Yesterday, Eater NY published an op-ed in which critic Ryan Sutton and news editor Serena Dai proclaimed “do not order burgers in restaurants.” By their estimations, restaurant burgers commit a myriad of sins, including but not limited to not enough char, too big and too rich, being boring and pricey, and not showing off a chef’s vision properly. It’s definitely a hot take. Their proposed improvements: Less meat, more char, fewer toppings, and more varieties of animal meats, and vegetable proteins for less than $20.
It’s true American hamburger sandwiches are a great entry point on a pricey menu. As many commenters point out, oftentimes the burger — which can be pricey out of context of the menu — is a cheaper option when dining out. Ordering the Spruce burger ($19, comes with fries) in the lounge is a great way to get the ambiance and quality of the restaurant without eating a $39 roast chicken in the dining room; same goes for Zuni where a burger at lunch goes for $18 (no fries), while the roast chicken for two clocks in at $58. Sometimes, though, there’s nothing better than sidling up to the bar and ordering a decadent, rich burger by yourself, or splitting one with a friend (that way you can order more sides, get smart).
One thing not mentioned in Eater NY’s tirade against burgers: Sustainability. If for no other reason, experts recommend eating less meat to, y’know, save the planet. It’s the whole impetus behind Impossible Foods’ burger, which is starting to pop up in places like Umami Burger, and Gott’s, offering a meatless, meat-like alternative to the massive beef patty-parties that Americans love so dear.
There’s a lot to unpack here. To get further input on the matter, Eater reached out to three San Francisco chefs for their thoughts:
Nick Balla, chef/owner of Duna: “I understand the perspective, but the article is just too generalized for me. Lots of chefs have a burger on the menu that they stand behind — a good burger shows technique better than anything. The argument about having to have a burger to compete is a much longer tirade on capitalism and entitlement.”
Chris Kronner, chef/owner of Kronnerburger: “I do agree that a lot of restaurant burgers are margin driving piles of shit, so [Sutton and Dai] make some good points. But NY has several very modest, very exceptional restaurant burgers — Reynard, Spotted Pig, Breslin, Altro Paradiso — that are expressive of the ethos of the chefs and owners of those restaurants. So does SF: Marlowe, Nopa, ABV, 4505. I feel like [Kronnerburger] is the antithesis of everything they describe; for me, burgers are the gateway to sustainable eating.” (Read more about Kronner’s methods here.)
Wes Rowe, chef/owner of WesBurger: “I 100 percent agree with the statement about lack of char, and while many of these burgers are great (heirloom) a nice char would greatly improve the burger. I completely disagree with the fact that they are boring. I love reading about chuffed up burgers and all their far out fancy and sometimes contrived toppings. If any thing they risk being too gaudy.
These fancy restaurants have to make money, they have a lot of overhead. If everyone came in and ordered a $10 burger they wouldn’t be able to keep their doors open. It doesn’t reflect a chef’s vision??? This is the stupidest part of this article and beginning to make me question if they are just trying to come up with ideas to write this article for the sake of being contrary or to rile people up. Fries sometimes don't come with it??? I hate this person who is writing this now.”
Bottom line: San Francisco seems to be successfully riding the fine line between “cheffed-up” burgers, and approachable, delicious menu items, and doing it more sustainably than the rest. This whole thing seems like it might be a New York problem, after all .
So, here’s some advice from Eater SF: If you want a burger, order a burger. And if you need some guidance, here’s a list of SF’s best examples of the specimen:
San Francisco's Essential Burgers