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best burger in cambridge/somerville?

i'm looking to try the five best burgers in cambridge/somerville. here are some nominees so far:

* r.f. o'sullivan's
* mr. bartley's
* bukowski's

what are the five that i absolutely must try?



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  1. Add The Druid in Inman Square to that list... :-)

    1. As long as you're testing, try the Thirsty Scholar's.

      Also, the Tir Na Nog's in Union Square.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Bob Dobalina

        i have to give two thumbs waaay down to the thirsty scholar. i have gone back many times just hoping to have something decent. never happens and i have even sent my beer back for being flat.

        1. re: bernie71

          I with you. The Thirsty Scholar isn't very good at all. Average pub grub with terribly slow service.

      2. Shay's. It's the dark horse for this board but it's the only one in Boston I like.

        Actually, that qualifier does not do it justice. The burger at Shay's is not fancy, it is not dressed up, you cannot get a Buffalo Burger, a Bob Dole Burger or a Texas Red-Hot burger with whistleberry sauce there. It isn't steamed in Flying Dog Pale Ale or grilled over 100% hardwood charcoal. It is not a Kobe Beef Burger and as far as I'm concerned, if it was made with Horsemeat and sawdust I wouldn't blink an eye.

        From time to time I beat the drum for the Shay's burger on this board but for those of you who haven't tried it, do yourself a favor and go. It is the simple, old-fashioned grandfather of burgers against which all others should be judged. It is the comfy sweatshirt, the "Mom's Super Sunday night casserole," the crackly old mix tape of burgers. Not fancy, maybe a little too straightforward for some but the absolute best thing to get you back on your own two feet.

        For my money, Sullivan's, Bartley's and the Druid don't even come close.

        9 Replies
        1. re: Ernie Diamond

          Shay's...did that used to be the Boat House way back when, or am I mixing up my dark and gloomy basement spots in Harvard?

          1. re: hiddenboston

            Shay's is in the basement near to Boston Tea Shop.

            1. re: hiddenboston

              The Boston Tea Shop I think is in the space that used to be the Boathouse, Shay's has been there since the time of the Boat House and they have resisted the mallification of Harvard Sq even though the owners at one point said it would have been easier for them to pack up shop and go to Davis Square. They have from time to time offered other British pub items such as steak and kidney pie and cornish pastie, but although I have probably had their burger sometime I cannot remember it.

            2. re: Ernie Diamond

              I've always liked Shay's. What a great place to grab a beer in Harvard. And the burger is definitely better than's Charlie's.

              1. re: Ernie Diamond

                Please elaborate. I see Shay's is in HSQ but I don't even really know where it is. What makes their burger so good.

                1. re: Dax

                  Shay's is, as Hiddenboston indicated a dark and gloomy basement bar in Harvard Sq. on JFK street. I love the atmosphere inside. It is the closest thing to a snug British Pub that I've found in Boston. On a winter night, there are few places I'd rather be.

                  As far as what makes their burger so good? I can't put my finger on it. It's super beefy somehow. The burger just tastes like real meat to me. That beefy taste that distinguishes a hangar steak from a filet? Shay's has that taste. The fries are oven roasted, super crispy and charred. Dax, I'm sorry this is vague but the best way that I can put it is that this burger tastes the way that a burger is meant to taste. It is a rare example of an ostensibly simple menu item that no one else seems capable of doing as well.

                  In any case, maybe it's just me. I'd like to hear what you think about it.

                  1. re: Ernie Diamond

                    How busy might it be on a Wednesday night? :-)

                      1. re: hiddenboston

                        Hiddenboston, I didn't make it last night. Did you go? What did you think?

                2. Hands down: Mr. Bartley's in Harvard Sq...legenday!

                  However, if you get lucky enough to experince a "Secret Burger" at Central Kitchen...well you'll just have to have one!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: YorkieBarsR4Girls

                    I'd love to endorse Mr. Bartley, but in the course of the last 10 years I've managed to eat there a grand total of one time. It's either too crowded (Saturday), or closed (Sunday). We seem to be on different schedules.

                  2. Try Christopher's too.

                    1. The paddy-o-melt at O'Sullivans is my top choice. Yum. I've found the burgers at The Thirsty Scholar to be so-so, but the horrific service takes it off my list completely.

                      1. Middle East and Miracle of Science.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: Luther

                          I'll add another vote for Miracle of Science. It's sad it doesn't come with fries, but the home fries alongside are damn good. I'm not a huge fan of the O'Sullivan's meatball, but I know I'm in a distinct minority on that one. Thanks for the Shay's rec, Ernie, sounds great.

