18 Avenue B, New York, NY 10009 (b/n 2nd Street and 3rd Street; map); 212-477-7137; zaitzeffnyc.com; another location at 72 Nassau Street
Cooking Method: Griddled in a cast-iron skillet
Short Order: Juicy grass-fed burgers pack in a lot of flavor on great Portuguese muffin buns
Want Fries With That? Sure, preferably shared with two other people (unless you're really hungry)
Price: 1/4-pound sirloin burger, $9.25; + fried egg, $1.25; 1/4-pound Kobe burger, $10.75; mixed fries, $5
Up until I tried Zaitzeff a few weeks ago, my lone favorite burger in the East Village was from Veselka, where burgers are just one small part of a large menu. Zaitzeff specializes in burgers—their menu includes sirloin, "Kobe" (American wagyu from Nebraska), turkey, and veggie, and they offer nine different toppings. I don't prefer Zaitzeff over Veselka (they fulfill different burger cravings), but it's now another favorite of mine in the East Village.*
I first heard of Zaitzeff from Adam's favorable review of the Financial District location from two years ago. Prices may have gone up since then, but judging from his review, the burgers are still just as good today.
* In case you're wondering, a rundown of my other East Village burger experiences: Black Iron (tried the regular and patty melt, preferred the latter), Royale (fine, but not that memorable), Westville (Portuguese bun = yay), The Sunburnt Cow (Australian toppings = yay), The Smith (good, not great), Blue 9 (not bad, but for some reason didn't leave much of an impression), 7A (methinks it was good, but I ate it over three years ago), and Back Forty (also ate it too long ago to fully remember; should I go back?).
I tried the 1/4-pound sirloin burger made of grass-fed beef from D'Artagnan (same as the Kobe), which comes topped with crisp lettuce, tomato, and sweet sautéed onions on a Portuguese muffin, with a pickle spear on the side. From the available toppings of cheese (cheddar, Swiss, blue, and American), bacon, jalapeno peppers, mushrooms, avocado, and fried egg, I added a fried egg because an additional fried egg tends to make any savory dish taste better.
My medium rare patty was juicy (not overflowing, but juicy enough) and bursting with beefy flavor—it only took one bite for me to think, "Damn, this is good," a sentiment I repeatedly confirmed until all I was left with was an empty plate and beef juice-coated fingers. The egg wasn't necessary, but it didn't hurt either.
The Portuguese muffin may be too sweet for some, but I liked its texture—substantial and a little chewy, but not so much that it got in the way of the rest of the burger— and that it was crispy on both sides. My only complaint is that its circumference didn't match that of the patty's so that I was left with too much bun by my final bites. They seem to use the same muffin for the 1/2-pound and 1/4-pound patties, so if you get the 1/2-pound there will be a better meat-to-bun ratio.
One of my friends got the Kobe burger and after we took a bite of each others burgers, we didn't think the Kobe was vastly better than the sirloin burger, even if the Kobe has more fat in it. I think you'd be fine just sticking with sirloin.
Two friends and I shared an order of the mixed fries, Idaho potatoes and sweet potatoes, and it was just the right amount for the three of us. Like the burgers, the fries are also cooked in a cast-iron skillet and they had a distinct potato flavor, as opposed to just being boring fried carb sticks (not that I have anything against fried carb sticks). Although the fries weren't super crispy, they weren't limp and their thin, crispy skins were adequate.
For those who like to drink, they offer a variety of wines, beers, and cocktails. My non-alcoholic self would've gone for a milkshake if they offered them, but it's probably a good thing they don't since I was plenty full from the burger and fries.
Some people may be deterred by the prices—the burgers are on the pricey side considering their sizes and lack of fries—but I think it's worth paying a few bucks more to get a memorably good burger instead of one that's just okay. Or you could go to the Financial District location, which according to Zaitzeff's online menu has lower prices.
This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners; your purchases via these links can benefit Serious Eats. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.