Funny to think that fourteen years ago, this magazine admitted, rather resignedly, that New York was not a great “burger town.” Not like L.A., say, or Houston, or even Oklahoma City. Funnier that while we are now indisputably and unrelentingly a great burger town, all the Underground Gourmet’s ingrate foodie friends say they are sick and tired of burgers. But there are still some unjaded eaters who appreciate a Pat La Frieda patty, and to accommodate them, a fresh new crop of burger shops have sprung up within the past year. Chief among them is the stylish, publike Black Market (110 Ave. A, nr. 7th St.; 212-614-9798), where you can get a cocktail called a Tompkins Square Swizzle or a plate of broiled kale seasoned with Parmesan to go along with the excellent La Frieda–blend house cheeseburger. This six-ounce dynamo has a nice crumbly texture and a good salty flavor, and comes with a pile of first-rate fries for $12.
A few blocks west but still flying slightly below the burger radar is the nine-month-old Mark (33 St. Marks Pl., nr. Second Ave.; 212-677-3132), a lively little burger bar with a crackerjack staff that flips a textbook-perfect two-ounce slider with fried onions and American cheese. They go for $2 a pop, but if you break the house slider-eating record (currently eighteen; standard competitive-eating rules apply), you not only eat for free but also get your name emblazoned in colored chalk on a menu board above the griddle. Speaking of sliders, the juicy little flavor bombs ($3; $3.50 with cheese) at Saint Anselm in Williamsburg (355 Metropolitan Ave., nr. Havemeyer St.; 718-384-5054) are unsurpassed, and it’s no wonder: Owner and New Jersey native Joe Carroll modeled them faithfully after the ones he was raised on at White Manna.
When the U.G. craves something more substantial and is in no mood for squashing slider-eating records, we go to Bill’s Bar and Burger in the meatpacking district (22 Ninth Ave., at 13th St.; 212-414-3003) and fork over $8.50 for the new seven-ounce short-rib-blend model. For sheer beefy flavor, it outdoes even Bill’s much-lauded five-ounce “smashed” burger, but order it on an English muffin, as the de facto house bun is no match for this thing’s lavish juices. At the cubicle-size Fresh-N-Fast (111 E. 23rd St., nr. Park Ave. S.; 646-454-9144), a new In-N-Out knockoff located just a short burger-eater’s waddle away from the Madison Square Park Shake Shack, we like the $5.99 double cheeseburger dressed with nothing more than the house special sauce. Unlike Bill’s bun, F-N-F’s squishy potato variety is a team player that melds quickly with the three-and-a-half-ounce patties and cheese into one delicious, harmonious whole, prompting the eternal question: Is it worth skipping the Shack’s Great Depression–era soup-kitchen line for? Well, not quite, but hope springs eternal: Although the place was deserted and thoroughly lacking in non-U.G. customers the other night, the red-bow-tied counterman insisted we take a vibrating pager just like the ones at Shake Shack, as if, at any moment, he were expecting a mob.
Continuing on our burger-town tour to Queens, the Astor Bake Shop (12-23 Astoria Blvd., at 14th St., Astoria; 718-606-8439) is, for all appearances, a bright and breezy patisserie, but one with hidden depths. Remember Mitchel London’s Burger & Cupcakes concept? This place is kind of like that, but in addition to cupcakes there are tarts, croissants, éclairs, sticky buns, a superb almond-cornmeal cake, and, behind a white subway-tile kitchen partition, a burger-making station. The one to get is the six-ounce Astor burger ($8.75), another La Frieda–brisket-blend patty with chile-infused mayo and all the fixings. And wrapping things up in Crown Heights, there is Dutch Boy Burgers (766 Franklin Ave., nr. St. Johns Pl.; 718-230-0293), a retro-dinerish spot in a onetime Dutch Boy paint shop, where you can get a bulky seven-ounce bacon-blue-cheeseburger ($8.50) and wash it down with a Blue Marble ice-cream shake.