There are those who will come to fisticuffs over the question of New York’s best burger. Among the most zealous of these burger-warriors are devotees of JG Melon.
Since 1972, the Upper East Side’s JG Melon (3rd Avenue at 74th Street) has been delighting out-of-town pilgrims and neighborhood faithful alike with what many call the best burger on the isle of Manhattan. If you asked the throng huddled in Melon’s diminutive lobby, waiting for a seat and a slab of heaven, you might receive fifty reasons why this is so. For me, the kitchen—just a few steps past the front door—tells the whole story: small, open for the world to see, and populated by little else but a searing flat grill and pounds of fresh, double-ground chuck. It epitomizes the burgers that it produces: simple, unassuming, and totally mesmerizing.
If my years as a professional burgrarian have taught me anything, it’s never to underestimate the union of quality and simplicity, a marriage that JG Melon officiates beautifully: a generous patty of flavorful, quality beef, topped with sharp-salty pickle slices, juicy-fresh tomatoes, and a crown of crisp, whole-leaf lettuce between a soft, unseeded bun. I have no doubt that Melon’s famed cottage-fried potatoes were delicious, but frankly I don’t remember them well; I was too engrossed in the burger.
My rating: 4 out of 5.
My expectations were high as I entered the spectacular Le Parker Meridien hotel, one of Manhattan’s largest and most exclusive hotels, two blocks from Central Park, one from Carnegie Hall. But I wasn’t there for the five-star accommodations; I was there for the burgers.
Tucked away behind a curtain by an emergency exit was a regular-guy oasis in a desert of exclusivity: the famed Burger Joint, deemed by Men’s Fitness as the purveyor of the best burger in the country. The décor was modern dive, with 1970s rock and punk posters on the walls. The tables and booths were old, with worn wood. Neat effect, if a bit forced.
I walked in just as the BJ opened, a legion of patties sizzling on the grill, mobilizing themselves for the onslaught of burger pilgrims. I went traditional—cheeseburger (medium) with lettuce, tomato, and mayo. As the line grew out the door, so did my anticipation for what would surely be a slice of burger heaven.
Finally, it was before me. The build was good: burger, cheese (cheddar, I think), tomato, and lettuce. The mayo was spread thickly on the top bun. I took a bite, and…it was all right. The middle was correctly medium, yes, but the char on the outside led me to believe they cranked up the heat to pump ‘em out fast. That was enough to knock the overall effect to just decent. I don’t think I would go back unless I were staying at the hotel itself and needed a quick bite on my way out.
All told, it didn’t live up to the hype: 3 out of 5.
It was a wind-swept rainy day in New York City. I was hungry, and I had time to kill. My brother-in-law and I decided to check out the world-famous Shake Shack—the original one, near Manhattan’s famed Flatiron Building.
I went with the classic Shack Burger—a quarter-pound patty (cooked medium by default) with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and “shack sauce.” The rain reduced the infamous long wait time to just a few minutes. On a beautiful spring day, I’d have no complaints that Shake Shack’s only tables were outside. Today, however, we soon found ourselves under a Credit Suisse alcove across the street.
The order of the build was standard: burger, cheese, tomato, lettuce, and sauce. The juices of the burger bled into the grilled potato bun, softening it. The tomato and lettuce were crisp and fresh—definitely cut that day. The sauce was interesting. I was expecting Big Mac-esque special sauce, but I was pleasantly surprised: It was sweet and tangy—maybe a bit too watery—reminiscent of diluted barbecue sauce mixed with teriyaki. The patty itself—more like a slab of ground beef, actually—was very good.
Despite eating the burger under cover in a downpour, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’d like to give it another spin on a sunny day, to take in the atmosphere with a big crowd. I hear that in the summertime, the wait can be 45 minutes for a burger. I can see why.
My rating: 4 out of 5.
I have traveled to the west, to the land that we in the holistic burgology community call “California,” where the sun sets over the ocean and you can’t walk ten feet without tripping over a clairvoyant. It is the only region in the U.S. where one may find internal peace, oneness with the Earth, and the fast food chain In-N-Out Burger.
The menu is simple: hamburger, cheeseburger, double cheeseburger, fries, soda. I ordered fries and a cheeseburger, the build of which was quite odd. From the bottom up: sauce (Thousand Island-relish combo), tomato, lettuce, burger, and cheese. The bun was grill-toasted. Nice flavor and consistency. The veggies were fresh, cool, and crisp. The patty was standard thin fast food fare—nothing special. The cheese was yellow American and melted uniformly across the patty.
For fast food, it was very good. Not in the same league as the Players’ Retreat, let’s say, but compared to a McDonald’s or Wendy’s burger, it was top-notch. If you find your way to the west coast, check out In-N-Out.