What: Burgers may be as all-American as apple pie, but proprietary-blend burgers—those featuring beef blends customized specifically for chefs by a local butcher, so that a restaurant can claim its very own unique signature patty—now that’s modern-day New York City. If it sounds over-the-top, well, it is when you start talking $26 burgers composed of top-secret blends of prime dry-aged rib eye, skirt steak, and brisket (by all accounts delicious, incidentally). But it also applies to fast-food-style $4 burgers too, and it’s the downscale burger joint, in fact, that ignited the trend. We’re talking about Danny Meyer—the superstar New York restaurateur behind some of the city’s very best restaurants (Union Square Café, Gramercy Tavern, the original incarnation of Eleven Madison Park)—his fast-growing Shake Shack burger empire, and the city’s most famous butcher: Pat LaFrieda, the man behind the 90-year-old, family-owned Manhattan meat supplier of the same name (which, due to its rapid growth, has recently had to relocate to North Bergen, NJ). As the story goes, Pat decided to throw a dry-aged rib eye into the meat grinder one day as an experiment. The rest is history.
Good to know: The vast majority of Pat LaFrieda’s meat comes from Creekstone Farms in Kansas, a small, boutique purveyor of all-natural certified Black Angus beef.
Where: Shake Shack (multiple locations including the original in Madison Square Park, Madison Ave. nr. 23rd St., map) is still the best (and cheapest) place to experience New York’s burger revolution. Its opening in 2004 heralded a new era of good “roadside” eating—a contemporary, high-quality take on burgers, fries, and shakes—smack in the middle of NYC. (On the butcher end, LaFrieda reportedly tried out 20 different combinations of meat to create the signature Shake Shack burger blend.) It became an instant institution, with the long lines to match. (You’ll generally encounter a smaller/faster line at other locations, like the one in the Theater District at 691 Eighth Ave. nr 44th St., map).
When: Daily, 11am-11pm
Order: A ShackBurger ($4.60) is the way to go—a custom-blended, freshly ground, and daily-formed Pat LaFrieda patty topped with American cheese, green-leaf lettuce, tomato, and secret “ShackSauce,” nestled into a griddled potato bun (regular hamburgers cost $3.60). Is this the best burger we’ve ever had? Not necessarily, but it’s simple and very satisfying, well-priced, and well-made. Fries are OK, but the real winner to complement your burger is a classic vanilla or chocolate shake ($5). (If you’re feeling more adult, make it a ShackMeister Ale, brewed specially by Brooklyn Brewery.) Or follow the burger with a cup of rich, thick frozen custard ($3.25 single)—the kind that Midwesterners know and love.
Alternatively: Where else can you find a gourmet custom-blended burger? The question is more like “where can’t you” these days. Some other popular spots doing their own Pat LaFrieda thing are 5 Napkin Burger (burger $13.95-$15.95; multiple locations including 630 Ninth Ave. at 45th St., map), in Hell’s Kitchen (and elsewhere); The Spotted Pig (314 W. 11th St. at Greenwich St., map), serving a Roquefort-topped specimen ($20), and The Little Owl (90 Bedford St. at Grove St., map), with a wildly popular bacon-cheeseburger ($16), both in the West Village; and BLT Burger (from $9; 470 Sixth Ave. betw. 11th & 12th Sts., map) in Greenwich Village, where spiked shakes are also on the menu. As for that infamous $26 burger, called the Black Label and served with caramelized onions and perfect fries—it’s only at Minetta Tavern (113 MacDougal St. betw. Bleecker & 3rd Sts., map), in the West Village.