The $10-or-Less Harvard Square Burger Index
Just how many burgers can a one-quarter-square-mile neighborhood support? With the January opening of Shake Shack in the former Om space, the New York–based juggernaut is banking on at least one more. With this in mind, we downed 10 burgers in the neighborhood that ring in at 10 bucks or less, evaluating them on a scale of one to five stars.
* Includes fries or chips
Double cheeseburger, $6.75
What You Get: Toasted house-baked potato bun, griddled house-ground quarter-pound patty, roasted-red-pepper-based house sauce, sharp cheddar cheese, tomato, iceberg lettuce.
What We Thought: The smooth sauce clung appealingly to the shredded iceberg, achieving an optimal creamy/crunchy balance, and the seasoning on the patty—whether in single or double form—was flawless. But it was the bun, not the beef, that took this one over the top: soft, airy, almost popover-like, anchored by a butter-crisped underside.
What You Get: Toasted potato bun, griddled Angus-beef quarter-pound patty, Russian dressing–style “ShackSauce,” American cheese, tomato, green-leaf lettuce.
What We Thought: There’s a reason Danny Meyer’s cult-favorite chain is, in fact, a cult favorite: consistently gorgeous (read: Instagram-ready) burgers, with the flavor—a smoky patty with a caramelized crust and sweet-tart-spiced sauce—and proportional structure to back it up.
The Big Tasty, $5.25
What You Get: Toasted sesame-seed bun, grass-fed (grain-finished) third-pound patty, mayo-based “Tasty” sauce, American cheese, tomato, green-leaf lettuce, chopped pickle, diced onion, ketchup.
What We Thought: The beefy, sturdy patty was cooked to a perfect medium. Lots of toppings made for balanced flavors but a messy burger—and the lower half of the bun wasn’t quite up to the task of keeping it all together.
THE BOAT HOUSE
What You Get: Toasted house-baked brioche roll, grilled half-pound patty, tomato, romaine lettuce.
What We Thought: The brioche roll held up surprisingly well to the thick, nicely grill-charred patty—which, on its own, was pretty flavorless and under-seasoned. A generous shmear of ketchup pushed it back into hearty, satisfying territory.
Double cheeseburger, $5.89*
What You Get: Untoasted sesame-seed bun, two griddled quarter-pound patties of Angus beef, American cheese, tomato, chopped iceberg lettuce, pickles.
What We Thought: While no one element stood out in this throwback joint’s signature, it hit all the crucial notes equally well: squishy bun, seasoned medium patties, melted cheese, and an ample layer of produce to balance it out.
Park patty melt, $10*
What You Get: Toasted rye bread, thin beef patty, house Russian dressing, melted American cheese, Cholula-spiked onions.
What We Thought: A thoughtful, assertive array of elements got mired down in too much salt and grease; tartness and freshness via a dose of kraut or pickles would have been a key game-changer.
MR. BARTLEY’S GOURMET BURGERS
Cheddar cheeseburger, $7.10*
What You Get: Toasted sesame-seed bun, 7-ounce grilled chuck patty, cheddar cheese, tomato, romaine lettuce.
What We Thought: The neighborhood icon that tourists line up for skewed closer to meh than memorable. A waxy cloak of cheese, too-dry bun, and overall blandness undermined what was otherwise a supremely juicy, perfectly cooked pub burger.
Cousin Oliver, $5.99
What You Get: Grilled wheat–sesame seed roll, 4.5-ounce grilled chuck patty, tomato, romaine lettuce, house pickles, red onion.
What We Thought: There was a smoky char on both bun and patty, and the pickles were deliciously spiced; it was the ruthlessly well-done patty and oversize, bitter-tasting roll that held this one back.
Harvard’s “Classic” burger, $9.99*
What You Get: Brioche roll, half-pound grilled patty, tomato, romaine lettuce, pickles.
What We Thought: The patty boasted a salty (good) crust, but was overgrilled and rubbery; the sweet brioche roll broke apart easily. Out-of-season tomato slices are a given this time of year, but these bordered on translucent.
Double hamburger, $7.50*
What You Get: European-style deli roll, two quarter-pound patties, cheddar cheese (50 cents extra), tomato, romaine lettuce, pickles.
What We Thought: Thin, pallid, overcooked patties tasted like, well, unseasoned ground beef. Fresh lettuce and tomato helped matters, but a generic, barely toasted bun did not.