10606 NE Northup Way, Bellevue, WA 98004 (map); 425-827-9566; 5 locations in the Seattle area listed at burgermaster.biz
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Fast food-style drive-in burgers made from, surprisingly enough, grass-fed beef are greasy and enjoyable. A decent choice if you're not near something better.
Want Fries with That? Not a chance in hell; they're anemic and taste awful
Prices: Burgermaster cheeseburger, $4.39; Burgermelt, $6.29
In the battle for Seattle's fast-food burger supremacy, Dick's and Red Mill are the main contenders, at least in terms of popularity. A distant third, with just a smidge better burger if you ask me, is the epically named Burgermaster.
Founded in 1952 by Phil Jensen, Burgermaster's first restaurant opened near the University of Washington and has expanded to five locations since then. While the original Burgermaster is an order-at-the-counter-and-sit-down kind of place, the Bellevue location is drive-in only, and a lot more charming (although Jensen, now in his 80s, still comes to work at the University location).
Burgermaster's primary attraction, the...uh...Burgermaster, won't win any beauty contests. In fact it looks like it got beaten with the ugly stick. It's your garden variety quarter-pound ultra-flat burger with American cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce, thick slices of tomato, and relish on a toasted bun. In an unlikely twist, Burgermaster uses grass-fed beef, which, while commendable from a sustainability standpoint, doesn't mean a whole lot in terms of extra flavor with this type of patty. Being so thin and cooked to within an inch of its life, the foremost sensation you get from the meat is salt. The griddle does a nice job of crisping up the edges of the patty, but you will not find a strong, beefy presence here.
The veggies and relish don't exactly push this burger into the stratosphere of quality either. Yet, somehow, and even though it's the greasiest of the three, I still thought it tasted better than anything I had at Red Mill or Dick's. Not by much, but enough that if given the option of hitting just one of them, I'd go with Burgermaster's burger ten times out of ten. There is absolutely nothing special about it, but it's strangely addictive.
In the interests of comparison, I also ate at the University location and sampled the same burger there (tasted exactly the same), along with the Burgermelt. Now, beforehand, I was certain that this would be the burger for me: two patties, two slices of cheese, ketchup and mustard, that's it. I go for burger minimalism whenever possible, so the Burgermelt seemed like it was designed specifically with me (or a picky nine-year-old) in mind. Sadly, it wasn't to be. It's far too greasy, and the overabundance of mustard distracted from the twin slabs of salty beef. A colossal disappointment.
Also disappointing: the sides. The onion rings were the lesser of two evils, salty in a Funyuns kind of way and just a step or two above the ones served at Burger King. At least they had a nice crunch to them.
But the fries...oh, the fries. What an unmitigated disaster. Crisp yet undercooked, chalk-dry yet tasting as though they've been soaking for hours in a vat of oil, these fries were a sad cauldron of paradoxes. One imagines they entered this life as actual potatoes, but you would never guess that having eaten their final form. "Imitation potato" is being kind.
Despite everything going against it, I still kinda like Burgermaster, which is not to say they make a great burger. They don't. It's just marginally better than the competition's offerings, none of which aim very high. Honestly, for this price point, I don't know why you wouldn't just go to Uneeda Burger. But if you happen to be near a Burgermaster, and stick with the titular burger, you'll leave happy enough.
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.