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Ray's Hell Burger (I Don't Get All The Hoopla)

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I work in Rosslyn about 1 block away from RHB and have now eaten there on three occasions. Ive had the grilled and au poive burgers with assorted fixings and I just dont get what the big deal is about these burgers. They are good but Ive had equally good burgers at various places within walking distance of RHB (and in much more relaxing atmospheres). The long awaited french fries are ok, although they'd be better served by having 5 Guys up the street supply them. I just don't see this as a "destination" place and it's certainly not worth fighting the crowds, fighting to get a table, and once seated, having to dine in near chaos on an "ok" burger and fries.......

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  1. Maybe you could explain what you didn't like about them (other than, understandably, the crowds)? Just saying "They weren't great" doesn't really tell us anything.

    2 Replies
    1. re: reiflame

      With all the accolades Chowhounders and others give this place, I just don't get it. Go to any of the local pubs or restaurants in the Rosslyn/Arlington area, and you'll be served up a hamburger that is equally as good, yet in a much more pleasant atmosphere. Don't get me wrong, the burger is better than 5 Guys, Fuddruckers, etc, I just dont think it's at the "world famous" level that everyone seems to pump it up as.

      1. re: ciaoda

        If there are any pubs in the area serving 10oz burgers, made from meat ground fresh several times daily from never-frozen prime-grade meat, gently hand-formed and not compressed, cooked on an open flame grill without being pressed down, with a huge variety of free toppings, for SEVEN DOLLARS, please let us know.

    2. I'm not sure how to help you get it, if that's what you want.

      1. I think that the Rays burger is very good, better then most, but not as good as the Truffle Cheeseburger at Palena or Central, (which has my favorite burger)

        1 Reply
        1. re: Jeremy303

          Yeah, except the Central burger with fries will set you back $20 with tax and tip.
          :)

        2. So please tell us which places you think are as good.

          22 Replies
          1. re: Steve

            I didn't read that cioda didn't think Ray's was good, just that he has had better dining experiences at other places. Honestly, I think that few restaurants are really worth all the hoopla. The only times I've been to Ray's for a burger, there was no backup at the ordering counter, an no more wait for the server to bring my food than at Five Guys. What hoopla?

            At the end of the meal though, it's still a hamburger, but what separates it from the run-of-the-mill bar burger is the pedigree of the meat all the way from carcass to grill, the way it can be dressed up (if you like that sort of thing), the efficiency, and the price. It's a formula that works for a whole lot of people.

            I probably eat a restaurant burger once a month. Sometimes it's Ray's, sometimes it's Five Guys, once it was Cowboy Cafe because someone reported their burgers were good and it's on the list for an airline-miles-for-dining plan that I'm in. It, too, was an excellent burger, but it was for a late lunch, I ate in a booth over on the bar side because there was nobody in the restaurant side, and it was noisy and smoky, so not as good an experience as Ray's.

            1. re: MikeR

              mr. alka loves the cowboy cafe burger, too. i wasn't as impressed. it seemed to be somehow *ball" shaped. it's tuesday nights that they are half-price. you can't beat that! (i really like the shrimp and grits at cowboy, and their green chile pork).

              and it won't be too much longer for the smoky bar side, with the new anti-smoking law taking effect.

              i still haven't tried ray's, but hate lines. when can i go and avoid the lines?

              1. re: alkapal

                I was at Ray's last Monday about 2:20 PM and the place was practically empty. Just one person ahead of me ordering at the counter, and my burger and fries came out in less than 10 minutes.

                Stave off your lunch appetite for a couple of hours and go get yourself some hoopla. <g> Don't go overboard with the toppings, free or bought. There's a great temptation there. A simple cheese, maybe the mushrooms, a slice of onion. The roasted garlic and grilled onions have been too messy unless, like I did, you give up on eating your burger with your hands and work on it with a knife and fork.

