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 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. 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.)
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.
Au Cheval makes the best burger in Chicago, and one of the best in the country. The same people are making a similar burger at 4 Charles Prime Rib in the West Village. It has 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 only catch? You’ll never be able to get a table at 4 Charles before 11pm. But it’s all part of one of the greatest burger experiences in NYC.
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. 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.
Yes, at $33 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.
You’ve eaten a full dinner here and you 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.
If you’re a burger purist who thinks toppings are for the weak, Bar Sardine’s Fedora 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 - there won’t be room for two of you, anyway.
Once upon a time, the burger at this little Alphabet City restaurant was only available if you sat at the bar. But now you don’t have to forsake the comfort of a table 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.
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 one. 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. You have plenty of other options at this nice downtown neighborhood restaurant, but not getting the burger would be a crime.
Shake Shack is fast food, but for what it is, the ShackBurger is just about perfect. A 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.
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 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’s not exactly cheap, but it’s also a lot less expensive than a flight to LAX.
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. It might not look all that unique, but instead of mayo or mustard, it has spicy mint chutney, and the big patty is somehow lighter than it looks. We could eat several of these in one sitting, and now that we’ve come up with that idea, we probably will.
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 also serves things 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.
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), but perhaps the best example is Cafe Altro Paradiso’s. Every ingredient is elevated, from the wagyu beef patty to the brioche bun to the Gorgonzola and balsamic caramelized radicchio 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.
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 it still serves 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.
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.
Several classic burger joints are on this list, but none is as classic as the Upper East Side J.G. Melon. You’ll feel like a character in The 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 J.G. 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.
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.
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 you can eat it until 4am every day. Come after a long night out and eat a thick meat sandwich that’ll make your hands smell like burger for days.
If this list were judged like the Westminster Dog Show, then one of the categories would be fast-food-style burgers, and that’s where David’s Cafe would fit in. Sure, there are other fast-food-style burgers we like a bit better, but this is still the 20th best burger in town. Three things make it stand out: the patties (which are charred on the outside and juicy on the inside), the sesame bun (slightly burnt underneath and soft on top), and the nicely spiced special sauce. They’re so confident you’re going to want more of that sauce that they even give you an extra little bowl of it on the side - and they’re not wrong.