Found: NYC’s Best Burger

Battle of the Burger 2014 - We tried 'em all!

“C’mon,” said my editor. “We’re going to the Battle of the Burger next week.”

“What is that.” I said, without a question mark. “What are those words you just said to my face.”

“It’s a contest where the best burger restaurants in New York City face off to see who’s got the best burger in the five boroughs. I need someone to come with me to taste a few and give their take, and after looking at my roster of writers, you’re the only one-”

“I’m the only one who’s local?”

“You’re the one with the most stomach-to-body ratio, so I figured you’d be a good pick.”

I was pretty sure he just called me “fat” in a very technical way, but I wasn’t about to turn down free burgers.

“Oh, and Brian?” said my editor.


“Don’t eat 15 hamburgers.”

“Loud and clear, Vladimir Putin.”


The Battle of the Burger is every bit as magnificent and American as you might expect. There were lovely people too skinny to be eating that many burgers, oodles of Amstel Light (they were co-sponsors), and stall after stall after stall of free burgers.

My fervor for this event was similar to, like, when I was six and got a Voltron for Christmas. I tore into these stalls rabid. I was only sort of hungry, y’see, but my brain was pumping so much dopamine in my head that I just needed to eat everything I could before they kicked me out for making a scene.

In chronological order, here are the burgers I tried, as well as my notes about them (as well as my attempts to decipher what I wrote back then):

Round 1 – Dram Shop, Jeepney, NYC 5-Napkin Burger, Eats on Lex, Pork Slope

Dram Shop

What I wrote:
Toasty bun. Mustard plays a big part. Medium. Double pattie. Ball game burger.
What I meant:
Based on this write-up, it sure seems that I interpreted this as a pretty standard example of a burger, which is to say neither bad, nor worth mind-blowing. I should note that I’m not usually a fan of mustard on burgers. Still, you could do worse.

We came here to kick ass and chew burger. And we were all out of ass. Wait, hold on, that didn't sound right...

We came here to kick ass and chew burger. And we were all out of ass. Wait, hold on, that didn’t sound right…

Jeepney NYC

What I wrote:
Like banh mi. Banana ketchup. Points for going off script. Carrots. Filipino. Good bun.
What I meant:
Jeepney was clear and away my favorite burger of the bunch. Not only did they eschew the typical lettuce-tomato-onion-ketchup formula, opting instead for what I remember as a nice, crisp Asian slaw and a ketchup that was deceptively savory, but the bun was out of this world. Jeepney won this year’s contest, as well they should have. Although I can tell you that my editor and I spent the rest of the evening wondering if we liked this best because it was the best, or because it was the second burger we tried. Evidently it was the former.

5-Napkin Burger

What I wrote:
Bloody. Like meatloaf. Caramelized onions. Standard.
What I meant:
I have to believe that I meant “this is a rare burger, and it has the flavor and consistency of a meatloaf” and not “bloody like meatloaf” because that simile doesn’t make any sense! Anyway. Sounds like I enjoyed this burger but wasn’t overwhelmed at the originality.

Everyone's first round pick (Photo: Thinkstock)
RELATED: Draft Day? No, Draught Day!

Eats on Lex

What I wrote:
Bacon-y flavor. Pickle a bit of a distraction.
What I meant:
That I’m a f****** snob. Who the hell do I think I am, noted sandwich critic Burgers McGee? Anyway. This restaurant put a pickle on top of their burger and for some reason it seems that I took exception to this. I’m sure it was fine.

Pork Slope

What I wrote:
Mustardy. good. Standard.
What I meant:
This probably had lettuce and tomato. Also, that I’m already running out of clever notes to describe a burger and I’m on #5.

Round 2: Teddy’s, Kettle Black, Whitehall, Nurnberger, Perla,

I blew through the first round way too quickly. But, having seen episodes of Man vs. Food I know that you need to fill your belly before your brain figures out there’s not enough room. Like a true American hero, back into the fray I went.


What I wrote:
Li’l guy. three different angs (sic). Meh. Fine.
What I meant:
I don’t know! Was I having a stroke? What’s an ang? [Editor’s note: Brian is probably noting that this was the first burger to arrive in beef, chicken, or veggie. We opted for beef to keep our judgments standardized]

Kettle Black

What I wrote:
Dipping sauce! Garlic Texas toast. In the way. Cumbersome. Garlicky. Not well-balanced.
What I meant:
Kettle Black’s burger looked really cool and had me excited. It was served on Texas toast, along with some au jus for dipping. But, there was wayyy too much bread for the meat to fend off by itself. And the bread was thick enough that it made dipping an issue. Still a cool idea. Points for originality. But I didn’t love it day of.

As opposed to more experimental rounds, this is where stock burgers got custom aftermarket fixings.

You can’t beet Whitehall’s burger.


What I wrote:
Beet, egg. Almost candy-ish. Fruity. Sweet. Spice at the end.
What I meant:
Whitehall had a fried egg on top, as well as some beets. Now, my exposure to beets is limited to what I remember from Nickelodeon’s Doug, which is to say I remember Skeeter Valentine liked them. Here, they really worked! It gave a sort of savory sweetness to the burger that made it really nice and different and memorable. If not for Jeepney I think I would have voted for these guys.