                1. re: MikeR

                  And I think Two Amy's and Pizzaria Paradiso are over-rated as well. I guess for the area these places (including Rays) are fine but you guys review these places as though they are the second coming.....

                  1. re: ciaoda

                    ciaoda, what are your top favorite burger / pizza places in the area?

                    1. re: woodleyparkhound

                      Ive had equally good burgers at Houstons, Matchbox, Cheesecake Factory, Chadwicks, Clydes and others. For pizza, I'd have to say Piola's in Rosslyn, Mamma Lucia in Rockville and perhaps the Italian Store,

                      1. re: ciaoda

                        "perhaps the italian store" is right. anthony's in falls church is better than italian store.

                        1. re: alkapal

                          Ooo, thanks for the tip alkapal! I drive by Anthony's constantly and have never been in!

                          1. re: FoodieGrrl

                            I've been to Anthony's once and never felt the urge to return. Typical acidic tomato sauce, cheese has no fresh dairy flavor. For MOR pizza, Italian Cafe in Falls Church is a good pie and quite a bit better.

                            1. re: Steve

                              Thanks, Steve. Where in FC is Italian Cafe? I don't think I've ever seen it?

                            2. re: FoodieGrrl

                              foodiegrrl, make sure you get it "extra crispy." i don't think it's an acidic tomato sauce, at all. nor is it sweet. the sausage and pepperoni are good (although i must admit italian store's pepperoni is better).

                              the cheese has been delicious, and remarkably so.

                              i don't have any idea when steve went, but i'd venture it is not lately -- say, in the past couple of years.

                              1. re: alkapal

                                You're right, it's been a while. I guess it will be up to FoodieGrrl to take the Anthony's challenge.

                                But unless they have changed ownership, I don't foresee this pizza being different than hundreds of other pizza and sub places.

                                1. re: Steve

                                  we went years (many) ago, and stopped going for a few years. then we got disenchanted with pie-tanza (and joe's USED to have a good sicilian style), so returned to anthony's. it was dramatically better -- esp. when we ordered it extra crispy, as it was crunchy crust in the middle, unlike italian store (which is always gloppy). the last time we went --maybe 6 weeks ago, the mozzarella was especially buttery.

                                  the bonus when we order extra crispy is the pepperoni gets a little caramelization on the edges, which i like. and, as i said upthread, the sausage is good quality -- not the sausage "crumbles" things, but real slices of well-spiced and non-fatty italian sausage.

                                  so....anyhow...the fewer people who go to anthony's, the easier it is for me and mr. alka to be seated without a wait.....

                                  and...well, if you think the pizza is like hundreds of other pizza places, so be it.

                                  1. re: alkapal

                                    I'm confused. Are you saying that Ray's Hell now serves pizza? Awesome! How does it compare to Pepe's in New Haven? And is it true that there might be poutine on the menu soon?

                                    1. re: crackers

                                      no, that'd be at landrum's "ray's the dough."

                          2. re: ciaoda

                            Do you like burgers well-done? At least a couple of places you mentioned won't cook burgers to medium rare.

                            which could explain why you don't taste a difference...

                            1. re: DanielK

                              Maybe that's it, I do like them cooked through......

                    2. re: alkapal

                      alkapal, I was there 3 weekends ago at about 3:00 pm on a Sat. and, much to my surprise, found no line and lots of empty tables. That's the first time I've been to the new, larger location. I attributed it to that, but it could have been just luck.

                      1. re: woodleyparkhound

                        thanks, mike and wphound. so ray's is open from lunch through the afternoon till night? every day?

                        1. re: alkapal

                          According to Yelp, they are open Mon-Sun. 11:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.

                      2. re: alkapal

                        I'm there once or twice a month and I don't think I've had to wait more than five minutes to order since they've moved and it's usually less than that. The only time of day I haven't been to the new location is lunchtime during the week. Once you order, you wait less than ten minutes for your food to arrive.

                        1. re: cookiegirl

                          Me too, since they expanded, no more of a wait than ordering anywhere else.

