Zaitzeff: The Best Damn Burger I've Had in a Long Time

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Zaitzeff

Location Visited: 72 Nassau Street, New York NY 10038; map); 212-571-7272; zaitzeffnyc.com. Additional location at 18 Avenue B, New York NY 10009 (Alphabet City)
The Short Order: Everything points to a dry, disappointing burger here—grass-fed sirloin, nonstandard bun, cooked on a griddle under a weight—but the meat is surprisingly, amazingly juicy and hella flavorful. I am still dreaming of this burger
Want Fries with That? Fresh, hand-cut regular and sweet potato fries have potential but are greasy; skip them, especially at these prices
Price: Sirloin QP, $8.25; HP, $13.50. Kobe QP, $9; HP, $15.25. Fries, $4.25
Further Reading From: Hamburger America, NYC Food Guy, Yelp

Wow. That's all I can say. I finally got my ass to Zaitzeff down in the Financial District. That's a great burger, I'll tell you what.

In a Nutshell

Portuguese Roll: This burger's bread looks sorta like a big English muffin, but it's fluffy, not spongy and chewy. And it looks beautiful all toasted like they do here.

Two Kinds of Beef, Two Sizes: You can either get a "Kobe burger" (actually made with American Wagyu beef) or a sirloin burger. Each version comes in quarter-pound and half-pound sizes.

All-Natural Philosophy: Apparently, founder Zach Zaitzeff saw an underserved niche in the Wall Street eats market—meals made with all-natural, sustainorganical goody-goody ingredients. The sirloin is sourced from D'Artagnan and the Kobe comes from Morgan Ranch. Even the ketchup is the Heinz Organic variety.

Griddled Patties: The burgers are made on a tiny flat-top griddle in an impossibly small kitchen area. The cook does up your burgers while keeping an eye on batches of fresh, hand-cut fries simmering in cast-iron pans nearby.

Pricey: As of publication, a quarter-pound sirloin burger runs $8.25 for burger only; half-pound sirloin is $13.50. "Kobe" burger, quarter-pound, $9; half-pound, $15.25. Wall Streeters can afford this, even in a crap economy, I'm sure.

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Juicy as Hell

Now when I hear or read that a place is going out of its way to do the all-natural sustainorganica thing—especially when they're using grass-fed beef—I start to worry that the actual prep, flavor, juiciness, and balance of the burger is going to take a back seat to fuzzy-headed ideals. Don't get me wrong; I'm all for those ideals, but I'm also for burgers tasting good.

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This is not an issue at Zaitzeff. The burgers here rock. They're incredibly juicy and have a great beefy flavor that's just slightly sweet, no doubt from all those grass dinners the cows ate before getting whacked. And the fact that they grind the beef in-house probably doesn't hurt things, either.

I had no idea where the meat was from as I was eating the burger and yet I was amazed at the juiciness of the meat. Moreso when my lunch companion, George "Hamburger America" Motz, asked and was told it was from D'Artagnan and was grass-fed—because grass-fed beef is generally leaner than grain-fed. Even the fact that the regular burger is made from sirloin (itself a leaner cut) is mind-boggling in the face of the juice level here.

The Standard Package, Options, Upgrades, and Tips

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As this was my first time at Zaitzeff, I stuck with the smaller quarter-pound burger ($8.25) while George ordered a half-pounder ($13.50). We both went with the sirloin. George told me that the more expensive "Kobe" burger ($9 for QP; $15.25 for HP) wasn't worth it and that he really couldn't tell the difference between the meats in burger form.

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The standard quarter-pound sirloin burger with an upgrade of cheese.

Unless otherwise directed, the staff will prep your burger with a healthy-looking leaf of bibb lettuce, a thick slice of tomato, and grilled onions. Pony up some extra cash and you can add cheese (Vermont white cheddar only), bacon, avocado, or, strangely enough, sausage. Cheese and avocado, $1 extra; bacon, sausage, $2 extra.

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George Motz knew the drill and ordered his half-pound burger with grilled onions only.

As George notes on his blog, don't ask for mustard unless you like Dijon ("... every burger spot in NYC believes they have to serve high-end mustard with their high-end burgers ..."). But honestly, you don't need condiments for this burger. Its flavor and juiciness are enough to carry the day. I removed the unwanted lettuce and tomato and went to town only with the grilled onions.

You Want Fries with That?

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Fries are fresh and hand-cut. You can get regular fries, sweet potato fries, or a mixture of both. As of publication, a plate (and it's a large one) of them costs $4.75. We got the mixed plate. The fries are good but a bit greasy. They'd do well from some time among some paper towels or from some other degreasing method. Since I'm not a huge fry guy, I think I'd end up skipping them if this were my go-to lunch spot, especially with the high prices on the burgers themselves.

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A wide array of beverages is available, from the prosaic Coke options to goody-goody sodas—and even beer and wine. Classy!

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