Seattle, WA: Shun the Wagyu and Embrace the Grain-Fed at Uneeda Burger
4302 Fremont Ave N, Seattle WA 98103 (map); 206-547-2600
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: An exemplary rendition of the classic burger style; just avoid the Wagyu
Want Fries with That? The waffle fries are of the frozen variety, but appropriately crisp and salty
Prices: 4-ounce Cheeseburger, $4.75; "upgrade" to Wagyu beef for $3
I love it when a burger joint just gets it. Too often you see frozen preformed patties slapped onto a grill or griddle and then shoved into a bun along with the saddest, most wilted vegetables ever pulled from a walk-in. You can't make something great out of that, ever. You might end up with something halfway pleasant and even satisfying, but it won't be great. The recently opened Uneeda Burger understands that, even if the result is not always a total success.
Chef/owner Scott Staples already has two popular Seattle restaurants under his belt (Zoe and Quinn's Pub), and all signs point to a third victory here. While Uneeda may be housed in one of the uglier buildings in Seattle (it's the former site of Uneeda Auto & Boat Repair), it doesn't seem to be affecting business in the slightest; both of my visits saw the place crammed with patrons horfing down their burgers. There's even a covered deck outside, which should see some action once the sun reappears in June or so.
I spoke with Uneeda's general manager, who pointed to a recent glowing review in The Stranger as one source of the current upswing. In said review, the author points out that Uneeda serves two levels of beef: a grain-fed Painted Hills all-natural beef and a Wagyu grass-fed beef from a small farm on nearby Whidbey Island. The author then goes on to insist, in a feverish spout of amplified superlatives, that the Wagyu burger (which you can upgrade to for $3) might just equal the second coming of Christ. Literally.
Now, that kind of hyperbole is the surest way to get me fired up about trying something new, so I decided to sample two of their classic cheeseburgers, one with the grain-fed beef, and one with the Wagyu. Did I come to the same conclusion as the Stranger? Well, no, no I didn't. In fact, I think they couldn't be more wrong about the Wagyu beef.
It's been said before and I'll say it here again: Wagyu (or Kobe) beef is a terrible idea for hamburgers. Here it's served medium rare to rare and comes off, well...just as the Burgermeister Adam Kuban said it would: like moist cat food. Not only that, but its flavor is far more muted than the grain-fed stuff, so much so you can barely tell that's beef hiding under the bun and veggies. People, do not order this burger.
All is forgiven when the Painted Hills burger comes up to bat. This is the one to order, with its salty, juicy, house-ground, intensely beefy quarter-pound patty that boasts a 25-percent fat ratio, served on a Franz bun toasted in herbed garlic butter. Shredded romaine, tomato, fantastic bread-and-butter pickles, a mayo-based special sauce, and cheddar join the glorious beef to form a well-executed burger that's cheap (only $4.75 with the cheese) and puts to shame most of the other burgers served in Seattle at this price. It's similar in many ways to the burgers sold at Foster Burger in Portland, Oregon: a delicious, unpretentious product that's made with quality ingredients and is easy on your wallet.
If you want to fancy things up, the options are available to you. I gave the Medi-terra a shot, a 1/3-pound lamb burger topped with charred peppers and onions, manchego, tempura lemons, arugula, and cilantro, all on a local Macrina Bakery bun. At twelve bucks it's the priciest burger on the menu. It's very good; the lamb is juicy (blood-dripping-on-your-plate juicy, in fact), the peppers are smoky, and the manchego is sharp and buttery. Unfortunately, the tempura lemons can overwhelm the entire burger with citrus. An easy solution: Just ditch the lemon (or better yet, request that it be left off your burger).
I liked the waffle fries for every reason frozen fries work: They're crisp, salty, and soft on the inside. The onion rings, on the other hand, need to go back to the drawing board. The onions themselves are so tender, preventing any possibility of string-pulls, but they're inundated with the thickest batter I've ever seen on an onion ring. It's so thick that the rings taste more like greasy fried dough than they do onions. Avoid.
It's about time this stretch of Fremont got a truly worthwhile burger joint, and I couldn't be more jealous of the lucky devils living in the neighborhood. Places where real chefs cook real food warrant championing, and Uneeda is definitely deserving of accolade. They have some great beers on tap, so if they iron out the kinks by summer, this place should explode.
About the author: Adam Lindsley is a Seattle-based novelist and the author of the pizza blog, This Is Pizza. As a contributor for both Slice and A Hamburger Today, he is contractually obligated to say he loves pizza and burgers in equal amounts. Which is to say he is a polygamist.