Chips burger showdown, part I


March 24, 2006, midnight | By Alex Hyder Simon Kanter | 15 years, 8 months ago

The hunt for the D.C. area's best burger


In this parlous era of terrorism and bird flu, of lobbying scandals and Donald Trump's toupee, there still remains one last vestige of hope: the hamburger. Nothing could be purer, more quintessentially American, than a thick slab of beef wedged between loads of fixins and a toasted bun.

Although it's better known for other things, namely corruption, politics and corrupt politics, the D.C. area is also home to some great hamburgers. Having spent the whole of our lives inside the Beltway, we set out, come hell or high cholesterol, to find the best burger in the metro area. In a poorly planned, under-financed jaunt, we sampled the finest offerings of six of the area's most reputable establishments on a Saturday afternoon. After five hours, six burgers, a failed parallel parking attempt and three arrests we'd rather not talk about, we are prepared to hand down judgment on the first six burger joints. In addition to the overall ratings for each restaurant, a complete categorical ratings table can be found at the end of the story.

McDonalds, Four Corners - 19.5 out of 40

As any Blazer enrolled in a science class knows, every experiment needs a control group. We decided that McDonalds, with its national reputation, would be a good standard against which all other burgers could be compared. Just about anything, we surmised, could beat the offerings of this not-so-humble chain. That said, we were nonetheless surprised by the taste of the house specialty, the Big Mac. It was good, but could be more aptly named the McSponge, due to its soft, decidedly un-burgerlike texture. Although the "special sauce" (hmm…) has an agreeable taste, it tends to overpower the beef — if it can be called that.

The establishment's saving graces are twofold: its low prices (the Big Mac costs $2.49 and includes the potential for even better deals, known in the unique McVernacular as "Extra Value Meals") and its wide selection of choice condiments. The ketchup is fancy and the barbecue sauce, as our chauffeur and partner in crime Terence McPherson put it, "artfully combines the key elements of barbecue and sauce to create a unique flavor sensation."

NY Manhattan Deli, Four Corners - 32.25 out of 40

Right across the street from les arcs d'or in Four Corners lies the NY Manhattan Deli. Although the edifice itself is no more than a humble shack, the taste offered within is anything but diminutive. While pretty much anything on the menu here is savory, sumptuous, and worth every penny, we decided to go for the biggest burger in the house. Fittingly named the King Kong, the burger was so true to its name that it had to be served in two parts on a sub roll. A toasted sub roll. With melted provolone. And ham. Think about it for a second. Feel the water accumulating in your mouth. Taste the salty flavors mingling with the crisp, cool lettuce and tomatoes and unadulterated ground beef. Then think about everything the Big Mac isn't. All this could be yours for a mere $6 and a three-minute walk from Blair.

Tastee Diner, Silver Spring - 25 out of 40

One look at its gleaming façade, bright neon sign and retro interior makes it immediately apparent why the Tastee has been a Silver Spring landmark for over seventy years. One meal inside, however, will leave one wondering how the establishment has managed to stay in business that long. The Tastee Diner does offer beautiful surrounding reminiscent of the 1950s, replete with coat racks, jukeboxes that supposedly play everything from Frank Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon" to R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet" and photos of historic Silver Spring. It's perfect for those who want to dine in a coruscating castle of chrome, as long as you're not put off by the overpowering scent of maple syrup that seems to pervade the building. Or service that's as slow as…well, maple syrup. Or curmudgeonly waitresses who probably came with the original diner and reek of…maple syrup. And scream at you.

Surprisingly free of the taste of maple syrup, the Tastee Burger itself ain't that bad. Ain't that good either. Although it is well-presented and has a decent taste, thanks to the hand-made patties and the dollop of thousand island dressing slathered atop the lettuce, it is also unbelievably small for the price and does not come with fries.

Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries, DC - 20 out of 40

For all the hype about the Five Guys franchise, this, located near Howard University in the District, was disappointing, to put it mildly. We would later find out that the burger wasn't bad, but it was the wait — the longest all day — that killed us. Not to mention the two arrests taking place outside which quite nearly killed us. Seriously, this place puts the stab in dining establishment. The interior that couldn't help but suggest a 1950s bathroom—not exactly the kind of place you'd want to wait a long time for a foil-wrapped burger. And if the restaurant looks like a bathroom, then the bathroom looks like—well, you don't want to know what the bathroom looks like. Trust us.

