The Origin of the Hamburger (
August 11, 2002 12:40 PM   Subscribe

The Origin of the Hamburger ( A restaurant named Louis' Lunch lays claims to the original hamburger. Dick's Drive-In has some of the best hamburgers and fries in Seattle. At the Beacon Drive-In in Spartanburg, SC you can get your burger served "a-plenty," meaning hidden under a generous pile of onion rings and fries. What's your favorite burger? Or has the recent beef recall got you down?
posted by josephtate (50 comments total)
i can vouch for the beacon in spartanburg. lots of friendly people working there, and it feels authentic because it's about 85,000 degrees in there. everyone sweats, and you get about 35 pounds of food for four-five dollars. oh yeah, and it tastes fantastic.
posted by oog at 1:36 PM on August 11, 2002

You've got to be kidding about Dick's. They're a step above McDonald's, but not much. Their success mostly comes from tradition, especially the tradition of eating greasebombs at 2 AM after a night of heavy drinking. (Although, to their credit, I hear that the fries actually are pretty good.)

Personally, I'm an In-N-Out fan. Animal style, please.
posted by xil at 1:53 PM on August 11, 2002

Dick's Drive-In has some of the best hamburgers and fries in Seattle.

Although Dick's has a couple of outlets with a modicum of vintage charm and their workers are and provided more benefits and better wages than would be expected, their fries and burgers are far from the best served locally.
posted by y2karl at 1:54 PM on August 11, 2002

It's only a big controversy about who invented the hamburger if you insist on defining it as meat on bread, as the NPR journalist does. That's just ridiculous: that's a sandwich in general. "Hamburger" is and has always been the meat, minced or ground, and, in fact, still exists only in the meat in many localities and countries. The bread is incidental. Ground beef (often spiced or spiked) has been described as "hamburger" since at least 1885 and is nearly guaranteed to be an abbreviation of "hamburger steak." An etymologist I know who specializes in food words tracked down the word "hamburger" to describe ground beef to an 1885 article in The Caterer and Household Magazine, which may not even be the earliest citation. The Encyclopedia of Food and Drink says the word "hamburger" appeared on a 1834 Delmonico's menu. Even if you do define "hamburger" as merely meat between bread, you can throw out the supposed 1900 invention as at least a year too late, as meat between bread is described in a 1899 book called Diet and Illness in Convalescence.
posted by Mo Nickels at 2:14 PM on August 11, 2002

I like Steak-n-Shake, In-n-Out, The Varsity, The Sonic, White Castle, Krystal, Waffle House, Backyard Burgers.... damn, I'm getting hungry.
posted by spilon at 2:23 PM on August 11, 2002

mmm... Fast food. Actualy I hardly ever get burgers, I usualy go for the chicken thing.
posted by delmoi at 2:53 PM on August 11, 2002

I ate at Louis Lunch nearly every day when I lived in New Haven. The burgers are sublime, cooked in strange 19th century iron stoves by a brusque older woman. The patrons run the gamut, mostly students; it's fascinating to watch the hordes of muscular Yale jocks rubbing elbows with medieval literature students working on their dissertations, all while the elderly son or grandson of the original Louis walks around and tells anyone who will listen the story of the collection of bricks that make up one of the walls, and point out which one is from an Irish castle and which is from the Great Pyramid. Even if proven otherwise, I'll always believe that Louis invented the burger. The place is just too unique, and the burgers too delicious, to believe otherwise. If you visit, be sure to look for my name carved in one of the booths, along with generations of other names. And don't, under any circumstances, ask for ketchup.
posted by evanizer at 2:53 PM on August 11, 2002

Decades ago, when I was in Louisianna, this may as well have been crack coccaine. And in later years, the old Planetarium Cafe in NYC (which was actually across the street) was a great place to get a beefalo burger...mmmm...

