Food & Culture
Where to Get the Best Burgers and Beer in Seattle
Our town is full of delicious burger joints upping their game with artisanal ingredients. Discover where to find that next great burger, and the perfect beer to pair it with
By Jessica Yadegaran, Amy Pennington and Kendall Jones, with additional reporting by A.J. Rathbun, Paul Zitarelli and Rachel Hart September 14, 2016
A hot, juicy hamburger is as classic—and American—as apple pie, yet it straddles several current food trends, including the rise of comfort food and the desire for a fast, affordable meal that is made with integrity—a game we’re always upping in Seattle, especially when it comes to creativity. Here in our city, entire restaurants are devoted to crafting cutting-edge versions of sustainably raised hamburgers (or bison or lamb, for that matter) on house-baked buns with all the fixings—from fresh toppings picked up at farmers’ markets to fun combinations (such as fig and prosciutto) to house-fermented kimchi. But we’re not so snooty as to deny the simpler pleasures (thin patties draped with iceberg and American cheese).
In this meaty issue, you’ll find the entire burger spectrum, plus spot-on pairings of our other local artisanal obsession: craft beer. Get a moo-ve on.
Chefs are piling burgers high with funky ingredients, yet when it comes down to it, easygoing Seattleites just love a good, simple burger. Behold, the best of the classic burgers
The star of the show is the one-third-pound Painted Hills beef patty, but the supporting cast includes, among other things, house-made pickles, caramelized onions, your choice of cheese (blue, Swiss, cheddar or provolone) and the highly coveted Swine sauce—a sinfully delicious smoked-tomato aioli—all served on a toasted brioche bun that is both fluffy and sturdy. Because there must be pork involved at a place called The Swinery, you can also add bacon or the more elaborately prepared crispy pork belly, which is seared, braised, chilled and then deep-fried before it ends up on your burger. The Swinery burger starts at $11; add bacon for $2.75 or pork belly for $3.75. Order the Double B burger ($13.50) and you’ll get both bacon and belly. West Seattle, 3207 California Ave. SW; 206.932.4211; swinerymeats.com
SAINT JOHN’S BURGER
Saint John’s bar and Eatery
The burger ($15) preparation here is just like a flame-broiled one from an ’80s Burger King; it has loads of char flavor, but is made with Burk Ridge Farms beef from Whatcom County. With a soft, sesame seed brioche Macrina Bakery bun, garlic aioli, Beecher’s cheddar and red onion jam, this is a strong contender for Seattle’s best burger plate (comes with crispy wedge fries). Capitol Hill, 719 E Pike St.; 206.245.1390; saintjohnsseattle.com
MOSS BAY BROILER BURGER
Awesome Sunsets accompany the awesome burgers at this popular burger shack on Lake Washington. Our favorite, the one-third-pound Broiler ($5.75), tastes like dad grilled it himself and then got fancy with arugula and wasabi mayo. Kirkland, 80 Kirkland Ave.; 425.739.0033; Facebook, “The Slip Restaurant”
LI’L WOODY’S BURGER
Li’l Woody Burger: one-quarter pound grass-fed, Pacific Northwest beef, chopped onions, diced pickles, ketchup, mayo and Tillamook cheddar
Marcus Lalario’s take on the classic ($4.50) summons childhood memories of the basic McDonald’s hamburger—made right. One-quarter pound of lean, grass-fed, Pacific Northwest beef with chopped onions, diced pickles, ketchup, mayo and melted Tillamook cheddar on a soft, brioche-like bun. Perfectly manageable. No grease. No mess. Capitol Hill, 1211 Pine St., 206.457.4148; Ballard, 2040 NW Market St., 206.257.5259; lilwoodys.com
Two Bells Bar & Grill
Two Bells’ Tavern Burger on French baguette topped with bacon and grilled onion (and a side of baked beans)
For those looking for a break from being served a round patty in a classic white bun with fries, the Tavern burger ($12.95) is an oblong patty tucked into a French baguette, topped with bacon and thick, juicy grilled onions, and served with coleslaw, baked beans or potato chips on the side. This famous burger is thick, juicy, cooked to order and comes with a mound of softened onions and requisite tomato, pickles and lettuce. Not to be missed, this burger is a longtime favorite of Seattle burger fans, served in a proper tavern. Belltown, 2313 Fourth Ave.; 206.441.3050; thetwobells.com
DELUXE TAVERN BURGER
Customers flock to this loud, 21-and-older neighborhood bar. Order a Deluxe with fries for just $10 and prepare for a new addiction. With the first bite, juice drips down both face and arms as grease from the burgers saturates the bun, making for a juicy, delicious, moist mess that is absolute perfection. This cheap eat is cooked over a fire and served simply with lettuce, red onion, two slices of not-quite-ripe, mealy tomatoes (skip those) and a secret sauce (we’re guessing it’s a combination of Thousand Island dressing and mayonnaise) that is practically drinkable. Fries are big, steak-cut pieces—fat, wonderful bites of potato that lean toward soft, not crispy. South Park, 8617 14th Ave. S; 206.327.9649; lorettasnorthwesterner.com
The ‘fast casual’ burger chains have hit Seattle.
