Ray's Hell Burger -- Arlington
Disclosure: have never been to Ray's the Classics or Steaks and, after visiting Hell Burger this week, realize my error.
Hell Burger is a great concept. There's another long string on it on the board already but thought I'd start a new one since that one has a lot of logistical posts.
$6.95 for a burger with more than a dozen free topping choices, fresh corn on the cob and a slice of watermelon ranks as one of the best value in the low price range in the area IMHO. Love the owner out front with delicious-looking prime beef cutting and grinding. The cheese options are briliant. The place is small and was very crowded when we were there but navigable. Points for a very good root beer but a brand like Weinhards or Sprecher would be an upgrade. Likewise the buns, which aren't the equal of the beef and other ingredients.
This place makes me realize that burgers really have to be assessed in at least two separate categories: I'll call 'em "gourmet" and "messy traditional." And, no doubt different people will prefer one type over the other.
For me, the best gourmet burgers (palena, st ex) easily top burgers like Rays. But, Rays is probably as good as we have in the messy traditional category. Definitely superior to Five Guys, which is more comparable. Would love to see the Lerners add this to Nationals Park for a head to head with Five Guys!
Full discussion here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/534367
But if I had to choose between categorizing Ray's Hell burgers as "gourmet" or "messy traditional" a la Five Guys, I would come down squarely in the former. With preparations like au poivre, and optional toppings such as Epoisse cheese, and foie gras with white truffle oil, and sauteed sherried mushrooms, I can't even see how these fat, juicy 10 oz. handfuls of prime beef can even be compared in the same thread as Five Guys.
And I think Ray's Hell will freeze over before you'll ever see Michael Landrum opening shop at a professional baseball stadium. Though stranger things have happened.
I love the Palena burger, but don't think it tops Ray's (and neither has anything in common with 5 Guys/Z burger/etc.). The beef at Hell-Burger is simply great, and the grilling impeccable. For whatever reason (the absence of fries doesn't hurt -- and relative lack of grease), one leaves Ray's after 10 oz. of cow without feeling gross.
Having been several times now, I am strongly of the view that although some of the preps and toppings are truly excellent every once and a while (esp. the diablo and au poivre, the Epoisse, the bacon, the 'shrooms), this burger is best enjoyed in a fairly natural state: with perhaps only pickles and mustard, a tomato slice when in season (i.e., now), and one of the cheddars (the aged one is great, but it's $3 more than the also-fine Vermont). OK, lettuce and/or onions, if you insist. It's all about the beef. And if you order it cooked beyond medium-rare (my preference is "recommended"), well, it kinda defeats the purpose.
OK, I'm convinced. Probably need three categories instead of two. With you entirely that the toppings and cheese choices at Rays put it in a different league than a place like five guys. Likewise about the beef. Reason why it's not gourmet in my book is two fold: bun and size. they didn't try to really do anything with the bun and a great gourmet burger is made by a chef who takes equal care with beef and bun (and toppings). No comparison the Palena bun to Ray's, for example. And, this is totally personal preference like I mentioned in the original post but once the burger gets too big, it becomes a mess. Many love that I know. Rays is probably right on th border on that measure.
Finally went to Ray's Hell for a late lunch Sunday: no question, this is the best burger in the entire universe. Neither my friend nor I had to use any of the condiments on the table (we didn't even THINK about using condiments!). I can't remember the last time I had a burger this terrific. (Ray's Hell is probably the result of many people, like myself, being turned away at Ray's The Steak because they don't do lunch.)
I have been to Ray's burfgers 7 or 8 times since it has opened and when I went last week- early on a week night I was dismayed to see piles of partially cooked burgers. The first one I ordered medium rare came out well done and hard on the outside. I reordered and the second one was better- rarer but still not the soft yummy burger I had enjoyed the previous 6 times. No probelm replacing the burger and ice cream offered (but declined) as a nice gesture. But I wish I could be assured of a burger cooked from scratch as before. Toppings were good and evem more plentiful than in the past but precooking is not optimal IMHO.
"Would love to see the Lerners add this to Nationals Park for a head to head with Five Guys!"
I wonder if Hell Burger can actually be replicated in other places.
Quality of the meat
Quality of the process
And being able to deliver to a mass of people ala 5 Guys.