989 112th Ave NE, Bellevue WA 98004 (map); 425-505-2676; another location at 1253 Thomas St, Seattle WA 98004 (map); lunchboxlaboratory.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Juicy burgers may not be the beefiest, but they're stacked with flavorful toppings
Want Fries with That? Regular fries are fine, but try the tater tots for a crispy, nostalgic fit
Price: Burger of the Gods, $12.99
There are burger purists who want nothing to come between the beef and bun, and those who don't mind piling on the toppings to push the hamburger envelope. Lunchbox Laboratory falls in the latter category, experimenting with flavor combinations and encouraging diners to do the same.
Lunchbox's Dork Burger has been mentioned before on AHT, made with a custom blend ground pork and duck patty, Monterey Jack cheese, caramelized onions, and aioli. I highly recommend it—it's deliciously moist, flavorful, and rich—but today I'm here to tell you about the beef.
The loftily-named Burger of the Gods ($12.99) includes a 1/3-pound "super beef" patty, onions caramelized with balsamic vinegar, chunks of blue cheese, and a spread of creamy gorgonzola sauce. On the side comes their standard burger toppings: lettuce, pickle, onion, and tomato. Their burgers are served on organic Kaiser buns from Essential Bakery, which have a good sturdy crust and a tender, porous interior good for soaking up the burger's sauce and beef juices—juices that will probably end up coating your hands anyway (they need bigger napkins; the retro drive-in napkins are cute but not up to the task).
The Lab's default "super-beef" patties (there don't offer "normal beef" patties) are described on the menu as American Kobe-style beef, which isn't so much the beer-massaged Japanese cows of legend, but a domestic crossbreed that has some of the favorable attributes of the original Wagyu cattle, namely a healthy dose of fat. The patties are hand-formed with freshly coarse-ground sirloin that's well salted and char-broiled with enough intensity to create a crust around the surface and stay juicy inside. They list medium to medium rare as a baseline, but on this visit, it was more like medium well. Thankfully, it remained juicy enough despite the overcooking. (This was at their newer location in Bellevue, where they may had still been perfecting the technique, so consider hitting their South Lake Union spot in Seattle.) The patty didn't taste especially beefy, at least not under all the strongly flavored toppings, but the smoky char managed to cut through the toppings.
Although overwhelming at first bite, a few bites in and I could better appreciate the different flavors. The beef's smoky char was strong enough to stand up to the blue cheese crumbles, rich Gorgonzola spread, and buttery-soft, sweet caramelized onions. The cold vegetable toppings were less strong, though, and didn't offer much in the way of flavor, more just fresh crunch.
Obviously, if you're a burger purist who likes to keep things minimal, the Burger of the Gods will feel overdone. But if you're like me and love the flavor of strong, aged cheese, this burger is for you.
The burgers come with a choice of fries (regular or sweet potato), tater tots, potato salad, or homemade potato chips. While the regular crispy shoestring fries are fine, I recommend the tater tots as a more flavorful side to go with the burgers. They're served hot and crispy and they're the perfect blank canvas to play mad scientist with their specialty salts like garlic, habanero, or bacon.
If you want something simpler than the Burger of the Gods, you can Build Your Own Burger, customizing a meat of your choice (beef, lamb, duck/pork, vegetarian or cut meats like turkey and roast beef) and as many toppings as you want.
Their burgers range from $12 to $14, with the Build Your Own Burger starting at $10 and going up, based on customization. (It's probably not worth it to go too simple; this is a spot for people who want intense flavor combinations.) It's not a cheap everyday burger, so save it for special occasions and go big.
Order one of their specialty hand-dipped shakes like the Boston Crème Donut, which is garnished with chunks of Top Pot doughnuts. Or stop by for their "Kick Ass" happy hour (3 to 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. to closing, daily), where you can get smaller burgers called Scotty's Classic Drive-In, which go for $2.49 each, using their same beef mixture and a downsized bun.