By definition, fast casual restaurants offer a higher quality of food—healthier options and fresh ingredients prepared within view of the customer—and fewer processed or frozen ingredients than typical fast-food joints. Think of the much ballyhooed (but to us, underwhelming) Steak ’n Shake, which opened its first Washington location downtown this spring. While most fast casual places are chains based elsewhere, and none quite match up to the gourmet greatness of our homegrown favorites, our local fast casual burger shop is Josh Henderson’s Great State Burger, a bright, airy downtown (and Laurelhurst) restaurant where cornflower blue accents, grass-fed beef and organic ice cream milkshakes make us happy. Henderson plans to open eight to 10 more throughout Washington in the next 18 months. After that, who knows? Maybe someday other states will anticipate their own Great State Burger the way we in Seattle pine for an In–N-Out Burger.
Ballard, Northgate, and Lynnwood; fiveguys.com
What makes it different: All 15 burger toppings, including grilled mushrooms, are free. Also free: all-you-can-eat bulk peanuts. Secret menu item: Secret or not—you can get your burger in a bowl instead of on a bun. Most popular order: Hamburger ($6.49)—two patties of ground chuck on a soft, slightly chewy griddled bun with any and all fixings you desire.
The Habit Grill
Kent, 12900 SE Kent-Kangley Road; 253.630.5337; habitburger.com
The Double Charburger, fries and onion rings
What makes it different: Alternative sides, such as tempura green beans ($2.99)—freshly cut green beans lightly batter-dipped and flash-fried to perfection. Secret menu item: The Half-and-Half ($2.45)—a side order of equal parts Idaho potato fries and crunchy onion rings. Most popular order: Double Charburger—two open-flame-grilled beef patties with mayonnaise, pickle, tomato, lettuce and caramelized onions on a toasted bun.
Great State Burgers
Laurelhurst, 3600 NE 45th, 206.775.8990; downtown, 2041 Seventh Ave., 206.775.7880; greatstateburger.com
Cuteness on a tray
What makes it different: The burger, which comes with crisp lettuce, American cheese and a spicy, ketchup-based State sauce, is made with beef that’s grass-fed and organically raised—something rare for a $5.50 burger. We also appreciate the 8-ounce milkshakes ($3.50), rich yet practical in size and made with organic Parfait soft serve. Secret menu item: It’s no secret, but most people probably haven’t noticed the mini fridge on the counter at the downtown location. It’s filled with vacuum-sealed steaks from Pat-n-Tam’s Beef in Oregon for sale to take home; Pat-n-Tam’s cows also supply the burger meat.Most popular order: The double combo ($12)—two patties of organically raised, grass-fed beef, American cheese, lettuce, tomato and State sauce, served with crinkle fries and a 16-ounce fountain drink.