                  2. This is going to sound really rude... and I don't mean it to be at all, but it is going to sound that way... maybe you just don't taste a huge difference in beefs? I grew up on a beef farm and can taste the difference between different fat ratios, prime, grassfed, grainfed, etc, but not everyone probably can taste all those things; perhaps you just don't really discern the difference? I am that way with scotchs or whiskey, I just don't taste a lot of the differences so it is wasted on me- therefore I don't drink expensive ones I let my Hubby do that because he can tell. Anyway I don't mean it to be rude, so I hope you don't see it that way.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: ktmoomau

                      I really don't dissect my meals like that. I thought the burger and toppings were fine. I just don't think it's the type of burger that I would travel 20 miles for. The bun isnt the best; the side dishes (and fries) aren't the best; they don't serve fountain drinks or milk shakes;
                      the ambiance sucks; it's just not an overall fantastic dining experience for me; hence, I dont get all the hoopla.......

                      1. re: ciaoda

                        I think the operative phrase here is "travel 20 miles for." I've never had an Urban Burger burger because I'd have to travel 20 miles for it. I've never had a Central burger because I'd never pay $18 for one. But since Ray's is 5 miles away, I can go at a time when it's not very busy and I don't care about white tablecloths and waiters, the ambiance is fine for me for a once-every-few-months change.

                        It's OK. You don't really have anything to "get" about it.

                        1. re: ciaoda

                          Then ignore the hoopla, and just go where you like. The only hoopla I hear about Rays is on this board. If I never visited this website, I probably would not have known that Ray's Hellburger existed (except for Obama's visit covered in the Post). You might be tempted to think everyone rhapsodizes over a hamburger based on what you read here.

                      2. Does anything more need to be said? Ciaoda has indicated that she likes her burgers well done, feels Houstons, Matchbox, Cheesecake Factory, Chadwicks and Clydes make equally good burgers, dosen't like 2 Amys, and values atmosphere highly while not taking into account the incredible value of RHB. To each his own....

                        27 Replies
                        1. re: ClevelandDave

                          Im starting to feel as though there are a few restaurants that are held sacred by the foodies and off-limits for any negative comments. Again, I didnt find anything necessarily negative about the burger, just don't get why it has risen to rock star status......

                          1. re: ciaoda

                            I think that you are very right about the fact that some people on this board are fanboys when it comes to certain names or institutions, but there are always (at least a few) dissenters.

                            In a way, I believe Rays Hellburger's rise to rock star status has a lot to do with the hoopla surrounding Ray's the Steaks (deserved IMHO) and Ray Landrum himself. Ray Landrum has become a somewhat beloved figure on this board (although not by all), and his stardom certainly helped his cause at Rays Hellburger. Its not THE reason it is successful. Ultimately, the success of a given restaurant falls on its ability to produce a quality product etc. However, I do not believe Hellburger would have opened so strongly without him.

                            My opinion of the food is somewhat irrelevant. To me, its not the way I like my burgers, but I see why some others rave. My point is that when you have a name like Ray Landrum that already has somewhat of a cult following, its much easier to build hype for a new place such as Hellburger.

                            Two cents.

                            1. re: caphil07

                              Alternatively, you could have a name like Michael Landrum, and a brand name like Ray's.

                              FWIW, I have mixed feelings about Ray's, too. They do a very good (but sometimes inconsistent burger); when they're firing on all cylinders, it's probably the best burger (in terms of the meat) in the area, and definitely a better patty than most of the chains mentioned in this thread, but at the same time, it's just a burger--any decent home cook with some good meat and the time to practice their technique a bit can make something just as good for a fraction of the price. If the burgers were $5, I could see the point of lines out the door, but at their actual price point, I suspect the lines are more a sign of people getting caught up in the buzz.

                              1. re: sweth

                                I think it is $7 and comes with a side. To my mind, for that burger, it is not just a very good burger but a great bargain.