                          For skinny-patty burgers (really a separate category), the ones at Flat Patties in the Garage in Harvard Square are really quite pleasing.

                          1. re: MichaelB

                            I like the homefries at Miracle of Science and I like the actual patty and the precision with which they cook it. My quibble is with the bun - it always seems stale and too big to me.

                            1. re: MichaelB

                              I love the food at Miracle of Science (Hmmm, what's that? Miracle of Science on my breath even as I, er, type? Why yes!), but I really don't think their burger is anything above average. Agreed about the bun and those potatoes do kind of suck.

                            2. re: Luther

                              I'm going to have to vote against Miracle of Science. I have had their cheeseburger and Roni Burger a couple times and I'm thoroughly unimpressed. Small patty, plain and uninspired toppings, very little flavor. Plus they burn the homefries almost everytime. Shameful.

                              I'd much prefer The Tavern up the street which has an incredibly good Blue Cheese and Bacon Burger. Always juicy and delicious. When you order it rare or med. rare, the patty is more than big enough to get that extra taste. Plus it comes with fries or onion strings.

                              Bartley's is respectible, not worth waiting for, but not a bad value for what you get.

                              1. re: BOS_steve

                                I hate the homefries, they're gross. Go with the salad with cilantro dressing, it's great.

                                I think the patty is tastefully-sized, and I don't believe in "toppings," so maybe that explains our difference of opinion. How did you order your burger done? I wanted rare, and I got rare (see my recent rave on this board).

                                1. re: Luther

                                  I generally order med. rare unless I know and trust the establishment, then I will ask for it rare. I've tried both ways at MOS and it never gets darker than pink. I think the patty is just to thin to control this repeatedly.

                                  As for toppings, the burger/bun ratio is just too low at MOS, so too much ketchup becomes a necessity. Good thing I'm more than happy to order the beef skewers (rare) instead. =)

                            3. I'm not a big burger guy but I've been very satisfied with the few burgers I've had at Joe Sent Me (2388 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge).

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Joshua B

                                The handcut fries are pretty good too.

                              2. I'd say Bartley's and Casablanca. The Miracle Burger and O'Sullivan's are supposed to be good but I haven't had them, Shay's is great for beer but I haven't had their burger either. I guess I now have three destinations to add to the list.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: steinpilz

                                  HUGE vote for Casablanca. Great burger. I like them medium rare and they always come out medium rare. Good quality beef as well. It's a great "secret spot" for lunch in the square. Nice and quiet.

                                2. for somerville, try urban gourmet in ball square. always great quality -- and they deliver!

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: wonderwoman

                                    Their texas bbq burger is pretty good. I wouldn't go out of my way for it though.

                                  2. I love the burgers at Thirsty Scholar and Cambridge Brewing company, if you are looking for that authentic char grilled taste, they both deliver. Druid is solid as well. Mrs. Bartley's is overrated imho. I've only eaten at RF O's once, the burger was decent, not great. Those scary potato planks made me mad, I know they are an Irish bar but come on. Should fries factor in the burger equation? I think so, opinions?

                                    1. Maybe it's just me, but after reading glowing reviews of Bartley's in, ahem, the Z book and here, I have to say that Boston must be the only place where these burgers would be considered outstanding. I live in a town astonishingly "free" of decent food, and even I can get a better burger than Bartley's. It's all hype. Not a bad burger, true, but not in any way remarkable. As I've said before, I also found the service extremely poor, quite grudging and unpleasant.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: sophie fox

                                        I don't agree. While there's probably a sentimental alliance with Bartley's and Boston - the burgers there are really great. A great selection of styles, a classic joint, a good location, decent prices... and then you buy one and the juice explodes in your mouth when you bite into it. I'd prefer to be able to get a beer at Bartley's, but I go there anyway because their burgers are so good. There isn't another place I could name in Boston that idealizes "burgers" for me (though I do like the burgers at Casablanca also).

                                      2. I also forgot to mention PJ Ryan's in Teele Sqaure. A very competently made burger with British style chips. The atmosphere can be lacking, but the burger is always good. A standby for me since it's so close.

                                        1. Have to second the Paddy O'Melt at R.F.'s. As a bonus they will cook it medium-rare. Make sure you go half and half on the fries and rings.

                                          1. The blackjack burger at O'Sullivan's does it for me. That spicy sauce they put on it is good stuff!

                                            1. Why is the burger at O'Sullivan's so revered here? The burger is shaped like a meatball and served on a roll that is too small and not toasted, I'm convinced it's all the bells and
                                              whistles that can be served with it. The Shay's burger is quite solid, but hands down
                                              the Druid burger is the best I've had in the past 6 months.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: thunderbread74

                                                I have not been able to understand the fuss over the Sullivan's burger as much as I've tried. I think you've hit the nail on the head suggesting that it has to do with the flair, same as Bartley's.