U District, 4509 University Way; 206.420.8199; caliburger.com
What makes it different: Spiked milkshakes. For $2, add a shot of Evan Williams bourbon, Malibu rum or Baileys Irish cream to your shake. Secret menu items: Lettuce-wrapped burger ($4.25) and grilled cheese ($3.99). Also, you can add Stumptown Coffee to your shake and barbecue sauce to your burger at no extra charge. Most popular order: Cali double ($4.99)—two all-beef patties, American cheese, tomatoes, iceberg lettuce and a special sauce.
Burgers That Take It Up a Notch
White-tablecloth-restaurant burgers, steak house burgers, over-the-top burgers: 16 places where the humble sandwich gets an uptown makeover
The 8oz. Burger: grass-fed beef, Painted Hills bacon, balsamic onions and truffle aoili
Every great food city has them. That breed of burger joint that isn’t order-at-the-counter or fancy and obviously expensive, like a steak house or white-tablecloth restaurant that serves burgers. It’s something in the middle: a rustic sit-down restaurant that supports local ranchers and farmers, and serves hamburgers on real plates, brought to your table, with prices in the $12–$17 range. The menu may feature a few gourmet starters—even house-made desserts—but let’s not kid ourselves. Most of them are casual burger places under a fancy pretense, trying to get away with selling a burger in the $12-and-up zone. Something about elevating that experience of grease and buns seems a little…ridiculous. But, not always. We think these three are worth the fuss.
In Seattle, at 8oz. Burger & Co., where colorful, stately portraits of pigs, cows and bison give the space a masculine, haute barn feel, you can make a reservation (no joke), select from more than 50 whiskeys at the bar and build your own burger with unusual ingredients, such as water buffalo (instead of grass-fed beef), short ribs, Cotija cheese, kimchi, espresso rub and prosciutto. Even the basic burger, The 8oz. ($13), is spiffed up with Painted Hills bacon, balsamic onions and truffle aioli. Excellent fries—served at the perfect temperature and with the ideal interior fluffiness—and an impressive bar elevate this burger business. Ballard, 2409 NW Market St., 206.782.2491; Capitol Hill, 1401 Broadway, 206.466.5989; 8ozburgerandco.com
At Tipsy Cow Burger Bar, where you can expect at least a 20-minute wait on Sundays at lunch, a giant stack of parsley-flecked fries comes with all 14 burgers, including the entry-level classic: the 7-ounce Tipsy burger ($12.50), a grass-fed, custom-ground beef patty cooked to a perfect internal pink with Beecher’s Flagship white cheddar, Bibb lettuce, thickly sliced tomato, thinly sliced white onion and ranch-like Tipsy sauce. All burgers have their own custom sauce, including the most popular burger: The Rock Star ($15), which is also topped with brew-batter-dipped and fried bacon, maple syrup, a fried organic egg and caramelized sweet onions. Tipsy Cow’s space is modern, bright and fun, with clever puns (“Our milkshakes bring all the cows to the yard”) written on chalkboards framed on the walls to get you in the moo-d despite the wait. Redmond, 16345 Cleveland St., 425.896.8716; Woodinville, 14111 Woodinville-Duvall Road; tipsycowburgerbar.com
Tipsy Cow’s Redmond location and (inset) the Rock Star burger
