When I set out to find the best burger within a 1.5-mile radius of Northeastern University, I was surprised to discover that the typical American eats more than 150 burgers per year. For all the non-math majors out there, that’s about three burgers per week. And while that might seem like a lot, consider this: McDonald’s sells 75 burgers every single second of every single minute of every single day.
My #NUburgerbattle lasted two months, during which I sampled the fare at seven burger joints in close proximity to campus. I didn’t visit every nearby restaurant with a burger on the menu—apologies to Chicken Lou’s and Conor Larkin’s Grill & Tap—but I did solicit recommendations on Twitter and act on feedback from restaurants and burger-lovers alike.
By the time I had finished eating, I was ready to swear off burgers for the foreseeable future. But I was also ready to reveal the winner of this food challenge, the burger with the best flavor and bang for my buck.
Without further ado, here’s the lowdown on my seven-burger binge.
Location: 137 Mass. Ave.
Burger cost: $7.98
B.good was packed on a Tuesday afternoon in early August, forcing me to eat my burger in the restaurant’s upstairs lounge. I was momentarily entranced by its arcade version of Street Fighter II and then took a seat at a high-top table overlooking the hustle and bustle of the lunch time rush.
Before me was the Cousin Oliver, one of b.good’s five named burgers. I removed the top bun—a whole wheat option from Quinzani’s Bakery in Boston—and then peeked inside: lettuce, tomato, onion, homemade pickle, a 4.5-ounce patty, and a slice of American cheese, for which I had paid an additional 99 cents.
I took my first bite. The beef—all-natural ground chuck, locally sourced from a farm in Maine, and grilled BBQ-style—was well-done, with clear juices running through it. And yet it was not too dry, not too lean for my liking. Color me surprised: The burger, coming from a restaurant whose motto is “Food made by real people, not factories,” contained just 14 grams of fat.
The pickles were the burger’s biggest asset, thick cut and crunchy with a spicy kick. And the cheese was good too, mild, melty, and flavorful. But I was not fully satisfied. The lettuce was soft and slimy, the bun hard and flaky. And at just 423 calories, I would have done well to request a second patty. Next time.
Restaurant: Boston Burger Company
Location: 1100 Boylston St.
Boston Burger Company serves up more than two-dozen burgers, dressed with toppings ranging from peanut butter and homemade chili to grilled pineapple and fried egg. But, in the interest of a fair fight, I ordered the Boston Burger with lettuce, tomato, onion, and American cheese.
The patty—8 ounces of certified Black Angus beef, cooked medium well—was big and tasty, but it made the toppings seem inconsequential by comparison. The pair of tomato slices were thin while the large sprig of lettuce was crispy yet lacking in flavor.
Each bite was mostly meat and bun—a thick, pillow-like deli roll from Fantini Bakery in Haverhill, Massachusetts, with 255 calories, 1 gram of fat, 9 grams of protein, and 50 grams of carbs.
When I was halfway done with the burger, the bottom of the roll had begun to sop up its juices and crumble. As messy as it was, I ate up every last bite.
Restaurant: Five Guys Burgers and Fries
Location: 263 Huntington Ave.
Made from a proprietary blend of chuck and sirloin, the patties at Five Guys were particularly delicious, juicy with a slightly pinkish hue. But they were small, just 3.3 ounces each.
To sate my burger craving on a Tuesday afternoon in early July, I ordered a triple cheeseburger with a small mountain of raw onions.
The cheese—mild, yellow American—was hot and gooey. As I remarked on Twitter, “It’s the glue that keeps the burger package together.”
The onions were crunchy and fresh, with a pungent smell, while the sesame-seed bun was soft and eggy. The whole thing—the burger, the cheese, the bun—melted in my mouth like butter. And I could have easily added a fourth patty to this tall stack of meat and cheese without worrying that it would fall apart.
There was a minor mix-up—my patties were initially cheese-less, prolonging my hanger—but I left feeling full. A double-cheeseburger at this restaurant contains 840 calories, 55 grams of fat, 47 grams of protein, and 40 grams of carbs. Factor in the third patty, and I must have consumed in excess of 1,000 calories in well under five minutes.
