Hat Creek Burger Company – Austin, TX

Austin, Burgers By October 8, 2015 No Comments

The Vitals:
the burger: The Big Hat – double cheeseburger featuring cheddar, lettuce, tomato, red onion and house pickles. Custom add ons included bacon and a mustard based house sauce.
the bucks: $7.20
the coordinates: Austin, TX

My first impression of Hat Creek Burger Company took about 30 seconds. It more or less amounted to a slight glance to my left, as I drove north on a dusty restaurant row called Burnet road, surveying my new home base of eating. Playgrounds at restaurants were still a new and under appreciated X-factor for me. The bright red colors and logo screamed corporate branding. Even the shape of the establishment made my Spidey sense tingle with the presence of a chain restaurant. Turns out, while I bare little other resemblance to Spider Man – I was right about my initial suspicion: the Hat Creek on Burnet used to be an Arby’s. Besides sharing a similar baseline price point, the similarities thankfully end there. It may sound strange for you to hear this but Hat Creek Burger Company makes good burgers, not necessarily great burgers. I believe the true burger lover comes to Hat Creek for reasons beyond the food – like the playscape, the decent craft beers, the option of wine(recommended only in case of emergency), the flat screen TVs, and the general ambiance of the outdoor seating area whose appeal just increased exponentially with the arrival of Fall, in a now, somewhat subdued, sweltering Austin. Now this search is about finding burger gems that toe the line of quality and value, and it would be unfair to include Hat Creek unless it held true burger promise. Well, fear not my faithful, promise I did find. Wade deep into their crowd pleasing menu and you will find some sauces, respectable bacon, and a proud practice of pickling that are worthy of a burger add on. Oh yes, I am recommending add ons. As much as I preach against the ordering of extraneous or excessive burger toppings as they deter better taste and plunder your burger budget, it is equally criminal to ignore options and upgrades that will make you smile with Bang for your Burger Buck satisfaction. I suppose you now want to bite into these juicy upgrades. Well, start your scrolling. 


Lucky’s Famous Burgers – New York, NY

Burgers, New York City By September 30, 2015 1 Comment

The Vitals:
the burger: The Lucky, USDA Prime Angus patty, Iceberg lettuce, Spanish onion, vine ripened tomato, deli pickle, house sauce on a Martin’s Potato bun
the bucks: $6
the coordinates: New York, NY

I’m sure for many a New Yorker, Lucky’s Famous Burgers is just another blip on the burger radar screen. If you didn’t narrow your search down to $10 and under, it may not even pop up on Yelp. With no shortage of burgers in New York vying for your snuggle time at their counters, even at this price point, the question you might be asking right now is why go to Lucky’s Famous at all? Well for one thing, they take flattery with genuine sincerity there. I called up a few weeks ago to confirm some details on the bun and when I mentioned that I just loved their burgers, all at once I could hear the surprise, disbelief and gratitude, even over 3G.


Mikey’s Burger – New York, NY

Burgers, New York City By September 15, 2015 No Comments

The Vitals:
the burger: The Mikey: 5oz NY Bar/Pub style meatballesque patty, topped with lettuce, tomaton, onion, corned beef hash and a mustard sauce
the bucks: $6.5
the coordinates: The Lower East Side, New York, NY

I have a confession to make: I have no sense of direction.

Feels good to get that one off my chest. So, last week I took on a rather gargantuan task of bringing Bang for your Burger Buck to New York City. One week and 1500 miles later, it feels good to say I have a fairly substantiated opinion of the burger scene in New York. But the trip was not without regret; I still long for the burgers I missed in the outer boroughs due to time, travel and stomach constraints. Because of this miscalculation, I am adopting a firm commitment to not trust any map, at least when it comes to planning burger trips in the New York metropolitan area.