                                1. re: ClevelandDave

                                  I was there yesterday at 12:30. No long lines out the door, but a short line at all times. No wait for tables.

                                  It does not not come with a side.

                                  1. re: deangold

                                    I thought they gave a wedge of watermelon or an ear of corn... but maybe I'm thinking of somewhere else, or perhaps they used to do that in the past...

                                    1. re: ClevelandDave

                                      Each one, at different times, long (relatively speaking) ago.

                            2. re: ciaoda

                              So what, in this price category, is "rock star status?" I'm kind of curious because I really do need to go there.

                              1. re: ciaoda

                                I don't understand why everyone in this thread that likes Ray is trying to cater to your contrarianiness.

                                Sounds like they doubt their own taste buds.

                              2. re: ClevelandDave

                                I think you missed the key piece of info in this thread (which is odd since you mention in it inyour post): ciaoda likes his/her burgers well-done. Having had the occasional much-more-done-than-I-ordered burger at Ray's I can attest that at that point they really AREN'T any better than most of those places, and in fact may even be a little worse since I think they're a little leaner and thus end up a little drier when well-done.

                                Also, I'd have to disagree on the value assessment. Yes, compared to Central's $20 burger, it's a steal, but $10 for a burger is NOT a great value in and of itself.

                                1. re: sweth

                                  And I don't mean to sound like a whiner, but I had less than a stellar meal at Rays the Classics in Silver Spring. There were elements that I thought were very good, but the service was rushed and aloof and none of the meats came prepared in the "doneness" requested.

                                  1. re: sweth

                                    I know it's more than $5, but you certainly don't need to get a $10 burger at Ray's. I thought the basic no extrs burger was $5.95. Is it $6.95? Or do you feel that a fancy cheese or marrow from the rib of a vestal virgins is a topping you need?

                                    1. re: MikeR

                                      I usually get the au poivre and no drink, and pay just under $8. The vast majority of people I know get their burger with "fancy" cheddar or american cheese, though; that plus a drink takes you over $10. Your blather about marrow and attempts at poorly-inflected sarcasm don't add anything to the conversation, though.

                                      1. re: sweth

                                        OK, I think we've established that the base price for a burger is $6.95. Arlington (presently) has a 9% tax on restaurant food, so that adds another 63 cents, for a total of $7.58. But let's not split hairs.

                                        You can plump up a restaurant bill many ways, by buying a drink (hard, soft, wine, or beer), adding a side order, or ordering a variation like a "fancy" cheese or the marrow. What's sarcastic about that? You don't have to order it if you don't like it or don't want to pay for it, but it's there for those who love it or just have to try it.

                                        My goal is a $5 lunch. I don't make it very often these days, but I've been known to spend as much as $10 on occasion for something different. And for me, who doesn't eat a hamburger for lunch very often, a Ray's burger is a little special and worth paying for as long as I don't go overboard with the drinks, sides, or special toppings. I can't get a burger like that anywhere else, at least not as near by as Rays, for the price, so to me it's a decent value.

                                        When have lunch at Five Guys, I get a small cheeseburger and fries, and that's prettly close to $7. It's a different kind of experience than Ray's, but one I enjoy equally as well. I spent a bit over $11 for a burger at Cowboy Cafe (fries included, but being a sit-down place there was a tip involved) on the advice of someone here. It, too, was a tasty burger, but more tasty because of the seasonings than the meat, so that, too, was different from Ray's. But between $7.58 at Ray's and $11 at Cowboy Cafe, I would (and do) go back to Ray's more often because, for me, it's the better deal all around, which includes the taste of the burger. And frankly, I liked the environment at Ray's better than at Cowboy Cafe.

                                        I really don't know why we're arguing other than that I hate to let someone else have the last word when we seemingly disagree. It's the Internet way.

                                        1. re: sweth

                                          The basic burger (with basic toppings) is $6.95. Most cheeses are an extra $1.00; I believe that there are a few that are more. The combinations that are on the menu start from $7.95.

