This isn't one of those guides that will tell you the best hamburger in Washington can be found at a restaurant inside a five-star hotel, the kind of place where you'll have to drop $20 for a ground-beef patty slipped between brioche buns. I mean, who wants to lace up a pair of dress shoes and don a dinner jacket just to bite into a juicy burger?

Not me. Not during the listless, belly-sweating days of summer, when I wear as few clothes as possible without breaking the law or blinding those with direct sight lines.

When the days turn long and hot, you'll typically (and inexplicably) find me near a 225-degree smoker, a bottle of beer in one hand and a pair of tongs in the other. But since I'm still searching for a new smoker, you'll likely find me at one of the restaurants below, gobbling down a dog or a burger, the two defining grilled bites of summer.

One thing you'll notice about these lists is that each restaurant is casual. You can slip in and out of every one with ease.  Summer, after all, is meant to be spent outside, not trapped in some high-end bar, sipping a $10 craft beer and figuring out how to escape from the tourist who, fresh from the International Spy Museum, wants to argue that Sean Connery was the greatest Bond ever. (For the record: He wasn't.)


Burger Tap & Shake: The kitchen grinds beef chuck and brisket daily in-house for one of the freshest burgers around. The two locations have signature burgers as well as ones you can customize to suit your tastes. They also have a Six Buck Chuck, a bargain burger that borrows its name from the cut-rate wine sold at Trader Joe's. 2200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 202-587-6258; and 4445 Wisconsin Ave. NW, 202-524-8868.

Ray's Hell Burger: The ground-beef concept that Ray's the Steaks founder Michael Landrum created to satisfy burger addicts of every stripe, from President Obama on down. Formed from freshly ground beef, the burgers can echo their steakhouse origins, not only in the cuts used for the patties but in their presentation. The B.I.G. Poppa is a hamburger au poivre with blue cheese, mushrooms and grilled onions. It's a steakhouse experience for those on a budget. 1650 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; and 449 K St. NW. 703-841-0001.

Shake Shack: When restaurant legend Danny Meyer decided to open a Shake Shack in the District, he all but declared war on the existing burger outlets in town. A lack of consistency has plagued Meyer's operation, which isn't surprising given its growing numbers, but when the line cooks have their act together, a double-stacked ShackBurger can be a beauty queen of ground beef, adorned with vibrant plum tomatoes, nearly electrified American cheese and impossibly verdant green leaf lettuce. D.C. locations: 1216 18th St. NW, 202-683-9921; inside Union Station at 50 Massachusetts Ave. NE, 202-684-2428; 800 F St. NW, 202-800-9930; and inside Nationals Park.

Good Stuff Eatery: People love to run their mouth about Spike Mendelsohn, probably because of his bro-ier-than-thou appearance and his willingness to endorse almost anything, including heartburn drugs. But the guy also has an underappreciated devotion to his craft, and it can appear in small-but-significant ways at his burger chain. A recent spot check at the original Capitol Hill location found a pair of burgers perfectly griddled, their undersides crisped up with browned pieces of rendered fat. It was textbook griddle work. 303 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, 202-543-8222; 2110 Crystal Dr., Arlington, 703-415-4663; and 3291 M St. NW, 202-337-4663.

Five Guys: Call me a homer, but I still have a soft spot for this national juggernaut, which started 30 years ago in Arlington. Perhaps I have finally learned to accept that my cheeseburger, piled high with all my favorite condiments, will be buried deep under a dog pile of limp, greasy fries. I rarely finish the fries. I always finish the burger. Various area locations.

Hot dogs

Meats & Foods: The husband-and-wife team behind this intimate, sun-dappled shop on Florida Ave. NW deal mostly in homemade sausages, including a take on Washington's main claim to culinary fame, the half-smoke. Meat & Foods' half-smoke doesn't carpet-bomb your tongue with red pepper flake; its heat plays a more harmonious role in this forcemeat of beef and pork, never succumbing to the cheap theatrics of sheer chili spice. Likewise, the green chili chicken link has a nice, muted jalapeño burn. 247 Florida Ave. NW. 202-505-1384.

Red Apron Butcher: Chef Nathan Anda has only one hot dog on his menu, but you shouldn't miss it. After all, it took Anda nearly four years to perfect the Haute Dog, an emulsified all-pork beauty with forcemeat nearly as light and lush as the boudin blanc at Marcel’s. Despite the link's lofty pedigree, I like to drown the sucker in chili and house-made "atomic whiz," transforming it into the best chef-driven chili-cheese dog in the District. 8298 Glass Alley, Fairfax, 703-676-3550; 709 D St. NW, 202-524-5244.

Haute Dogs & Fries: This Alexandria dog pound serves its all-beef franks in top-split, New England-style rolls, which add a buttery crunch to every bite. Owners Lionel Holmes and Pamela Swanson are not afraid to drop their dogs into foreign environments. Witness their frank takes on a Vietnamese banh mi, New York Reuben and Peking duck. They even offer up an Eskimo Dog, in which the kitchen caramelizes the exterior of a top-split roll and then plops three scoops of ice cream inside it. You'll sit up and beg for more. 610 Montgomery St., Alexandria. 703-548-3891.

Bold Bite: This small local chain doesn't just offer a D.C. half-smoke, it offers a line of D.C. half-smokes, including one dressed up in Mexican garb: The link comes garnished with guacamole, Jack cheese, pico de gallo, cilantro-lime sauce and strips of crispy tortilla. The crunchy topping is a signature touch at Bold Bite. The shop's House Dog is an all-beef frank that features the usual condiments plus a pair of foreign objects: shredded cabbage and potato sticks, for a little vegetable funk and some unexpected crunch. 4901-B Fairmont Ave., Bethesda, 301-951-2653; and in the lower-level food court at Union Station, 50 Massachusetts Ave. NE, 202-682-2653.

Ben's Chili Bowl: Yes, I know what my distinguished colleague Tom Sietsema thinks of Ben's fare, and I respect his opinion. But I also cannot deny my own experiences at the U Street location, where the food plays a secondary role to the vibe of this 58-year-old institution. To go to the original Ben's for only the food is like going to the Lincoln Memorial only for the architecture. Ben's menu offerings will never stand up to scrutiny. The place is about the experience. It's about sitting on a stool and soaking in the funky sermons of James Brown on the jukebox. It's about talking to the high school teacher next to you, who has just delivered a bus load of children from Cleveland to see the history of Washington played out in the yellowing photos and news clippings on the wall. It's about soaking in the spirit of a place that has escaped catastrophe multiple times (riots, Metro construction) to become a community leader, both beloved and loathed. In that sense, Ben's is a microcosm of America itself. Why not celebrate the soul food joint with a half-smoke on July 4 — or any day? 1213 U St. NW. 202-667-0909.

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