believe it or not, known equally for its pizza and its burgers. The Emmy burger is made with dry-aged beef and served on a pretzel bun with caramelized onion, Vermont Grafton cheddar, and topped with a house-made red-pepper aioli known as EMMY sauce.
347 Graham Ave, Brooklyn (Williamsburg)
With meat provided by local butchery Pat La Frieda, Mother’s burgers pair perfectly with the craft beers they have on tap. The burger selection here is simple, with just a few options for cheeses and other toppings. I like to add some cheddar, but bacon, fried egg, caramelized onions, and pickled jalapeños are available as well.
80 Wythe Ave, Brooklyn (Williamsburg – at the Wythe Hotel)
Reynard’s eponymous burger is made with grass-fed beef, freshly ground by the in-house butcher, and topped with caramelized onions and gruyere. After enjoying Reynard’s rich and delicious burger, take in views of the Manhattan skyline (and perhaps a cocktail) at the Wythe Hotel’s rooftop bar.
430 East 9th Street, Manhattan (East Village)
Recommended by my friend Dave Ortiz during my Q&A with him – and they named the Sloppy Dave after him – this all-vegetarian (and vegan friendly) spot in the East Village changes its menu constantly, but the Superiority Burger always remains. The veggie tastes almost (maybe) like the real deal – and the muenster cheese, lettuce, tomato, and pickle make it delicious enough for you not to care.
The Spotted Pig
314 West 11th Street, Manhattan (West Village)
This inch-thick, half-pound patty is made out of ground brisket, sirloin, rump, and topped with Roquefort cheese. The Spotted Pig’s burger does not come topped with lettuce, tomato, or onion, because it’s flavorful enough on its own and the house-made brioche bun and crispy shoestring fries serve as a perfect compliment anyway.
Long Island Bar
110 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn (Cobble Hill)
Cobble Hill’s Long Island bar is most widely known for its cocktail menu, but the L.I. Burger is just as worthy of attention. It comes with two dry-aged beef patties, sour pickles, cheese, a house-made “Fancy” sauce, and fries. A single-patty version is available for those who don’t feel up to the task of the original.
232 8th Ave, Manhattan (Chelsea)
Momofuku chef David Chang first brought The Impossible Burger (a vegan burger that looks, tastes, and almost even bleeds like a real burger) to Momofuku Nishi’s menu last summer as part of the lunch menu. It has become so popular that it often sells out before the lunch rush is over. The burger is topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles, a special sauce, and served on a potato roll – American cheese is available upon request. Chang’s plant-based patty uses 5% less land, 74% less water, and produces 87% less greenhouse gas emissions than a traditional beef patty, making the Impossible Burger just as environmentally friendly as it is delicious.
1291 Third Avenue, Manhattan (Upper East Side)
While JG Melon’s website points to the newer Greenwich Village location, this Upper East Side mainstay has been around for decades and is famous for its cheeseburger. This no-frills burger is made from a blend of meat from Master Purveyors, the same source for restaurants like Peter Luger, and topped with American cheese.
The NoMad Bar
10 West 28th Street, Manhattan (NoMad)
This dry-aged beef burger is topped with cheddar, red onion, and the NoMad’s special sauce. Don’t be alarmed if the staff doesn’t ask how you’d like your burger done – the chefs know that a burger made of high-quality meat is best served medium rare. The NoMad’s burger is made from a chuck blend mixed with suet and bone marrow, giving it a perfect savory flavor.