Restaurant: Five Napkin Burger
Location: 105 Huntington Ave.
The Classic Cheese—8 ounces of fresh ground chuck on a sesame brioche roll with lettuce, tomato, pickle, raw onion, American cheese, and 5N sauce—lived up to this burger joint’s name—and then some. By my count, I needed eight napkins to mitigate the mess.
The patty was juicy, cooked medium well, and the sauce was sweet, made from a proprietary blend of mayo, ketchup, and pickle. According to the shift manager, who asked me how I liked the burger, the sauce also included “a few other doo dads.”
The lettuce was crunchy, but the thick cut slices of tomato and onion slid out of my burger and onto my plate. Perhaps this was due to the sauce, which came in a small ramekin and made the bun soggy.
Restaurant: Shake Shack
Location: 234 Newbury St.
First of all, look at the potato roll. It’s buttered and griddled, soft and squishy. It’s cradling my Double Shack Burger, keeping its contents safe from slippage.
Matt Modoono, Northeastern’s photography manager who took this picture, praised the roll’s ability to keep his burger in one piece. “I didn’t even need to use a tray,” he said.
The burger itself—green leaf lettuce, tomato, American cheese, shack sauce, and two 4-ounce patties—was not without its faults. The lettuce lacked crunch and the melty cheese was overpowered by the sauce, a blend of mayo, ketchup, mustard, and pickle.
The beef, made from a proprietary blend of sirloin, brisket, and short rib, was a tad greasy, but it was also juicy, leaving a moderate aftertaste. And the applewood smoked bacon was a welcomed add-on for an extra $1.55, a combination of crispy and chewy.
Nevertheless, I left feeling hungry. I could have eaten another burger, despite the 840 calories, 55 grams of fat, 59 grams of protein, and 40 grams of carbs I had just inhaled.
Restaurant: Tasty Burger
Location: 145 Dartmouth St.
If you’re unfamiliar with the inspiration behind this burger joint’s name, then I suggest you familiarize yourself with Jules Winnfield from the 1994 hit Pulp Fiction. I bet you can’t watch the clip just once. Like the Big Tasty burger— lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickle, cheddar cheese, Tasty sauce, and a six-ounce patty on a sesame seed bun—it’s pretty addicting.
When I visited Tasty Burger for my #NUburgerbattle in mid-July, I made the mistake of adding a second patty. The beef itself was good—juicy chuck cut from Omaha Hereford beef, grilled, redolent of a backyard BBQ—but the user error made for a messy experience that did not reflect my prior satisfaction with the restaurant’s fare.
This time, I had devoured the top bun with half a burger remaining, forcing me to hold on to the patty itself. Needless to say, I needed more than half a dozen napkins to keep from looking like a toddler eating on his own for the very first time.
The Tasty sauce—consisting of mayo, relish, and mustard, as well as white wine vinegar, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika—reminded me of the sauce McDonald’s puts on its Big Mac. But I didn’t taste sauce in every bite, a problem I ascribe to my gluttonous decision to add a second patty.
I was so concerned with keeping my clothing free of meat and cheese that I forgot to analyze the lettuce, the tomato, and the pickle. But I can tell you that the onions were rather flavorless, the bun rather crumbly.
Location: Curry Student Center
I began my #NUburgerbattle with preconceptions, beliefs based upon past experience with meat and cheese sandwiched between two buns. But I ended my food challenge with a new favorite, a new go-to option when I’m craving a burger in a pinch.
That burger is UBURGER’s UCHEESEBURGER, with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, house spread, and American cheese. To be sure, no burger I tasted on my journey was perfect, but this one was the least-flawed.
The all-natural Angus beef patty was well done, with clear juices running through it. The onion strings were crunchy, with a zingy sharpness. The special sauce—mayo, ketchup, mustard—was sweet, eminently reminiscent of Tasty Burger’s spread. And the bun—a brioche roll from H&S Bakery in Maryland—was soft and buttery, like an edible cloud. Even the negatives had positives: The two small, sad pickle slices resting on the bottom bun were crunchy.
In the end, UBURGER truly lived up to its motto, a slogan coined by its co-founders in 2006. “Above All Burgers.”