4. For eating with a cloth napkin
This one doesn’t look much different from any other high-end cheeseburger around town. And some might think it’s a cop-out to order something so unassuming when it’s listed alongside plates like squid ink arancini, grilled quail, or fantasy-worthy chicken liver pate. Disabuse yourself of such foolish notions. This magical little clubhouse for admiring off-duty chefs and Capitol Hill food geeks is a monument to how a thoughtful palate and solid kitchen techniques can earn a humble burger its own fan base. Even in an ambitious place like this one.
The open kitchen means diners bear witness to the generous fistful of salt that gets lavished on each side of the patty, which is as thick as a really fluffy waffle. The sodium onslaught looks a little frightening, but it’s hard to argue with the perfectly seasoned end result. A fat coil of housemade remoulade takes the place of mayo, the subtle punch of Champagne vinegar adding acid often provided by ketchup, but without the accompanying sweetness. Painted Hills and Macrina have cornered the market on high-end patties and brioche buns in this town—here is no different—and a thick slice of Gruyere lends another layer of intrigue. Onions and mushrooms go on the grill before joining the party. This burger is highly shareable, thanks to the fancy French Laguiole steak knives that rock some unexpected fluorescent--colored handles—a tiny, perfect metaphor for this place.
Want fries with that? This may be the only place in town where it’s a struggle choosing between the fries and the sublimely peppery Caesar, festooned in grated Parmesan.
See also The burgers at Spur (spurseattle.com) and Ma’ono (maono.springhillnorthwest.com) are downright legendary, and the Taleggio-and-pimentón-aioli-topped newcomer at Restaurant Zöe (restaurantzoe.com) isn’t far behind.
1802 Bellevue Ave, Capitol Hill, 206-329-4047; labeteseattle.com
5. For night owls
It’s 12:30am on a Saturday and the little sliver-size Malaysian walkup on Olive Way is no longer serving udang masak lemak nenas or nasi goreng. And yet, the line is still a half dozen people deep—everyone awaiting the Ramly burger. It’s a rare stateside take on a street food big in after-hours Malaysia; owners Kevin Burzell and Alysson Wilson discovered it while traveling in Penang and only serve it weekends from midnight till 2:30.
The patty (Painted Hills, formed right there in the miniscule kitchen) is topped with a riot of flavors, all housemade—ketchup, mayo, and the vaguely named “brown sauce,” which is really a thickened, sweetish soy. There’s white pepper and Worcestershire, and MSG-riffic Maggi brand seasoning, too.
The big freaking deal: The meat is then wrapped in egg, specifically the thinnest, most pliable of omelets. This savory packet then lands on the softest of white buns and gets topped with a cabbage slaw tossed in the house sweet chili sauce. If that’s somehow not enough, pony up a quarter to add a slice of cheese.
The Ramly draws its share of fervent drunk fans, but plenty of Malaysian customers make special (sober) pilgrimages into the thick of Capitol Hill nightlife solely for this. At least one set of (way hip) parents has even bundled their eight- and 10-year-olds in the car for a midnight snack.
Any burger can mop up a night’s worth of inebriation, but this one leaves the taste of fire on the tongue, a clarion call to the booze-addled senses. Subtlety is not what you’re after at 2am.
Wrapping a loaded burger in a whispery omelet requires extra time and space, which sadly means you’ll probably never see this creation outside the wee hours. It’s a cunning combo of fat, spice, and the signature strong flavors that make Kedai Makan a winner even in our more lucid states.
Want fries with that? Sorry, no dice. At the stroke of midnight, everything but the burger, the roti canai, and the tofu salad come off the menu.
See also Palace Kitchen, Sam’s Tavern
1510 E Olive Way, Capitol Hill, kedaimakanseattle.com
6. For people with massive jaws
Some burgers feel more like a Mountain Dew commercial than a meal. A towering monument to excess and extreme is all well and good, but there’s a fine line between gilding the lily (or piling bacon on it) and creating a burger that’s truly transcendent. Georgetown’s Katsu Burger—the rebellious younger sibling of West Seattle sushi bar Mashiko—is both successful and unflinching in its decadence. Every single grass-fed beef patty gets treated like Japan’s tonkatsu pork cutlet—dredged in Japanese panko crumbs, then deep fried till the perfect moment when the outside is crunchy and the meat inside still harbors a faint pink. Just want a regular, pankoless, pan-seared patty, sans fryer? Not happening.
Novelty menu items like the Mt. Fuji (beef, pork, and chicken patties, three kinds of cheese, egg, bacon, etc.) are truly gonzo, but even a selection from the regular menu requires a heap of napkins and a relaxed and facile jaw. Burgers come with the familiar tomato, red onion, and pickles, but a big mess of shredded cabbage and housemade tonkatsu sauce—sorta like ketchup meets barbecue—nudges things toward Japanese-inspired umaminess. Seriously, how is this place not a culty West Coast chain yet?
Want fries with that? Oh yeah; they’re dusted in curry, sea salt, or nori (seaweed) flakes, and they come with your choice of decadent dipping sauce.
6538 Fourth Ave S, Georgetown, 206-762-0752; katsuburger.com