Our Top 5 series continues with Serious Eats' Seattle correspondent Leslie Kelly, former restaurant critic for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
You can pile on toppings and douse them in secret sauce, but when it comes to burgers, it's all about the meat for me. I've always been drawn to burger joints that grind their own beef or sourced quality product, even before the E. coli outbreaks made "hamburger" a dirty word. A thick, well-seasoned, hand-formed patty cooked medium rare is the gold standard. Slide that sizzling slab of ground beef on a toasted artisan bakery bun and grab a handful of napkins. That's my strategy, because the best burgers are super juicy and are going to mess you up, in a dry-cleaner's-gonna-love-you way. Like you're at a backyard cookout.
It was tough to trim this list to just five—there are loads of mighty messy burgers served up in Seattle.
1. Palace Kitchen
Loads of diners come to Tom Douglas's Palace Kitchen just to order the Burger Royale, which is saying something considering the rest of the bistro-esque menu is filled with great options like housemade pasta and pan-fried trout. The Royale is made from Oregon Country Beef chuck, ground on premise. Take a stool at the spiffiest bar in Seattle and can watch the line cooks wrangle those patties over the apple wood-fueled grill, giving it a campfire-like quality. The outstanding buns come from the Tom Douglas bread bakery. 2030 5th Avenue, Seattle WA 98121 (map); 206-448-2001; tomdouglas.com
2. Lunchbox Laboratory
At former upscale chef Scott Simpson's Lunchbox Laboratory, you just might go crazy trying to choose one of the many clever combos featured on the daily special board. He's happy to make custom orders, too, which means endless possibilities. As far as I know, it's the only place on the planet to indulge in a dork burger—part duck, part pork. The straight-up beef burgers are sick—I'm quoting a burger-loving teenager I treated to a trip there last summer. Look for the Lab to relocate to a bigger space next year, which should make it easier to conduct more meaty experiments. [Review] 7302 15th Ave NW, Seattle WA 98117 (map); 206-706-3092
3. Zippy's Giant Burgers
The restaurant's co-owner Blaine "Zippy" Cook was the former frontman for The Fartz, a 1980s punk band, and while he still performs, he has become more famous for the homey sandwiches he and his crew crank out. At Zippy's, I like it hot. The No. 11 is named for the fire station across the street and it's smokin' with chipotle mayo, Mama Lil's pickled goat horn peppers, Tillamook's pepper jack, and smoked cheddar. Put the fire out with one of dozens of the retro cool bottled sodas. Zippy's also makes the best veggie burger in the city, a black bean beauty created by Cook's wife. 1513 Southwest Holden Street, Seattle WA 98106 (map); 206-763-7647; zippysgiantburgers.com
4. Metropolitan Grill
Metropolitan Grill is one of Seattle's top steakhouses, its entry plastered with photos of ball players and movie stars who are steak fans. Burger lovers make a beeline for the bar, the only place where you can score a sandwich made from ground Wagyu beef, the American version of Kobe from Japan. This hefty hamburger might be the best happy hour meal deal around—it's just $5 when you order it between 3 and 6 p.m. weekdays (or $12 the rest of the time). 820 2nd Avenue, Seattle WA 98104 (map); 206-624-3287; themetropolitangrill.com
I know I'm probably going to get raked over the coals by some for including Dick's on my list, but I'm willing to risk it because there's no better place to come after last call. Oh yes, drunken cooks, I've seen you there too, plowing through a Deluxe. In the sober light of day, I'm impressed by this family-owned chain's commitment to quality since 1954. The meat is local and never frozen, and fries are hand-cut (though they can be limp, unless you are lucky enough to snag them straight out of the fryer). Dick's is crazy cheap—the Deluxe will only set you back $2.40, and a regular burger is $1.20. [Review from Hamburger America] Multiple locations; ddir.com