Nowadays, however, I sizzle the chuck in my own kitchen, particularly after having read this book.
posted by Smart Dalek at 3:06 PM on August 11, 2002

Oh, and now that I think about it, I have some groceries to pick up...I'll gladly pay you all Tuesday for a...
posted by Smart Dalek at 3:11 PM on August 11, 2002

I'm with ixl, In-N-Out rules!
posted by RunsWithBandageScissors at 4:01 PM on August 11, 2002

I grew up in Seattle and now live in NC. I've been known to drive straight to Dick's from the airport, before heading to my relatives' house!
posted by ericableu at 4:15 PM on August 11, 2002

I've got to put in a plug for Crown Burger, consistently voted the best burgers in Utah in the City Weekly poll (scroll down about halfway), although it looks like they ceded the #1 spot for french fries this year.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:31 PM on August 11, 2002

Growing up, we had a McDonald's with the classic sign including "XX million served" (which was eventually maxed out at "99 million"), minimal interior space inside often-fogged-up glass, and concrete tables in front. We had Burger Chef; a classic A&W stand; as well as my favorite, Frostop; and Geri's, which I have just learned was more than just a low-rent knockoff of all the burger chains -- it was an explicit theft of intellectual property by a former McDonald's VP. Well, not then, but it probably would be today. It's back, replete with carhops. Nowadays the top regional chain is Culver's, which made its reputation on frozen custard.

I find it interesting that McDonald's, Burger Chef, and Culver's are all examples of a chain known for its burgers that built its business around a particularly tasty dairy treat.
posted by dhartung at 4:48 PM on August 11, 2002

I dont eat beef from mainstream sources after reading this NYT article Power Steer ($2.95 archived). This article more then any other changed my habits about beef. So I now buy locally grown grassfed beef from a little old farmer lady in West Virginia by the quarter-cow.
posted by stbalbach at 5:04 PM on August 11, 2002

if you want a fastfood burger, and you're in the texas/oklahoma region, burger street serves up a fresh, good-tasting product. remember, we are grading on a fastfood scale, but all the items on the burgers are clearly recognizable as food.

my personal favorite, though located in only one city, is robert's grill. to my taste it is better than johnnie's, which is just down the street. johnnie's (and it's pretty darn good too) has the distinction of cooking the world's largest fried onion burger* at the yearly burger day celebration.

[there are other, bigger, burgers cooked at different small town celebrations, but i have no idea if they are 'fried onion' burgers. feel free to research all you like]
posted by lescour at 5:09 PM on August 11, 2002

lots of good input in these previous humburger and sandwich discussions.
posted by mlang at 5:26 PM on August 11, 2002

Seattlelites, right, Dicks is more of a destination than a burger place. The best tasting burgers in Seattle are found at Red Mill, but at Dicks you never have to wait more than ten minutes, and their burgers are the best at sopping up booze and fighting off hangovers.
posted by vito90 at 5:57 PM on August 11, 2002

plaza burger -- madison, wisconsin. yum!!
posted by robink at 6:50 PM on August 11, 2002

I hadn't thought about Louis' Lunch in a long time... It's been 18 years since I lived in New Haven. I would go there frequently, always getting a "cheese works"--i.e. cheeseburger with the works.
I agree with evanizer; the burger should have been invented there, whether or not it actually was.
I am glad to hear that the place is still running strong.
posted by Rebis at 7:05 PM on August 11, 2002

A coupla' pounds of cheap beef.
The regula' burger fixins'.
A real charcoal grill.
And a manual meat grinder.

Priceless burgers!
posted by flatlander at 7:43 PM on August 11, 2002

Bartelby's Burger Cottage in Harvard Square is about as good as it gets.
posted by McBain at 8:02 PM on August 11, 2002

For New Yorkers, one of the best is the burger at The Corner Bistro. Jim Leff's has a bulletin board titled "The Best" where Tri-staters duke it out over almost every kind of food.
posted by gen at 8:12 PM on August 11, 2002

When I went to Louis' Lunch years ago, on a historical quest, I found the wall of collected bricks more interesting than the food. I also found Calvin Trillin's favorite hamburger place, Winstead's in Kansas City, not that inspiring. But when I first moved to Seattle in 1979, I loved going to Dick's. (Haven't thought about that for years.)

These days, since we live in a Fast Food Nation, I don't know if I'd eat a burger unless the people serving it to me knew the cow personally.
posted by LeLiLo at 10:08 PM on August 11, 2002

there is no better burger on this planet than at char grill in raleigh, nc.

i now live in vegas and have tried in-n-out ... just doesn't compare, man. not even close.

man, i miss that place.
posted by aenemated at 11:45 PM on August 11, 2002

This is NOT the thread I needed to read as the hankering for a late-night snack was rearing its head...

I second the vote for Burger Street (are they outside of D/FW?) as best fast food burger around. A Double-Double with bacon (double meat, double cheese) is just a thing of beauty. They lost minor points when they removed the 'seasoned' from the curly fries... but at least the Cherry Limeade is still the best I've ever tasted.

