This wasn’t an easy list to make. There were nights we woke up screaming, having dreamed of burgers chasing us along cliffsides, asking why they hadn’t made the cut. Whole days were spent in conference rooms with no food or water and no one going in or out until we came to a consensus. And while some of that might be an exaggeration, you should know that we have eaten a lot of burgers and we are, in fact, burger experts. So here it is: our list of the 23 best burgers in NYC. Trust us when we say that you’ll want to know what every single one of these tastes like.
If you’re a burger purist who thinks toppings are for the weak, Fairfax’s reincarnation of the Bar Sardine burger is the burger that will change your mind. It comes with crispy shoestring potatoes, pickled cucumbers, smoked cheddar, and BBQ mayo, but no one topping overpowers any of the others, and every bite has a balanced all-in-one effect. This is best enjoyed alone at the bar.
We can’t tell you what’s actually on Emily’s burger (without re-reading our review, but that would be cheating). And that’s because you don’t experience the Emmy Burger as ingredients. You experience it as one cohesive unit of human emotion: joy, love, and fear - that nothing else will ever come close to this. There’s no other burger like this in NYC, so if you want to experience it for yourself, get here early - a lot of other people want to eat it too. (And if you really need to know about those ingredients, they are dry-aged beef, onion, melted cheddar, “Emmy sauce,” and a warm pretzel bun.)
The “Hot Mess” from Harlem Shake is our pick for the best smash burger in NYC. We never thought ground beef could get this crispy until we tasted the edges on these patties. And the satisfying caramelization in combination with some of the pickled cherry pepper-bacon relish make for a burger that is wildly better than Shake Shack. Not to mention that Harlem Shake is exactly the kind of business we love to support. The owners do their best to hire from within the community, and donate part of their profits to tons local charities and initiatives, like Harlem Business Alliance, Harlem Children’s Zone, Harlem EatUp!, and so many more.
The team behind one of our favorite butcher shops, The Meat Hook, opened this sister restaurant as a place to show off their meats, and they’re on full display, especially with this burger. It comes simply topped with Tarentaise cheese that is naturally semi-hard but melts beautifully atop a mess of meat, onions, pickles, and mayo. This burger is all about the quality of the meat and the simple accents - falling somewhere in between a smash burger where crispy edges are the star, and a big honker like the Peter Luger hamburger that is unapologetically meaty. Cozy Royale might periodically change up the toppings, like adding shredded lettuce and tomato, but the quality of the meat and the melty Tarentaise remain.
You’ve probably eaten a full dinner here and have the steak sauce in your fridge, but you may still be missing out on one of the key parts of the Peter Luger experience: the burger. It’s only served at lunch, and it’s ideal for people who judge a burger 90% by the meat and 10% by everything else. It’s more than a half-pound of dry-aged beef served with nothing but a slice of raw onion. The meat is good enough to eat by itself with a fork, but you should still add a giant, thick-cut slab of bacon.
When you try the signature burger at this tiny Pakistani place in Bushwick, you’ll think back to a time in your life when you were constantly discovering great new things, like sunsets and scented markers. Instead of mayo or mustard, the burger has spicy mint chutney, and the big patty is somehow lighter than it appears. We could eat several of these in one sitting, and now that we’ve come up with that idea, we probably will.
Chicago’s best burger arrived with about as much fanfare as the royal family at Wimbledon, and while almost any other stack of bread and ground beef would disappoint considering that level of hype, the Au Cheval burger lives up to it. The “single” is actually a double, and the two patties, which are seared on the outside but still juicy inside, are topped with perfect portions of gooey American cheese, mayo, and pickles. It’s very good on its own, but opt to add thick-cut, peppery bacon on top, and you’ll be surprised when the burger doesn’t stop to give you a royal wave.
4 Charles is from the people behind Au Cheval, and the burger here is similarly fantastic. Like at Au Cheval, it has two patties, tons of cheese, plenty of sauce, and a bun that soaks it all up. But while the burgers are pretty much twins, the end results are very different, like the Olsen twins in It Takes Two. At Au Cheval, your burger will likely share the table with a fried bologna sandwich and you’ll be surrounded by people drinking picklebacks and tallboys. At 4 Charles, the burger is cut tableside by a white-gloved server, and it’s often shared as an appetizer before the $99 prime rib arrives. The small West Village space looks like a rich uncle’s cigar room, and it’s nearly impossible to get a reservation before 11pm (not to mention you have to reserve a burger a day in advance if you want it for takeout). But once you actually get to participate, it’s one of the greatest burger experiences in NYC.
Yes, at $36 this burger is ridiculously expensive, but “The Black Label Burger” at Minetta Tavern was one of the first super-luxe burgers in the city. And it’s still one of the best. Maybe it’s the butter-basted patty made from dry-aged ribeye, or the mound of caramelized onions, or the custom Balthazar bun. Or maybe it’s all three.
Saigon Social’s portly burger will likely convince you to abandon your allegiance to smash patties. This Vietnamese restaurant on the LES tops its burger with accessories typically found on bánh mì, like pickled carrots and daikon, pate, a handful of cilantro, and a couple of jalapeño slices. Our favorite thing about their burger is that you can actually taste the quality of the meat, which is made with a combination of short rib and dry-aged rib eye. In case the burger isn’t enough to inspire you to come here, they also make one of our favorite fried chicken sandwiches in the city.
