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Food: Best Hamburger

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"When I moved to New York almost twenty years ago, I had a burger at Diane's 249 Columbus Avenue; 799-6750," reflects John Madden, the gregarious voice of Fox Sports. "It was one of the first places I ever ate, and I'm still going there." When in town, Madden walks the block and a half from his trophy room at the Dakota for the $7.25 burger, even though the pitchman for Outback Steakhouses could just as easily get a ribeye.

The meal of kings and commentators can be found everywhere, though locating an exceptional burger is as elusive as nailing down a new lease. Once you take staples like Corner Bistro and Odeon out of the equation, where do you go for a high-protein fix?

The Diner (85 Broadway, Brooklyn; 718-486-3077): The eight-ounce patties at this Williamsburg dining car are worth the cab fare from Manhattan. Served with Bermuda onion and sliced tomato on a toasted sourdough bun, the juicy, misshapen burger delights. Co-owner Andrew Tarlow sheds some light on why $6.50 buys so much: "The reason we put the burger on the menu is that I eat them all the time."

The Madison Pub (980 Madison Avenue, near 77th Street; no phone): Opened in 1920, the Madison serves juicy, no-nonsense burgers to a clientele that includes George Steinbrenner and Philip Johnson. A downtown rathskeller among uptown boutiques, the Madison offers $5 cheeseburgers with extra-wide French fries and a pickle. Take your pick of crooners on the jukebox.

Home (20 Cornelia Street; 243-9579): This West Village restaurant touts its homemade ketchup, and for good reason. The ground-sirloin burgers served on toasted sesame buns from Zito's bakery are the perfect accompaniment. The service isn't exactly prompt, but the meal is worth the wait.


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