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Posted at 12:20 PM ET, 08/29/2008

Best in the Burger Biz

By Julia Beizer

Mmmmm. Hell-Burger. (Julia Beizer/

When Washingtonians think back to summer 2008, we might as well just call it the season of the burger. Michael Landrum's Ray's Hell-Burger opened to food-fan raves. Top Chef's Spike opened his burger joint on the hill, Good Stuff Eatery, and was met with masses of media coverage and 47-minute lines. Other shops -- Big Buns, Z-Burger and BGR -- started to come into their own.

Since everybody loves a list and the Friday before a holiday weekend is perfect for a no-nonsense blog post, I've ranked a few of the newer burger joints in order of my personal preference. Young and Hungry columnist Tim Carman did a much more scientific analysis for us a few months back, but since that one didn't include Ray's or Good Stuff, I figured the topic was worth revisiting. After the jump, vote in our poll for the best burger joint around and let us know where you get your burger on.

1) Ray's Hell Burger. Hands down, this burger is the best around for my money. That meat! It's perfectly seasoned and cooked to order. I don't even mind that the place doesn't have fries.
2) Good Stuff Eatery. I wanted to hate you, Spike. I really did. I wondered whether your shop could possibly live up to all the hype. It did. The burger I had here was well-seasoned, juicy and smothered in cheese. The toasted marshmallow milkshake is also pretty much my idea of heaven.
3) BGR: The Burger Joint. Bethesda's addition to the burger field has been known to make me mad. They never seem to pick up the phone. The line can be totally insane (though not nearly up to Spike levels). But, the burger and buttery buns are worth the wait.
4) Big Buns Gourmet Grill. I love these guys. The sweet-potato fries are delicious. The topping and sauce selections are unsurpassed. I even had a nice chat with owner Craig Carey for a story I wrote for today's Express. But, just going by quality of meat patty, I had to bump these guys below BGR on my personal-preference list. Vegetarians and pescetarians, this is your spot, though. Mahi Mahi and portobello burgers round out the menu.
5) Z-Burger. Sorry, hon, but when your best contribution to the burger game is a freakishly long list on milkshake flavors, I don't think you're in the right business. Also, you would think it would be easy to improve upon the ambiance of a former McDonald's. Apparently it isn't.

Call it Washington food heresy, but I think I even put Five Guys near the bottom of this list -- just a notch above Z-Burger. The homegrown chain's well-done patties just never really did it for me and with all these other options to choose from, I'm psyched to spend my burger cash elsewhere.

Anyway, let us know what you think: There are tons of other places that serve burgers around town (Urban and Elevation come to mind, along with plenty of restaurants who -- gasp! -- specialize in other foods in addition to burgers and fries.) Let us know where you go for a burger in the comments below and vote in our burger-joint poll.

-- Julia

By Julia Beizer  | August 29, 2008; 12:20 PM ET
Categories:  Restaurants  
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is Big Buns the only of these with a vegetarian option? i wish someone would do a rundown of that.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2008 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Nah, most of them have something for vegetarians. In my experience, though, Big Buns was the best of the bunch. Spike's was a close second in that regard with a panko-crusted portobello.

Posted by: Julia | August 29, 2008 6:00 PM | Report abuse

I would also be very interested in veggie burger rankings.

That said, I think that most of these places that I know of have some kind of veg. option (though it may be underwhelming like the Five Guys sad grilled cheese and veggie sandwich choices). Sort of basic courtesy to offer something.

The only place that goes out of its way to snub non-beef-eaters is Ray's Hell Burger. I went there with a group right when they opened. No official menu was online or anything at the time. I (perhaps totally crazy) assumed there would be something I could eat, along the lines of the delicious portobello mushroom dish served at Ray's the Steaks - or at least a Boca patty thrown on the grill. Something.

Instead, they not only refused to give me anything to eat - I was not even allowed to pay for a chunk of the corn to eat while my friends chowed down - and they were super rude to me about how they were a "burger place" and "that kind of thing is not a burger so obviously we don't serve it".