                                          Of course, Arlington County has a fairly high restaurant tax (4% on top on sales tax), so the actual cost is close to 10% above the stated prices.

                                          In the past, small sides, such as a small wedge of corn on the cob or a small piece of fruit, have been served with the burger for no charge, and, last year, hot chocolate (served in small cups-quite sufficient for this extremely rich drink) was available in the cold weather. None of this was available at my last visit (last week), although I may have overlooked the hot chocolate.

                                          I happen to think it's worth going to, albeit not that frequently (too much meat for more than an occasional visit, and I've been avoiding the crowds since President Obama's visit). But, for those who don't like it, to each his/her own.

                                          1. re: Lori D

                                            just FYI, arlington's meals tax applies to deli ready-to-eat things, too -- like a container of turkey wild rice salad from whole foods deli, for example ("prepared foods"). http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments...

                                            """"MEALS, FOOD AND BEVERAGE TAX
                                            Chapter 65, Arlington County Code
                                            A tax rate of 4% is charged by the seller for prepared foods sold in Arlington. This tax is levied on all food and beverages, including snack food and alcoholic beverages, whether consumed on or off the premises. There is a 2% food and beverage tax on meals prepared and sold by a restaurant or caterer specifically for use on commercial airlines.""""

                                      2. re: sweth

                                        Consumer note: I pay $10 for a burger, drink, and side when I'm at Hell Burger.

                                        1. re: Steve

                                          A basic 10oz. PRIME burger at Ray's is $7. A combo with a basic cheese, a side, and soft drink is $10. Yes, you can drive the price higher with toppings.

                                          At some of the other places mentioned as being cheaper (Clyde's, Houstons, Sports bars, etc.), a 6-8oz. CHOICE cheeseburger, Fries, and soft drink is generally about $12.

                                          So I'm still unclear why RHB isn't a bargain when compared to these places. I guess if you cook it to well done, the patty shrinks, so you can no longer taste or see the difference. But it's still cheaper.

                                          1. re: DanielK

                                            The combo has changed a bit. The side is now restricted to chips.

                                            1. re: DanielK

                                              I never said it wasn't a good value as compared to Clyde's et al; just that it isn't a great value in and of itself. As I said before, burgers aren't that hard to make well for yourself, and pretty cheaply even if you're using the good quality meat you need to make a good burger. The same could be said of other cuisines, I suppose, but I guess I just find the reverence for Ray's burgers a little odd in absolute terms--it's just in comparison to the dreck that are burgers at most places that RHB seems special.

                                              1. re: sweth

                                                I don't know about the food and paper cost of making a burger yourself being a whole heck of a lot less: a half pound of quality ground meat is about $2, a couple slices of tomato about .50, other fixings, say .50, a fresh bun maybe .35. So all told to make a burger of this quality, all in, is probably around $4 and probably costs RHB around $3. Plus figure it would take around 20 to 30 minutes to make from start to finish.

                                            2. re: Steve

                                              Those sides and dirnks will eat your lunch. I get a burger and a cup of water when I go there for lunch. I think it was the better part of a $9 bill last time I was there because I wanted to try the fries, but that was an exception, an experiment, that i probalby won't repeat. Not that I didn't like the fries, but it was just a little more than I wanted to eat. The side and drink makes it dinner. <G>

                                            3. re: sweth

                                              sweth - actually, RHB uses a fattier beef mix than many other places. And it's $7, not $10. And if they don't cook it as ordered, don't you just ask for another one? I've seen them replace burgers inside of 2 minutes.

                                              1. re: DanielK

                                                Both times it happened, I was with others and the place was packed so we weren't going to be lingering, so I didn't feel it was worth it to send it back given that the others would probably be done by the time my replacement was out. If I had known that a replacement could be ready in 2 min, I would have sent it back, but it generally takes around 10 min to get a burger there so I had no reason to assume that a replacement would happen faster than that.

