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Maybe this should be "Best Budget Burger in Manhattan" or "Best Non-Gourmet Burger in Manhattan" instead, so here are some disclaimers:
Why? First, the burgers are juicy without being greasy, even at medium-well or well-done. They presumably accomplish this by using just the right fat content in their ground beef. Too fat means a greasy mess. Too little means a bland burger. They hit the sweet spot. Second, they cook to order. If you want medium, you get medium. Third, consistency is key. They've got it down to a science. When all you make are burgers and basically one style, you can perfect your product. They've done that here and consistently churn out great quality to the lunchtime masses.
Tips: Speaking of lunchtime masses, if you go, go before 11:45 or after 1:15 and you won't have to wait in a long line. Go anytime in between and you'll likely wait 20 minutes to place your order. Seating is at the minimum! Maybe 20-25 people can sit down at any given time, so table squatting is highly discouraged and frowned upon here due to the tight space and long lines. While it is first come, first served, play by the unspoken rules of not hoarding a seat until you get your food. NY'ers will not hold back on letting you know their feelings if you violate this custom. And despite being inside a swank hotel, this place is as pedestrian as you get.
Whines: Prices. Burgers were $4+ at one point, but not any more, so the value equation definitely changed. Not enough seating. Long lines. Crowded, crowded, crowded. This is the price you pay for quality.
(Not to be confused with the "The Burger Joint" on 3rd Ave. in Gramercy.)
Where: 118 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019
Why? It is the venerable veteran of Best Burger in NYC lists, and it's consistently good. It is simple and straightforward, and in every sense, a classic burger. It's not oversized or overdressed. But if you walked in off the street for a beer and happened to order a burger, it will blow your socks off. It's at #3 though because after going to Burger Joint or Blue 9 (decidely a different style), it does not quite rise to the occasion. But it is cheap, quick, and good.
Tips: It is hard to find this place when you are looking for it. In other words, you can easily pass by it not realizing what it is or that you are even near it. This place gets busy, so go at lunch early or early happy hour. Oh, and despite the name, this is no bistro. It is a rather dark hole in the wall bar that just happens to have bistro in its name.
Whines: Busy during happy hours. It has not changed despite some new kids on the block, but sometimes change isn't always good.
Where: 331 W. Fourth St., New York, NY 10014
Why? Of all the places on the list, this has by far the best decor and scenery - Madison Park and exclusively al fresco dining. So what if there are never enough tables by 11:45 on a sunny day? Grab a patch of grass or a bench in the park (where many scenes in Spider-Man 2 were shot) and enjoy your burger & shake. But as for the burger, it is a juicy, classic burger. It's everything you want and expect in a burger, and nothing you don't want.
Tips: Get there early or late for lunch or be prepared to queue up for a long wait. The place is named Shake Shack, so get a shake and grab a spoon. Have a beer, too, but don't wander out of the specified dining area unless you want to risk a fine.
Whines: Busy, busy, busy, busy, busy, busy. A little extra pricey for the atmosphere and location than it should be.
Where: Madison Park, 23rd & Madison Ave., New York, NY edit: now with 4 additional locations, with more on the way
Blue Smoke - The burger is over $10, otherwise it would be on the list at #3. It's a darn tasty burger and worth the price. It's lean yet juicy and cooked to perfection. Get the mac & cheese side. Make reservations for dinner & lunch if it's a Friday. 116 E 27th St & Park Ave, 212-447-7733.
Molly's on 23rd Street - old time Irish pub, hardwood floors with sawdust on them, roaring fireplace in the winter, perfect cheddar cheesebuger and onion rings. Grab a pint with it and it's heaven on earth.
Veselka in the East Village. Maybe one of the best bacon cheeseburgers in the city.