10636 Main Street, Bellevue WA 98004 (map); 425-646-3474; broilerbay.com
Cooking Method: Charbroiled
Short Order: Quarter-pound burgers served fast and hot, with tasty fry sauce
Want Fries with That? Fries are fine, but fried zucchini is the way to go—it's been their signature side since they opened in 1989
Price: Cheeseburger, $3.59; fried zucchini, $2.89
Despite the well-worn interiors glazed with a fine mist of grease, Broiler Bay is a rare family-run burger joint that's defied the odds and remains a local staple. Originally opened by the Pirhadi family in 1989 in a strip mall in downtown Bellevue, Broiler Bay has survived the wave of fast food chains and the ultra-modernization of the city.
There's nothing fancy or "ultimate" about their burgers—they've served them the same way for twenty years. You can still read one of the first articles about Broiler Bay when it first opened, photocopied from the local paper and hanging on the wall near the Galaga/Ms. Pacman arcade machine that tempt whatever quarters you have in your pocket. That's likely why Broiler Bay remains a beloved guilty pleasure; as overheard on a recent visit, "It's like a bar without the alcohol." It's what we remember when we think of our first burger and the simple pleasure of what comfort food creates. It's honest food that thumbs its nose at modern reinvention, reminding us that, hey, it's a hamburger. Don't overthink it, just take a huge bite and don't forget the fry sauce.
Order their classic cheeseburger, a quarter-pound burger charbroiled to order with a slice of American cheese that the meat absorbs from the sweltering heat of the open kitchen as it sears away. Their patty may seem thin by monster burger comparisons, but it's got a concentrated flavor from absorbing the taste of a well-seasoned cooking surface. It's placed in a sesame seed bun, with a fresh tomato slice, shreds of iceberg lettuce, and shavings of red onions.
If you don't specify what doneness you want when you order, they'll cook the burger medium to medium well by default, as they did with my burger. The medium well-ness is fine since it's a thin patty, but if you want it cooked less, make sure to speak up, and loudly—it's a busy place and there's always a loud sizzle in the air.
An upgrade to the cheeseburger is the grilled onion cheeseburger, where there's an element of sweetness with slices of caramelized onion sprinkled over the burger. This flavor combination particularly benefits from another Broiler Bay specialty: house made fry sauce. Yes, this is supposed to be for fries, hence the name, but the giant pump dispenser attached to a vat of peachy-hued sauce suggests their fry sauce goes with everything. Broiler Bay regulars will fill several of the little plastic dipping cups with the house made fry sauce, dabbing it on bites of the burger as they eat. The smooth, creamy sauce of ketchup, mayonnaise and something else they won't share (sour cream, perhaps?) is a chilled sweet and sour foil to the salty bite of their burger.
Make sure to save some fry sauce for ... no, not fries—their fried zucchini. Their fries and onion rings are fine, but their best side dish is the zucchini. Short, thick wedges of the squash are coated in a thin breadcrumb batter and fried until the outsides have a crisp shell, the oil's heat rendering the zucchini into a creamy, molten-hot center. Use the utensils and eat with care, with plenty of fry sauce to cool every bite.