Really? All these other "burger places" seem to get it...

Just dreadful.

Posted by: Brittany | August 31, 2008 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Sorry never heard of half the places on your list.

Cheeburger Cheeburger ( is my favorite.

Posted by: Roger | August 31, 2008 6:33 PM | Report abuse

Z Burger is the best burger I ever tasted. The service is great, they always have a line out the door.

Posted by: Paul | August 31, 2008 7:32 PM | Report abuse

Definitely missing from this list is the CG burger at Chef Geoff's. Despite the restaurant’s culinary mediocrity, this hand-made burger (with chipotle mayo, cheddar cheese, and a big salacious slab of bacon), is in a league of its own. It's just about the only place in town where you can get a true medium rare hamburger, and at $5 a pop during happy hour (which, I might add, lasts all day on Saturdays and Sundays) it's a treat not to be missed. And did I mention it's also delicious?

Posted by: Christina | September 1, 2008 3:20 PM | Report abuse

I respectfully disagree, to Ray's being DC's best. Granted, the only 2 I've yet to try is Five Guys and Ray's, but having just left Ray's... I came away somewhat disappointed. Don't get me a wrong, it's a quality burger. But it just was lacking in execution. Cooking to temperature is key to a good burger... and I understand being a bit off, but if ordered med-rare and comes out med-well... well, that's a bit too much off the mark if your forte is supposed to be the grill. I was briefly excited when I picked up the burger and from the back dripped burger-goo, the amalgam of meat juice, melted cheese, and mystery that is the telltale of a burger that style has some moo to it. Yet, it was not to be. Just a tease. The meat was not flavorless but I thought there should be more to it. I have oft-heard this complaint before as well, but the bun is lacking. Too big, too dry.

Ray's meat slingers did get a nice bit of char crust on the burger, and the cheese selection is top notch, as is the selection of old fashioned and hard-to-find sodas and from-the-tap root beer. The corn and watermelon are a great touch. But with these, this restaurant begs for sun and patio. Oh well.

Hopefully the rest of the list lives up to expectations.

Posted by: DCExpat | September 1, 2008 7:29 PM | Report abuse

I have yet to eat a burger than can top those at Billy Martin's Tavern in Georgetown. The burgers are HUGE, deliciously seasoned and just perfect patties with great options to pile on top. By far, my favorite... or at least until I try Ray's.

Posted by: Not a burger joint, but... | September 2, 2008 11:28 AM | Report abuse

I was also disappointed with Ray's, although, in fairness, I visited pretty early after their opening. The burger was big, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but my medium rare was nicely seared on the outside only to be room temperature and way, way too red on the inside. That's ain't medium rare, that's uncooked. I think they're having a little trouble keeping the burgers consistent because of the size. Seasoning was great, but I thought that some of their suggested toppings combinations looked a bit overwhelming (and sloppy) for what's supposed to be a simple pleasure.

By contrast, my Good Stuff burger was perfect -- in this case, too cheesy was just cheesy enough. Spike, for all of his unctuousness and silliness and hat-wearing, has that place running like a machine. The quality of the meat was great, but this burger wins by composition. The bun manages to contain the gooeyness quite well, which didn't really happen at Ray's.

Posted by: Patrick | September 2, 2008 6:47 PM | Report abuse

Ray's is by far the best burger in town. If your burget isn't cook to your liking why not bring it back?

Ray's blackened burger is amazing. I live across the street from Good Stuff and visit often but it nowhere near the level of Ray's.

Posted by: Tim | September 3, 2008 2:00 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Julia. I think Five Guys is totally over-rated. Not really sure how it became such a local favorite (not to mention how it has become such a wide-spread chain), unless it's just proof-positive as to how much DC has been lacking in the way of decent, low-priced food. We certainly have plenty of the over-priced variety. Glad to know that we now have many more options in the low-priced & tasty category.

Posted by: foodie-ak | September 3, 2008 7:38 PM | Report abuse

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