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All You Can Eat

Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson serves up the best info and tips on Northwest food, cooking, dining and restaurants.

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May 9, 2008 11:15 AM

Burger Queen

Posted by Nancy Leson


There's nothing like doing research for a burger round-up to prove that far more interesting options abound than that well-publicicized "Two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onions-on-a-sesame-seed-bun."

Over the past few weeks, I've eaten a multitude of burgers, shakes, sodas and fried sides for today's cover story for Ticket -- an expanding-pants-sizeable effort that gave me a chance to visit my old fast-food standby (Dick's), longtime favorites (Red MIll, Two Bells), a soon-to-close Happy Hour-honoree (Cascadia), and one fan-freakin-fabulous newbie (Lunchbox Laboratory).

First, I downed this beaut at Two Bells:

And later, this one -- at Red Mill:

Get a load of those onion rings, which, in my opinion, can't be bested anywhere (agree or disagree?):

After I finished my meal at Red Mill, I had a chat with co-owner John Shepherd:

I've known John and his sister, Babe, a long time: Red Mill was one of the first places I ever reviewed -- some 13 years ago, back when I was the critic at Seattle Weekly. That's when Red Mill was a single outlet (on Phinney Ridge), and half the size it is today. Here's what I said back then, in my Weekly review lead: "I'm predicting a burger phenomenon the likes of which Seattle hasn't seen since the folks at Dick's Drive-in began painting the town orange back in 1954. And brother-and-sister team Babe and John Shepherd will be responsible for it."

My prediction was off. Unlike Dick's, which has five stores around town, John and Babe have only expanded to two. When I asked why they haven't opened more of their exceedingly successful burger joints, John said they've discussed it umpteen times over the years, but figure they've got a good thing going with two -- one for each to oversee. And given that they commonly sell as many as 1000 burgers a day between those two stores, they've got their hands full as it is, even with several family members and a host of longtime employees helping run the show. Then he introduced me to his son, and to store manager, Bryn Hopkins -- whose photo you might have seen in a Red Mill ad displayed in "Sports Northwest" magazine:


Nice, er, freckles.


And speaking of Dick's: as I said in my roundup today, I've never been crazy about their fries. But now that the trans fats have "left the building" by official decree. . .


. . .I like them even less. So when my son begs "Please, Mom! Let's go to Dick's!" we'll forego the fries and each down a Deluxe-and-a-half, which, by my reckoning, is the caloric equivalent of a 1/3 a Lunchbox Laboratory burger [see: illustration, way below].

At Cascadia, in Belltown, which started the local "mini-burger" craze, I hit the place at Happy Hour and enjoyed this elegant assortment of fussy not-so-fussy finger food:



And also, just because Giadia De Laurentiis keeps insisting on her "Weekend Getaway" travel-show, one of these:



But my favorite burgers of all were those sold at that funky, offbeat, too-small-for-comfort Lunchbox Laboratory, in Ballard:



Not that I needed it, but I also had to order this side of mac 'n cheese. Mainly because I was so addicted to the stuff after first tasting it at Blue Onion Bistro, back when the Lab's owner/chef Scotty Simpson was serving up his bold brand of comfort food there:


Then I went home, took two Alka-Seltzer, and passed out.


Well, I'm already getting e-mails from folks, complaining that I missed their favorite burger joints. Last month, right here on All You Can Eat, I gave you the opportunity to speak your mind about your faves. Feel free to continue in that vein on this post.

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Posted by greg

12:22 PM, May 09, 2008

i've said this before - the BEST burgers in seattle can no longer be found - the Chuck Wagon at 50th and aurora was incredible - toasted french bread, two patties of REAL MEAT (not whatever is sold nowdays masquerading as meat) good melted american cheese and the most wonderful sauce - what ever happened to the sauce?

Posted by GLUTTON MAN!

12:27 PM, May 09, 2008

As long as the burger is relatively the size of my head, my stomache is happily content. :)

Posted by Sideofries

1:01 PM, May 09, 2008

I LOVE Blue Moon Burgers!! Their Southwest Burger is AMAZING!

Posted by Cris

1:15 PM, May 09, 2008

Does the Lunchbox Labratory SERIOUSLY serve their onion rings in a All-Clad mini-Dutch oven?!? I like them already.

