Remember a few years ago when nearly every restaurant opened with a burger on its menu? It was shorthand for “cheap” and "you'll love us," in a landscape then dominated by recession, and it was practically the edible mascot of Capitol Hill. Restaurants needed to lure with a craveable loss leader, and a burger did the job.
Now bust has turned to boom, and during this year’s research for Seattle Met’s mighty Restaurant Issue I was struck by how many restaurants ignored the burger altogether. This was mostly due to this year’s surge in Asian restaurants, possibly also to its increase—relative to last year, anyway—in higher-end spots. But many of the places that opened sans burger were notable not because they should have one, but because they seemed the sort of restaurant that would have one. Carlile Room’s main dinner menu didn’t offer a burger. (Its bar menu did—but not so a dinner-diner would see it.) Neither did Chop Shop’s, Single Shot's, or Good Bar's. Not even the hotel restaurant Shaker and Spear did—a seafood house, to be sure, but whose bar across the hotel lobby, Pennyroyal, didn’t even have one on its bar menu.
The sunset of the Burger Era in Seattle restaurants and bars is a good sign in its way, revealing as it does a new confidence on the part of restaurateurs that they no longer need a sure-thing to draw or please customers. Perhaps it began when a certain Pioneer Square sports bar held out as long as it could. But it may also mean this: A whole cityful of diners craving the noble beast.
So here are four newish ones. At Heyday on the Mount Baker–Leschi Ridge, the novel burgers come in eight unique variations (including a buffalo burger with grilled apple, radicchio, red onion, maple syrup, Beecher's sharp cheddar, mustard seed sauce, and house pickles)—nine if you include the codwich, ten if you include design-your-own. The next neighborhood down, Columbia City, is home to Super Six, the latest restaurant from the Marination folks, whose institutional focus remains Asian-fusion but whose menu includes the very first burger in the whole Marination empire. Think sweet pickles and kalbi grilled onions.
On hotel restaurant menus, burgers are tending to turn up in highest of high-end permutations. Like Goldfinch Tavern’s juicy hunk of Wagyu beef, with Beecher’s cheese, homemade pickles, and smoked onion marmalade. Or Dunbar Room’s “limited availability” smoked-blue-cheese-with-sherried-mushrooms-and-pimenton-aioli number, the Secret Burger. It's cut with Wagyu short rib meat.
And priced at $26.