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[Photographs: Denise Sakaki]

The Pumphouse Bar & Grill

11802 Northeast 8th Street, Bellevue WA 98005 (map); pumphousebellevue.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A longtime favorite neighborhood bar serves up flavorful burgers heaping with homemade chili
Want Fries with That? Skip the standard shoestring fries and upgrade to chili-topped fries
Price: Pumphouse Chili Burger, $10.94
Notes: 21+ only

East of Seattle, buried in a huddle of older stripmalls in downtown Bellevue, lies The Pumphouse Bar & Grill. Don't pass it by; you'll be missing out on a burger piled high with chili, and a fantastic beer selection. It's one of the best neighborhood dive bars, having been in business since 1978, and it keeps going strong, serving local crowds when the workday comes to a close.

The Pumphouse's space is a spread of booths, scattered tables, and bar seating. Awash with neon light from the many beer signs and the glow of several televisions showing whatever game is on, it's got the feel of a well-worn neighborhood dive, but in all the best possible ways. The people are friendly, the food servings are hefty, and in the evenings and weekends it can be a scramble to find a seat because it's a spot the locals love. Even in the middle of the week, the parking lot is jammed with cars. Leave the kids at home, though; since the Pumphouse is a bar, it's 21 and over only.

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Out of their menu of 1/3-pound burgers made with fresh ground beef, the one to get is the Chili Burger topped with their homemade chili, diced raw onions, cheddar cheese shreds, and fresh tomatoes. The freshness of the tomatoes get a little lost, but the cheese and onions meld nicely with the chili's heat. The soft sesame bun can get soggy and the toppings easily drip out, but don't fight the delicious mess—eat this with a knife and fork. The hearty patty is visibly charred with criss-crossed grill marks and has a juicy, tender center. The contrast of the beef against the sweetness of the chili is a great reminder of why hamburgers and chili pair so nicely together.

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Although you can specify how well you want your burger cooked, I recommend going with their default of medium if you're getting a chili burger. The grilled, smoky flavor of a medium patty will stand up better to the chili's flavor, which would overpower a lesser cooked patty. If you're looking for, say, a medium rare burger, go with simpler toppings like mushroom or cheddar.

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The Pumphouse's chili recipe, which has been a staple of the restaurant for over thirty years, is a sweet, smoky mix of ground beef and kidney beans, with the acidic kick from stewed tomatoes. It's sweeter than typical chili, almost like a barbecue sauce. The Pumphouse make large five-gallon batches of the chili three times a week to feed the crowds.

If you want fries with your Chili Burger—which doesn't come with fries, unlike most of the other burgers—consider the Chili Cheese Fries instead of the standard crispy shoestring. The chili and cheese are the perfect topping for the fries.

The Chili Burger goes perfectly with a beer; good thing the Pumphouse has an impressive menu with eighteen specialty beers on tap, most of them from local microbreweries. They're selective about what they serve, with keen attention to seasonal releases, so ask if there's anything new that isn't listed on their regular menu.

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Many may shrug off The Pumphouse as a dive bar upon first glance, but don't pass this place by—they serve up flavorful bar foods with time-tested recipes. You'll discover what locals have been enjoying for years.

About the author: Denise Sakaki is a freelance writer, photographer and designer, blogging and eating her way through as many adventures as her stomach can handle. When she's not exploring the world of hamburgers for AHT, she's thinking about what burger she wants to tackle next...

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