It’s the same idea at Eureka in University Village, where The Original Eureka ($11) is topped with hickory-smoked Gouda and you’re likely to find exclusive toppers, such as bone marrow porcini butter. In addition to its eight signature burgers, Eureka also features specials that have nothing to do with ground beef. Recent offerings included a lemongrass pork sandwich and an all-day breakfast burrito. Eureka is loud and has a distinct sports-bar vibe—it’s a national chain—so go there for a post-shopping burger or to watch the game, but not as a destination for an elevated burger experience. University District, 2614 NE 46th St. and slated to open in October: Kirkland, 115 Park Lane; 206.812.9655; eurekarestaurantgroup.com
The Pricey Burger that’s Worth It
Give in to the indulgence of a dressed-up restaurant burger
Ballard Avenue’s Bramling Cross Burger
Chef and owner Ethan Stowell created this burger ($17) for his gastropub, and it’s essentially perfect: an 8-ounce, wood-fire-grilled patty of Double R Ranch beef dressed with shredded iceberg lettuce, sliced onion, house-made garlic dill pickles, white American cheese and a tangy secret sauce on a toasted Macrina potato bun. It’s super juicy and high-end without being snooty. Ballard, 5205 Ballard Ave. NW; 206.420.8192; ethanstowellrestaurants.com
The Hollywood Tavern
Just across from a handful of Eastside wineries sits a hipster restaurant complete with a cozy outdoor fire pit, paint-by-numbers artwork and young servers in casual wear. The Hollywood burger ($14) nails the perfect, mouthwatering ratio of bun to burger, ensuring a bit of squishy brioche bun and juicy, salty meat with every bite—this burger is moan-inducing. Upgrade your order with tater tots for a caloric splurge that’s perfect for offsetting a day spent in wine country. Woodinville, 14508 Woodinville-Redmond Road NE; 425.481.7703; thehollywoodtavern.com
Now this is a snooty burger and proud of it. Chef Joe Ritchie’s burger ($17) starts with 8 ounces of grilled wagyu beef seared on the outside to a perfect char and served with Beecher’s Dutch Hollow Dulcet cheese, tangy house-made pickles, fennel aioli, lettuce, tomato, smoky onion marmalade and delectable dill fries. It is served on a light, airy potato bun. This is also an Ethan Stowell burger, but different from the Bramling burger in that it has more complex flavors—hello, wagyu—and it is built high to appear grander. It works. Downtown, Four Seasons Hotel, 99 Union St.; 206.749.7070; ethanstowellrestaurants.com
This chic craft cocktail bar and restaurant in north Ballard delivers one of the most perfectly charred and harmonious burgers ($16) in our entire roundup. It starts with 8 ounces of grass-fed Skagit River beef, topped with iceberg lettuce and drizzled with two “secret” sauces, about which we got them to spill a bit: One contains house-pickled cherry bomb peppers, and the other includes wood-oven-roasted shallots. It’s all tucked into a Columbia City sesame seed bun. Ballard, 1421 NW 70th St.; 206.724.0471; essexbarseattle.com
RELATED: YOUR HANDY GUIDE TO THE BEST BURGERS AND BEER IN SEATTLE
Beef Burger with Seared Foie Gras
An absolute gut bomb in the best way, the extravagant burger at Loulay is truly over the top. A thick patty of a house-ground beef blend is charred, smoky and tender ($16), and topped with a gratuitous slab of buttery seared foie gras (add $17). True overindulgence can be yours with the addition of a fried duck egg (another $3), which is heaven to some and overkill for others. Served on a soft brioche bun with bacon-shallot jam, this burger is practically legendary. Downtown, 600 Union St.; 206.402.4588; thechefinthehat.com
Steak houses have a lot of incredible trim—bits of prime red meat—left over from cutting steaks, be it a tenderloin or wagyu flat iron. Those “scraps” are going to make plenty of delicious burgers, which are especially tasty during happy hour, when they’re less than half the usual price.
