A few things to know about me: I’ve been eating burgers in New York City at a pretty aggressive clip for the past five years. I’ve argued the merits of Shake Shack versus Steak ‘n Shake, blown stacks on Minetta Tavern’s famed Black Label Burger, and tried melting-pot mashup patties featuring everything from Malaysian beef rendang to Filipino-style chorizo. I once ate 10 burgers, spanning three boroughs, in a single day.
I’m constantly impressed by the options in every imaginable category of burger-making, from greasy sliders to haute-chef creations, but I’m also frustrated by the debate around crowning the best patties. The problem is that, in becoming so diverse, the New York burger landscape has also become nearly impossible to assess with blanket pronouncements. Can a $6.25 SmokeStack really be pitted against April Bloomfield’s $20 Spotted Pig burger in any meaningful way? And how could you ever reasonably compare griddled chuck to dry-aged steak formed into a patty?
There are very distinct categories of burgers—many of which are brilliantly summarized in Adam Kuban’s burger taxonomy—and one of the key factors that tends to unite them is price point. Having studied the game intently, I’d argue that the NYC burger economy falls roughly into the following brackets:
- Under $3: Mass-market fast food, reheated bodega patties, and other suspect offerings.
- $4-$8: The new-school fast food category (think Shake Shack), plus casual bars that serve Budweiser and well shots.
- $9: A no-man’s land populated by chain-like restaurants that aren’t chains yet, and bars that don’t have sticky floors.
- $10-13: Upscale chains and fast-casual restaurants (think Umami Burger).
- $14-$15: Gastropubs and New American restaurants.
- $16 and up: Steakhouse-style burgers—often there is a big-name chef or restaurant behind it, and the beef is usually dry-aged.
Thus, if we compare burgers to other options at its dollar-amount level, we’ll be more likely to have a fair game on our hands. So that’s exactly what I’ve done here.
A couple of notes: This is pre-tax and tip, which are certainly relevant, but would make this whole exercise a bit too confusing (the main point is that you don’t have to tip at counter-service spots like Shake Shack, but you do at restaurants, gastropubs, and the like). And, of course, there are other economic concerns that can come into play, like the fact that some burgers might require spending $5 in subway fare, or taking a sick day from work (see: Roberta’s). But all other things remaining equal, I believe these are the finest burgers I’ve ever had in New York, based on the amount of money you’re willing to spend on any given day.
Check out the best burger at every price point, from $2 to $20.