That was the title of the email that inspired this burger triple-header — the “this” mentioned is this stunning sideshow of 82 of NYC’s best burgers, published by NY Mag’s Grubstreet blog, which kicked off a lively debate: How many can I check as “done”? Which great burgers are missing from this list? Which ones am I now dying to try?*
One thing led to another, and we were standing in line at Pop Burger in the Meatpacking District, the closest burger detour adjacent to Chelsea Market. Just to tide us over, we agreed. Until we can really roll up our sleeves and get eating later.
I hadn’t had Pop Burger before (more background after the jump below), but their burgers are exactly what you’d expect, given the setting:
Cheeky, retro-inspired and oh so much more about looks than substance. There is no deviation in ordering, because the cheeseburgers are sitting, already made and packaged into their two-fer containers, keeping warmish on a cooktop within arm’s reach of the cashier.
These petite, four-bite burgers look pretty enough, but a bite reveals the bottom bun has gotten hard from the perpetual low-heat warming, the shredded iceberg lettuce is miserably wilted and the cheese has almost resolidified entirely. We didn’t order any, but the onion rings and fries were also sitting in large steel trays waiting to be scooped up. Those are the first, and last, Pop Burgers I’ll ever have.
The Pop Burger experience only compounded the importance of making “just the right choice” of burger later — we already knew one contender was going to be a Five Guys double-patty cheeseburger, “with everything” (which is a style of menu ordering), and for the second, a mid-to-upscale burger in the West Village vicinity that I hadn’t had before (a surprisingly short list).
In part because we’d just tried one of Rare Bar & Grill’s unusual Steakhouse Burgers ($21) the other week, we went back to Rare for a plain ole’ cheeseburger, “8 oz. of 100% Grade “A” American chuck beef, ground and freshly prepared daily in our kitchen.”
How’d they stack up? Well, I still am not a fan of Five Guys. I have nothing against thin patties, but when one patty is so thin to the point of being holey, thereby necessitating two patties, not a good burger. Same thing goes for the laundry list of condiments — sure, they’re fun, and there are some good ones on there … is it a possibility that Five Guys is compensating for anything, much? (I think so.)
Rare’s burger is solid: A small brick cooked-to-order (medium rare) and topped with melty cheese-of-the-week from Murray’s Cheese Shop, thick slice of tomato, romaine, onion — on top of that we added bacon and egg — all supported by what the menu calls a “homemade sweet toasted bun.” (Sturdy and fluffy, the bun is a notch upgrade from the white-bun category.)
Rare’s is not my favorite $12 burger — I like my beef a little more rough-ground, for starters, not so smooth, and my bun a little more distinctive — but hands down, the best of the bunch that day. And one more tick-mark off that list.
Pop Burger background: My friend was under the auspice that Pop Burger had something to do with Old Homestead Steakhouse, which would make sense, given its proximity (adjacent) and mutual investment in beef. But it didn’t quite make sense, given Pop Burger’s pop-y, future-retro flair and the its neighbor’s ye-old-homestead-y-ness. (These names aren’t for naught.)
In actuality, they’re not related (Internet-sourced, phone-confirmed), which is good news for Old Homestead Steakhouse, one of the neighborhood’s holdovers from before the scene moved in (we all want to root for those guys). The steakhouse did semi-recently rename its sidewalk-adjacent front room Prime Burger.