Shopping near Rockefeller Center is, let's face it, a contact sport for the next ten days. It's gotten even worse in the last month because the new Uniqlo flagship store is nearby. I happened to be in that neighborhood twice in the last few days, and I have the bruises to prove it.
Engaging in contact sports of any type makes me hungry for a burger. (Actually, truth be told, doing anything—or even nothing for that matter—puts me in the mood for a burger.) At the least it has to be a good burger, perhaps a very good burger, and maybe, just maybe, a great, seriously delicious burger. Running around the Rockefeller Center area with Serious Eats contributor Lauren Sloss, we actually discovered one burger in every category described above.
At Prime Burger you can sit in the same one-person swivel desks people have been eating on for nearly sixty years. The burgers are still solid even if the place looks its age a tad too much (somebody needs to tell management they need new lighting fixtures).
Make sure you order your burger with griddled onions and put on some of their excellent relish, and specify you want your burger cooked to order. Don't be afraid to send it back if it's over or under-cooked—we did so and the next round of cheeseburgers ($6.25) was perfect.
Bill's Bar & Burger
Right up the block from Prime Burger—and even closer to the tree and Uniqlo—is the massive branch of Steve Hansen's Bill's Bar & Burger. It's insanely busy at the moment (the manager told me they are serving 1500 burgers at every lunch during the holiday season), but since the place is so big my guess is the wait isn't that long even for a table at peak hours.
The signature Bill's Burger ($8.95) was juicy, crusty, and plenty salty—once our overcooked one was replaced by a medium rare one as ordered. Almost as good were the sliders ($8.50).
The skin-on seasoned steak fries ($3.95) left me cold, but the puffy crispy onion rings ($5.50) were excellent, and so was the malted coffee milkshake ($5.95).
Bill's Bar and Burger
The surprising winner of our Rockefeller Center burger mini-tour was the patty melt ($12.35, comes with fries) at Burger Heaven, another neighborhood institution (the menu says it's a three generation family business). I've had this sucker twice in two days, and both times it was ridiculously good, cooked as ordered first time every time, the griddled rye bread a nice golden brown, and the cheese properly oozy and melted. The ground beef was plenty beefy and not ground too fine. If I could have this patty melt every day for lunch I would be a happy man. This is a paradigmatic patty melt, as good any any you will find in New York City.
The cheeseburger ($7.75) was good, too, if a little overcooked. And the fries here, as always, are twice fried, crisp, tender on the inside, and just needed some salt to achieve french fry serious deliciousness.
Any of these burgers will make your holiday shopping around Rockefeller Center a little more bearable, and a little more delicious.
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