Beijing: Nathan's Famous

Today's reader recommendation comes from Raya Yampolsky (aka chichaofan on SE), who brings AHT it's first review of a burger in Beijing. Thanks, Raya! If anyone else wants to share some burger intel, here's how to do it. —The Mgmt.

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[Photographs: Raya Yampolsky]

Nathan's Famous

Raffles City B1-07, No.1 Dongzhimen South Street, Dong Cheng District, Beijing, China (map); nathanschina.com.cn
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: A true American classic in Beijing; consistently juicy burgers with fresh toppings in a kitschy setting
Want Fries with That? Crinkle fries come straight out of the freezer and into the fryer, but they're hard to come by here so they're worth getting. Opt for the prawn poppers and you've got surf-and-turf
Price:25-40 RMB ($4-6) for a meal (with fries and drink)

A good burger can be hard to come by in China's capital. Most of the hype goes to undeserving, pseudo-gourmet constructions that feature lots of fancy (read: pricy) imported ingredients but fall short on execution.

Cue the opening of Nathan's Famous, a Coney Island classic with hundreds of locations worldwide. In the US they're known for hotdogs, but in Beijing they offer a much-needed addition to the lacking burger scene. Here's the lowdown for anyone who finds themselves in the PRC, craving a burger, but unable to bear the price of high-end bars or the debasement of dining at McDonald's abroad.

Nathan's Famous has many an American classic on the menu to tempt the weary traveler but make no mistake: items like the Philly cheese steak, the chili cheese dog, and—god forbid—the lobster roll should be avoided. The chicken sandwich was cold, and while some of the seafood looked appetizing (basket of prawn poppers, anyone?), the cheeseburgers were the star here.

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The basic cheeseburger is a 5-ounce, griddled patty topped with a slice of American cheese, chopped fresh onions, and tangy, thick-cut pickles. Ketchup and mustard serve as the condiments, tasting slightly more authentic than the usual sugary simulations found in China. The super cheeseburger is loaded with fresh romaine lettuce, tomato slices, and mayo. The bacon cheeseburger features plenty of bacon and processed cheese. All are served on fluffy, untoasted sesame seed buns.

The burgers are humble, probably frozen and pre-shaped in a factory, but what sets Nathan's Famous apart is their consistency in offering a stellar burger experience overseas. Their patties, despite the lack of hand-shaped love, are nonetheless crusty around the edges and juicy throughout. The toppings are always fresh and don't overwhelm.

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A "meal" comes with fries of the frozen, crinkle cut variety. They are definitely a departure from those commonly encountered here, managing to be well seasoned, crispy on the outside, and creamy soft in the middle. For the more adventurous, other sides include cheese and chili cheese fries, onion rings, and we're still eyeing those prawn poppers.

They have a full range of beverages, including a surprisingly decent hot chocolate. Despite the promise of Tsingdao on tap, we were promptly disappointed to see our brews served in paper cups and don't advise paying extra for them.

Nathan's Famous tries to give off a fun and retro vibe; it's reminiscent of Johnny Rocket's with its fire engine red interior and gimmicky attitude. Among the bizarre perks are individual MP3 sound booths, multiple happy hour specials throughout the day, and a Wheel-of-Fortune-style coupon game at the door. All in all, Nathan's is a seriously satisfying reprieve from the sub-par burgers found in this city at a fraction of the imitation gastro-pub prices. Raya Yampolsky

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