The burger itself was not too bad. Two enormous hand-formed slabs of beef, served with a heaping helping of lettuce, tomatoes, grilled onions and nearly any other imaginable ingredient, can be yours for well under four dollars. For under a dollar more, you can have your juicy burger topped with cheddar and bacon. Alas, the foil-wrapped method of serving led to a very messy meal and the soggy, non-toasted bun was less than appetizing.

Clyde's, DC - 36.25 out of 40

Clyde's of Gallery Place, the newest location in the small, eclectic DC area chain, has a way of amazing customers even before the meal arrives. The commodious, opulent interior is well decorated with handsome hardwood paneling, tasteful antiques and decorative plants to lend the entire restaurant the aura of an upscale Victorian saloon—the kind of place that men with top hats and monocles called "the club." At any given time, a crowd of cheerful people from all walks of life can be found mingling within these elegant, refined environs, as can a friendly, engaging wait staff. As McPherson put it, "it's a great place to chill."

The Gallery Place burger, a half-pound monolith of choice beef, served with avocado and fries, is a likewise a sight to behold. Yet even the most detailed superficial examination is no preparation for the veritable deluge of mouth-watering flavor that defines this house specialty. Again, McPherson was enamored of the sauce—a flavorful Chipotle blend with a kick that melds seamlessly with a half-pound of perfectly cooked beef, topped with caramelized onions and Swiss cheese. Although the price was a tad steep at $8.50, the quality of the surroundings and service—not to mention the food—make a burger at Clyde's more than worth every penny. We even left a tip.

Quarry House Tavern, Silver Spring - 33 out of 40

Good times and better burgers abound in this underground tavern. It's not run by the mafia or a venue for illegal gambling; it's quite literally subterranean, marked at street level only by a green awning over a stairwell. Quiet and cozy, this authentic prohibition-era barroom and restaurant has a great mixture of atmosphere and convenience. The burgers are gigantic, the service talkative and friendly and the mood relaxed. The décor is also unique; a fully stocked jukebox graces the back room and vintage posters line the walls while a boar's head presides over the main dining room. The uneven floors and ceilings, the low lighting and the arbitrary trapdoors in the walls enhance the tranquil atmosphere to bring out the traces of the original speakeasy vibe that have lingered over the decades.

The burger, though relatively simple compared to past offerings, still manages to include everything a burger should have and nothing it shouldn't. The weighty patty is expertly hand-formed and cooked with choice organic ingredients, including fresh beef and a well-toasted bun. The perfect texture and big-burger taste are potent; so much so, in fact, that they tend to overshadow the taste of the bacon and cheddar cheese that comes with the fittingly named bacon cheeseburger. Probably the biggest plus to this meal is the complimentary side of crispy, well-seasoned homemade tater tots that surpass even those elementary school lunches. Even better, this whole package comes at a mere $6.85 — perfect for the burger lover on a budget.

The Results


Taste

Appearance

Value

Satisfaction

Total Rating

McDonalds
4.5

3.5

8

3.5

19.5

NY Manhattan
7.75

8

9.5

7

32.25

Tastee Diner
6.5

6

5.5

7

25

Five Guys
7

2.5

9.5

1

20

Clyde's
8.75

9

8.5

10

36.25

Quarry House
8.25

8.25

8

8.5

33


Guide to table: Ratings are on a scale from 0 to 10, where 10 is the best. "Taste" refers to the burger's taste, texture and effect on the palate. "Appearance" refers to the manner in which the burger is served and how appetizing it seems based upon a cursory examination. "Value" refers to perceived value for price paid, and is a measure of whether or not the burger is worth the cost. "Satisfaction" refers to other elements, such as the quality of service, wait times, cleanliness and the appearance of the restaurant. Values in table are averages of the authors' individual ratings.

Check back soon for more burger reviews as we continue in the relentless pursuit of the Washington area's best burger. The authors welcome your suggestions for additional burger joints to review.




Alex Hyder. Hyder, as he is affectionately (or, as is often the case, not-so affectionately) known, is thoroughly enthused about his position on SCO. A junior in Blair's Magnet Program, he is too lazy to write a more extensive bio but nonetheless finds the energy to write … More »

Simon Kanter. Simon "The Food Guy" Kanter is the silliest person you will ever meet. Though his true joy in life is posting recipes, Simon finds time to spend patting himself on the back for his witty remarks, breeding Trogdors, stealing markers, staplers and other convenient appliances, … More »

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