Ali Khan's 5 Favorite Cheap Burgers
The burger: Schnipper Old Fashioned, a flat-top classic 5-ounce griddled patty topped with lettuce, tomato, pickle, house sauce, double cheese (American) and griddled onion
It’s not hard for many to simply call Schnipper’s a Shake Shack clone. Whatever you call it, you will be paying $7 for a near-perfect cheeseburger. There are a number of elements that make Schnipper’s such a damn successful burger, but none are more important than a uniformly well-browned exterior that comes from a masterful charring at the griddle. At Schnipper’s, the holy-burger-cold-topping-trinity of lettuce, tomato and pickle is alive and well, and the quality is up to the same standards as the beef. Many a Bang for Your Burger Buck has delivered standard-to-subpar lettuce, or a mealy tomato that was made passable thanks to a heavy dousing of burger sauce a la Thousand Island. No need to dunk the greens in pink stuff at Schnipper’s. Also, the more I revisit the pics, the more I am confounded by the magical act that was Schnipper’s melting the cheese underneath the burger. The sauce was applied with restraint, a technique to ensure that the all the flavors of the burger come out. These toppings are familiar territory, of course, but they were measured and layered with precision and were of quality. Many burgers have gotten away with less at this price point, so tip your cap. And come hungry, because that price includes a short wait. This is where Schnipper’s outdoes Shake Shack: It’s a more convenient experience. I’ll take a shorter line to a non-cloned burger any day.
Just as long as that clone isn’t trying to blow up the world or something.
The burger: 8 ounces of chuck (ground in-house) with cheddar, garlic butter, giardiniera, lettuce, tomato and pickle
I am about to make the case for a $10 burger. Edzo’s Burger Shop is a temple where bespoke burgers are made. Being in Chicago, I could not resist adding giardiniera, the city’s unofficial first condiment. And why am I now, after 37 years of eating burgers, discovering that melted butter, let alone melted butter studded with garlic, is a topping option? That was 50 cents I surely will never miss. And then there is the beef. Any burger shop that honors the commandments “ never frozen” and “ ground in-house every morning” deserves a Michelin star, in my book. A juicy patty is a given when pulled off to the temperature seen above, but the garlic butter just jacks up the event from “ I’ll need extra napkins” to “ I need to buy a new shirt.” And the unsung hero? The freaking bun. Eddie told me he uses “a standard bun from Highland Baking . . . no seeds, nothing superfluous. It’s a basic pan de mie-type dough, so not super rich or buttery or anything. Like I said, I wanted the meat to be the star.” Eddie, mission freakin’ accomplished. The bottom line: $9.50 for an 8-ounce, ground-in-house burger, dressed to impress with primo upgrades including a slice of medium cheddar, basted in garlic butter and topped with giardiniera. An affordable, well-thought-out, custom burger experience.
1571 Sherman Ave.
The burger: Double w/ Cheese, two 100% all-natural Black Angus beef patties with two slices of American cheese, plus lettuce, tomato, pickle and onion (upon request)
At $4, a cheeseburger of this caliber is a slam dunk when it comes to Bang for Your Burger Buck — because of the quality, first and foremost. The price point just happens to be the cherry on the sundae. The pure pleasure, the complete satisfaction, derived from consuming the double cheeseburger at P. Terry’s spurs me to call the burger experience genuinely authentic. Let’s take a look under the hood of this 21st-century American classic: Do yourself the favor of unwrapping this burger and push your tray about a foot back in order to admire this beauty from afar. Some of the best meals of my life have been served in a paper bag, but P. Terry’s burger deserves to be placed on a silver platter. But the key is getting the pickles and onions — free extras, but a necessary request. I can’t stress how much the pickle and onion defined this perfect cheeseburger experience. Savory chopped onion and the briny bite of pickle are critical elements in a classic cheeseburger experience, but at P. Terry’s they showcase the remarkable overall quality of the burger. Many times certain toppings can mask a burger’s inferior attributes, but at P. Terry’s the pickle and onion actually make everything else shine. The cheese is well-melted, a nod to the skills behind the grill. P. Terry’s is a brilliant, authentic 21st-century cheeseburger experience. It also costs $4. I would say that’s Bang for Your Burger Buck twice over. But that doesn’t make sense. What does make sense is for you get over to a P. Terry’s soon.
The burger: griddled triple cheeseburger with bacon, lettuce and tomato
On sites of burger discourse, the term “griddled” is deployed to describe thin, stackable hamburger patties, cooked through, with crisp edges. Nowhere have I found this style taken to such delicious extremes as at Carl’s. The burgers are smashed into a type of beef crepe and masterfully pulled off the griddle before they become part of that griddle. The results are remarkable burger patties that serve up flavor and texture in equal beefy parts. The edges of these burgers are so crisp they would no doubt draw the envy of the finest pommes frites in the bistros of Paris. How fortunate for us that these edges belong to the best, cheapest burger in St. Louis. Look at how that American cheese just bonds with the patties above. I got a C- in Chemistry, so you’ll just have to trust your eyeballs that this beef-and-cheese combo is fused with magic. Then there is the bacon. As if the burger’s edges weren’t crisp enough, biting into the bacon was like chomping down on a premium potato chip. This burger was tasty, this burger was filling, but most importantly, it was a striking textural masterpiece.
Most patrons at Carl’s happily walk away with a double cheeseburger for $4, leaving plenty of room in the budget for fries or the root beer made in-house. While I have no doubt that the single burger at $2.75 would be a wise exercise in restraint, I felt like getting downright filthy with some burger-topping excess. The bottom line is that $6.80 for a triple cheeseburger with bacon, lettuce and tomato from a legendary Midwest burger institution is Bang for Your Burger Buck whether you are local or coming off a flight from LAX.
The burger: Double Fast Burger, two 3-ounce patties of enlightened grass-fed beef with housemade American cheese, custom burger sauce, lettuce, tomato and onion
T he Fast Burger at Belcampo Meat Company is the best Bang for Your Burger Buck in Los Angeles, because the burger embodies the balance of excellent technique and superb ingredients. One would assume the star of this show would be the grass-fed, organic, sustainably raised, 21-day dry-aged beef, but it’s not. Nor is it the perfectly sourced burger bun from Giordano’s bakery, the butter lettuce (I’m a sucker for that leaf) or the housemade mayonnaise or ketchup (yeah, they really make their own ketchup). The star of this show is the “ Belcampo Way” itself. See, this isn’t just a high-end butcher shop with a menu. It is also a farm, and the place where these well-raised animals are turned into sustainable food. Eight dollars for a burger that saves the world and comes with cheese? Now, that is something I can get down with. What might seem like a slightly meager serving of tomato and onion on the Fast Burger is in fact a deliberate act of a Belcampo burger perfectionist. For some, the end of the meal can be a moment of melancholy, but in the case of the Belcampo Fast Burger, when you have taken your sweet time getting down to that perfectly complete final bite, the moment becomes a time to relish in excellent burger cookery. My immediate reaction to tasting the Fast Burger was my brain demanding an answer to how a burger that appears so modest on paper can taste like truffle season. They make their own American cheese. They make their own ketchup. They dry-age grass-fed beef that they raised. To source great ingredients is one thing, but to make as many of them in-house as you can is beyond commendable. Technique and ingredients seldom come together in such perfect balance. And in an $8 double cheeseburger? That screams “ Hallelujah!” as a Bang for Your Burger Buck.
Get way more culinary bangs for your buck by watching Cheap Eats every week. It premieres Thursday, April 21 at 10pm ET.