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.)
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.
Chicago’s best burger arrived with about as much fanfare as the royal family at Wimbledon, and while almost any other stack of bread and ground beef would disappoint considering that level of hype, the Au Cheval burger lives up to it. The “single” is actually a double, and the two patties, which are seared on the outside but still juicy inside, are topped with perfect portions of gooey American cheese, mayo, and pickles. It’s very good on its own, but opt to add thick-cut, peppery bacon on top, and you’ll be surprised when the burger doesn’t stop to give you a royal wave.
4 Charles is from the people behind Au Cheval, and the burger here is similarly fantastic. Like at Au Cheval, it has two patties, tons of cheese, plenty of sauce, and a bun that soaks it all up. But while the burgers are pretty much twins, the end results are very different, like the Olsen twins in It Takes Two. At Au Cheval, your burger will likely share the table with a fried bologna sandwich and you’ll be surrounded by people drinking picklebacks and tallboys. At 4 Charles, the burger is cut tableside by a white-gloved server, and it’s often shared as an appetizer before the $99 prime rib arrives. The small West Village space looks like a rich uncle’s cigar room, and it’s nearly impossible to get a reservation before 11pm. But once you actually get in, it’s one of the greatest burger experiences in NYC.
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.
This burger, which is just available in the walk-in-only tavern section of the restaurant, is the Vitruvian Man of burgers. It has a lot going on - a thick patty, smoky bacon, melted cheddar, smoked onion aioli - but the proportions of each are ideal, so you can taste them all without any one flavor overwhelming the others. Even the bacon is cut in a way that allows you to get one slice in every bite, which we’d be willing to bet is how Da Vinci liked his burgers.
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 appears. We could eat several of these in one sitting, and now that we’ve come up with that idea, we probably will.
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.
The best thing about Virginia’s is the burger. We’re fairly certain the whole thing is basted in several sticks of butter before being topped with hunks of white cheddar and onion marmalade, and we’re fine with it. It’s squat and simple, and you should add bacon to yours. The second best thing about this Alphabet City restaurant is that it’s never too crowded, so come here the next time you feel like eating a really good burger in peace.
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.
When someone recommends ordering the burger cooked medium, we’re usually wary. Some places do it to cover up the fact that their meat isn’t particularly high-quality, while your aunt does it because she’s still bitter about getting food poisoning on her honeymoon. But Jeepney recommends its chori burger be ordered medium because the patty is a mix of beef and longanisa sausage, and your only question after biting into the juicy meat will be why more places don’t put spicy sausage in their burger patties. Not only is the patty excellent, but it’s topped with spicy ketchup, aioli, and a fried egg. Even though the egg oozes when you press down on the brioche bun, the brioche bun absorbs it, so it never gets too messy.
The Fulton serves some of the best seafood in the city, it’s located on the water in the Seaport, and there’s even a giant sea monster mural on the wall. And yet despite all of that, you’d still be wise to order the burger here. That’s because the juicy patty topped with fried onions, salty gruyere, and dijon chili mayo would be the standout dish if it were on the menu almost anywhere else. The Fulton is definitely a seafood restaurant, but this burger makes it worth visiting even if you don’t want seafood.
Much like the burger at Peter Luger, the one at Red Hook Tavern is all about the meat. It’s just one big patty with American cheese and a cross-section of onion on a sesame bun that plays its role perfectly without causing any distractions. The burger is intensely rich and salty - but we’re pretty sure we could eat several in one sitting. Maybe that’s because the patty is surprisingly light for its size, or maybe it’s because we lack self-restraint. The only thing we don’t like about this burger is that it comes with potato wedges, the least acceptable form of french fry. But we’re willing to take the high road and look past this.
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 $24, it’s not exactly cheap, but it’s also a lot less expensive than a flight to LAX.
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.
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.
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.
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.