I discovered my favorite burger during the late December snowstorms, when the only lunch place I could get to on foot was Mulleady’s Pub in Interbay. If not for the steep icy hill which made driving out of the question, I’d never have tasted the juicy hamburger with roasted tomato jam and caramelized onions on a flavorful bun that didn’t fall apart in my hands. But when we began our research for this month’s cover story, I was outnumbered on all fronts. In a casual office survey, the top nominations ranged from “my husband’s” to Red Mill, Red Mill, Red Mill (“divine,” “mouthwatering,” “delicious”), to Smith’s, which was either an “upgrade” compared to most burger joints or a purveyor of “inedible” raw meat.

But after in-depth field research, when all were fed and done, the real fightin’ words—and mixed emotions—were reserved for Lunchbox Laboratory. You can have it your way in infinite combinations at the Ballard burger bar, where the menu is packed with not just beef, but game and fish and fowl burgers, a daily offering of 10 to 15 cheeses, myriad toppings, 20-odd sauce options, and portions the size of small space stations. Was all that excess a good thing? Even as we went to press, Food Network Magazine pronounced Lunchbox’s Dork Burger (that’s duck and pork) one of the top 50 burgers in the country. We begged to differ. (Some of us, anyway.)

If the nadir of the Northwest hamburger was the E. coli scare of 1993 that made it next to impossible to get a rare burger anymore, then the apex is surely right now. For decades, we bumbled along with traditional fixings—leathery beef patty of unknown origin, iceberg lettuce, one flavorless tomato slice and one square of processed cheese, all on a gluey Wonder Bread bun spread with ketchup, relish, and mayo. Not anymore. People, Seattle has entered Burgers: The Golden Age.

The local renaissance burger comes with grass-fed, sustainably raised beef cooked to a rosy medium rare, organic baby lettuces, cambozola cheese, bacon jam, caramelized onions, and on the fresh, locally baked sesame bun, the ubiquitous, housemade “special sauce.” (Mayo? History. As our fact-checkers discovered, what you thought was mayonnaise is actually the proprietary recipe for whatever burger establishment you frequent.)

In the end, we named 13 favorites, in no particular order. We needed to be able to speak to each other around the office, after all. Yes, there’s a veggie option. And because we couldn’t bear not to mention so many other great burgers in this town, we list even more on SeattleMet.com.

Now wipe that drool off your chin.

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