                                                Their fries (and yes, I know they aren't fries, let's call them "potato offerings") are just not good. They're like something you'd buy at a truck stop Kenny Rodgers.

                                                1. re: thunderbread74

                                                  The Druid burger is sort of removed from what I think of as a traditonal burger, what with all of the herbs mixed in the meat. And it's only served one way (ie toppings). Some people prefer more options. I like the Druid burger, but wouldn't always want what they offer when I crave a burger.

                                                2. I too am not in love with the O'Sullivan's burger, but it's pretty good, and pretty convenient for me. I agree that the patty is too tall and round, and also find it underseasoned and not beefy enough, and will add that their cooking is very hit and miss. I've had a medium rare burger come out anywhere between raw to rare to medium well. Plus their fries *suck*. I'm also not a big toppings guy. Maybe that's what makes an O'Sullivan's lover ... a love for toppings?

                                                  On a related note, I tried the Druid burger recently, and while I enjoyed it quite a bit, it was definitely a non-traditional burger experience in my eyes. More of a meatloaf burger with all of the seasonings. Good fries, too.

                                                  I do think Bartley's is a step up on O'Sullivan's when it comes to the burger. They suffer from the same shape but are much better seasoned, more consistently cooked, and have much better fries and rings. True, there's no beer, and Harvard Square is convenient only if you can walk there. But they have good frappes, too.

                                                  I still need to get over to the bar at Gargoyle's during the week to try their burger. At this point, though, the burger I make myself at home is the best by far. I just never feel like making fries.


                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: BJK

                                                    True the Druid burger is slightly non-traditional, but the smear of mayo and the grilled
                                                    onions are a nice touch.

                                                    I did forget to mention the burger at River Gods which I hold in high esteem, they
                                                    also add cooked onions, caramalized I believe. Somtimes the little things can make a
                                                    big difference.

                                                    1. re: thunderbread74

                                                      Yes! I'd not been able to remember anything I'd recommend, but River Gods gets my vote.

                                                  2. river gods, silvertones, shay's, and i'd love to have a burger at central... that might take the cake.
                                                    bartley's and miracle both *suck*.
                                                    bukowski's isn't in cambridge, but it's awesome--neither is silvertones, but it's worth the three stop t trip from harvard.

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: HeelsSoxHound

                                                      There *is* a Bukowski in Cambridge: #2 is in Inman Square. I had the (non-promo) burger at the original Buk not long ago, and while I thought it was pretty good for $8, it didn't make my prized list.

                                                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                        whoops-- been out of the loop for cambridge, i guess. when did that go in? sorry for the misstep.

                                                    2. would like to add a second to the river gods burger but not to the central kitchen burger i didnt fell that it was so well prepared. o'sullivans needs some ventilation concerning the moist/meat/smell you retain with you much longer than the meal itself. bartleys is wonderful for a takeout! now if miracle would get rid of those*potato offerings* thanks Ernie Diamond

                                                      6 Replies
                                                      1. re: kewpie

                                                        As cooincidence would have it, my boss offered to take me out to Sullivan's yesterday for lunch. Since I had only been once before and was disappointed, I was eager to try again.

                                                        In all fairness, their burger is way overrated. I got the "Swissroom" burger. It was a basic burger with canned mushrooms, a piece of iceberg lettuce, untoasted bun and the cheese (cold and unmelted) atop the tomato atop the onion atop the meat. That is the first time, in a lifetime of eating burgers that a cheeseburger did not come with the cheese atop the meat. Further, the patty was the obligatory "meatball" shape and had an odd seasoning, perhaps just lots of black pepper ground into the meat. Really distracting and just not the flavor I was expecting.

                                                        Minor issues? Hey, I survived, right? I've certainly had worse burgers (though not many). However, that's not what I saw coming from what Improper Bostonian, et al call Boston's Best Burger.

                                                        1. re: Ernie Diamond

                                                          I was at O'Sully's yesterday, too. Got the blackjack burger. I guess we agree to disagree on this one! (It was really good--delicious, tangy sauce smothered all over the burger, with cheese to boot.)

                                                          1. re: Ernie Diamond

                                                            I have never had this unmelted cheese experience there but hear of others here, like yourself, that have. The burger gods smile on me when I eat at Sully's (with the exception of the cooked-to-order meat gods who seem to hate me there).

