The Le Pigeon Burger, at Le Pigeon
738 E Burnside St., 546-8796, lepigeon.com.
The cheeseburger at East Burnside's cramped, clubby Le Pigeon became a cult favorite in part because of chef Gabe Rucker's original practice of limiting the number served in a night to five. "It was never a hard limit," he says. "But after we stopped limiting the number, we actually sold fewer burgers." At a restaurant known for beef bourguignon, duck blanquette and dry sherry, it's odd to see a $14 burger and a $3 bottle of Coors Banquet.
But that burger's success proved wildly influential. Since Le Pigeon's legendary burger debuted in 2006, it's rare to find high-end Portland restaurants that don't offer a bistro burger and a tallboy—a quirk to this town.
As told by Rucker…
"My first day at the restaurant, I was trying to get my head screwed on straight. I was just spitting out ingredients, and somebody wrote them down.
I said, 'We need a burger, and we're going to play off fast food.' I said, 'We're going to make the patty square like Wendy's.' I think Jack in the Box was pushing ciabatta at the time. We used extra-sharp white cheddar from Tillamook, and I love onions on a burger, which stems from eating at In-N-Out a lot—we grill and pickle them so you get the best of both worlds.
And I like iceberg lettuce, which I use as a delivery vehicle for the housemade aioli. It distributes it. The thing I hate is when there are globs of mayonnaise. The Dijon is a spicy Dijon, and for the housemade ketchup I spit out a list of ingredients, we made it, and it's been our ketchup ever since.
Nine years later, newspapers are still calling me about that burger. To be a good chef, you need a lot of luck. Some things you have to abandon, but this came out as a perfect storm."
Aviary's Crispy Pig Ear