Metropolitan Grill’s The Works Burger, with wagyu sirloin: only $7 during happy hour
The Works burger is a stunner, made from grilled wagyu sirloin, cooked to your preference, natch, and with perfectly melted cheddar and Swiss cheeses, caramelized onions, house-made Thousand Island dressing, lettuce and tomato on a perfectly toasted kaiser bun. $15; happy hour, $7 (3–6 p.m. Monday–Friday). Downtown, 820 Second Ave.; 206.624.3287; themetropolitangrill.com
This heavenly blend of chuck and wagyu flat iron, tenderloin and hanger steaks is served at this Redmond steak house on a kaiser bun with house-made bacon jam, roasted garlic aioli and Beecher’s Flagship cheese. During happy hour, you can add lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle for $2 (no extra charge for those on the regular menu) or let the smoky, slightly sweet bacon jam mingle with the perfect char on the 8-ounce patty without those pesky vegetables getting in the way. $14; happy hour, $8 (4–6 p.m. and 9 p.m.–close daily). Redmond, 16330 Cleveland St.; 425.376.2683; redmondprime.com
John Howie Steak Restaurant
Happy-hour crowds pack into this densely appointed bar, and many of them are there to order the bacon burger. A juicy meat patty is served on a delicate brioche bun that absorbs the fat, making for some soggy areas and others that are butter-soaked golden brown—it’s wonderful. Served with thick bacon, this burger comes stacked high with fixings—iceberg lettuce, tomato, pickles, thick red onions—and slathered in Southern-style fry sauce. Major bonus points for the fries, which are fried in beef fat, a rare, flavorful treat. $16; happy hour, $12 (3–6 p.m., Monday–Sunday; 9 p.m.–close, Monday–Thursday; 10 p.m.–close, Friday–Saturday). Bellevue, 11111 NE Eighth St.; 425.440.0880; johnhowiesteak.com
The burger at this beloved local chain of steak houses, with three locations around the Seattle area (Issaquah, Laurelhurst and West Seattle), is especially popular with hardcore happy-hour customers, who flock to Jak’s on a quest for a $7 hamburger that is reminiscent of what your neighbor might grill in his backyard, assuming your neighbor is a chef at a top-notch steak house. A half-pound patty is grilled to smoky perfection and served with roasted red pepper mayo, lettuce, tomato and onions on a toasted kaiser bun that dutifully absorbs the greasy burger goodness. $13 at lunch; $14 at dinner; $7 at happy hour. During lunch and dinner, add cheddar, bacon or mushrooms for $1 each. Issaquah, 14 Front St. N, 425.837.8834; happy hour, 4–5 p.m., Tuesday–Friday. Laurelhurst, 3701 NE 45th St., 206.985.8545; happy hour, 5–6 p.m., Monday–Thursday, 4:30–5:30 p.m., Friday. West Seattle, 4548 California Ave. SW, 206.937.7809; happy hour, 4:30–5:30 p.m., Monday–Friday. jaksgrill.com
Part sport, part dare, all full-throttle epic eating experiences
Mt. Fuji Burger
Scale the three-pattied Mt. Fuji Mega Burger; photo by Chustine Minoda
Everything at this wildly popular ode to tonkatsu, the Japanese breaded-cutlet dish, is panko-crusted and deep-fried, but none tower higher than the Mt. Fuji “mega burger” ($19.95), consisting of pork, beef and chicken patties, three kinds of cheeses, a fried egg, bacon, wasabi mayo and sweet, vinegary tonkatsu sauce. Good luck. Seattle, 6538 Fourth Ave. S, 206.762.0752; Bellevue, 12700 SE 38th St., 425.971.7228; Lynnwood, 3333 184th St. SW, Suite B, 425.622.4500; katsuburger.com
The Fat Albert
The new Seattle branch of this Los Angeles sandwich shack, located inside the music venue Chop Suey, is responsible for The Fat Albert ($10), a hamburger with a glazed doughnut for a bun. In between is a patty covered with melted provolone, bacon and maple syrup drippings. Too sweet? Try The Hendrix ($11), which is topped with deep-fried cream cheese, deep-fried jalapeño crisps, sautéed mushrooms, onions and a tangy-sweet sauce. Capitol Hill, 1325 E Madison St.; theescondite.com
John Howie Steak
Made with ground USDA prime chuck mixed with ground Kurobuta bacon, this burger is stuffed with house-smoked whole-milk mozzarella cheese, grilled over mesquite and layered with balsamic-marinated tomatoes, fresh basil, crispy coppa and roasted garlic balsamic aioli on a house-baked sweet roll. Lunch only, Monday–Friday. Bellevue, 11111 NE Eighth St., Suite 125; 425.440.0880; johnhowiesteak.com
Le Petit Cochon
Our priciest over-the-top pick, this burger’s laundry list of ingredients speaks for itself. Chef/owner Derek Ronspies fashions a mix of short rib, brisket and bone marrow plus salt-cured foie, fig jam and truffle aioli. He tops off the entire naughty thing with arugula pistou, pickled red onion, onion rings and salted thyme chips. ’Nough said. $24. Fremont, 701 N 36th St., Suite 200; 206.829.8943;
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