4437 California Ave. SW., Seattle WA 98116 (map); 206-935-1075; springhillnorthwest.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A thick, juicy, salty burger made even better with homemade American cheese ranks among the best I've eaten anywhere, let alone Seattle
Want Fries with That? They could be crispier, but since they're fried in beef fat, they taste great, so yes.
Prices: 1/2-pound burger and fries, $17
It's been quite a while since I've had one of those eyes-rolling-back-in-the-head "Oh my God" burger moments (December, to be exact), and not once has it occurred in Seattle...until now. The burger I had at West Seattle's Spring Hill was far and away the best I've eaten in the city, and unfortunately, the most expensive.
Chef/owner Mark Fuller, formerly of Tom Douglas's Dahlia Lounge, starts with a well-seasoned half-pound fistful of Painted Hills ground chuck and grills it until a salty, crunchy crust forms; the moment you bite into it, juices flood out all over your hands and into the bun. Pink in the center and assertively beefy, the patty arrived cooked to a perfect medium, as requested. I can't readily think of a better-tasting slab of hamburger being served anywhere. Words do not do it justice.
Not only is the beef equal to the best I've encountered, but so is the cheese. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that this is the best cheese I've ever tasted on a burger. It's a blend of Beecher's Flagship and Teleme from Franklin's Cheese, and comes across like something between the salty squares of a typical American cheese and an extra sharp white cheddar. Layered on gloriously thick, it oozes into the nooks and crannies in the beef and acts on your brain like a drug, with each bite making you crave another, and another, and so on. The effect is noticeable, making you wonder if they managed to cram some MSG (or crack) in there somewhere. No matter; I was a willing participant.
Also astoundingly good: the house-cured bacon. It's thick and chewy and cuts through the cheese and beef to stand out on its own. It pairs quite well with the smooth roasted tomato aioli and the crunch of the shredded iceberg lettuce. A half-pickle skewered at the apex of the sandwich is delightfully sweet and sour, though it would be better served sliced thin and applied under the bun.
That bun is the burger's only real weakness. Outsourced from Dahlia Bakery, it was described to me by my server as "English muffin-like," and there's a definite similarity with the texture, to be sure. It tastes great—no complaints there—but structurally it doesn't hold up to the torrent of fat spilling from the beef, and the bottom half quickly disintegrated.
Much talk has been made of the fries, which are deep-fried in beef fat, leaving them imbued with an inextricably meaty link to the burger. Though a touch too greasy, they're addictive and well-salted. A few could have been crispier, but I'm nit-picking. They're served with a side of the housemade San Marzano, cider vinegar, and allspice-based ketchup, which was a pass for me. It reminded me of an over-sugared marinara and masked too much of the flavor from the beef fat. Just nudge the dish aside and eat your fries undressed, unless you like them sweet.
So if I can unreservedly recommend this burger, can I also proclaim it worth a full seventeen greenbacks? I'm really torn here. Its closest relative, the Grüner burger in Portland, is only $11, and comes with a far superior bun. The Spring Hill burger counters with a significantly better cheese, but is that really worth six more dollars? You'll have to judge for yourself. All I can say is, if I'm in Seattle and craving a burger, Spring Hill will be my first choice, and I will pay its exorbitant price. Gladly.