The #1 Burger You Should Never Order, According to Chefs
In terms of quintessential American comfort foods, it doesn't get much more iconic than a good ol' fashioned burger. From fast food to high-end restaurants, this timeworn menu staple comes in all different sizes and flavors, from the requisite basics like ketchup and cheese to all manner of extraneous toppings, exotic buns, and frilly additions. And there are just as many opinions about burgers as there are versions of burgers—especially among burger-loving chefs.
Just as there are certain menu items to avoid at sushi places, Italian restaurants, and steakhouses, there are burgers that are best skipped. Aside from the the big taboo in the room (ahem, well-done burgers), this means opting for specialty burgers created by a chef, instead of excessive menu fluff like "kitchen sink burgers," over-stuffed burgers, and meat-free burgers created in a lab.
As the head butcher at the Butcher Shop by Niku Steakhouse in San Francisco, a beefy bastion so popular for its signature burgers that it regularly sees lines around the block, Guy Crims knows a thing or two about what not to order at a burger place.
"When I go into a restaurant looking for a burger, I always ask them what their most popular burger is," he explains. "It's also a good idea to get the signature burger without any modifications, as the chef has worked to fine tune the very best burger he or she could." This is what he calls "abiding by the house rules," and for this same reason, he also adds that it doesn't make any sense to order a fish sandwich or a veggie burger at a place specializing in burgers. "You're not going to get the best the kitchen has to offer."
Oftentimes, a good burger is a matter of quality over quantity, which is why David Spero, executive chef of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, avoids excess for the sake of excess. "Personally, I try to stay away from the 'kitchen sink' burger—the one that has four different meats, three cheeses, and more toppings than you can remember."
According to him, condiments and toppings need to complement the patty, not cover it up. "A good burger is a game of ratios. The bread-to-meat ratio, the condiment ratio to meat and bun, and so on. When everything is in balance, that is when you have a great combination."
Excess is also a no-no for Eric Mickle, executive chef of Salt & Fin at Harrah's Resort Southern California, who suggests not ordering "Kobe" beef burgers. "Kobe is Wagyu beef from Japan that, we as chefs, pay thousands of dollars for because of the beautiful marbling. When I grind beef I can add fat directly to it. I don't need a well-marbled piece of beef for the fat content, I can add the fat as I see fit."
Jeremy Shigekane has similar sentiments about needless indulgence. As the executive chef of 100 Sails Restaurant & Bar at the Prince Waikiki Hotel explains: "The extra-large burger that is difficult to eat just to 'go large' is something I don't order and would never recommend." Ditto the decadent toppings for the sake of pure decadence, like…gold on a burger. "Gold on caviar? Not bad. Gold on a burger? No."
Then there's the divisive topic of veggie burgers and fake meat. With the rise of plant-based proteins and meat-free burgers, it's no surprise that some versions are better than others.
"The most iconic juicy claim to culinary fame the U.S. has to offer. Every American probably has an opinion of what the best burger should look like and there is likely a wide range of differences." That's according to Josh Mouzakes, executive chef of ARLO at Town and Country Resort in San Diego. "One burger, however, that I would never order is fake meat. I'm all for food science and interested in the research of synthetic proteins, but alternative meat burgers seem to have taken the turkey burgers' place on the menu and I happen to like turkey burgers."
As a devoted burger-lover, Andy Knudson also has some thoughts about veggie burgers. According to the executive chef of Tillie's in Dripping Springs in Texas, most veggie burgers have no business being on menus at all. "Some 90% of the ones you order you get the same box-frozen patty that you get from your local grocery store," he says! "Don't serve that because you need to have a veggie option sandwich. If you are going to put a veggie burger on the menu, make it from scratch and R&D the heck out of it. Make it the goal to sell more than your beef burger!"
If it's a veggie burger you're after, there are indeed better versions than others out there. And one such place putting in that R&D is Lekka Burger, a vegan spot in New York City. "As an advocate for a plant-based and sustainable lifestyle, I would never order a meat alternative that is created in a lab," echoes founder Andrea Kerzner.
Instead, she put in the work to create a viable meat-free alternative that was just as legit as the beef versions. "After tirelessly searching for a healthy meat alternative, I decided to create Lekka Burger to provide an elevated option that is healthy without sacrificing taste," she explains of her partnership with Michelin-starred chef Amanda Cohen who helped create a recipe consisting of whole ingredients like beans, mushrooms, and aromatic spices that are scratch-made daily.
In other words, no matter the style or flavor of the burger, chefs and restaurateurs are adamant about sticking to specialty burgers that are made from scratch with whole ingredients—while avoiding excess for the sake of excess.