Runner-up in the fast food category goes to Zesto in Atlanta. I've heard that the chain once stretched nearly across the nation, but that only a few remain now. They even robbed us of the Buckhead outpost in favor of a burrito-peddling experiment! The tater tots are an excellent addition to a Double Cheeseburger.

The Vortex probably serves up the best 'sit down' burger in this region. Definitely worth a visit if you're in town...and the Peachtree location was serving up Mello Yello the last time I was there!

Does anyone have any experience with Citysearch's supposed 4 Best Burgers in the US?
posted by El_Gray at 12:27 AM on August 12, 2002

Dick's rocks. I miss it. Fast, good, cheap. Although I'd often alternate with Taco Del Mar.
posted by bingo at 12:31 AM on August 12, 2002

How interesting, El_Gray, there is a Zesto's Fish & Burgers in Seattle, which is doomed evidently and eventually... Seems it was always a high school hangout--just across the street from Ballard High--that got turned into a faux 50s hamburger hangout. I wonder if there is any connection. The 2nd link suggests not...
posted by y2karl at 12:51 AM on August 12, 2002

From the Stranger--

Eat at Zesto's

(CHOW) On the corner of NW 65th and 15th NW, Zesto's has served burgers, fries, and fish 'n' chips to Ballardians (particularly students of Ballard High School, just across the street) for almost 40 years. Unfortunately, the place is succumbing to this year's devastating landmark bug, to be replaced by an office building. The last remnant of an early-'50s ice-cream franchise, what you really want here are the shakes--the best are in August, when the blackberries ripen. But no one will ever stare out toward the Olympics on a late summer afternoon drinking a blackberry shake again... Zesto's closes in June. Like a (good) counterpart to the late and unlamented Andy's Diner in SoDo, Zesto's has the atmosphere of old, pre-software, pre-money, invalidated Seattle. Our newer residents should go just to feel some of what that was like. GRANT COGSWELL

Zesto's Burger & Fish House, 6416 15th Ave NW, 783-3350.

Again from the Stranger, 08/01/01--

A Burger Tour of the Stare (of Washington)...
posted by y2karl at 1:01 AM on August 12, 2002

Hmm, the mystery deepens--
this Atlanta Zesto mentioned here dates from 1952 as does the one in Seattle.
posted by y2karl at 1:17 AM on August 12, 2002

It is almost unbearable to read all these burger related reviews. Here in Europe, Amsterdam, to be exact, it is next to impossible to get a decent burger. Sure, you got the burgers from McD. et al, but that is not what I'm looking for. No way you can get a juicy, medium rare burger. If you go to a snackbar and order one, they just toss a frozen disc of mystery meat in the deep fryer. Americans, count your blessings.
posted by ouke at 2:18 AM on August 12, 2002

No one is going to go miles away for this or that burger joint so all favor some place they have been close to or presently are close to. For me: Louisin New Haven.
posted by Postroad at 2:22 AM on August 12, 2002

Don't forget the milkshakes at Dick's. The burgers are all right (if you were raised on them as I was), and the fries are greasy but great. The shakes, though, are the best thing at Dick's.

Re: Zesto's, there used to be more than one of them around here. On Rainier Ave S. you can see the old Zesto's sign on what is now a low-end used car lot. I've seen others here and there, but they are mostly defunct now.

Also bringing back fond Seattle memories: Dag's (especially the one on Aurora by Seattle Center, a common stop after high school football games), and Herfy's, the local chain that invented the Happy Meal. Both now defunct. Someone bought the right to the Herfy's name so there are a couple of Herfy's left, but they don't have the old Herfy's menu. One sells teriyaki.

The Queen Anne Dick's was a Herfy's; that's why it's indoors, and the decor is straight out of the 70s. Dick's never updated it when they took it over -- though a few weeks ago, I saw they were remodeling. Could it be that they will finally fix that place up?

It's not really a REAL Dick's, though -- the real experience is at the drive-in with the walk up windows and no seating. (I am just barely old enough to remember when the old Lake City McDonalds, no longer there, was like that. A row of walk up windows and some picnic tables.)

