1. For just a few bucks
For many of us, the earliest cognition of cheeseburger perfection comes from a drive-thru window, the domain of a clown named Ronald. That specific cheeseburger of our youth now tastes like a chemical sandwich. But a really good cheap version—usually consumed late at night—offers that same uncomplicated bliss with ingredients that taste like actual food. At South Park bar Loretta’s Northwesterner, the walls bear tributes to Hamm’s and Oly and Blitz Weinhard, the handsaw hanging over the back bar appears to have felled its share of actual logs, and the Tavern Burger is a mere $3.
There’s something intensely reassuring about a squishy white bun, barely griddled, and a thinnish patty that’s happy to play second fiddle to a slice of melty American cheese. Mustard? Hell, no. Cheap burgers demand a sprinkle of chopped white onion, twin coins of pickle, and special sauce which—let’s be honest—bears a tremendous resemblance to Thousand Island. These burgers speak to rowdy nights and therapeutic grease and memories of what fast food tasted like before we were old enough to know better.
Want fries with that? If you’ve got three bucks to spare, they’re skin on, the perfect not-too-skinny size, and nicely crisp.
8617 14th Ave S, South Park, 206-327-9649; lorettasnorthwesterner.com
2. For a little burger with your bacon
Bacon has descended into gimmick territory—you can find it elsewhere dipped in chocolate, battered and fried, or on top of an ice cream sundae—but at West Seattle’s most charming temple of exalted carnivory, it’s practically an essential element. The butcher shop’s prepared food menu keeps growing (hello, sandwich of pulled pork, sliced ham, pork belly, and swiss cheese) but the bacon burger remains the standard, a dripping good example of what happens when the most carefully crafted of bacons meets a hand-formed, grass-fed patty. The beef is fired on a charcoal grill in the adjacent courtyard and topped with a crisscross of the Swinery’s own bacon, cured simply in nothing but brown sugar and kosher salt. It’s sliced thick enough that you taste the cure and the sweet and the actual meatiness. A combo of red and caramelized onions, housemade pickles, spring greens, and a fat slice of tomato all commingle inside the brioche bun. Keeping all these ingredients from slip sliding out of said bun demands focus, especially when the eye strays longingly to the butcher case of meats or the bacon–chocolate chip cookie dough in
Want fries with that? Danger Fries seems like a pretty accurate name for a pile of crisp fries, cooked in pork fat, tossed with garlic and chives, and swimming in a blue cheese–bacon bechamel sauce.
3207 California Ave SW, West Seattle, 206-932-4211; swinerymeats.com
3. For eating standing up
In theory, food trucks are brilliant. Because, really, you can’t beat lunching on a bench, taking in a little sunshine before returning to work. But conveniently located benches are scarce, sunny days even scarcer. And since this city boasts so many good burgers underneath actual roofs, a food truck version must be impressive, indeed. And impressiveis the word for Portland transplant Happy Grillmore, a purple truck painted to look like a piece of street art. Burgers are cut in half and neatly wrapped in paper—a lifesaver when awkwardly squatting on a curb. The entry-level burger is called the Chub, and inside that paper wrapping you’ll find a hulking third-of-a-pound patty, juicy with a perfectly pink center and a ciabatta bun that manages to be both soft and sturdy. And tightly packed toppings—melty Tillamook cheddar, roasted red pepper aioli, and a befuddling yet brilliant combo of spinach and arugula—add grownup nuance to classic burger flavors. If restraint isn’t your thing, order a version that adds bacon and Gorgonzola, or barbecue sauce and some onion rings, to the basic toppings. Best of luck eating one of those standing on the sidewalk.
Want fries with that? One dish. Four words. Bacon. Beer. Cheddar. Fries.
See also Buns (bunsonwheels.com) and Charlie’s Buns N’ Stuff (charliesbunsnstuff.com) are dedicated to burgers and do a darn fine job. And, randomly, a Native American truck, Off the Rez, does a great burger with bacon and cumin crema.