Several months ago I had a craving for a burger and entered a joint that a friend recommended. He said it’s where the best burger he had ever tasted is served.
Suffice it to say we are no longer friends, and as a result of that bad experience, I took it upon myself to save other burger lovers from a similar ghastly fate and to find the best burgers in the metro.
The word “burger” is so loosely used these days. Just to be clear, a “hamburger” is a cooked beef patty, not turkey or lamb. It is in a bun, not in toast bread, and you definitely don’t try to squeeze it in French bread.
Lettuce, tomatoes and pickles are optional but I like them. Hold the onions, though. A lot of people like them but I have avoided them since the time I learned to walk.
Nowadays, you can find all kinds of burgers ranging from simple to the extremely complicated. You have your traditional burger—plain, tender, not made complicated by adding too many flavors. Then you have the gourmet burger, bursting with greens, bacon and items you normally find on a list your doctor has asked you to cut down on.
You even have those ridiculous burgers which, by their sheer size, make it physically impossible to take a bite.
Regardless of the varieties, a great burger should give you a sense of comfort; after all, to many it is the ultimate comfort food. Each bite should remind you of the good times in backyard barbecues and Super Bowl parties.
While it shouldn’t be too hard, preparing a great burger nevertheless requires some skill. It must be handmade and skillfully seared, removed from the fire just before it loses its juiciness.
Reliance on condiments, especially ketchup, should be left to the diner’s discretion. But of course, if one must have ketchup other than for the fries, it’s a clear indication that the burger is wanting.
Mustard is also another faux pas, unless of course you’re French and mayonnaise is a definite “no-no.”
From the traditional fast-food chains to stalls on the streets of Manila and fine-dining restaurants, I tried a total of 42 burgers from 37 establishments, probably in the process gaining more calories than I can count.
I figured I’ve tried everything, from beautifully plated, overly stuffed burgers to street-stall burgers served in paper bags. I paid no attention to price and ambiance, nor did the spelling of the word count for much. Quite a few spelled it “Burjer.”
Taste was the ultimate deciding factor.
I was happy with the places I visited, though there were some disappointments. In one place the staff actually ran out of the appropriate bun and offered to serve it open face. I politely said no, thanks.
I asked for no favors or freebies and I received none. I tried as many as I could, though I believe I never exceeded three on any given day; my goal was to find the 10 best burgers in town, and with apologies to ones I missed, I think I did my quest justice.
1. Demi-Pound Burger, Lusso (Greenbelt 5)
The simplicity of this burger is its beauty. A thick Angus beef patty and foie gras served in a homemade Dutch Crunch bun make for a flavorful combination. Add Combozola cheese sauce in the mix and it is sheer bliss.
What’s great about the taste is that the foie gras, while distinct, is not overpowering, since it is mixed in the patty, not just placed on top, lending a more even taste to every bite.
The bread remains firm and crusty and does not crumble as it absorbs the richness of the beef, the foie gras and Cambozola sauce.
The burger comes with side greens and fries and, if you really want, grilled onions to provide a little sweetness. Even if its components are few, this burger tops it all. It is what a burger should be: uncomplicated and filled with flavor.
2. FC Burger, Florabel (The Podium)
Using the initials of the restaurant’s owner Florabel Co, the FC burger is 180 grams of pure Angus beef served on toasted sesame bun. Generous portions of foie gras and caramelized onions accompany the burger, providing a contrasting acidic and sweet taste that actually works well when combined.
A side salad complete with fresh greens, cherry tomatoes and shaved Parmesan is served, while chips made from real potatoes and a truffle mayo dip take the place of fries.
I guess if you name a dish after the chef, you better make sure it’s good—and, indeed, it is.
3. Smoked Bacon Cheeseburger, Blackwood Bistro (Venice Piazza)
Just listening to the waiter’s narration on how it is prepared, I could tell it would be a good burger.
Start with the patty—made of pure sirloin beef, it is seasoned with just salt and pepper before being seared to the right temperature, creating a nice, crusty exterior without drying up the inside, preserving all the juices of the meat or what I call “the good stuff.”
A slice of Egmont cheese and generous strips of maple-smoked bacon are added on top to provide added texture and flavor. Finally, truffle-flavored butter is smeared on a Kaiser bun before it, too, is seared.
And, to top it off, a nice pickle provides an acidic kick that goes well with the smoky-beefy flavor.
