Posted by Carten Cordell / Thursday, April 7th, 2011
If you’re on that noble quest to find a delicious burger to sink your teeth into, excluding fast-food chains is the first step. You may be short on time, but other restaurants specialize and efficiently prepare this kind of meal. Some are still relatively new, but others have been doing their thing for years. They’ve been setting the bar high, and spoiling people like me in the process.
I’m not hard to please, but I know what I like. The following is in the order of what I’ve enjoyed most.
5. Red Robin-The last time I visited one was a few months ago, but I remember my experience by the Dulles Town Center quite clearly. After much deliberation, I ordered the Burnin’ Love Burger. The cayenne-seasoned beef patty was topped with pepper jack cheese, tangy salsa, fried onion rings, lettuce, tomato, and chipotle mayonnaise. All of which was between a jalapeno-cornmeal Kaiser roll. Unfortunately, taking a picture of it never occurred to me. Menu pictures tend to look better than the real thing anyway.
I thoroughly enjoyed this burger, but the fries and ambiance left something to be desired. I felt as if I was in a Chuck-E-Cheese without the games or animatronics. This may have been because of the birthday party celebration, but I got a little annoyed at one point. I would also prefer it if they didn’t advertise so often, but that’s neither here nor there.
(image: Red Robin)
4. Fuddruckers- If nothing else, this chain of restaurants has nostalgia on its side. Childhood memories abound at the mere mention of its name. I used to frequent the Fuddruckers in Herndon until it was downsized from the region a couple years ago. The kid’s meal always included a coupon for a free cookie, and I appreciated that above all else. Now I realize that the toasted buns and the self-customization tables were the true hallmarks of every visit. The meat is good on its own, but there’s something special about that bread.
The last time I visited one was a couple months ago in Fairfax, but I’m fairly certain of what I ordered. In fact, it closely resembled the image below. The only difference was that I took full advantage of the hot jalapeno cheese sauce. The fries aren’t nearly as good without it. I look forward to my next visit, but I’ve found some things to be even better.
3. Five Guys- Founded in Arlington in 1986, this franchise has grown exponentially since then. The burgers are made-to-order and served with your choice of condiments. While I was waiting for this bad boy below, I shelled some complimentary peanuts to pass what little time it took to prepare. This double bacon cheeseburger also has sauteed mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, and barbeque sauce between a sesame seed bun. It was good, but I think I’ve frequented the one in Herndon one too many times since it opened. As they always say, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
Five Guys does everything right, especially their fries. I always order them with Cajun seasoning and use a little of the provided vinegar for that Boardwalk experience. They obviously take pride in the potatoes they use. The taste, texture, and provided origin information on the white board indicates the premium quality of the product they serve. These are definitely my favorite fries. My only complaint is the overly simplistic and sterile interior design. That’s why I usually get my food to go.
2. Ray’s Hell Burger- Popularized by presidential visits, eating at this Arlington hot-spot requires some patience. Let me assure you though, it was well-worth the wait. To commemorate the occasion, I took a picture of my meal before digging in. The mouth-watering combination of Swiss cheese and mushrooms was further improved with the addition of applewood smoked bacon, lettuce, and tomato. The succulent half-pound of beef caught me off guard at first. It was perfectly seasoned and marinated like a steak. Owner Michael Landrum perfected the art of grilling beef at his other cleverly-named restaurants, Ray’s the Steaks and Ray’s the Classics.
The bun was nothing special, more of sponge for the goodness of everything else. I don’t remember being all that impressed with the fries either, but liberal amounts of Heinz ketchup can drastically improve any fried potato wedge. Despite my affection for this establishment, I hesitate to go back any time soon. Large crowds flock there every day and capacity seating is limited. I fully understand the popularity, but my patience wears thin when I’m hungry.
1. BGR Joint- The newest member of the club is quickly gaining a reputation, and expanding to meet a growing demand. The presentation of the artfully designed burgers is impressive, just look at the picture I took below. It was even better than it looks though. The first bite was transcendent, but the earth-shattering experience didn’t end there.Time seemed to stop, and I rediscovered my ability to ignore all the sounds of a crowded room. Every bite literally melted in my mouth, satisfying my every taste bud. The use of fresh ingredients was obvious as I watched them prepare it, but the spectrum of flavors and textures confirmed it.
The large portion of marinated beef was cooked to perfection and topped with cheddar cheese, crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes and applewood smoked bacon. Onions and pickles were placed below. The toasted bun was reminiscent to what you’d find at Fuddruckers. It was one of the best burgers I’ve ever had, and that’s no hyperbole.
The fries were great, but there was nothing particularly special about them. I would prefer a little more seasoning. The one in Alexandria has ample parking, but the seating was awfully limited. The food more than made up for this minor inconvenience. Another new one is scheduled to open across the street from the Clarendon Metro Station on Monday, April 11. See you there!
I don’t know about you, but I’m starving!