Even if you don't have publicists flooding your inbox with reminders (Shelf-stable marinades for beach cookouts! Meaty salads designed for summer!), you've probably noticed that grilling season has begun. These are the months for heating up pineapple wedges and asparagus spears under the stars. But it's not all jolly on the back deck: The annual re-emergence of Webers and Big Green Eggs means the rejoinder "I can get a better burger at my house," is likely to be uttered more frequently, and with more conviction.
But Seattle is home to a number of restaurants turning out burgers that few amateur grillers can hope of replicating. Here, our picks for the very best burgers in the city, with explanatory comments written by Voracious contributors and compiled by Erin Thompson. The picks are as orderly as ashes beneath a grill grate: The number four burger on our list isn't necessarily any better than the number 10 burger, for example. The only exception is the top finisher, which you'll find in the very first slot. Happy summer.
In the Lab's tiny space on South Lake Union, the chalkboard menu crowds your vision with a preponderance of options-burger type, sauce, cheese, sides, and shakes-often inducing an overstimulated pause in one's decision-making abilities. The burgers spill over themselves, oozing melted cheese and one of a number of house sauces. Ranging from quarter-pound beef patties to half-pounders of dork (duck and pork), the burger options also include a house-made bean patty; condiments run the gamut from a thousand island-style sauce familiar to burger lovers everywhere to more refined options like truffle aioli. To try all the possible burger permutations seems like a mathematical impossibility, except for the very, very dedicated.
Tom Douglas' South Lake Union outpost is getting a lot of talk for its multi-flavored hearth-roasted soft pretzels, but it turns out Brave Horse's burger is worth some buzz as well. There are two other patty options--a vegan-friendly black bean and green chile, plus a grilled turkey breast--but true burger connoisseurs will have to go for the classic Painted Hills ground chuck. This juicy piece of meat comes sandwiched between Douglas' soft and chewy Dahlia Bakery bun and simply topped with lettuce and dill pickle (if you wish, you can get more adventurous with melted cheese, caramelized sweet onions, pickled peppers, mushrooms, or a fried egg for a couple bucks more) and a generous amount of Brave Horse's deliciously sweet smoky sauce.
As you're standing in line, debating between a root beer float or a chocolate shake, look on in awe as the workers fold compact cheeseburgers in orange wax paper at a lightning-fast pace. Dick's iconic burgers should always be accompanied by the hot, greasy, salty fries, which are hand cut from real potatoes (none of your freeze-dried McDonald's carbohydrates here). Wallingford's outlet is the original, but the food's identical on Broadway, Crown Hill, Lake City, lower Queen Anne and most recently Edmonds.
7. Katsu Burger
Not only is the food at this 24-seat Georgetown joint exceptionally good (and priced to please the most tightfisted diners), but the namesake sandwich has a stronger claim to quintessential Seattle status than just about any dish that isn't teriyaki or a hot dog smeared with cream cheese. Topped with pineapple and wasabi mayonnaise or jalapenos and Sriracha sauce, Katsu's working-class burgers are made with hormone-free beef, fresh vegetables, and a cross-Pacific wink. The flagship burger at Katsu is the Tokyo Classic, which becomes a Tokyo Tower with the addition of an extra beef patty and two slices of American cheese, a flavor splurge that's regrettably ordered so infrequently that line cooks follow the sandwich from the kitchen to the dining room so they can watch it get eaten.
The cornerstone of the Tom Douglas restaurant empire, the Palace Kitchen is jam-packed every night. Located under the monorail, the bar is the beating heart at the center of the space, and is thumping from the minute happy hour begins (4:30 p.m. on weeknights). The menu is seasonal, but includes several year-round favorites. Yet what puts Palace Kitchen over the top for locals and tourists alike is the Palace Burger Royale. This half-pound patty of Oregon-raised beef is grilled to order, topped with your choice of cheese and served on a soft, warm bun from Douglas' Dahlia Bakery, located around the corner. Served on a cast-iron platter, the burger comes with a monster mound of thin, crispy fries and a "salad" of toppings you can add to your burger: lettuce, onions, pickles, and tomatoes (when they're in season).
Bales of bacon. That's the sight and smell that stays with you after a visit to Red Mill. So many sandwiches come topped with bacon that the kitchen fries the stuff by the basketful. And there it sits on a counter, visible from the line leading to the register, glistening with grease like some edible monolith erected to appease the God of obesity. When true gluttony calls, order a double bacon deluxe with cheese: a half-pound of beef topped with thick strips of black-pepper bacon, a thick slice of Tillamook cheddar, and a brilliantly green lettuce leaf that stands out like a vegetarian in a tribe of cannibals. Add a side of onion rings and wash it all down with a milkshake. Then sit back and listen closely before you nod off into a saturated fat- and calorie-induced coma, because that sound you hear is your arteries hardening. (Or is it the bacon sizzling?)
Skillet is undoubtedly Seattle's best restaurant on wheels, attracting a cult following of neighborhood foodies. (They also operate a proper diner in a permanent location on Union in Capitol Hill). On the gourmet end, there's really no better burger around than their $11 offering, touting grass-fed beef they grind and salt-cure themselves, arugula, and the infamous bacon jam.
If we're going to eat cheap burgers in the 'burbs, we're heading to Smokey's Char-Broiled in Burien. Smokey's has all the ambiance of a prison cell, but its burgers are good enough to be last-meal-worthy. Their name is accurate--the burgers are indeed made to order on a charcoal grill, creating that smoky flavor that keeps the customers coming back for more. For those who like their burgers simple--some vegetables and mayo, plus cheese and bacon if you want it--Smokey's is the place, with the added incentive that they start at a scanty $2.75.
Zippy's has secured its fiercely loyal following simply by making burgers better than everyone else around. The kitchen hand-grinds its meat every day, because hand-ground meat makes for a burger that holds together nicely in a patty and crumbles slightly when bitten. It mounts them on good rolls and dresses them smartly and simply with red onions, chopped iceberg lettuce (so much better than a whole leaf, which wilts the minute it touches the hot meat), pickles, big slices of tomato, and a "secret sauce" which is just Thousand Island dressing and chopped pickles. And the cheese selection is smart: medium Cheddar, smoked Cheddar, Swiss, American, or Monterey Jack.
There are deluxe steakhouse burgers, with pound-heavy patties and non-traditional toppings like alfalfa sprouts or foie gras, and then there are the simple, old-fashioned burgers that bring you back to your childhood, sitting at a picnic table while Dad stands in front of the grill. Uneeda Burger's Classic falls squarely into the latter category, with its quarter-pound of medium-rare beef, Romaine lettuce, tomato, pickle, cheddar, and, for some extra flair, Uneeda's horseradish-based special sauce, a kicky little concoction your mom might have whipped up in the kitchen.
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