174 Fifth Avenue, New York 10010 (22nd/23rd streets; map); 212-675-5096; eisenbergsnyc.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: This circa 1929 lunch counter offers a decent burger in a pinch, but it's probably not worth traveling too far out of the way for
Want Fries with That? No, they are generic steak fries; the generic onion rings are only marginally better but still not worth your time
Price: Cheeseburger, $7; cheeseburger deluxe, $8.50
"At Eisenberg's eating a cheeseburger," read my Facebook friend's status update. "How is it?" I posted on his comment, to which he replied, "Not bad." I might have left it at that had I not recently watched Anthony Bourdain on TV enjoy a tuna sandwich and lime Ricky at the circa-1929 sandwich shop located in the Flatiron District; he promised me a nostalgic sojourn replete with "1970s prices." He was right about the nostalgia, but I doubt the cheeseburger cost $7 here in the 1970s, if they even sold them.
Eisenberg's Sandwich Shop is one of the last of the great lunch counters that once dotted the city. It is a literal hole in the wall, occupying a thin sliver of real estate on Fifth Avenue and serving a throwback menu that includes egg creams and pastrami sandwiches.
Despite the classic lunch fare on the menu I ordered a rare American cheeseburger deluxe; this is AHT after all, and you are not here to read about pastrami on rye. There was some linguistic difficulty between me and the grill man. The menu lists that a deluxe hamburger comes with "fries," while a little lower down on the menu there is mention of "french fries" and onion rings for an additional charge. Looking over at the deep-fat fryer that bubbles away next to the griddle I could see a large heap of steak fries—those generic, invariably flaccid, pale white monstrosities that I avoid at all costs—and I assumed that both regular fries and steak fries were offered.
When I mentioned to the server that I wanted french fries instead of steak fries, he just nodded in what I assumed was acknowledgment of my order. I ended up with steak fries, the only kind of fried potato they serve, and they were as bad as steak fries always are. It was not the only disappointment. He apparently did not understand what a rare burger was, either. Eisenberg's serves a 100 percent sirloin burger formed into an eight-ounce patty that is quite thin and thus quite wide. I am not the biggest fan of sirloin burgers; I know it is supposed to be a better cut than chuck, but for burgers I prefer the latter.
After witnessing the grill man flip the svelte patty several times and even press down on it on one occasion, I had little hope that the burger would arrive anywhere close to temperature. My fears were confirmed—the patty was mostly cooked through with a small inner core that was a pale pink. Remarkably the patty, despite the oppressive hand of the cook, was somewhat juicy. Unmolested I bet this burger would be juicy even when cooked through. But juiciness alone is not the only reason I like my beef rare—not only does it have more flavor the less you cook it but I prefer the textural contrast that a properly seared patty can reveal. I sent the offending burger back and requested a replacement.
The second burger fared much better, not only was it perfectly rare on the inside but because it was only flipped once and left alone aside from that, it came away with some impressive grill marks and a juicy succulence.
Served on a lightly seeded but untoasted bun with a slice of cheese on each of the two halves, the sandwich was a model of purist simplicity. The beef was a tad underseasoned, and the cheese needed another slice to properly assert itself. The grill puts some impressive marks on the patty but does not really generate enough BTUs to brown the rest of the meat to anything but a light shade. There is a griddle that sits next to the grill, and I wonder how slapping one of the patties on that would compare to the flame cooking. But, that aside, it fulfilled all the requirements of an enjoyable hamburger experience: a soft compliance from the bun, which nonetheless held the patty snug, and a bold, clean flavor from the beef along with a rewarding mouthfeel from the copious juice. In short, a balanced sandwich in terms of texture and flavor.
I also made sure to order the onion rings on the second burger, and while they were preferable to the steak fries they were nothing special, obviously coming from a plastic bag in the freezer. I recommend you go commando style if you get the burger here—forget the sides, forget the rabbit food, just go for a straight cheeseburger and wash it down with one of those great throwback drinks, like an egg cream or a lime Ricky, that Eisenberg's sells and that you can't find in too many places these days.
Eisenberg's Sandwich sells a good but not great burger. While I wouldn't consider Eisenberg's a "destination hamburger"—a place that is worth spending time and crossing great distance for—it makes a decent standby if you are in the neighborhood or if the line at Shake Shack is insurmountable.
All products linked here have been independently selected by our editors. We may earn a commission on purchases, as described in our affiliate policy.