Photo Courtesy of Digiart2001
"For The Cheap, Fat Bastard"
Blarney Stone is a total dive, but has a humongous, dirt cheap burger and is a Midtown Lunch favorite. Places like the Blarney Stone are too rare in NY these days (just watch for mice running around on the floors after-hours). The burger is a monster, and $6 with onion rings, fries or a salad (add 25 cents for cheese).
Blarney Stone cheeseburger.
It's cooked close to medium by default, which is fine with me (due to the obvious hygienic issues I've mentioned). But the burger is good enough that I don't really care, as are the other items on a menu full of American classics. They also have a wide selection of cheap beers so you can get sloshed with the regulars at all hours of the day. When I last ate here, I added dijon mustard and homemade salted chiles for an awesome lunch.
"Guaranteed Food Coma"
Five Guys on 3rd Avenue is probably not going to win the award for best location in the fast-growing franchise, but it does serve it's purpose for greasy, fast food. The burger itself tastes like a done-up Wendy's cheeseburger, but with thicker patties. They come tightly wrapped, so tight in fact that upon opening the foil, the burger is usually a condensed ball with all of your free toppings mashed together. My order of choice is the double cheeseburger (or regular) with bacon, mustard, grilled onions and mushrooms and jalapenos (fresh, not pickled for some reason). Just unhinge your jaw, make sucking noises and eat.
If Five Guys is the Wendy's of neo-fast food, Black Shack, on 38th and Lexington, might be the Burger King. Their burger tastes like a Whopper done up right. However, there's only so far you can take a Whopper, so whether you like Black Shack is going to depend a lot on your personal tastes. I found it mediocre, with the fries tasting just like Burger King fries as well (if you're into that sort of thing). The shake was good, but it was $5 dollars for a kiddy cup. I don't know if they've changed this since I went, but that's unacceptable to a milkshake lover such as myself.
"The Steve Kerr of Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls"*
My favorite deli in town is Sarge's, which is not known for their burger. This is probably with good reason, as the burger is solid, but nothing spectacular (recalling Veselka's, though not as good). The cheeseburger comes with a mass of caramelized onions on top. Each time I've ordered the it, about 75% of the onions are blackened beyond recognition, so you have to do a little gold digging for the non-burnt pieces. My suggestion: stick with all the Michael Jordan's on the menu.
*If anyone has a better analogy I'd love to hear it, but keep in mind I hate the Yankees.
Maybe I have big hands (I don't), but the Sarge's burger pictured looks much smaller in my hand than it actually is. Regardless, it's greasy and large; with their fries it's plenty filling too.
And the winner?
Surprisingly (for now), it's Rare Bar & Grill, which I had not tried until recently. I was skeptical, especially since a friend, who still has a Dave Matthews Band ring-tone, recommended it (so obviously I ignore about 75% of what he says). However, I will give credit where credit is due.
We split a Whiskey River Burger, which has seared shallots cooked with some whiskey, plus applewood smoked bacon and cheese. This burger was fine, but the winner (for me) was the regular cheeseburger, to which I added American cheese and double-cut bacon. The meat was thickly ground, well seared and cooked to a perfect medium rare. The double-cut bacon kicked the applewood smoked bacon's ass.
Unfortunately, the price is killer at this place. The Whiskey River Burger was $15 and the cheeseburger was $12, plus the fry basket for another $10. They also charged me $4 for a refill of iced tea, which will not stand with me.
So while I say that this is the "best" burger, it's clearly a splurge, and not the best option among the burgers I've listed. If I had to choose one, I would probably go with Blarney Stone, which has everything you could ask for (except cleanliness).
Rare Bar & Grill
303 Lexington Ave (at 38th St)
Sarge's Deli and Restaurant
548 3rd Ave (btwn 36th and 37th)
320 Lexington Ave (at 39th St)
710 3rd Ave (btwn 44th and 45th)