What I wrote:
Pretzel roll! Beef-grilled onion. Meatloaf-y. Overdone. Want to like the pretzel more.
What I meant:
This burger was served by attractive women wearing traditional German dirndls. And it was served on a pretzel bun. I should have liked it more! But the burger was a little over cooked. And there was no salt on the pretzel. When will those fools realize the best part of the pretzel is the salt! The salt, I tell you!

elysium Found: NYCs Best Burger

RELATED: Celebrate Oktoberfest mit gorgeous fraus.


What I wrote:
Nutty. Cold. Drowning in some kind of white sauce.
What I meant:
There was some sauce that the roll soaked up like a sponge. And it was cold. So I had this cold, moist burger in my hand. If that’s what I remember about it, that’s not good.

Round 3: Bill’s Bar & Burger NYC, Rare Bar & Grill, Donovan’s, Trading Post, Watermark

I had just eaten 10 burgers. Or samples of burgers. Whatever–the size is irrelevant. The point is, I went to 10 different, unique burger stands and requested a burger. what have you done today?

Here’s the thing, though–we were there during the VIP hour, an earlier before they let in the riff-raff. There were no lines. We had to press on.

Let’s do this.

Bill’s Bar & Burger NYC

What I wrote:
Standard American burger. Fine.
What I meant:
If this is the biggest problem I’m having today, I’m having a good day.

Rare Bar & Grill

What I wrote:
Bacon feels like a cheat. A little dry.
What I meant:
What in God’s name? “Bacon feels like a cheat”? Where the hell did I get off? Had I already turned into a burger snob just because I ate a whole bunch of them?

Gaze upon the face of your destroyer and know fear.

Gaze upon the face of your destroyer and know fear.


What I wrote:
Build your own. It’s fine, but show me what you got. Bloody.
What I meant:
Apparently my high horse was taller than the Freedom Tower at this point. See, Donovan’s gave you a plan burger with a bunch of amazing looking toppings if you so chose, like an amazing-looking bleu cheese. But apparently I took exception to the fact that the artist wanted me to finish his painting, as it were. Heavens, I’m the worst.

Trading Post

What I wrote:
Nice bun. Nice texture. Nice flavor.
What I meant:
It was nice.


What I wrote:
Bourbon onions. Full burger. Sales lady. Nice flavor, nice crunch. Maybe a little salty.
What I meant:
Watermark had this wonderfully charming salesperson who was excellent at pitching the selling points of Watermark’s burger over everyone else’s. Even better–most restaurants were giving out sliders. Watermark made a full burger, if you wanted it (I split mine in half.) Points for effort and we suspect it cooked a better product. It was a lovely burger, but not my #1 favorite.


I felt physically at my limit. I have not been this full in a long time. I felt like I had three Thanksgivings in my tum-tum, and there was no relief in site.
“I told you not to eat 15 hamburgers!” yelled my editor.

“Wait, boss,” I said. “I can fix this.”

There was one burger stand left. And as awful as I felt, I was this close to the finish line.

“I’m going to eat 16 burgers.”

Round 4: Twisted and Smash’d

I stood in line sweating, full, and about to have a panic attack (the crowds had been let in, and I don’t think I’m claustrophobic, but maybe I am after eating 15 burgers). Before me lay the thickest crowd, at the one remaining foe left to conquer:

Twisted and Smash’d

Now, admittedly, I hate the name of this place (it refers to how they prepare their potatoes and also, if you look REALLLLLY carefully, you can find innuendo for getting drunk). But they’re also from my neighborhood, so those cancel each other out.

T&S (I’m not writing that every time) served a delightfully tasty barbeque burger with these little crunchy onion things. They also had a hot brand that they pressed on top of their burgers that had the restaurant’s name on it. I actually thought it was pretty tasty. I’d like it more if I wasn’t half a burger away from type-2 diabetes.


“Y’see, boss? Sixteen burgers! I didn’t eat 15! You can’t get mad at me!”

He scowled. But then, his face broke. “Oh, Brian. You are the living end!”


Fade out.

End credits.

Congratulations, Jeepney -- you got our votes.

Congratulations, Jeepney — you got our votes.

Our final (personal) ranking:

3rd Place: Twisted and Smash’d
2nd Place: Whitehall
1st Place: Jeepney NYC

Weight loss efforts: Stagnant.

New best friend who plays in the NFL free with every trim!

New best friend who plays in the NFL free with every trim!

Brian Cullen really, really enjoys robots but doesn’t understand how they work. He also enjoys drinking beers, and has a pretty solid understanding of how that works. You can read about his musings about both on Twitter @BucketCullen.

Our secret identities party even harder than Bruce Wayne pretends to.

Our secret identities party even harder than Bruce Wayne pretends to.

Brian accidentally went doppelganging when he unwittingly impersonated Justin Pugh in The $5,000* Beard Trim (That I Got for Free!) and took on a secret identity with The Most Interesting Mask in the World.

More from Brian Cullen

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