High-Aiming Fusion Burgers and Ho-hum Patties at Double Dragon in Portland, OR

AHT: Portland

Burger reviews in the Portland area.

[Photographs: Nathan Tucker]

Double Dragon

1235 SE Division St., Portland OR 97214 (map); 503-230-8340, doubledragonpdx.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: A few good topping ideas are undone by bland, boring patties at this pan-Asian fusion sandwich spot
Want Fries with That? Absolutely, and you want them covered in miso gravy and sprinkled with queso fresco and green onions
Price: Burger, $9; w/fried egg, +$1; miso gravy fries, $7
Notes: A burger and a pint go for $10 during happy hour, 3-6 pm

When it comes to burgers, I'm typically a purist. Give me a hefty hunk of perfectly cooked beef, some melted cheese, and limited vegetation: tomatoes if they're in season, lettuce if I'm feeling particularly greenery-deficient, maybe some caramelized or pickled onions if it's a fancy occasion. As far as I'm concerned, anything else adorning my patty is likely just an unwelcome distraction, which is why it's taken me so long to try the buzzed-about burgers at fancy banh mi joint Double Dragon.

Double Dragon's sandwiches managed to convince me that it's worth dropping a Hamilton on the notoriously cheap Vietnamese street food even though there's a banh mi shop five blocks from my house where nothing on the menu tops three dollars. I figured there was every chance they could do right by me and my burger craving as well. And man, did they come close.

Double Dragon offers two burgers: a banh mi-influenced burger ($9) topped with five-spice bacon, queso fresco, pickled carrot and daikon radish shreds, cucumber, and cilantro; and a Szechuan burger ($9) topped with that same bacon, Szechuan peppercorn relish, aioli, and butter lettuce. Both patties are made of a third pound of Painted Hills beef and served on what seems to be the city's standard burger vessel, a Grand Central Bakery seeded brioche bun.

The banh mi burger's accoutrements were enough to remind me that simple isn't always better. If anything, I'd say that more places ought to put banh mi toppings on their patties: the fresh, crunchy cucumber and pickled veggies balanced the beef and bacon perfectly, and the sriracha was applied with a light enough hand that it didn't overpower the other flavors.

That's more than I can say for the peppercorn relish on the Szechuan burger, which completely overwhelmed the rest of the sandwich. I could barely taste the beef, and I couldn't taste the bacon at all. What's worse, the relish didn't taste much like the famous peppercorns it was purported to contain nor impart the tingling numbness associated with them, instead tasting a bit too much like a paste made out of bouillon cubes. The butter lettuce's crunch and freshness tried valiantly to offset the sodium overload, but you'd need a whole central California field of the stuff to stand up to this salt mine.

The real failing of these burgers had nothing to do with the toppings, though: it was the griddled beef that ultimately underwhelmed. Ground too fine, packed too tightly, and cooked too thoroughly for my requested medium rare (more so than my pictures suggest), these patties belied the quality of the Painted Hills beef out of which they were formed. And no toppings, innovative or otherwise, can save a lackluster patty.

You can order plain fries at Double Dragon, and they're the twice-fried, golden, skinless beauties that most fast-food fries can only wish they were. But why order them all alone when you can get them drowned in miso-bacon gravy and topped with queso fresco and green onions ($7)? The gravy is, as you might imagine from the name, basically pure umami crack, and makes this bastardized pan-Asian poutine a fusiony comfort-food dish that will haunt my dreams.

The slight twist on the traditional accompaniments adorning Double Dragon's banh mi burger was enough to shake me from my topping purism. Unfortunately, the meat itself didn't quite equal its toppings in concept or execution. I'll be back for gravy fries and a beer at happy hour, and I might even get a banh mi if I'm feeling flush, but I'll avoid the burger.