Posted by flush puppy

1:21 PM, May 09, 2008

The Roanoke on Capital Hill! You can sit out on the deck even! Flame-broiled AND a toasty baguette!

Posted by Susan

1:22 PM, May 09, 2008

No one has yet mentioned the Family Drive-In on Meeker Street in Kent! Old-fashioned shakes, even blueberry, and red/white plastic tablecloths on the old picnic tables out front. No pre-fab burgers here!

Posted by mama g

1:33 PM, May 09, 2008

Voula's on Northlake makes a delicious, no frills burger with hand cut fries. I order it everytime, whether it's 9:00 am or 2:00 pm. Great staff, as well.

Posted by GT

1:34 PM, May 09, 2008

i hope lightning doesn't get me for this - but, if you can get past the bimbo greeting party and "tiffany" the waitperson, the red robin cooks a mean burger - the blue cheese burger is great - i just wish they offered a no singing / no loud noise section

Posted by mksh10

2:04 PM, May 09, 2008

Palace Kitchen burger wins, hands-down. I like that the Lunchbox Laboratory lets you be very creative in toppings, sauces, etc... but when I went with a group of friends we were all pretty grossed out by how soggy and greasy the buns were. I'd take a Palace Kitchen burger (at roughly the same or a slightly lower price) any day over the Lunchbox Laboratory.

Posted by The Real Burger MASTER

2:46 PM, May 09, 2008

You forgot about the ranch drive-in in bothell, and in yakima the minor burger…

Posted by Patrick in West Seattle

2:59 PM, May 09, 2008

Some of the best in the West would have to be Pepperdock on Alki (hasn't changed much since it served the flower generation). Luna Park on Avalon has some of the best burgers and shakes around, a kitchy fifies decor complete with juke boxes at each table. Smokeys out in Burien is a great burger as well, not a fancy place by any means and they do not take credit cards but there is always a line...hmmm.

Posted by chowfan

3:07 PM, May 09, 2008

Dick's burgers are best fast food burger? Not by any objective measure. Maybe "best Seattle-based burger chain named 'Dick's'", but measuring by any other standard the paper-thin, greasy-yet-tasteless patties, paucity of toppings, miserable wonderbread buns amount to epic fail. Even McFood is better.
I have yet to find great fast food burgers comparable to, say, In-and-Out, in the Sound area. However there are plenty of good to great restaurant burgers. Two Bells, Palace Kitchen, Ram, even Red Robin on a good day put out quality product.

Posted by Simonian

3:51 PM, May 09, 2008

I don't get what the fuss is about Red Mill. OK but nothing out of the ordinary. Lunchbox Lab is indeed great, but there is also a mean lamb burger to be had at Saltoro up at 140th & Greenwood.

But what is that cocktail?

Posted by Cris

4:23 PM, May 09, 2008

Having lived in the South Sound area my whole life (30+ years), I'm disappointed to say that I've never tried the burgers at Dicks. I really don't feel like driving for an hour to get a burger. Is there anything better than fast food or (shudder) Red Robin in the Fed Way/Auburn area?

I can honestly say, however, that I had an In-and-Out burger just a couple weeks ago and it was the worst. How can a hamburger have no flavor??

Posted by Christina

4:44 PM, May 09, 2008

My goodness but this particular post has made me hungry. I think I could lick my computer monitor but my supervisor probably wouldn't okay that.

I want a bite of that first burger/french dip/what is that??!

And I wish I had "freckles" like that girl; especially working at a burger joint!!!

Posted by Tawdy

4:59 PM, May 09, 2008

The XXX in Issaquah has new owners and, unfortunately, the place is not the same. Burgers are frozen and the interior has been junked up. Ask any local. It's a shame.

Posted by - David

5:02 PM, May 09, 2008

How about Kidd Valley?
Greenlake, Aurora North, and Uptown?

Them's pretty good, too!

Tasty real Milkshakes, too.

(oh, and Burgermaster isn't bad either... Up on Aurora by Oak Trees Cinema - turn on your headlights to order!)

Posted by Brian

5:08 PM, May 09, 2008

In Seattle, I like Kidd Valley.
But nothing east of the Cascades beats the Big Miner burger at Miner's Drive In in Yakima.

