Editor's Note: Please welcome Adam Lindsley to the AHT team! Adam is a food geek from the Pacific Northwest whose culinary heart is divided evenly between pizza and hamburgers. In addition to filing reports here on AHT, he'll also be reviewing pizza over on Slice. Inquiring minds can read more about him here.
Zippy's Giant Burgers
1513 SW Holden St., Seattle WA 98106 (map); 206-763-1347; zippysgiantburgers.com
Cooking Method: Charbroiled
Short Order: Classic burgers elevated by house-ground beef
Want Fries with That?: Fries are fine but not noteworthy; go for the thick-battered onion rings instead if you don't mind the fact that they're frozen
Prices: Burgers, $4.35-$7.90; mini-burgers start at $2.25, cash only
Notes: Not starving? Order a Lil Zip instead of the full-sized sandwich
Step up to Zippy's Giant Burgers in West Seattle and you'll find an A-frame sign on the sidewalk outside featuring a cartoon child sporting a propeller beanie and a nightmare-inducing stare of abject hunger.
While its enthusiastic logo may have all the charm and charisma of a catheter, the interior of the business is whimsically painted to resemble the top of a sesame seed bun and is bedecked in all manner of vintage hamburger kitsch—from a plastic Big Boy doll to a Wendy's "Where's the Beef?" platter. There are a few tables inside and on the side of the building, but given that Zippy's cranks out about 2,400 burgers a week, most of the business is of the grab-and-go nature.
Zippy's seems to have had little trouble amassing a fervent following. Owners Blaine and Rahel Cook have been cranking out burgers that have lured in the masses since 2008, becoming so popular so quickly that they won the Seattle Met Magazine readers' choice poll for Seattle's Best Burger only a year after opening their doors. They also managed to collect the Best Burger accolade from Seattle Weekly earlier this year. Such high expectations could have set up Zippy's for a major disappointment, but as it happens, the burgers are nearly as good as the hype portends.
The key to Zippy's success cannot be in doubt: It's because they grind their own meat, everyday, rather than succumbing to the far more prevalent practice of using preformed, frozen patties. Seasoned only with salt and pepper and left to sizzle on the grill until the outside of the ground neck-off chuck roll forms a dark, crunchy shell, this is a burger to be emulated at your next summer cookout.
The beef cooks down to a 1/3-inch-thick patty, and it's a wonder the meat is as tender as it is beneath that crisp exterior. Top the quarter-pound slab with the standard fixings (secret sauce, tomato, pickles, red onion, iceberg lettuce) and squeeze it flat in a Franz Bakery bun for their signature Zip Burger, a messy affair that leaves your fingers dripping and your stomach content. I see no reason not to slap on some American cheese and salty bacon for a paltry buck twenty-five, both of which pair well with the flavor of the char on the burger. Sometimes the beef can get a little lost in all the hoopla; remedy this by upgrading to the two-pattied Zip Royale, a burger that truly embodies the restaurant's name and requires a python-sized mouth to consume. If you don't plan on eating another meal in the next 48 hours or are just coming off a juice fast, by all means go for the Big Mouth, which ups the ante to a monstrous three slabs of beef.
In stark contrast, the Lil Zip soars on minimalism. At just over three inches in diameter and topped with only pickles and secret sauce, it may be dwarfed by its behemoth brethren, but it's actually about the size of a regular fast food burger, and perhaps even a smidge larger. Add the rest of the usual toppings and a second patty for the Lil Zip Royale, which presents the most balanced meat-to-bun ratio of all the offerings here. Zippy's does offer a bean burger for vegetarians, so feel free to bring all your tree-hugging friends.
Even better than the aforementioned burgers—and the one I recommend ordering if (when) you drop by—is the No. 11. A healthy portion of Mama Lil's spicy goathorn peppers provides a kick of heat that falls somewhere between a tap and a roundhouse, potent enough to feel the burn but not so much that it sears a hole through your tongue. The chipotle mayo slathered on the bun brings smokiness aplenty to the sandwich, as does the wonderfully thick layer of jack and smoked cheese. That may sound distracting, but this holy trinity of smoke and spice actually accentuates the flavor of the beef rather than masks it, much more so than the typical burger fixings.
Sides aren't likely to blow you away. The frozen fries boast strong potato flavor and a nice crispness, but aren't anything special. The onion rings, also of the frozen persuasion, come thickly battered and intensely crunchy, a combination I actually prefer over most hand-dipped rings (and I am well aware this is an opinion that puts me squarely in the minority). Owner Blaine "Zippy" Cook says they're looking to expand to a larger space big enough to fit an extra fryer, and then they'll give hand-cutting their own fries a shot. In the meantime, though, they're keeping costs down with the frozen sides, and the customers aren't complaining.
Beverages fare far better. A cooler behind the counter is packed to the gills with a variety of artisan sodas, including the requisite Mexican Coke and the great Sioux City Sarsaparilla, the root beer of choice of mustachioed Strangers everywhere.
Is this really the best burger in Seattle? That's a tough call. As I said earlier, the burgers are very nearly worthy of their copious distinctions, but better burgers can certainly be had if you move up the scale to the bistro level (Spring Hill, for example, but that quality naturally comes at a premium). At this middle rank (above fast food but below chef-helmed fancy-pants burgers), Zippy's has a lot of competition, and I cannot yet say for certain if it bests its closest rivals (Teddy's, Red Mill). Ranking aside, suffice it to say that if you come a-knockin' on Zippy's door, there's zero chance you'll walk away unhappy.
Unless you gaze too long into the eyes of that twisted, demonic little urchin. Then you're doomed.