The Seven Burgers in Boston You Need to Eat Right Now
Boston’s reputation as a formidable seafood destination might have its briny claws dug deep into the national psyche, but insiders know we also make one hell of a great burger. From Michael Scelfo’s sought-after “Secret Burger” with house-made bread and butter pickles and a crispy Cabot cheese tuile to Craigie on Main’s much-lauded Beefburger prepared with bone marrow and dehydrated miso, Boston chefs have a firm grasp on that most quintessential of American dishes. Whether you’re in a bar, a haute haven swimming in small plates, or even a Chinatown bistro, chances are you can find a standout interpretation of that simple meat-plus-bread formula.
Here are seven of our favorite new burgers, all of which came out within the last year, and incorporate everything from tomato jam and Old Bay to steamed dumpling wrappers and bacon spring rolls.
1. River Bar: Grass-Fed Burger
Chef Patrick Gilmartin, and his elevated street food cookery at Somerville’s River Bar, has been one of the more exciting culinary developments in the city. Since opening at Assembly Row last fall, the former Rialto chef has given us tantalizing, Asian-inflected larks like his spaghetti and meatballs prepared with ramen noodles and a riff on the hallowed New England seafood platter with salt and pepper scallops and a Szechuan peppercorn-spiked tartar sauce. Now comes his bulgogi-like take on that American bar favorite: the bacon burger. A ground beef blend is first marinated overnight with pears, onion, soy sauce, and sugar, then given a hard sear on the grill before being nestled between a buttery Stone & Skillet English muffin. Each patty is crowned with a dollop of gochujang mayo and layered with bacon spring rolls, for crunch and an additional hit of umami.
661 Assembly Row, Somerville; 617-616-5561 or river-bar.com.
2. Cafe ArtScience: Skinny Burger
Scientist David Edwards might be changing the way we think about food with his huffable powders, chocolate-scented vapors, and WikiFoods bonbons encased in edible skins, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for the classics at his cutting-edge restaurant/gastronomic think tank in Cambridge. Case in point, executive chef Patrick Campbell’s Skinny Burger, with its tender Martin’s Famous potato roll, gooey American cheese, and medium-well flat patty. An homage to his favorite fast food burgers at White Castle and the Brick House Drive-In in Hooksett, New Hampshire, Campbell takes Savenor’s ground chuck which he sears on a flat top, bastes with rendered beef fat, and steams over shaved onions. The final touch, an Old Bay aioli that he describes as “a wonderful collection of sodium and spices that really compliment all sorts of things.”
650 Kendall St., Cambridge; 857-999-2193 or cafeartscience.com.
3. Sam’s at Louis: Short Rib Burger
When Jason Cheek took over the reign’s at Sam’s at Louis in November, he knew he was in for an uphill battle when it came to ditching the restaurant’s signature black pepper burger. A favorite of owner Drew Parsons, and a staple since the waterfront destination opened four years ago, Cheek saw the challenge as his first real proving grounds. The chef tested over 20 different ground beef blends before settling on a mixture of short rib, brisket, and rib eye, which he says “contains just enough fat to where it has that iron-y, bloody flavor to it—not that bland, one-note flavor you get at most places.” He tops each six-ounce patty with a thick slab of Grafton cheddar, crisp baby romaine, Duke’s mayonnaise from Virginia, and a house aioli made with fried garlic, fresh parsley, Espelette pepper, lemon juice, and cracked black pepper.
60 Northern Ave., Boston; 617-295-0191 or samsatlouis.com.
4. Centre Street Cafe: Maine Grind Burger
Once a quaint brunch hub, the ownership group behind Tres Gatos (David Doyle, Mari Perez-Alers, and wine director Keith Harmon), along with executive chef Brian Rae (an alum of Jody Adams’ Rialto), have transformed this humble Jamaica Plain eatery into one of the best Mediterranean spots in the city. Centre Street Cafe’s selection of pastas and rustic small plates are all phenomenal, but Rae knew that he couldn’t disappoint with the restaurant’s former neighborhood specialty. Enter a brunch menu with offerings like doughnuts, a mortadella eggs benedict, and this Italian-themed burger: a ground beef patty sourced from The Maine Grind consortium, provolone, fresh herb aioli, and a crisped disc of La Quercia pancetta, all on a house-baked olive oil brioche bun.
669A Centre St. Jamaica Plain; 617-524-9217 or centrestreetcafejp.com.
5. Shojo: Big Mac Mantou
Chef Mark O’Leary, ye of the popular Future of Junk Food pop-up series, has brought his trademark sense of whimsy and puckish innovation to his new digs in Chinatown with items like “Drunk-ass” shrimp noodles, sarsaparilla-glazed pastrami tucked into fluffy bao buns, and this spin on McDonald’s most famous culinary contribution, the Big Mac. O’Leary takes a traditional steamed Chinese mantou and turns it on its head with a filling of American cheese and ground beef. On top goes a sprinkling of shredded bok choy and sesame seeds. And to capture the essence of that gooey, apricot-hued “secret sauce,” O’Leary combines house-made kimchee, mayo, pickled shallot, garlic, and gochujang chili paste.
9 Tyler St., Boston; 617-423-7888 or shojoboston.com.
6. Merrill & Co.: The Kitchen Sink Burger
When JM Curley chef Chris Bauers was recently brought in to help reinvent its sister concept in the South End, the first thing he addressed was its slider-esque bacon jam burger. “We basically scrapped the whole thing and went big,” Bauers says. Not only does Merrill & Co.’s new Kitchen Sink burger patty (a custom blend of chuck, shank and brisket) eclipse its predecessor, Bauers stuffed its house-baked yeast roll with a towering stack of condiments: cheddar, bacon, iceberg lettuce, house-made tomato jam, fried and caramelized onions, and a tangy Thousand Island-based secret sauce. “I wanted to borrow the heart of the Curley burger and then go a completely opposite direction.” Bauers says. “We focused on hitting notes of sweet, salty, crunchy, and sticky—its the kind of burger that should be running down your elbows with every bite.”
1 Appleton St., Boston; 617-728-0728 or merrillandcoboston.com.
7. Roxy’s Grilled Cheese: Justin’s Burger
Green Muenster melts, the fontina-injected Mighty Rib, and its array of other gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches might dominate the menu on Roxy’s fleet of food trucks, but at its debut brick and mortar (look for two more locations to open in 2015), burgers are the real star. Each West Coast-style patty, sourced from Kinnealey Meats in Milton, is seared on a flat top and topped with savory ingredients like truffle mayo, sautéed mushrooms, and guacamole. For our money though, you can’t miss out on the Justin’s Burger, which is heaped with a smoky, house-made pimento cheese spread, Grillo’s Pickles, and caramelized onions, all situated between Portuguese sweet rolls from Carmen’s Bakery in New Bedford.
485 Cambridge St., Allston; roxysgrilledcheese.com.