Posted by stubborn1

5:24 PM, May 09, 2008

Restaurant Florent in NYC. Locally, The Dock Street burger at Bad Alberts on Ballard Ave. Cannot be beat.

Dicks: far too much gristle lately.

Red Mill took a lesson from Tom Douglas: publicity trumps quality.

What I really want to find is a real patty melt (two patties, swiss cheese, grilled onions, mustard relish, toasted rye).

Posted by Sofie

6:54 PM, May 09, 2008

Zeke's on HWY 2 past Sultan is always a great place to stop for a Burger whenever heading in the direction of Steven's pass

Posted by Chuck

9:35 PM, May 09, 2008

I've posted this before, but I'll say it again. If you want a real burger, grind your own. Pay the $50 for a grinder attachment to your Kitchen Aid mixer. Purchase 50/50 of chuck roast and sirlion. Cut into long thin strips, liberally salt, and rest in the fridge for 1-2 hours. Grind twice. Gently shape into patties (Don't overwork meat). Grill to medium rare (think steak, not industrial pre-formed frozen burger meat), and fix to your liking. We carmelize onions with a little balsamic at the end and couple with an interesting cheese and arugula on a grilled brioche (Essential Baking makes a nice medium-sized bun that works well). If you want the Red Mill style O-rings on the side, see Tom Douglas' cookbook.\ for a recipe.

Few venues grind their own meat and hand shape their own patties. It makes a difference.

Posted by Kevin

11:23 PM, May 09, 2008

I you have not been to the Lunchbox, go ASAP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hands down the best hamburger you will EVER HAVE.

No one is even a close second.

Posted by Dick B.

8:33 AM, May 10, 2008

Hi. Your list is okay but without several of our favorites I’m afraid you are doing the mighty burger in Seattle an injustice.

We just ate at the Roanoke on Mercer Island – and we’d forgotten how good burgers are there. Add Maggie Bluff’s by the Elliott Bay Marina, Coho in Redmond and Issaquah and our favorite quickie, Burgermaster with locations around the greater Seattle area (also on the Eastside in Bothell/Mill Creek and Bellevue – most of their locations have car service and are the last of that breed in this area).

Just thought you’d like to know.

Posted by walkertr

9:37 AM, May 10, 2008

ok, i know this is a bit far afield, but i have to tell you the most amazing (and i mean amazing) burger i ever had was recently at the marcus whitman hotel restaurant in walla walla. it was almost enough to make me want to move to walla walla (but watch your speed on that highway into town, we got a ticket!!)

Posted by Julie

11:30 AM, May 10, 2008

We've always loved Burgermaster in Bellevue. At the same time, we visited Lunchbox Laboratory a few weeks back; it was the best cheeseburger I've ever had in my life.

I can't wait to go back.

Posted by Kris

12:10 PM, May 10, 2008

The best burger I have ever had was at Bick's Broadview Grill on Greenwood Ave. I used to live in the apartments next to the place and the daily scent of grilling onions would always draw me in by Friday. The burger is hefty and spicy - with carmelized onion, roasted poblanos, pepper-jack cheese and avocados - plus extras like a hot sauce selection at the table. The side of fries were also salted and black pepperes which was fantastic. I hardly know anyone who has been there, but when we go, they always go back. Hmm, I know what I am eating tonight!

Posted by james

5:19 PM, May 10, 2008

Coupage, yes that Coupsge..www.coupageseattle.com - has got a pretty darn good $28 burger, espcially good split between 4 for an app. John at Redmill is a serious character and a great guy / businessman - he knows how to treat his employees well. Can't wait to try lunchbox laboratory

Posted by devilduck

9:17 PM, May 10, 2008

Burgermaster on Aurora. Eat in your car. Good fries, order extra ketsup. Always reliable.

Posted by wsamj

7:07 AM, May 11, 2008

New burger place in town--opened last week...a few tables and carry out. Grind their own meat and form their own burgers. Check them out!

Zippy's Giant Burgers West Seattle.

Posted by chelsea

11:02 AM, May 11, 2008

I love Lunchbox Labratory. I weighed myself before and after, and managed to gain 4 lbs. in one meal. YESsss.

As far as onion rings - the new Ballard Loft on Ballard Ave has black & tan onion rings that are my new favorite. (Plus the hot dogs are delicious.)

