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Minetta Tavern

113 MacDougal Street, New York NY 10012; map); 212-475-3850; minettatavernny.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: An excellent burger that is overshadowed by one that is even more excellent.
Want Fries with That? Oh yes. Comes with, but would be worth paying for if not. Contender for best in the city
Price: $16

I hate to admit it when I am wrong, especially when it comes to chefs and hamburgers. But I have to concede that Minetta Tavern's chef Riad Nasr was right about the Minetta burger, an admirable, esteemable burger that would be considered a triumph on most any menu. Once you have eaten the Black Label burger that is one of the highlights of the Minetta menu, he warned that "there is no going back." The latter is a $26 dry aged rib eye blend from Pat La Frieda that is the best burger I have ever eaten. It has an intense flavor—a pronounced minerality, combined with a bawdy mouth feel. Expertly constructed on a custom bun, the patty's gregarious flavors are tempered by the genius addition of caramelized onions, an ingredient whose inclusion I initially questioned but now must concede that I was wrong about.

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Not that the Minetta burger is a slouch. It too comes from Pat La Frieda and contains a blend of short rib, brisket, and shoulder clod that, until the debut of the Black Label early this year, was the meat purveyor's premium mix. Served on the same brioche as the Black Label—an airy, salty, blessedly-not-too-sweet bun procured from Balthazar Bakery—and topped with the same caramelized onions, the Minetta burger adds only a dense blanketing of molten Vermontian cheddar to the architecture. The beef is excellent by any measure—aggressively seared with a dense crust, the loosely packed patty remains succulent and flavorful from the moment you hoist the hefty 8-ounce patty until you take the last bite, juice running down your sleeve (not to mention your chin).

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The Minetta burger fulfills all the criteria necessary for a great hamburger experience: extraordinary beef, inspired construction, and expert execution It is a burger that compares favorably to most any $16 burger served in a restaurant that I can think of. And at the same time, Nasr is completely right: If you have had the Black Label burger, you will not be satisfied with the Minetta burger, despite its excellence. And if you haven't been to Minetta and you manage to get a table there (it is one of the most sought after reservations in the city), you owe it to yourself to try the Black Label burger. To not do so would be like going three quarters of the way up the Empire State building. Sure, you are pretty high and the view is great, but why not go all the way up? Why not scale the heights exalted?

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