Burgers in Tokyo
Hi everyone, after a couple years of scouring the streets of Tokyo for burgers I thought I'd share a forced ranking with you all. Interested in any of your thoughts, if I've completely neglected certain gems, what is a must try next, if I've given an unfair read on any of these (most we only visited once - too many choices, new places to explore!).
Overall, my conclusion is that while many places go overboard on the bun or the lettuce and vegetables, not achieving the right balance with or focus on the meat itself, the fact that there are so many places alone indicates that the gourmet burger is alive and well in Tokyo. If anything, I think we may be missing a middle tier here - somewhere between the Freshness Burger and McDonalds and the Union Cafe or Cafe Hohokam. In the US, I'd equate this middle tier to places like Shake Shack (NYC), Five Guys, Cook Out, Wimpy's Grill (Durham, NC). Mostly take out places, usually messy, heavily focused on the meat, cheese dripping and melding, juices mixing and dripping, served in wax paper, not as cheap, processed, mass produced as McD but still mostly chains. If anyone has any thoughts on this aspect, please jump in as well, I may have just completely overlooked them !
Places visited, from most to least liked:
1. Union Café (Roppongi) - asked for medium, perfectly pink on the inside, juicy, seasoned perfectly with just salt and pepper
2. White Smoke (Azabu Juban) - made from trimmings of smoked BBQ, fell apart when eating, heavy on the salt, torn about placing this high on a burger list as it seemed closer to sausage but it was delicious
3. Cafe Hohokam (Harajuku) - great bread, nicely toasted on the outside soft on the inside, solid patty, could use slightly less lettuce (borderline salad)
4. Roti (Roppongi) - enormous stack of shoestring fries (found that a fork was most effective), had the blue cheese burger, great combination of flavors
5. Martini burger (Shinjuku) - had the right size and texture for the meat, was not overshadowed by the bun or toppings, only development point would be that it was cooked too thoroughly
6. Burger 5 (Ginza) * - solid burger, good balance of bun, toppings, and burger, cheese melds nicely with patties
7. Vibe (Mita) * - our go to burger shop, mainly due to proximity, however they season the patties nicely with salt and pepper, have a good range of extras including Frank's Red Hot
8. 7025 Franklin Ave (Gotanda) - with the atmosphere, done up like a warm French living groom, I somehow felt obligated to consume my burger with knife and fork
9. Homework's (Azabu Juban) *
10. Eat (Gaienmae) - thoroughly enjoyed the lamb burger
11. Blacow (Tokyo Station take-out) * - from the same bento stand that serves the 9,600 yen wagyu steak box; wagyu beef for burgers, including this one, comes across slightly mushy for me
12. Brozer's (Ningyocho) * - good atmosphere, burger relies too much on sauce (they cover in a BBQ like sauce)
13. Munches (Mita) * - good range of burgers, particularly appreciated their Bhut Jolokia geki-kara burger campaign; meat not quite ground enough though, occasionally had chunks of chewy, sinewy pieces
14. Bubby's (Yokohama, Tokyo Station) * - filling burgers, barely enough room left over for sampling pies
15. Kua-ainu (Marunouchi, Odaiba) * - good size to the burgers, Marunouchi location definitely better than Odaiba, both overcook
16. Arms (Yoyogi take-out) - felt like eating a salad, too heavy on the lettuce and vegetable toppings
Westpark Café (Marunouchi Building)
17. Lauderdale (Roppongi Hills) * - great bread, but it overshadows the burger itself which was not terribly memorable
18. Gotham Grill (Ebisu) - had potential, but the experience was marred by finding several chewy, sinewy portions of the burger; liked that they offered Gruyere
19. Golden Brown (Omotesando) - overly dried patties
20. One's Diner (Sendagaya) - good atmosphere, setup like a 50s US diner; soft, fresh seeming bread, however the burger itself was too grey, meat seemed processed
21. Rigoletto (Roppongi Hills)
*Multiple visits; all others once
Not tried but on the radar:
The Great Burger (Harajuku)
Burger Mania (Shirokane)
Goro's Diner (Jingumae)
Trader Vics (Kiocho)
Ekki Bar and Grill (Marunouchi)
Sunny Diner (still open?)
AS classic diner (Meguro)
Good Morning Cafe (Sendagaya)
Teddy's Bigger Burger
Baker Bounce (Roppongi Midtown)
Longboard Cafe (Odaiba)
The Beat Diner (Hibya)
I would recommend adding Fatz's in Koenji to your list - it's one of my favorites. And I think it's also worth checking out Blacows' main shop in Ebisu; it's pretty terrific.
Goro's Diner has changed their name; I think it's AG Diner or something like that now.
re: Robb S
I take this opportunity to ask: in your opinion, what isit that makes the best hamburger ? In particular, what ingredient ?