For you South-Sounders, try Frisko Freeze in Tacoma. Been there for 60+ years and is like Dick's but 10000 times better.

Posted by Chels

11:37 AM, May 12, 2008

I can't pass up a good burger - or when I'm in the mood for something a little different, the salmon burger - from A Burger Place in the U-district. It's sooo yummy!

Of course, Red Mill is delicious too.

Posted by Nicole

12:08 PM, May 12, 2008

What, no Bing's???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Posted by Jennifer Cox

12:43 PM, May 12, 2008

I'm a fan of Flame, on top of Queen Anne Hill @ 2123 Queen Anne Ave N (between Boston & Crockett). Their burgers are hearty, not too greasy, and have a great backyard-BBQ taste to them. Milkshakes are pretty good too!

Posted by Francine

1:06 PM, May 12, 2008

Skillet has an awesome burger! They're near the Times on Wednesdays. Give it a try!

Posted by Ballard Boy

3:08 PM, May 12, 2008

The Dock Street burger at Bad Alberts is very tasty indeed but my favorite (still testing Lunchbox Lab) is the Alehouse Burger from Barking Dog Alehouse in Ballard. Load that plate up with the Tofu Fries on the side.

Posted by MrCheese

5:19 PM, May 12, 2008

Is anyone else having trouble "reading" the access caption?

I have just had posts rejected twice when I was "sure" I had the caption typed correctly.

It wouldn't be so bad if my proposed posting didn't disappear with the rejection.

Posted by Nancy Leson

5:50 PM, May 12, 2008

Mr. Cheese: You, and anyone else having that problem (count me in, at times) should do as I now do, just in case: "copy" (highlight and hit control C) your comments before hitting submit. That way, if it doesn't "take" (likely, because you've misread the captcha code), you can paste it right back in there. Also, I found that if it says "error" or whatever, you can just use the go-back button on your web browser (NOT the "return to original entry"), and it takes you back to your original comment.

Posted by Nic

6:57 PM, May 12, 2008

Nancy,

We read your article about burgers and we were surprised that you did not mention Bing's Bodacious Burger in Madison Park. They have great burgers and it is probably the only place in town that calls their burgers "bodacious". Even after you google 'bodacious burger', Bing's comes up on the first page.

Respectfully,

Nic L

Posted by Kairu

4:29 PM, May 13, 2008

I like Bing's in Madison Park, Red Mill on Phinney, the foie gras burger at Coupage in Madrona (if I want a splurge), and the burger at Quinn's Pub on Capitol Hill.

Although nothing will top the cheeseburger at Fat Smitty's in Discovery Bay, after a camping trip with my 7th-grade class in 1992. Nothing has ever tasted so good as that cheeseburger, after three days of hiking along the beach and sleeping under the stars. I've never gone back, but I've always wanted to. I don't think it would taste as good now.

Posted by Ben

8:14 PM, May 13, 2008

I long considered the Palace Kitchen burger to be best in town, but I think the new reigning champion has to be Quinn's. For me it's about the quality of the bun and the quality of the meat. Quinn's wins both, hands down. Their toppings are excellent too, as are their fries. Palace Kitchen loses serious points on the fries and bacon, mostly because their both so danged salty!
However, I sort of differentiate between 'fast food' burgers and more upscale burgers. I think Red Mill is probably my favorite when I'm not looking for a truly elevating experience.

Posted by My Mother's Daughter

2:27 PM, May 14, 2008

Palace Burger is my hands-down favorite. Though more expensive (by at least $4, maybe even $6) than Lunchbox Lab., contrary to suggestions of a previous poster.

We loved Lunchbox lab, but need to give it another try as it was opening day. Luckily we live less thana mile away!

I'll second Saltoro's for their lamburger.

Buckley's on lower Queen Anne is very decent too. They were one of only two restaurants we tried on our family's burger of the month night(Palace was the first) that properly cooked the meat to the ordered temperature.

Posted by JG

7:47 PM, Jun 19, 2008

I dream of the old Seattle Chuck Wagon BBQ.
Does anyone have the menu (outside display board) from the old 50th and Aurora Chuck Wagon BBQ?
Who might have the recipes?
I know it was sold to Asian owners.
I grew up eating there. I can still test the burgers. I remember the ever so competent, ageless, big red hair car hop. Where is she?
I want it back.

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