2008 Fall Dining Guide

Tom Sietsema's 2008 Fall Dining Guide: Washington's Best Burgers

At Ray's Hell-Burger, owner Michael Landrum uses steak and roast cuts to create a burger that he thinks rivals a steak.Video by Liz Langton/washingtonpost.com
By Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 12, 2008

Never have so many mouthwatering hamburgers been found in such a variety of Washington area dining venues. And never has there been more competition for diners' hearts and stomachs.

The gold standard for restaurant burgers is set by the cafe at Palena (see review) and by Central Michel Richard (see review). But following close behind is the more affordable, accessible and homier product produced at the white-hot Ray's Hell-Burger in Arlington (see review).

"In a town where meatloaf and fried chicken routinely go for $20 in mid-tier restaurants," says Ray's Hell-Burger owner Michael Landrum, "the burger really does start to seem like the only real option for a lot of diners."

When it comes to the quintessential American sandwich, I'm a purist. Or so I thought until I tried "The Cuban" at BGR: The Burger Joint (4827 Fairmont Ave., Bethesda; 301-358-6137), a sandwich that satisfies a craving for the classic layering of pork, cheese, pickles and ham. The sweet potato fries are a better bet than the onion rings, which smack of the frozen variety. The big pluses in this colorful joint: a small patio and the option of beer with your burger.

"Nothing frozen, nothing nuked," trumpets a sign above the counter at Elevation Burger (442 S. Washington St., Falls Church; 703-237-4343). The regular burgers are on the small side, but they're also adorable and tasty. And it's impossible to pass up the hot, thin french fries in this light-filled eatery. Coming up: more Elevation Burgers in Baltimore, National Harbor and Arlington.

Finally, Good Stuff Eatery (303 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; 202-543-8222) beckons with a clean farmhouse look and star wattage in the form of its owner, "Top Chef" contender Spike Mendelsohn. The pagers doled out to a sea of suits at lunchtime attest to early consumer interest among the hungry hordes of Capitol Hill. As for the food -- the buns, bacon, tomatoes and shakes rate higher than what you get at the big chains, but the beef patties lean to the dry side.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company