What makes a burger great? Is it the toppings – the artisan pickles, fancy buns and special sauces? Or is it simplicity – the quality of the meat, the perfect doneness – that defines the best of the very many versions of America’s favorite sandwich?
It’s up to the eater to decide, but one thing is for sure: the difference between a good hamburger and a sub-par attempt is never hard to distinguish.
There are plenty of thoughts on where to go to get the best burger in NYC, and for some places that decision is more unanimous than others. With so many opinions floating around and so many joints touting to be “the best,” you may not know where to begin.
When you’re going on a trip, sometimes the best thing to do is to follow your stomach. In recent years, food tourism has become more and more popular.
AAA Diamond Ratings make it a little easier. Below we’ve highlighted one and two Diamond burger restaurants in New York City, each of which have been thoroughly evaluated by AAA inspectors and rated based on factors including quality of food, service and affordability.
AAA Diamond Ratings 101
AAA Diamond Ratings are based on objective assessments that are conducted in-person and unannounced by professional, trained inspectors who must follow strict guidelines.
The guidelines for restaurant ratings consider cleanliness, food, décor and service, along with other basic requirements such as appeal and architectural style. All are considered from the point of view of overall guest impression.
Ratings range from one to five diamonds, and though five diamonds is the most coveted and prestigious grade, the number of diamonds a restaurant earns does not always reflect superiority over another in all aspects.
It all depends on what you’re looking for. One and two Diamond restaurants are determined as such because they are casual, quick-service establishments. So while you can expect that they won’t be the fanciest, they may still have some of the best food (burger joints are a great example of this.)
Here is a general breakdown of one and two Diamond Ratings:
One Diamond – Wholesome, straightforward and familiar food at an economical price. Generally, these are quick-service operations with simple, practical surroundings, specializing in one item (e.g. hamburgers, pizza or tacos). Service is limited or self-serve.
Two Diamond –Menu offers a variety of familiar favorites that are often cooked to order and reasonably priced. There are noticeable enhancements in food presentation with common garnishes and dishware. Overall, the restaurant provides a comfortable and often family-friendly experience in a casual setting with limited, relaxed service.
Click here to learn more about the AAA restaurant review and rating process.
The best burgers in NYC with AAA Diamond Ratings
Burger Joint (1 Diamond)
This dimly-lit hideout is inconspicuously veiled by a curtain in the lobby of the Le Parker Meridian hotel. On the menu there’s hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fries and milkshakes – that’s it. One of the reasons why Burger Joint is considered as having some of the best burgers in NYC is because they keep the focus on the burgers and keep the burgers simple. Toppings are basic (iceberg lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, ketchup, mustard, mayo and a cheese blend of white Cheddar and Colby) in order to enjoy the flavor of the patty.
Inspector Notes: “The burgers are tasty, juicy and made any way you want. Seating is limited and the waiting line can be a bit much at times so try to avoid the busy lunch rush.”
Shake Shack (1 Diamond)
Shake Shack has been around since 2004, starting as a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park, and growing into a burger empire with multiple locations throughout New York and around the world. Served simply on a Martin’s potato roll, a proprietary blend of Pat LaFrieda beef is stacked with lettuce, tomato, cheese and signature ShackSauce to make up the classic ShackBurger. Many will argue it’s one of the best burgers in New York City. If you’re looking to spice things up, the SmokeShack with bacon and cherry peppers is another must-try. And if meat is not your thing (or even if it is) the ‘Shroom Burger, made with a breaded and fried Portobello mushroom is an awesome alternative. Other options include the Chick’n Shack fried chicken sandwich and the Shack-cago Dog. Don’t forget to leave room for a milkshake, float or frozen custard “concrete” creation!
Inspector Notes: “You wouldn’t think that a bona fide New Yorker would wait in line for anything, much less a burger and shake. But these aren’t just any burgers and shakes…”
Corner Bistro (1 Diamond)
The Corner Bistro burger is known for its size (very large) and under $10 price tag. Not a bad deal. The broiled burger is thick and stacked so high with cheese, bacon (or homemade chili) that you’ll apparently have to unhinge your jaw to get it all in one bite. Pair it with a tall beer and you’re all set. Restaurant locations are in west Greenwich Village and Long Island City.