This burger, which is just available in the walk-in-only tavern section of the restaurant, is the Vitruvian Man of burgers. It has a lot going on - a thick patty, smoky bacon, melted cheddar, smoked onion aioli - but the proportions of each are ideal, so you can taste them all without any one flavor overwhelming the others. Even the bacon is cut in a way that allows you to get one slice in every bite, which we’d be willing to bet is how Da Vinci liked his burgers.
L’Artusi has been open for years, but this West Village Italian restaurant only started serving a burger in 2020. To say this thick, peppery burger is covered in taleggio is an understatement. The melted cheese acts somewhat like a funky fondue sauce - which works well with the spicy, pickled chili aioli and firm but juicy heirloom tomato. If you’re a fan of messy burgers, eat this and you’ll start compulsively doodling sketches of this burger on napkins, stray receipts, and maybe even your apartment wall.
The best thing about Virginia’s is the burger. We’re fairly certain the whole thing is basted in several sticks of butter before being topped with hunks of white cheddar and onion marmalade, and we’re fine with it. It’s squat and simple, and you should add bacon to yours. The second best thing about this Alphabet City restaurant is that it’s never too crowded, so come here the next time you feel like eating a really good burger in peace.
The Fulton serves some of the best seafood in the city, it’s located on the water in the Seaport, and there’s even a giant sea monster mural on the wall. And yet despite all of that, you’d still be wise to order the burger here. That’s because the juicy patty topped with fried onions, salty gruyere, and dijon chili mayo (that comes with a side of rich jus for dipping) would be the standout dish if it were on the menu almost anywhere else. The Fulton is definitely a seafood restaurant, but this burger makes it worth visiting even if you don’t want seafood.
Much like the burger at Peter Luger and Cozy Royale, the one at Red Hook Tavern is all about the meat. It’s just one big patty with American cheese and a cross-section of onion on a sesame bun that plays its role perfectly without causing any distractions. The burger is incredibly rich and salty - but we’re pretty sure we could eat several in one sitting. Maybe that’s because the patty is surprisingly light for its size, or maybe it’s because we lack self-restraint. The only thing we don’t like about this burger is that it comes with potato wedges, the least acceptable form of french fry. But we’re willing to take the high road and look past this.
Diner is a classic Williamsburg restaurant that’s located in an old dining car. The nightly-changing menu will be scribbled onto your paper tablecloth by a server with better hair than you, and while anything that person writes down will be fantastic, the best thing here is the one thing that never changes: the burger. It’s a thick but not too-thick piece of meat with sharp cheese, a soft bun, and thick, crispy fries. You could split it with someone, but please don’t.
Only served at lunch and brunch, Upland’s burger tastes like what would happen if the In-N-Out double-double started going to Crossfit, got jacked, and then decided to top itself with avocado and peppers. The whole thing is basically a love letter to California, complete with a tiny state flag at the top of the toothpick that holds it together. And at $26, it’s also a lot less expensive than a flight to LAX.
At some point over the course of history, burgers got unfairly stereotyped as un-fancy food. You could use a lot of this guide as evidence that burgers can be just as fancy as cucumber sandwiches (or whatever finger food royal people currently eat), and perhaps the best example of that is Altro Paradiso’s. Every ingredient is top-notch, from the wagyu beef patty to the toasted brioche bun to the gorgonzola, balsamic caramelized radicchio, and the skewer of caperberry and roasted red pepper on top. And you no longer need to come for lunch or sit at the bar to eat it, so there’s really no excuse for not checking this burger off your list.
This French yakitori restaurant from the people behind Olmsted is known for serving exceptional mashup dishes you won’t find anywhere else, so it should come as no surprise that their burger is one of the more unique ones we’ve seen. Maison Yaki’s double patty wagyu burger comes topped with melted raclette and umami-loaded black hollandaise that slides down the side of the bun like lava rolling down a volcano. The creamy black sauce adds a gooey element to every bite, giving you the same sensation of a runny egg in the form of a thick batter. Overall, the rich sauce is a nice touch, but it’s not the only thing that makes this burger great. The juicy beef is perfectly cooked, the crispy shiitake and cabbage slaw adds a satisfying crunch, and when the whole thing hits your table, it looks like the burger equivalent of a supermodel.
The West Village is almost disturbingly full of bars where you can eat burgers, and The Happiest Hour is another one of these. The double-stacked burger here - which comes covered in melted cheese and special sauce - is exactly what you want to eat while slightly buzzed, and that’s convenient considering this is a place you probably came to drink. That being said, if you’re sober, it’ll make you pretty happy, too.
We know the single vs. double debate comes down to personal burger-eating preferences, but after having both options at Nowon in the East Village, here’s where we stand: you’ll taste every ingredient more prominently in their new medium-rare Pat Lafrieda single-patty burger. By comparison, their double smash patty feels like eating (delicious) gobs of tangy kimchi mayo and American cheese with a side of burger. If you like to taste high-quality steak meat in your burgers, you’ll love Nowon’s thick version.
The bun on this burger isn’t very big, but there’s a huge, loosely-packed ball of beef in there. And that’s what really makes this burger special. Come after a long night out and eat a thick meat sandwich that’ll make your hands smell like burger for days.