There was a time, not so long ago, when New York was not considered a serious burger town. But over the past decade or so, the scene has exploded. Stupendously good burgers can now be found everywhere, from the rowdiest dive bar to the Frenchiest bistro. Today there are so many styles of New York Hamburger — grass-fed locavore, evolved fast food, the burgeoning field of dry-aged — that we’ve attempted to categorize them. Here, 50 burgers that best define this ground-meat moment. But before that, we in-house arbiters of burger greatness debate the merits of our favorites and attempt the impossible — to pick the very best.
Adam Platt: My desert-island burger is the one at Little Owl. It’s got that LaFrieda stamp of excellence. Old-fashioned Vermont Cheddar, little bit of bacon. I think the key is the bun, which they bake on the premises.
Rob Patronite: I like it, too, Platty, but I’d say it’s a neighborhood-restaurant burger, not a destination burger. That’s partly why it’s not in our taxonomy. I’m surprised you singled out the bun, because I’ve found it to be a little stiff and unyielding—maybe that’s why the burger isn’t as cohesive as I’d like it to be.
AP: Not cohesive. You’re a Goddamn burger snob.
Robin Raisfeld: Context is important for me. It’s got to be casual. So I’m going with the burger at Hard Times Sundaes, a truck in Mill Basin. It’s just a simple four-ounce smash burger cooked on the griddle. It’s all about the grease—it’s like a condiment. They use a Martin’s bun. The cheese isn’t so much melted as absorbed. It holds it all together like glue.
AP: It’s in a truck. It will be gone in six months, unlike Little Owl.
RP: If I had to pick one burger style, I’d go with the high-low. And the epitome of this style is the burger at Bowery Meat Company. It sounds fancy-pants, but it’s not. It’s Josh Capon’s first dry-aged burger, and he gets an amazing crust on it. It’s tender, juicy, and super-crumbly.
Alan Sytsma: What do you think of the raclette cheese? To me, that’s what undoes the BMC burger.
RP: I love it. It’s the ultimate melter, the Kraft Singles of fancy burger cheeses. I’m surprised more chefs don’t put raclette on burgers.
AS: My pick, NoMad Bar, is a bunch of very haute chefs doing a very refined version of a burger. But I think they’ve made an effort to maintain the Americana appeal of it. It’s a cheffed-up patty, but it has the sensibility of a fast-food burger. The cheese is clothbound Cheddar. The onion is marinated in white balsamic and—
AP: White balsamic, oh, for God’s sake, it’s totally haute.
RP: It’s true. They serve it with a pickled carrot. No one wants to eat a pickled carrot with a burger. Do you think it has enough of a sear on it?
AS: People complain that it’s mushy and that there isn’t a lot of sear. I’m more interested in that pink medium-rare center.
RP: But that’s the point. You can have it all. The crusty sear and the juicy interior. That’s the ideal.
AS: I’m not missing the sear. There aren’t many places that do a deep sear, and you get a nice medium-rare.
RP: Well, BMC does!
*This article appears in the June 1, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.