Blame the excellent Foster Burger for kick-starting Portland's interest in inexpensive burgers. In the past few months, a handful of meat peddlers have opened up shop, luring locals with the perfume of grilled beef and golden fries. Here's our take on five of the newbies.
Little Big Burger
Micah Camden, the seemingly tireless chef who has in the past five years had a hand in the openings of Yakuza, Naomi Pomeroy's Beast, DOC and Fats, is often described as having a "restaurant empire." The string of eateries along Northeast 30th Avenue is really more of a fiefdom, but with Little Big Burger, Camden and co-owner Katie Poppe have their sights set on world domination. The restaurant, which opened in September and already has two more locations in the works, has only six items on the menu: fries, floats, soda and burgers, with or without cheese or meat. There are no plates on the shiny red-and-white counter; all orders are delivered in paper bags. The burgers cost $3.25, $3.75 with cheddar, Swiss, chèvre or blue; fries are $2.75. They are very good fries; crisp and sweet and adequately salted, with maybe just a tad too much truffle flavoring. The burger is also very good, with a quarter-pound patty of first-rate cow flesh, seasoned with restraint, cooked medium and slathered with Camden's own sriracha-spiked ketchup (you can take a bottle home, if you like). The bun is sturdy, but quite small, leading some Yelpers to whine that the burger is an overpriced slider. Don't let yourself be fooled—I'd guess this is a 500-calorie burger; eating two for lunch would be unwise. BW.
A really good lunch in the Pearl for $6.50!
You may have to wait through your break to get it, as lines have been reported spilling out onto the sidewalk.
A burger you can order at 2:30 am does not need to be this tasty. It should be vaguely burger-shaped and easily acquired, absorbent and not too pricey. It doesn't need to be made of coarsely ground, hand-patted Cascade Natural Beef, nor does it need to come with Applewood bacon, fontina, aioli, shallots and homemade pickles. These adornments are wasted on drunk people. Please, no one ever tell the folks at C Burger how much less they could get away with. Especially do not mention the onion rings ($4), which are about 6,000 times better than any other late-night onion rings in town. They're thick and buttermilk-battered and huge enough to crawl into, should you lack other options at closing time. Best of all, C Burger means you can have those onion rings and a Couture Burger ($8) without ever slithering into the Couture Ultra Lounge. Just visit the window at the back of the nightclub's kitchen, facing Couch Street. The Couch Street Burger ($5) is the basic option, a knockout even dead sober. Four other choices include grilled chicken and a veggie burger, plus specials like a turkey burger with Brie and pesto (all $8). Call ahead to avoid a wait. BO.
Spicy ranch sauce for the onion rings: yes.
Burly appetites might find the burgers a little petite; they're rich, but they do fit on an English muffin.
According to Killer Burger, the no-nonsense meat shack that recently took over Nasca's corner digs on Northeast Sandy Boulevard, a burger ain't a burger until it's topped with crispy bacon, grilled onions, thick pickle slices and a slather of smoky, orange mayo-relish sauce…so that's what every order
with. Build on that crunchy, greasy, juicy base with everything from mild green chiles and Jack cheese (the Jose Mendoza, $7.95) to housemade sweet peanut-butter sauce. Lucky for purists, Killer's 1/3 pound of moist, seared beef plopped atop a buttered, toasted Franz bun is good enough to stand alone, especially since each order comes with a bottomless side of thick, deeply golden, perfectly salted fries. Killer doesn't do options; there are no salads, hot dogs or even onion rings (although there is a lone veggie burger). And you will drink soda or beer (there's both Ninkasi and PBR on tap). It's not fancy, folks—just killer. KC.
Default cheese is American, by god. And that smoky sauce could pull double duty as a fry topping.
The shotgun space starts feeling cramped any time more than four people queue up at the counter. Order to go.
Operating out of a gazebo in the
galleria of Bridgeport Village, Joe's Burgers flips what is almost certainly the best cheeseburger you can eat under a giant suburban Christmas tree. If this seems like a backhanded compliment, well, perhaps you will be swayed by the kiosk murals of customers enthusiastically biting into their Oregon beef patties. Also appealing: the paper baskets and the $3.75 sticker price on a standard model. But the danger of offering a no-frills, walk-up-window burger is that it will taste like a no-frills, walk-up-window burger. The two patties on a Joe's Classic Double Cheeseburger ($6) are fine, and the grilled onions melt sweetly into the American cheese, but the bun is kind of Wonder dry, and the special sauce tastes suspiciously like it came from a nearby Burgerville. Joe's also serves shoestring fries and milkshakes (neither are remarkable) and a gut bomb called the Diablo Dog ($5): a hot dog wrapped in bacon, then deep fried. AM.
With this place and the Pearl District's 50 Plates, owner Joe Rapport is striving mightily to achieve Americana overkill—the kind of more-is-more food you remember from state fairs.
Do you actually remember anything you ate at a state fair?
There are many qualities that define a truly great burger. A juicy, slightly charred patty, cooked medium rare but still able to hold its shape. A fresh, golden bun with a subtle hint of sweetness. Crisp veggies. Tart pickles. But having perfect ingredients doesn't always make for a perfect burger, and Dick's Kitchen—a new sustainable cafe on Belmont tagged as "Portland's 1st Stone Age Diner"—makes a good one, not one that you run home to start a burger blog about. The menu deserves major props for branching out: All the usual subjects (a bacon blue-cheese burger, for instance) are here, but you can also get a French Onion "Zizou" burger ($7.75) with onions smashed right into the patty and a burger topped with persillade ($7.50), a zingy green paste that tastes like the offspring of pesto and an anchovy-heavy Caesar salad dressing. The Southern-inspired pimento-cheese burger ($8.25) is what I'll come back for, even if it leaves the bottom bun a soggy mess of burger and cheese juices. It's the one thing on Dick's menu that doesn't try to be somewhat healthy, which is where Dick's really falters—baked "not fries" are fine when they are crisp and warm, but mine were cold and mushy. MM.
Pimento cheese tastes good on anything. Also, it's fun to eat under framed pictures of famous Dicks—er, Richards (Nixon, Van Dyke, Burton).
Who wants a burger joint that even tries to cater to vegetarians? I don't need a vegan bun on my bloody hamburger, thanks.