                                                (To answer the inevitable question: yes, when faced with a good burger and a crowd of people waiting to take our seats, my friends and I will polish off Ray's burgers in 10-15 minutes, no problem. I never said I don't like the burgers there; just that I find their quality a little erratic when they are busy (even in the new space), which is why I now only go during off hours when it's a sane place where I can relax and enjoy my meal.)

                                                1. re: sweth

                                                  Reorders go to the front of the grill line, as they would in most restaurants.

                                                2. re: DanielK

                                                  Just for a second when you posted RHB I thought you were talking about Red Hot & Blues lol =)

                                                3. re: sweth

                                                  I find the $20 for Central's burger well worth it. It's the total creation and the consistency. If you don't like all the components then I agree the price is not a value; part of the value is M. Richard's balance of tastes and textures. I know that sounds a little/lot prententious in the context of burgers but if you've eaten and enjoyed Citronelle then it's likely worth $20 to experience those techniques applied to a burger.

                                                  Also as the original poster said, if you like your burger beyond medium then just about any burger place is going to be the same. I love Ray's but it's not convenient for me (Maryland/Columbia area, I hit Central before games at Verizon Center).

                                              2. I have only been once to Ray's but I loved my au poivre burger. i would rank it #1 but tie it with the Kobe burger with white troufle cheese sauce at Victoria Gastropub in Columbia. Next would be the bacon chedder cheeseburger at Sunshine Burger as much for the huge burger as it is for the bizarre setting. Next would be the burgers at the Quarrey House in Silver Spring, BGR joint in bethesda and urban burger in Rockville. Close behind and in a tie would be Hamberger Hamlet, Houstons and Clydes who all make fine burgers. The best fast food burger by far is at five guys followed fuddruckers. The best baltimore burger is at Alonso's. Also the owl bar used to have great burgers but I have not been in a while. With a down economy and so much attention on cheaper eating, the hamburger has been elevated to a new level. Next big food items will likely be chicken pot pie and meatloaf

                                                1. I went there today, my 2nd visit to Ray's Hell Burger. Got the Big POPPA: au poivre burger (medium rare), blue cheese, grilled onions and mushrooms. Though the pepper was a little overwhelming at first, the burger was really great to the last bite. The onions and mushrooms added a nice mellow flavor, the blue cheese was a great kick.

                                                  The price was a bit higher than I remembered. My total was $13: the burger, a grape soda ($2 or less?) and a side of mac and cheese ($2). A bit more than the oft-quoted $7, but still great. The mac and cheese was fabulous! I felt like though I paid $8-9 for my burger, there was a good amount of quality meat, prepared as requested to medium rare, and the ingredients were well selected and good quality.

                                                  I had 5 Guys last week, and while I still enjoy the food there, the burger at Ray's is just much more refined, and the bun and ingredients of a higher caliber. I've had the burger at Palena, and damn it was good. But I do think that Ray's is a different beast than 5 Guys, and in my book beats a 5 Guys burger, even for the few extra dollars I pay.

                                                  -----
                                                  Palena
                                                  3529 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008

                                                  5 Guys Famous Burgers & Fries
                                                  1331 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20004

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: ooglek

                                                    "The price was a bit higher than I remembered. My total was $13: the burger, a grape soda ($2 or less?) and a side of mac and cheese ($2). A bit more than the oft-quoted $7, but still great. The mac and cheese was fabulous! I felt like though I paid $8-9 for my burger"

                                                    You paid $8 for your burger. The basic burger is the oft-quoted $7, the blue cheese is a buck extra, and the pepper, mushrooms and onions were free. Add the 9% tax and you're there. Me the tightwad and smaller of stomach than I was a few years ago doesn't get cheese or a side and I'm content with water from the big jug. I can get out for under $8 with my burger fix without feeling overstuffed. The hard part is resisting going across the street to that Kazak cafe for a dessert pastry or, during the Summer, walking off the burger (rationalization) and getting a gelato at Bocato.