"In close-in Portland, the bistro burger reigns supreme: jaw-aching creations amped up with pork belly or foie gras," writes Michael Russell. "But the hamburger we crave doesn't resemble these at all. What we want is the classic, a grilled patty, melted cheese and fresh veggies on a toasted bun."
OK, fair enough—I eat a simple cheeseburger a lot more frequently than I do a half-pound monster like the one at Metrovino. But Russell's primary criterion for choosing his list seems to be age. Most of the burgers he lauds come from Portland-area institutions, like Skyline, Mike's and Giant, that are well-known to anyone who spent their teenage years inside the UGB. These joints are classics, but they also aren't very good. Here, in no particular order, are five burgers that conform to the limits of Russell's list—under $8, no fancy ingredients—that knock the pants off the better part of the O's selection.
1. Little Big Burger: The omission of this fast-growing local chain from the list is baffling. What's more classic than a quarter-pounder with onion, lettuce and a pickle, all for the price of a small caramel macchiato at Starbucks? If there's a juicier, more satisfying burger available anywhere in the state for $3.25, I've yet to hear of it.
2. Christopher's Gourmet Grill: The name aside, this Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. barbecue and burgers joint is about as far from a snooty bistro as you can get. The basic, griddle burger, with lots of vegetables, is $6.25 with a 20-ounce soda. Want something a little more artery-hardening? Try the "man up," with two half-pound patties, a hot link, cheese, bacon and a fried egg.
3. Old Town Burgers & More: A new arrival to Southeast Belmont Street from the owner of Vancouver's Jerusalem Cafe, Old Town serves an unusual but delightful combination of gyros, Chicago-style hotdogs, Philly cheesesteaks and really good, thin-patty, deli-style burgers. They taste the way I always hope a big mac will, crisp around the edges of the patty and dripping with something uncannily akin to Special Sauce. And it's just $4.75.
4. Lutz Tavern: Of the many reasons to love the newly reincarnated Lutz, the burger stands out most of all. $7 gets you about a third of a pound of excellent beef garnished with shredded iceberg lettuce, onion, pickles, Tillamook cheddar and a huge pile of perfect shoestring fries. Should you happen to find yourself at the bar in a hipstery-bistroey mood, add the house-cured bacon.
5. Burgatroyd: The successor to the Garden State food cart subscribes to a "have it your way" philosophy that means your burger can be absolutely basic or absurdly froo-froo. The $4.50 starter package of a Highland Oak beef patty, Fleur de Lis bakery bun, lettuce, onion and special sauce is damn near perfect. Another 50 cents adds roasted poblano chile, and gets it the rest of the way there.