Inspector Notes: “This humble, but crowded, tavern is a popular spot with locals and offers a very simple menu of belly-busting hamburgers, crispy french fries, chili and monster grilled chicken sandwiches.”
BareBurger (2 Diamond)
BareBurger proudly lays claim to what it calls “the most responsible burger.” There’s no mystery meat here; all meats (which extend far beyond beef – ostrich, bison and elk are among the choices) are free range, pasture-raised and humanely-raised, as well as antibiotic and hormone free. The company is also dedicated to supporting local and nationwide food artisans with similar philosophies. Burgers are customizable with your choice of tasty toppings, bun, veggies, sauce and even type of bacon. So whether you are a health-nut, a conscious eater, a vegan or a carnivorous beast, there’s something here for you. What began in Astoria is now a franchise with restaurants across the Northeast and expanding, so you can now enjoy BareBurger in NYC and beyond.
Inspector Notes: “The menu provides an interesting array of choices, and you can go beyond the traditional with bison, elk, wild boar and ostrich burgers topped with all manner of tasty accompaniments.”
5 Napkin Burger (2 Diamond)
This small chain of restaurants with several locations throughout NYC (the Hell’s Kitchen site is one of our top picks for restaurants near Broadway) and one in Boston, was inspired by the signature 5 Napkin Burger. Originally served at Chef Andy D’Amico’s French restaurant NiceMatin in the Upper West Side, the burger, so named for its irrepressible juiciness, is made with 10 ounces of freshly ground chuck and topped with melty Gruyère cheese, caramelized onions and rosemary aioli on a soft white roll. Try it, or one of its friends – including one of 5 Napkin’s “Burger Bowls,” served over a choice of salads, or another one of their homey dishes. Select locations also serve sushi.
Inspector Notes: “The menu has evolved to include additional specialty burgers as well as some other creative options like the very tasty tuna tataki wontons, wasabi deviled eggs and a nice Southwestern chicken salad. The atmosphere is a step up from the typical burger place but stays relaxed and casual.”
Standard Burger (2 Diamond)
The next time you’re in Staten Island, swing by Hylan Boulevard and give Standard Burger a try. Build your own burger from the selection of toppings, sauces, rolls and proteins or choose one of their signature creations, like their best-seller, The Texan, deemed the best burger in NYC in Time Out New York’s city-wide Battle of the Burger in 2015. Served on a fresh baked potato roll, a Pat LaFrieda blend comes crowned with lettuce, seasoning, pickles, panko shoestring onion and homemade BBQ sauce. Pair it with a potato at the potato bar, where diners can choose between house-made potato chips, three different types of fries or a baked potato that you can load up with toppings. Cap off your meal at the dessert bar, which is just as fun as it sounds.
Inspector Notes: “This burger joint has a pleasing variety of selections to pair with beef, lamb or veggie patties with such toppings as aioli, jalapeño and goat cheese. With a potato bar, shake and ice cream counter and a wide variety of craft beers, everyone in the family is likely to be pleased.”
Two8Two Bar & Burger (2 Diamond)
Two8Two receives positive and consistent reviews all around. Visit them on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. Their burgers are made with locally sourced beef from butcher Los Paisanos. Try the Two8Two burger, topped with roasted poblano chiles, cheddar cheese and Two8Two sauce, or the Half and Half, which is the same but with a 50% Applewood smoked bacon patty. Customize with a list of toppings that range from house-made tzatziki sauce, to beef chili, to a fried egg. Hot dogs, classic sandwiches and salads are also on the menu.
Inspector Notes: “With fresh burger meat ground daily at a local butcher, patio dining and a full bar, this eatery has broad neighborhood appeal. It also is a favorite with the crowds who flock to the area on weekends for reasonably priced, unpretentious, family-friendly dining.”
Now that you know the top picks according the AAA Diamond Ratings, what do you think are some of the best burgers in NYC? Tell us in the comments.