If you follow my Flickr stream you know that I have been living in Taipei since last summer. One thing about Taipei that I learned is that despite its reputation as a great place to eat (and that reputation is well-earned), outside of Taiwanese and Japanese cuisines, most everything else sucks. Come to think of it, this shouldn't have come as a surprise. After all, Taipei is a relative backward 'burb compared to culinary capitals like New York or Tokyo (to name two). The world's best cooks simply have no reason to come open up shop here. And thus, I am limited to good Taiwanese and Japanese food, with the occasional acceptable Thai thrown in there. Every other type of cuisine, I can forget about it. And out of all the good eats I couldn’t get in Taipei (a long, long list), surprisingly it turned out to be burgers that I missed the most.
So when I was in NYC recently for a month, I spent the first two weeks eating burgers basically every other day, making it a point to try out places that I had never been to before. (And in between the "new" burgers, I would stuff myself silly with Shack burgers.) I ended up going to 6 places I had never been to, most of them because they opened while I was gone (man! the city changes so quickly) and one of them (Burger Joint) because when I used to live in NYC, I was an East Village hermit who rarely ventured that far up north.
Here are some general observations. I ordered a burger topped with chedder at each place. Except for Zip Burger, everywhere else asked me how I wanted my burger done (medium rare, of course); however, most of them still came to me on the medium side of medium rare. I guess it makes sense for them to err on the side of over-cooking rather than freaking out the customers with bloody meat, but personally I rather have my burgers slightly under-cooked than over. Also, all the "restaurant burgers" (as opposed to burgers from fast food places like Zip and Burger Joint) are just ginormous. Why is it that restaurants have no problems charging you $4 for one shrimp but can’t bring themselves to make a burger sensibly sized for $10?. All of a sudden they feel the need to provide value? Just give me a burger that is not bigger than my face (and my face is huge) with superior ingredients, expertly cooked to the proper doneness and you can charge me $12 all day long if that’s in line with the service and atmosphere you provide. The two "cheap" burgers (Burger Joint and Zip Burger) came with bland tasting el cheapo burger buns (the kind you get at supermarkets that comes 8 to a pack). All the other burgers came with nicely toasted fancy buns (be it brioche or whatnot). Finally, there was not one bad burger in the bunch. Even my least favorite burger was enjoyable. In twenty years of living in New York, I don’t think there’s ever been such an abundant availability of good burgers. Burgers are in right now and there’s no shortage of good places to eat them.
Here’s a run-down of the six burgers I tried, starting with my least favorite and ending with my favorite of the bunch.