Another old Herfy's became the Wedgwood Godfather's (now closed or closing), and one in West Seattle is now a Starbuck's. Sic transit gloria mundi.
posted by litlnemo at 3:35 AM on August 12, 2002

Best place for an Austin burger: Hut's. The Chubby Chuck has to be the tastiest hamburger I've ever eaten. Mmmmm.
posted by picea at 6:27 AM on August 12, 2002

We've lived in Seattle for almost a year now, and are stunned at how bad the burger choices are. Red Mill's OK, but I'm from Minneapolis, and miss the good midwestern juicy burgers you could get on every corner. Where's the Seattle version of the cheese-stuffed Juicy Lucy at Matt's Bar? Where's the delish, 100-napkin-per-lunch burgers of Lion's Tap or Snuffy's? In Mpls., we lived a mile from Convention Grill, where by the time you were done eating, the bun had melded totally into the burger. I'd even take a Fuddruckers about now.

Someone earlier mentioned Zesto's in Seattle. It's by our house, we went there once and it was OK, so tried returning early on a Sunday night (about 5). "We have one burger left," says the counter girl. The hell?

The Seattle dining scene has many things to offer, but they tend to swim, not moo.
posted by GaelFC at 7:42 AM on August 12, 2002

I don't eat hamburgers more than maybe twice a year, but Fuddrucker's does have the best Turkey Burger I've ever eaten.

Oh, and El Gray, yes, they do have burger streets throughout Oklahoma as well. I was raised on them, not McD's, thank god.
posted by Ufez Jones at 7:49 AM on August 12, 2002

Well, karl, the Zesto sign pictured in your first link does correspond with the signage here in Atlanta. Apparently, there are still remnants of the chain in South Dakota, too.

Also, I agree with the article that mentioned their milkshakes as being the ultimate dessert destination at Zesto. Definitely great stuff.

I shouldn't let this thread slip away without mentioning "The Pool Hall" (aka Buckhead Amusement) here in Atlanta. A little old lady cooks you a delicious hand-made burger on a big indoor grill, and calls you 'sugar' or 'hun' to let you know it's ready (since you've obviously been in the back room playing pool and listening to Merle Haggard on the jukebox). A welcome oasis from the irritating rush of Buckhead.

Also, I dig Sonic quite a bit.
posted by El_Gray at 8:09 AM on August 12, 2002

mcbain: Bartley's? Are you crazy? I ate there once, and it was enough. The burger was quite ordinary, the side of onion rings was awful, and after drink and tax I had already paid over $10, which is highway robbery for a burger and fries! Every so often when I'm looking around for somewhere to eat in the overpriced mess that is Harvard Square, my eye turns to Bartley's, but then I think that I could not possibly pay that much for that food again on a good conscience. I'd much rather trek out to O'Sullivan's in Somerville.

Me, I miss Harvey's burgers in Canada. Not the best burgers in the world, perhaps, but certainly the best of any chain -- a really nice grill flavour throughout the meat. (I've had too many burgers where the waiters tell you the meat's been grilled but it tastes fried anyway.)

And ouke: count your blessings too; your burgers may be bad, but your French fries are of an order far superior to anything on this measly continent!
posted by ramakrishna at 8:26 AM on August 12, 2002

Jack In The Box Ultimate Cheeseburger. It is the thing I miss most about the west coast.
posted by owillis at 8:48 AM on August 12, 2002

Dick's burgers and fries are nas-t ... the burgers are greasy. not bad with the cup of onion goo you can get on the side. The fries (if you can call them that) are the most disgusting things on the planet. they are soppy, greasy, floppy, and wet. I've eaten at a few different Dicks, but none within the last 5 years.
posted by Dillenger69 at 10:01 AM on August 12, 2002

Evanizer and Rebis: I share your fond memories of Louis', where I counted myself lucky to be able to eat regularly when I lived in New Haven a couple of decades ago. But when I took my wife there last year to share the joy, the burger was OK but nothing remarkable. I'm hoping it was an off day and not the Decline and Fall. (Pepe's Pizza, I'm happy to report, was still better than anything in NYC.) In New York, Corner Bistro is good, my wife swears by the burger at Cornelia St. Cafe, and if you happen by Union Square Cafe, see an empty place at the bar, and are in the mood, they make a damn good burger for only a few more bucks than it's sensible to pay for a burger.
posted by languagehat at 10:22 AM on August 12, 2002

I have actually quit eating beef altogether largely due to health concerns (cholesterol and so forth), but I do live in Colorado (where a recent batch of tainted Con Agra beef originated) and I must say that recent events certainly haven't made me want to reconsider my decision! I also read Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation," which might have contributed to my red meat anxiety...

