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 rankings were decided upon. 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 very first list of the 20 best burgers in NYC. Trust us when we say that you’ll want to know what every single one of these tastes like.
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. And if you really need to know about those ingredients? Dry-aged beef, onion, melted cheddar, “Emmy sauce,” and a warm pretzel bun. There is no other burger like this in NYC, and if you want to experience it for yourself, get here early. It sells out.
There are two burgers on the menu here, but go for the classic. It’s the burger ideal, like an emoji you can eat - two patties separated by cheese, an even distribution of pickles, and a sesame bun that’s just small enough to ensure that your last bite will never be all bun. The proportions are perfect, and the beef is top-notch. (They get it from White Gold.) You may not realize it, but this is what you’ve been searching for ever since you were hanging out in the womb and you first overheard someone explaining the concept of a burger.
Shake Shack is fast food, but, for what it is, the ShackBurger is just about perfect. Thin patty with crispy edges, toasted potato bun, high-quality lettuce and tomato - this is food you want to eat in a park or on your couch or in a bathroom at work so no one asks you for a bite. Factor in the price and convenience, and you have an invention on par with the t-shirt and rubber tires.
Yes, this burger is ridiculously expensive, but this isn’t a list of the most morally defensible foods in NYC. 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.
Le Big Matt Burger at Emmy Squared is the fraternal twin to the Emmy Burger at Emily. It has two thinner patties instead of one big one, American cheese instead of cheddar, pickles, and spicy sauce - all on that insanely good pretzel bun you only find at the Emily establishments, plus a heap of waffle fries. This is intended to resemble a fast food burger, but if that’s the case, we’ve spent our lives eating at the wrong fast food establishments.
This is the burger you’d learn to make at home if you weren’t so busy trying to build a Pinterest board that people cared about. It has a good squishy bun, your standard classic toppings, and a perfect-sized patty (big, but not messy). Get one at the original Midtown location, and you can experience the char that really sets this thing apart.
Diner is a classic Williamsburg restaurant (located in an old dining car) serving a nightly-changing menu that will be scribbled onto your paper tablecloth by a server with better hair than you. The adventurous food here is fantastic, but the best thing at Diner 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.
Au Cheval makes the best burger in Chicago, and one of the best in the country. As of 2017, the same people are making a similar burger in NYC at 4 Charles Prime Rib in the West Village. But don’t worry about Chicago - this two-patty burger is incredible even without any context. There are two patties, tons of cheese, a bunch of sauce, and a bun that soaks it all up. You also get to eat it in a place that looks like a rich uncle’s cigar room.
The Spotted Pig’s burger fits in the “fancy burger” category, but it’s different than any of the others. This thing looks like an extra-large hockey puck, it’s topped with a heavy dose of roquefort cheese, and comes with a sea of shoestring fries. If you haven’t eaten this burger since 2009, you should - though know that at $26 it costs $9 more than it did then.
The Lure Burger is a big, juicy thing with fresh shredded lettuce and tomato, pickles, drippy American cheese, and special sauce. There are also onion rings on top, because America. The onion and bacon-jammed topped Bash Burger is excellent as well, and since it’s important to diversify your palate, we suggest getting them both. Both are available at Lure’s burger-centric restaurant Burger & Barrel up the block, but eating in the subterranean yacht-in-the-middle-of-Soho that is Lure is more fun.
The burger here comes with watercress, cornichons, a brie-like cheese, and a side of au poivre sauce. And if all that sounds too French for you, you need to get over it. This thing is super meaty-flavored, and there’s a char on it that can only come from a kitchen that’s been in place for a long long time. Raoul’s only does 12 of these burgers a night (and only at the bar), but there are unlimited quantities at brunch. So if you want one of these peppery things with duck fat fries, come then.
If you are a burger purist who thinks toppings are for the weak, Bar Sardine’s Fedora Burger is the burger that will change your mind. A potato bun with smoked cheddar, lots of pickled cucumbers, shoestring potatoes, and a nicely-charred patty all come together for the crunchy-fresh-rich-all-in-one-bite effect. Best enjoyed alone at the bar - there won’t be room for two of you anyway.
To eat the burger at this little Alphabet City restaurant, you’re going to have to sit at the bar. But forsaking the comfort of a table is absolutely worth it to eat the Virginia’s burger. We’re fairly certain the whole thing is basted with several sticks of butter before being topped with cheddar and onion marmalade. Forsaking the comfort of your fine cardiovascular health here is going to be your call.
Only served at lunch and brunch, Upland’s burger is like if the In-N-Out double-double started going to Crossfit, got jacked, and then decided it should be a little healthier and topped 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. At $21, it might not be cheap, but it’s also a lot less expensive than a flight to LAX.
Several classic burger joints are on this list, but none are as classic as the Upper East Side JG Melon. You’ll feel like a character in Catcher In The Rye or something when you eat your burger off the green checkered tables here, but it’s not just about the environment. The burger itself really is great. Much like the ideal slice of late night NYC pizza or hungover Sunday morning bagel, a JG burger somehow always tastes even better than you’d expect. The new downtown location is cool, but the uptown original is the one that has to make the list.
Houseman’s burger is what you’d get if a Shake Shack burger mated with a fancy steakhouse burger. Burgers having sex is weird to think about, but don’t worry too much about it and just eat this thing. There are two very thin charred patties and a potato bun, plus caramelized onions and cheese, and the result is a thing of very simple beauty. There are plenty of other things to eat at this nice downtown neighborhood restaurant, but not getting the burger would be a crime.
If we were giving out individual awards to every burger on this list, James’ would be Best Burger That You Don’t Expect To Be Such A Good Burger. It’s the sleeper hit at this charming, upscale little neighborhood spot in Prospect Heights that serves food like sauteed scallops and risotto. Come for their weekly Burger Night (all night on Mondays), when they also do a lamb version and a “Chef’s choice” variation.
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. That and the fact that Corner Bistro is classic NYC establishment that’s open until 4am every night. Come after a long night out and eat a thick meat sandwich that’ll make your hands smell like burger for days.
Allswell has admittedly become kind of a weird place. It’s in the thick of the tourist stretch of Bedford Ave., and the crowd is typically a mix of French people with maps, drunk Manhattan people who are going to Output later, and local people who actually eat here regularly. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is still a top-tier burger: flavorful meat, sharp cheddar cheese, a fresh sesame bun, and excellent fries. This is the kind of burger that’s easy to get emotionally attached to. Hypothetically.
The West Village is almost disturbingly full of cool bars in which to eat burgers, so you know we didn’t just slip this one on at the end for some geographic diversity. This double-stacked meat sandwich covered in melty cheese and special sauce is truly deserving of the honor. It’s exactly what you’d want to eat while slightly buzzed, which is perfect considering this place is mostly a trendy bar with some tables in the back. That being said, if you’re sober it’ll still make you pretty happy too.