A mix of hospital workers, students, the well-to-do and remnants of the area's immigrant past, Yorkville is far more diverse than the howling hoots and hollers of its local meatheads would imply. There are Irish pubs, British pubs, German beer bars, hookah bars and Hungarian pastry shops-cum-restaurants. Despite all this, the Upper East Side is still fancy-pants burger territory—at least until a certain hour. After other restaurants have donned their wagyu nightcaps and snuffed their truffled candles, the funkier burgers around town let their hair down.
Until New Yorkers get the In-N-Out we so desperately crave, Blue 9 Burger is a stellar substitute. Greater burger minds than I (Solares, Kuban) have tackled the fresh-ground offerings at this mini-chain, but it remains one of the better fast food-style burgers in the city, even more so because of its late closing time (we're looking at you, Shake Shack). In the fashion of In-N-Out's famed "Animal style", the Blue 9 Burger ($5.80) done "medieval style" finds two griddle-smooched patties cooked in mustard and onions bolstered by fresh lettuce, tomato and snap-crisp pickles. Bun and cheese are both pedestrian, but the deep char achieved, combined with a perfectly medium-rare interior—a rarity with patties this thin—make this a burger worth waddling for. The double meat allows the beef to really shine through its mustard coating and the provided toppings. Fries are hand-cut but sometimes pallid, but their signature mango-chili dipping sauce is a wonderful condiment which you can also have cooked into the meat as with the medieval preparation.
Officially middle-aged as of this year, the 40-year-old JG Melon has racked up numerous accolades for its mighty fine cheeseburger ($9.25) since its beginnings as a watering hole for one of the city's toniest savannas. Try to snag a seat in the back room, where watermelon and other melon-accented works of art lend the space a homespun charm ("home" if you're from a family of melon fetishists). When the place gets slammed, as it inevitably does, the kitchen will occasionally overcook their patties, but most of the time they put out a burger that's worthy of the hype.
Several ounces of loosely-packed beef, ground coarse and sporting griddled crust hidden under a blanket of American cheese, the meat deeply juicy and delicate; it all but soaks its generic bun. Served open-faced with pickles and raw red onion, it needs no ketchup or mayonnaise. Instead, save the Heinz for an order of excellent bread-and-butter pickle-shaped cottage fries ($4.75), which maintain an airy interior and firm (if not completely crisp) exterior. In regards to the overcooking problem, one trick is to order a shade below your desired temperature (I ordered rare for medium rare).
Another neighborhood old-timer, Dorrian's Red Hand is an Irish pub with a complicated past. Long known as a preppy hangout for disillusioned, privileged youth and the disillusioned, privileged adults they become, the bar's saving grace from its abrasive clientele are its menu of hearty, pub-style burgers. After ties to a murder in 1986 (the killer and victim got blotto inside), the bar has since dropped the "Red Hand" part of its name, but why let them live that down?
Scandal aside, the flame-grilled options include a signature burger dressed with ham and fried onions, and something called the Ragin' Cajun ($12), a generous mound spiked with bayou spices but lacking somewhat in salt, which you realize is a good thing after observing the toppings of pepper jack cheese, jalapeno relish and a side of ranch dressing to slather as you see fit. A toasted English muffin provides the backbone for this burly sandwich, and lettuce, tomato and onion add even more height. Loosely-packed, the beef retains a steak-like chew when cooked to medium, and the razzle-dazzle accoutrements do a fine job of bolstering the meat.
Should you find yourself entrenched in the Upper East Side after dark, take comfort in knowing that a good burger is mere blocks away.
Blue 9 Burger
Open Until: 12:00 am, Sun-Thu; 4:00 am, Fri-Sat 1415 2nd Avenue, New York NY 10021 () 212-988-8171
Open Until: 4:00 am, 7 days 1291 3rd Avenue, New York NY 10021 () 212-650-1310