Burger Madness is a seeded tournament pitting 64 Portland patties against each other. Our critics ate through the best Bistro Burgers, Bar Burgers, and Brewery Burgers and Burger Burgers in Portland—and will reveal their picks round by round until the best burger in Portland is crowned.
We're now down to the Final Four, in which the top burgers of each type will compete against one another. Here's the path to the Final Four for Bistro and Bar Burgers:
This epic matchup pits the best bistro burger, as chosen by writer Nick Zukin, against the best bar burger, chosen by Matthew Korfhage. Seeds don't matter anymore: It's Bar Burger vs. Bistro Burger, Grain and Gristle vs. Toro Bravo.
Grain and Gristle vs. Toro Bravo
120 NE Russell St., 503-281-4464, torobravopdx.com. 5-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 5-11 pm Friday-Saturday.
If serial restaurateur John Gorham is the Rick Pitino of Portland burgers, Toro Bravo is still his Kentucky Wildcats. The secret to the burger at Toro Bravo ($14) is housemade romesco, the special sauce of Catalonia in northeastern Spain. Alongside bread-and-butter zucchini pickles, that creamy housemade blend of garlic, nut, and roasted red pepper acts as counterpoint to the deep salt and richness of the 6-ounce, grill-caramelized Cascade Natural beef, pungent manchego and housemade bacon.
Grain & Gristle
1473 NE Prescott St., 503-288-4740, grainandgristle.com. Noon-midnight Monday-Friday, 9 am-3 pm and 5 pm-midnight Saturday-Sunday.
The ingredients are as simple as a scratch-made pie: The thick half-pound patty of medium-rare beef comes from a line of Herefords cultivated since 1856 at Oregon's Hawley Ranch, butchered by sister restaurant Old Salt in Cully and fresh-ground each day. The pickles are housemade, as is the garlic-lemon aioli. The bun is baked by Grain & Gristle's former in-house baker, the green lettuce shocked in frigid water for crispness. And that's the end of the ingredient list. It is simplicity as virtue, with all things made only for their purpose in this burger.
WINNER: Grain and Gristle. All four judges tried the Toro and Grain burgers on the same day, and both judges saw slight slippage on each that day: The Toro was unevenly cooked, while the Grain and Gristle burger was too well-done. That's how game day goes. The split came down almost to philosophy, with taster Nick Zukin favoring the complex interplay of flavors in Toro Bravo's burger, and both Martin Cizmar and Matthew Korfhage praising the simplicity, elegance and deep richness of the Grain and Gristle burger, even without added cheese, bacon or egg. Sophia June provided the vote that kept the final four winner from a tie game, citing the overvoluminous array of pickles on her burger. A 3-1 win for Grain and Gristle, which goes on to the championships.