First Bite

More Bright Ray's Shine in Arlington

Even with no sign to signal its presence, the latest addition to Michael Landrum's collection draws a crowd. Below, Landrum says he is on a
Even with no sign to signal its presence, the latest addition to Michael Landrum's collection draws a crowd. Below, Landrum says he is on a "mission of value" for patrons. (Photos By Leah L. Jones For The Washington Post)
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By Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 23, 2008

On paper, the new business is known as Butcher Burgers. But owner Michael Landrum asked his fans whether they'd be offended by the name he preferred: Ray's Hell-Burger. The answer was a decisive no, so the informal title stuck.

By whatever name, the un-signed and underdressed storefront at 1713 Wilson Blvd. in Arlington (703-841-0001) returns to the neighborhood something its denizens have longed for ever since Landrum stopped serving hamburgers at his nearby Ray's the Steaks 5 1/2 years ago.

"I'm getting back to where I started," says Landrum, who also owns Ray's the Classics in Silver Spring.

The entrepreneur with the populist streak says Ray's Hell-Burger, decorated with not much more than some posters for B-movie horror flicks, is a continuation of his "mission of value" for diners. Sure enough, the introductory price for a basic burger is $6.95. Right now, that includes a piece of corn on the cob, a small slice of watermelon and such optional toppings as onions, mushrooms, and bell and jalapeƱo peppers.

It's no routine sandwich. The patty for Landrum's 10-ounce signature is fashioned from what he describes as "a custom blend of hand-trimmed steak and roast cuts enriched with steak trimmings" from Ray's the Steaks. Made from brioche dough, the sesame-flecked bun reveals pedigree, too. And if you think just anyone can flip a burger, Landrum begs to differ: Ray's Hell-Burger cooks, who pitch in to deliver the orders to waiting patrons, are required to complete a three-month apprenticeship at his steakhouse before joining the line here.

Speaking of lines, you can expect to join one at prime time. Open weekdays for dinner beginning at 5 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon till "whenever," Ray's Hell-Burger serves an average of 250 customers a shift but has been known to feed more than 450 on a Saturday. Competition can be fierce for one of only 15 seats (there are also a few tall tables), although that number is expected to more than double soon, the owner says.

To customize your burger, there are applewood-smoked bacon, guacamole and a dozen or so cheeses for an extra $1 to $5 (the high end is represented by Epoisses). To drink, there are old-fashioned sodas, including root beer and black cherry. And to round out your meal, there are potato chips and ice cream but "no fries, ever," Landrum says. One luxurious indulgence is enough, he figures, and "fries would push the experience into excess."

Basic burger, $6.95.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company