Phil’s Icehouse – Austin, TX

Austin, Burgers By August 27, 2015 No Comments

The Vitals:
the burger: Mini Burger Sampler Basket: three topping concept driven sliders from a selection of eleven different renditions plus a 50/50 mix of regular and sweet potato fries
the bucks: $9.49
the coordinates: Austin, TX

Sliders and the restaurant “Playland”. Two crucial components to Phil’s Icehouse. Two elements that are frankly way undervalued in the burger world. After recently completing a 1500 mile road trip from Los Angeles to Austin with a three year old, I came to appreciate the power of the Playland. An appreciation that came with a cost. One can only imagine the legendary Chicken Fried Steak or BBQ Brisket I passed up because the aforementioned diner or shack failed to offer a slide and climbing wall. A regret that seems actually more bearable than the thought of enjoying the most blissful bite of fork tender beef brisket only to turn into chewing gum once your 3 foot tall dining companion commences a meltdown. So for those 1500 miles I ended up eating more than my share of Chicken McNuggets, Square hamburgers and fake milkshakes. But hey, that’s part of the sacrifice of being a Parent right? Wrong. Leave it to some smart entrepreneur who recognized this ridiculous disparity of fine food and fun times for the ankle biters, and set up a place like Phil’s Icehouse. And speaking of fine food, how about fine tuning about 11 compelling burger combinations then offering them in miniature form, aka sliders? Sound like a good idea? Well, it tastes like one too.


Belcampo Meat Company – Los Angeles, CA

Burgers, Los Angeles, West Coast By August 19, 2015 No Comments

The Vitals:
the burger: Double Fast Burger: two 3oz patties of enlightened grass fed beef, house made American cheese, custom burger sauce, lettuce, tomato and onion
the bucks: $8
the coordinates: Los Angeles, CA

One of the most compelling debates on how to make great food erupted perfectly on Twitter a few years ago between Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert over which factor was more significant: technique or ingredient. Bourdain’s argument for technique sort of “won”, as he pointed out that whole cuisines developed around humbling circumstance thereby elevating “lesser” ingredient into what we now know as American Soul Food or Countryside French. Ripert’s retorts for the case of ingredient highlighted the fact that in the food world of today, Chef’s who demonstrate good technique have an almost unparalleled access to fine ingredient, making the debate somewhat moot: Technique and Ingredient are equally significant though don’t always exist in perfect harmony.

The debate haunts my mind with every great meal I encounter. Few times is there true balance between technique and ingredient, and when it comes to Bang for your Burger Buck, often it is technique that is taking the spotlight. Perhaps I’m oversimplifying this fine debate but ingredient comes down to bucks, and saving a few means technique has to step up. There are loads of excellent burgers that I don’t cover and the reason is price. Though I don’t want to think of Bang for your Burger Buck as a “$10 and under club”, it kind of is. Because of this journey that is driven by value, of feeling compelled to make “the find”, I have deprived both you and I, the pleasure of encountering and documenting an “ingredient” driven burger. Until now. After visiting many a burger joint, primarily in Los Angeles, I have come to a place where I am overwhelmed to make the following declaration: the Fastburger at Belcampo Meat Company is the best Bang for your Burger Buck in Los Angeles. Yup, I said it. I don’t do the stars thing – every burger in here is a case for value, but the Belcampo Fastburger is the best deal in town and this is because the burger embodies the balance of excellent technique and superb ingredient. Even crazier than making that kind of contentious “throw down the gauntlet” kind of statement is that the sheer greatness of this burger, the Bang for your Burger Buck, does not stem from the quest of making a great burger but rather from the philosophy of sustainable food. Ethical farming seldom enters the forum of Bang for your Burger Buck but exemptions are made when a burger tastes this good. Add to that an asking price of $8, and this double cheeseburger is an exception welcomed with jaws and wallets, wide open.


Big Mouth Burgers – San Francisco, CA

Burgers, West Coast By July 24, 2015 No Comments

The Vitals:
the burger: The Big Mouth Burger: a 1/2 pound of USDA Prime All Natural Chuck, charbroiled and served with lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickle and mayo
the bucks: $8.95
the coordinates: San Francisco, CA

Most of the country would balk at a cheese-less burger for $9, even if it was a 1/2 pound of USDA Prime all natural chuck and came with fries. But most of the country ain’t got nothing on a warm sunny day in San Francisco, which could just about sway almost anyone that you might be in the greatest city in America. This well reputed metropolis surrounded by natural beauty, enriched in culture, and well recorded in the history books, just about owned the food movement in America, if not the world, for the latter part of the 20th century. Farm to Table took root in the Bay Area first thanks to Alice Waters and spurred a whole generation of chefs to come. The Asian pantry collided with European cooking sensibilities here. I won’t even get into the whole wine thing, but I will say that when one looks beyond all the vitricultural brouhaha, the beer made in these parts is just as good. Yeah, San Francisco is a hell of a town, and an even better one if you are hungry. Finding a great burger is not a hard thing to do. Finding Bang for your Burger Buck – well that was kind of a conundrum.