That said, for burgers I have always been very fond of the Cherry Cricket in Denver. High quality beef, baby--that's the key!

The Bull & Bush also has a very good Jalapeno Cream Cheese Burger, which I *love*.
posted by ldandersen at 10:23 AM on August 12, 2002

i'm with everyone on the in-n-out, but you folks are seriously lacking one of the greatest fast food chains on the planet...


not only does fatburger have some of the tastiest, beefiest burgers i've ever eaten, but they make everything to order and their shakes are 100% old fashioned and don't come out of a machine. on top of that, they have some of the best soul and r&b in their jukeboxes. there's nothing like downing a double king burger and listening to james brown and wilson pickett.
posted by boogah at 10:47 AM on August 12, 2002

GaelFC: We've lived in Seattle for almost a year now, and are stunned at how bad the burger choices are. Red Mill's OK...

Red Mill is overrated here in Seattle (as is Dick's). Gael - here are my reccomendations for Seattle burgers, in two categories:

1) Juicy, rounded, hand formed patties: Go to Two Bells Tavern in Belltown. My only complaint is that they are a bit on the small side, but they are fresh and the flavor is unbeatable.

Runner-up is the 74th Street Ale House. They are also thick and juicy. They are a bit non-traditional in that they come on sort of a french bread roll instead of a bun, and they don't have fries there, only potato salad. I have not been to their sister pubs, the Hilltop Ale House on Queen Anne and the Columbia City Ale House, but they may have the same burgers.

2) Flat patties: Daly's Drive-In on Eastlake. Also have great fries and shakes. This is your classic burger joint. Get the Daly Double.

It's strange but some of the best burgers in Seattle are in pubs and not in the traditional burger joints...
posted by pitchblende at 11:17 AM on August 12, 2002

Thanks, pitchblende. I've been to two of the places you mention.

Two Bells was decent, the French bread bun was interesting, but no fries? Sacrilege!

And Daly's...I just don't see it. Wanted to like it, looks like a cool locals-only find, but I thought the Daly Double was only ordinary.

Will have to give 74th Street Ale House a shot, as I see their sign all the time. What's with the no fries, though? Many places in Seattle seem to have no deep-fryer and just offer those Tim's Cascade chips. Fries, people! A burger without fries is like a day without sunshine! (Or in Seattle's case...rain?)
posted by GaelFC at 11:22 AM on August 12, 2002

In Seattle, I am partial to Burgermaster - although the last time I ate there I was disappointed by the bun, of all things.

As for pub-burgers I love Dad Watson's. The fries, however, are a crapshoot - sometimes they're perfect, other times they're limp and greasy.
posted by O9scar at 11:41 AM on August 12, 2002

Father's Office in Santa Monica has a kind of avant-garde burger that is absolutely delicious. It has bacon remoulade, arugula, gruyere, so it's not exactly a standard burger. But it's tasty and you have your choice of like 30 beers on tap to go with it.
posted by cell divide at 12:24 PM on August 12, 2002

litlnemo, thanks for reminding me of Dick's shakes. Don't they have butterscotch? Mmmm. Send me one, would you?
posted by bingo at 1:18 PM on August 12, 2002

Wow! The Seattle people are REPRESENTIN' on this list! So the next MeFi gathering must take place at a burger joint, right?

more $.02 - Two Bells IS excellent but alas, small. And the Chicken sandwich at the 74th Street is so good I can never pass it up. I do miss the 318 (nee Nickerson Street Saloon) which used to serve up some good grease as well. And Bicks Broadview grill, which often boasts service about as good as Dicks for three times the price does have an excellent Avocado Burger.
posted by vito90 at 1:47 PM on August 12, 2002

boogah: Fatburger! How could I have forgotten my California roots? Thanks for reminding me; I'm going out there to visit family in a couple of weeks, and I'm damn well going to have a double Fatburger... *drool*...
posted by languagehat at 2:22 PM on August 12, 2002

Man, I'm still pining for Minnesota burgers. Fatburger, Dad Watson's, Burgermaster--been to them all, and none of them can touch a good ol' Midwestern burger. Sorry, Seattle--maybe Matt's Bar will open a western branch some day.
posted by GaelFC at 6:54 PM on August 12, 2002

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