                                                            1. re: Dax

                                                              I too have always had perfectly melted cheese on my many visits to RFO'S but have been there with friends when their cheese was not, so I guess luck is on my side as well. I've also always gotten the medium rare that I ask for - double luck I guess!

                                                              1. re: Dax

                                                                My cheese wasn't melted too well when I was there in the spring but it was on top of the meat. I can't imagine serving a burger with the cheese somewhere else.

                                                                Ernie, did you have potato offerings or onion rings?

                                                                1. re: Joanie

                                                                  Onion Rings. I wouldn't make the mistake of ordering the potato offerings there again. Actually, the rings tasted off, like they were fried in old oil or something. I didn't finish them.

                                                                  Maybe both my trips there have been abberrations. Does it make a difference that I'm going at lunch? I've never tried the Blackjack burger there or the Black and Blue, I know those are both meant to be good.

                                                                  Sullivan's just doesn't seem to do the basics well. I can't get over that.

                                                          2. It might make a difference at lunch. Not sure if Diego is working the grill at that time of day. But I've never had a bad burger there at night.

                                                            If you don't like their onion rings (I do) or the fries (I don't), you can also order rice pilaf with the burger. I usually get that there instead of the rings or fries these days.

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: hiddenboston

                                                              A burger and rice pilaf, that's just wrong.

                                                              1. re: Joanie

                                                                You're not the first person to say that! :-D

                                                            2. 2 burgers I haven't seen mentioned yet, which I am fond of:
                                                              Cambridge Common, especially with the sweet potato fries.
                                                              And John Harvard's. While I'd be hardpressed to come up with other enjoyable menu items at JH's Brewhouse, I've never been disappointed with their burgers. (Plus it's a good time of year to start sampling the autumn brews).

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: vanna f.k.a. babette

                                                                Cambridge Common is definitely underrated, especially given that the burgers are so cheap.

                                                              2. I know I'm going to hear from all the haters now, but I'd throw Charlie's Kitchen in there. If you're doing burger testing, I think you have to hit that spot. It's a dive, but the double cheeseburger and cold beer can surely hit the spot some days.

                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: Dreamworks

                                                                  The burgers at Charlie's remind me so much of the burgers at the long-gone Nick's Beef and Been House. Whether that's a good thing or not, well, we'll leave that up for debate. I personally like Charlie's, probably because it's one of the last places left in Harvard Square that doesn't feel like it should be at the Burlington Mall.

                                                                  1. re: hiddenboston

                                                                    I didn't have the guts to say it, but I'm with you.

                                                                2. Not sure if I have ever sampled the burger at Cambridge Common (Or if I did, it wasn't memorable as I have no recollection) BUT I will strongly agree that those sweet potato fries are delicious!

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: twentyoystahs

                                                                    Secret contender: the burger at Daedalus. A blue cheese-topped thing, lots of good meat cooked like you tell em to. If you like a blue cheese kinda burger--strong taste, and very sloppy--this is a great one. Put this up against the Casablanca version, yuppie burger vs yuppie burger. I think Daedalus actually wins out. Also their fries are good, though not in some way that I can remember them well enough to describe them. But I'm never unhappy when I order that burger. Also you can substitute salad if you want to be like that.

                                                                  2. Nick's on massachusetts ave in cambridge I'll take a cheeseburger plate boy were they good.!!!!

                                                                    1. I just had a burger at The Druid last night and it was by far the best burger I've ever had in Boston. It was cooked perfectly and the meat had just the right amount of fat. I will definetly go back. My friend had the shepards pie and it too was fantastic.

                                                                      1. just got back from RF O'Sullivans with a friend. Ordered both burgers med/rare, both came out well done. This has happened 3 out of the 4 times i've gone...

                                                                        1. If you're going to try a burger at Tir Na Nog you'd better do it before the end of the month. Sadly, it's closing after January 31. The burger there is good mostly because of the atmosphere, the cheap price (at least a several years ago when a burger, fries and Guinness could be had for about $5), and the fact that it's cooked on this tiny grill behind the bar. My vote for Somerville/Cambridge is RF O'Sullivan's. The quality of their burgers was better 5 years ago, before they became super popular. Since then I've noticed the inconsistency with the cooking. The reason they look like meatballs is because of their philosophy - a good burger is NEVER pressed/squeezed down when cooking. I personally like the fries and onion rings there. They always come out hot and ready for a heaping mound of ketchup. If you go to RFO's go early to avoid the crowd. Your burger will more likely be cooked the way you want it. The black and blue is a good choice. If you want to venture further, try the Sunset Grill in Allston. Their steamed burgers are pretty good.