4. Nolita Burger, Nolita (Bonifacio High Street Central)
Nolita is a small New York-style restaurant in Bonifacio High Street Central. It offers several burgers, including the Nolita Burger, a well-rounded burger with a thick, salty crust, moist inside with a strong beefy flavor. The burger is topped by blue cheese and caramelized onions, but if you are just after the meat you can ask them to drop the onions.
You bite into this burger and let out an audible squelch, as your palate is filled with an intense, pure beef flavor.
Fries are not included—actually the place has none, at least not in the traditional sense. Instead, it offers fresh potato-chip fries, which are thicker versions of what we buy in the supermarket and give you more potato with every bite.
5. Truffled Mushroom and Gruyere, Chelsea (Serendra)
If you are looking for a big, meaty burger with strong, earthy flavors, this is the one. The Angus patty is thick and oozes with flavor.
The earthy taste comes from the melted Gruyere cheese, which is known to be a less-than-overpowering cheese and goes well with truffled wild mushrooms.
Served in a caramelized onion bun with greens, tomato and home fries, this is a burger best eaten medium to medium rare.
6. Rising Shrooms Burger, Burger Bar (Greenbelt 4)
This is a mushroom lover’s burger. Fans of the Smurfs will note the resemblance to one of their houses. Apart from the sautéed mushrooms, there are two pieces of oyster mushroom tempura to give an added crunch to every bite, while truffled cream cheese adds a kick.
Surprisingly though, the earthy flavors of the mushrooms are not overpowering and the mustard-fried patty, which is a blend of sirloin and chuck, is still the hero. It is served in a buttered Kaiser roll.
7. Cowboy Burger, The Village Tavern (Bonifacio High Street Central)
This burger is what a Texas barbecue is all about: good meat, no greens, a smoky taste, and a thick, spicy sauce. The burger is served with pure beef patty seared to perfection, topped with melted cheddar and strips of smoked applewood bacon. It is served with amazing sweet potato fries and, if you really like, caramelized onions for extra sweetness.
8. Ultimate Third-of-a-Pound Burger, Myron’s Place (Power Plant Mall)
Here is another mushroom burger that doesn’t hold back. The sautéed mushrooms on top of it actually cover the entire burger, with the melted cheddar in between the mushrooms and the patty.
This burger combines two toppings that naturally go well with good meat. As for the burger patty itself, it is prepared to your liking but the resto usually recommends not to have it well done, which in my book is a sign that the place knows its meats. It is served with a side order of fries.
9. Steakhouse Burger, Chops Chicago (Greenbelt 5)
This burger bears all the characteristics of a nice, juicy piece of steak. It is thick, uncomplicated and full of flavor. The black Angus ground beef is prepared by hand, seared to your liking and topped with double smoked bacon, blue cheese and an organic sunny side-up egg.
The egg is actually not very American, but having that oozing yellow yoke, reminiscent of a nice steak tartare, is beginning to catch on. The burger comes with beer-battered onion rings and house fries.
10. Cue Burger, Cue Modern Barbecue (Bonifacio High Street Central)
Everything about this burger says it shouldn’t work, but for some reason it does. A six-ounce all-beef patty topped with thinly sliced chorizo, smoked provolone and mozzarella cheese
make for an interesting and flavorful combination.
Both cheeses actually complement the saltiness of the chorizo. Cheese and chorizo enhance the beefy taste of the patty.
Finally, arugula, instead of run-of-the-mill lettuce, provides a slight bitter taste that goes well with the sweetness of the red-wine BBQ sauce. Served on a rustic-looking wooden chopping board with thick sweet potato fries, this burger really packs a punch.
There are five which did not make the top 10 but deserve to be mentioned:
Draft’s Fully Loaded Burger —Anybody who can properly prepare half a pound of pure Angus beef with bacon, fried egg, lettuce, tomato and pickles deserves some recognition in my book, even if the burger is served with my dreaded caramelized onions.
Then there is Charlie’s Black Angus with Shrooms. There is just something about serving a nice, big, juicy Portobello mushroom.
Army Navy and Chili’s have set burgers on their menu, but I actually prefer to dictate what I want on mine. There is something with their seasoning that gives an extra kick to every bite, differentiating them just a tad from other similar types.
Finally, my beloved Quarterpounder with Cheese. Call it nostalgia, call it my last vain effort to cling to my youth, but this burger started it all. McDonald’s made no promises except to consistently give me, wherever I go, a quarter-pound patty with cheddar, pickles, onions and ketchup.
Note this is probably the only time I will not complain about the onions, as all those ingredients combined with the burger patty create just magical harmony.
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PHOTOS BY PJ ENRIQUEZ