I do love my hamburger to be meaty and rare. I also like 'bronx style' burger, meat patty with spicy chili beans.
At Martini Kagurazaka, on my second visit, I asked for more 'rare', but it seemed just not possible, and the meat should to be more fatty in my opinion... the only rare patty I had was at East Village Ikebukuro. There, I have had a good first experience, but a bad second time. Their original burgers are not good choices over the simple ones...fries are just so-so..
Asking for a rare burger but not receiving it is a common problem in the UK as well. I went to some supposedly semi-upmarket burger chain when I went to London a few months ago (I think called "Gourmet Burger" though I might be wrong) and they asked me how I wanted the burger done. When I said 'medium-rare', they didn't bat an eyelid so I assumed they were OK with my choice. Then I was served a well-done burger, which was very tasty but far from medium-rare (or medium for that matter). I ordered another burger because I was still hungry. I asked if this time, they could actually make it medium rare or at least medium, they said they could. But they couldn't. That is often the case - which is fine, but I don't get why they ask how you want it done. Do they just hope that you say you want it well done?
Union Square is very good at making them fairly rare if you want it. In some way it annoys me - they are pricey, Union Square is the sort of expatty place I don't want to like and service is beyond belief slow, but the burgers are damn fine. Plus it's in the building where I work so sometimes hard to avoid. Baker Bounce is also in the same building, the burgers are OK, but I am afraid I don't quite share Mr Squirrel's enthusiasm for those burgers
In the UK and the US, I imagine this could be a liability concern, particularly if the burger joint is not confident in the source of their meat. And then there's also the lawsuit aspect, in the US people are probably more likely to sue if they end up ill. Here though, raw meat is consumed in a number of different ways (beef, fish, horse, sashimi) and lawsuits are uncommon, I wouldn't think that would be a concern.
Maybe just the burger flipper unsure of how to cook anything but well ?
re: Robb S
Thanks Robb, I've added Fatz and Blacow my places to visit list. Slightly off topic, but in all your culinary expeditions, have you come across any 'alternative meat' burgers ? Pork, bison, ostrich, etc. I've had an excellent pork burger before, comes out really fatty, juicy, and on the other end the bison is leaner, a little gamier (and at perhaps feels a little healthier).
Interesting question. I like the lamb burgers at Eat more than the ones at Great Burger. I'm sure I've had pork, I can't remember where though. Maybe even Homework's? Also R Burger in Roppongi does a burger made with SPF pork.
My favorite though is the venison burger at Va-tout in Roppongi.
Wow, awesome post. I'm impressed by your rankings although I disagree with a few of the rankings.
I really, really dislike Kua-aina. I think they're almost always too dry and the there's something wrong with the grind. Also, I know it's not part of the burger but their fries are exactly the opposite of what I'm looking for when it comes to fried potatoes.
I'd move West Park Cafe ahead for sure (at least comparing Marunouchi locations of the two).
I'm a fan of Baker Bounce, but it's in the same range as a WPC burger. Wolfgang Puck also does a similar burger that's pretty authentically american. Unrelated, I can't stop myself from ordering the honey mustard chicken sandwich with cheddar whenever I go to Wolfgang Puck. Dump on a healthy portion of tabasco and it becomes a VERY satisfying sandwich (fries are decent, but often too salted). Generally, I hate honey mustard but there's something about the way they do it at the Otemachi location that gets me jonesing on a weekly basis.
I had Burger Mania a LONG LONG time ago, but I remember it being decent. If I remember correctly, the bun was a bit larger than necessary and it followed the gratuitously greasy pattern that's too common in Tokyo.
If you ever get to Shizuoka, please please do yourself a solid and get to Sawayaka. You have the option of getting a rye bread roll with your hamburg and I make a burger out of it that never fails to bring a huge smile to my face.
re: lost squirrel
Thanks Mr Squirrel. I'm ok with dropping Kua-ainu in the rankings, perhaps below Lauderdale even. Similar to you, each time I've been there the burger has been over cooked. I appreciated the larger size of the burgers though, and the fact that the meat was not too overshadowed (though the avocado burger achieves this). Will have to give WPC another shot.
It just so happens I was in Midtown this evening, stopped by Bakers Bounce. Liked the diner setup, they had a good range of burger options, went with a large bacon cheeseburger. Bacon was nice and crispy (though short strips!), the burger was a great size, substantial, definitely hit the spot after all this discussion on burgers. I could go with a smaller grind though, less well done.
Interesting idea on requesting a bun for hamburg (hambagu), if I'm ever in Shizuoka will be sure to give it a try. Wonder if this works in other hamburg places? Generally, I'd think hamburg is a little too soft, falling apart to work as a burger, but am curious now.