“You can keep your bistro burgers,” the Damned once sang on “Smash It Up.” OK, that’s not the lyric. But as you’ve probably heard or read, pandemic Portland has more smash burgers than doughnuts these days.
Two of 2021′s contenders, Monster Smash Burgers and MidCity SmashBurgers, opened up at almost the same time, separated by 35 blocks of Southeast Stark. Respective owners Rico Loverde and Mike Aldridge are both longtime restaurant vets transforming tiny balls of ground beef into crispy, almost wafer-thin Maillard reactions on a bun, and both carts also do a vegan Beyond Burger version. Otherwise, there are more differences than similarities.
Monster Smash took over the former Monk’s Deli cart at Belmont Station bottle shop and biercafe. Outdoor seating is either on the back porch or the sidewalk, and Laurelhurst Park is just six blocks away. The OG Smash Burger comes on a lofty Dos Hermanos brioche bun, with two 2.5-ounce patties of local grass-fed 80/20 beef from Fulton Provisions. The housemade pickles lean toward spicy bread and butter, while Loverde’s “Monster Sauce” is in the classic Thousand Island style—mostly ketchup and mayo, with yellow mustard and seasonings.
At MidCity, the cheeseburger is more fast food style—including the price—but very much an elevated package. The bun is old-fashioned Franz, while the 80/20, 2-ounce patties from St. Helens Beef are grain-fed, which does make a more toothsome smash, with lots of crispy char. Pickle and onion are not on the sandwich itself but rather Aldridge’s remouladelike “smash sauce,” which has 13 ingredients, none of them apparently ketchup given the shock-white color.
Wednesday nights at MidCity are “Smashy Hour,” with a weekly discount—the most recent was buy five, get one free—and 15% of sales going to an Asian American and Pacific Islander nonprofit. The vibe in the shared parking lot is definitely a party: two outdoor speakers blasting tunes, families and couples eating their burgers while sitting on station wagon tailgates, and obligatory selfies with the cart’s mascot, Smashy. Because of course.
MidCity SmashBurger, 1015 SE Stark St. 4:30-7 pm Wednesday, noon-6 pm Thursday-Sunday. Monster Smash at Belmont Station, 4500 SE Stark St., belmont-station.com/monster-smash. Noon-6 pm daily.