In a recent online poll, Esquire's blog named Dick's the "Most Life-Changing Burger Joint in America"—though with approximately three times as many votes as In-N-Out, and way ahead of all other challengers, it appears Dick's 193,043 Facebook fans may have had a role to play. Not that Dick's can't significantly improve your next day if encountered at the right time of night, but...
Capitol Hill has always had Dick's at the cheap end of the spectrum and the DeLuxe in the middle, and Smith, Tavern Law, Terra Plata, and Restaurant Zoë all have fancier hamburger options. Now three burger places have opened in (or nearly in) The Stranger's three-block radius. We went to eat.
8oz. Burger Bar (1401 Broadway, 466-5989)
8oz. Burger Bar has a wagon-wheel chandelier, but it's not just a chandelier made of a wagon wheel—it also has horseshoes on it. And rifles. And spurs. There's also a beer can collection, and burlap potato sacks, and a curved, mirrored, eagle-crested wooden bar (and, reportedly, a beer keg cut into a urinal). But the room has the well-groomed gloss of a latter-day chain, ready for a new wing at an airport—which 8oz. Burger Bar is, with six locations nationwide, one of them at LAX. (Note to 8oz.: The chalk drawing of the cow with the butchering cuts indicated is cute, but you should erase the udder.)
A chain it may be, but the extremely cheerful staff (three different servers visited our table) are at pains to point out all that is local: the lettuce and the tomato, the Grateful Bread brioche buns, the Bluebird ice cream, the Theo Chocolate candies unexpectedly submerged in the chocolate malt ($5). The beef, "from different ranches all over the Northwest," is promised to be humanely raised and hormone-free Black Angus, a mix of sirloin, tri-tip, short rib, and chuck (with a grass-fed option available, too).
The "Classic 8 oz." ($11 with fries) was cooked medium rare (as rightly recommended), with a notable taste of char—8oz. uses a wood-burning grill (with unspecified wood). The burger is juicy, and between that and the special sauce, the components get slidey in the way that makes people use the word "indulgent." It's a good, basic upscale specimen. The Durham Ranch (Wyoming) wild boar burger ($14 with fries) was musky and somewhat chewy, as a wild boar probably should be. The Hempler's (Washington) bacon on it, however, was cooked until tough, like bacon jerky. As for the fries: crisp on the outside, creamy within, but possessed of a tinny taste, as if the oil wasn't quite right.
What I want to go back for most is an adult milk shake, made in various configurations of Bluebird ice cream and liquor. (The milk shakes must be what the big photomural of grazing cows is all about—they're dairy cattle, not Angus.) BETHANY JEAN CLEMENT
Blue Moon Burgers (523 Broadway E, 325-2000)
The Broadway Blue Moon Burgers is the newest of three locations in a locally owned mini-chain, and it feels slick enough for the mall, but not repellently prefab. The motto is right on the front door: "Helping people feel good about bad choices, its what we do." They may not be great with punctuation, but it's truth in advertising: The unhealthier the menu item, the happier you will be.
The plain cheeseburger ($6.34) is disappointing. Blue Moon's local grass-fed patty is small and not juicy, the lettuce is bland and copious, the cheese is unexceptional, and the whole thing's slathered in Blue Moon sauce, which tastes like the usual mix of mayonnaise and Thousand Island dressing. The best part is the toasted bun, from Grand Central Bakery—fresh and heavy and easily able to structurally withstand the flood of sauce and the greasy beef.
Then there's the Code Blue ($10.39)—double beef, four slices of bacon, two slices of cheese, and what must be a quarter-cup of peanut butter. It's weighed down with enough fatty toppings to make each bite totally different—sometimes you tear out a meaty chunk of bacon and beef, other times you get a (surprisingly satisfying) mouthful of peanut butter, onion, and mayonnaise. At more than 10 bucks, the Code Blue is too pricey, and doubling up on patties and cheese isn't as overwhelming as it should be—it's less of a double burger and more of a burger-and-a-half burger, but it's plenty overwhelming.
Thankfully, the plain fries ($1.89) are way better than the plain burger: real potatoes, fried to just about the perfect crispiness—not too oily, not too thick. And the chili cheese fries ($3.49) are even better—Blue Moon's chili is meaty and just the right temperature, and the fries don't get soggy when they've been sitting under the chili for a while. There's too little cheese—Blue Moon's stinginess on basic building blocks like meat and cheese is a serious problem, considering the high prices—but the flood of chili absolutely should be the focus, anyway. It's just enough too much. PAUL CONSTANT
Li'l Woody's (1211 Pine St, 457-4148)
Li'l Woody's was obviously designed by a fussy lumberjack: The walls are painted a cartoonish campfire orange, the wooden tables are laminated like your grandma's couch, and burgers are served in red-and-white-checked picnic baskets in apparent tribute to Yogi Bear.
Be forewarned—while it's order-at-the-counter, this is no fast-food joint. The cooks take their time making each burger to order. And don't be greedy and order a Molly Moon's shake ($5). It'll come out well before everything else, you'll suck it down, and you'll end up bloated from dairy just as your food arrives. Instead, think of the experience as urban camping; you must be prepared to hunker down and wait. The burgers will reward you for your patience.
Each juicy patty is made in-house from Painted Hills ground beef (grain-fed and hand-wooed in Oregon), and while the origin of the buns is secret, they function exactly like a good bun should: as a delicately sweet and spongy edible napkin. The Smoked Out (smoked sharp cheddar, sliced raw onion, mayo, tomato, $8) tastes like a superior version of a campfire burger, thanks to generous slathering of house-made chipotle mayo, while the Fig and the Pig (Painted Hills bacon, tart Boat Street pickled figs, and crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, $8.50) is a beautifully messy bastardization of Seattle's snooty obsession with fig-and-bacon appetizers. There are no afterthoughts on your plate. Even the hand-cut, perfectly seasoned fries ($2.50, or smothered in house-made queso or with a side of milk shake for dipping, $5) and generous heaps of crispy onion rings ($6.50) vie for the center of attention. In fact, if Li'l Woody's were to tack the grinning, dismembered head of Smokey Bear to one wall, I'd never have to set foot in a national forest for a good, gut-busting campfire meal again. CIENNA MADRID