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Jun 26, 2013 08:24 AM

Donovan's Burger Still Manages to Stand Out

As usual, full review with photos on the blog:

When talking about food and restaurants along the subway 7 line in Queens, people tend to think of all the ethnic foods available. From Romanian and Turkish in Sunnyside to Chinese and Korean in Flushing, and all the Thai, Filipino, Indian, Tibetan, Latin American, and many other offerings in between, there are plenty of restaurants that are well known to NYC foodies. The cluster of Irish pubs and restaurants in Woodside, however, don't tend to stand out as much.

The one exception is probably the burger at Donovan's Pub, which was put on the map when Time Out New York named it the best burger in NYC in 2004. Since then, it's kind of gone back into obscurity as the artisanal burger boom descended. People were interested in custom Pat LaFrieda blends and dry aged trimmings and forgot about the modest pub burger. Only recently did Donovan's Pub regain media attention through the changing of ownership. A couple of weeks ago, I saw it featured on the Travel Channel's Burger Land, a show hosted by well-known burger enthusiast George Motz.

I used to rather enjoy the burger at Donovan's, but then the quality dipped and I hadn't been back in quite a while. Now that it's back in the spotlight and under new management, I wanted to see if it could recapture its past glory.

I usually get the hamburger with sauteed onions on top, which the waitresses always used to refer to as "fried onions". It comes with lettuce, tomato, and fries. They now offer a choice of regular or sweet potato fries, which is different from how I remember it. The fries are still like jacket fries, and I always order them well done.

It was a delicious burger. A sizeable 7-8oz patty that was somewhat loosely ground and packed, it was cooked to a perfect medium/medium-rare with a good grill flavor on the outside and juicy and beefy on the inside. The slice of tomato was thick and tasted fresh and in-season. Both the regular and sweet potato fries were good, well done as I had asked for and very crunchy on the outside.

As a matter of preference, I tend to like the old fashioned pub burgers like those at J G Melon's and Donovan's over the ground aged steak versions that are all over NYC now and cost in the high teens. I wouldn't say that this is a burger that someone should go out of their way to travel to eat, but among all the ethnic offerings along the 7 line, a satisfying, well executed, classic burger does stand out.

PS: I was originally going to try the burger at the new Ottomanelli shop nearby to do a comparison, but no longer have the desire to. Despite being practically empty, I had to wait a few minutes before the girl at the counter acknowledged my presence. When I then asked for a takeout menu, she just pointed to a stack of menus on the counter and went back to doing her own thing. The patties in the display case were preformed and did not look appetizing at all. I just don't see why I would bother when I know I'll enjoy myself eating at Donovan's.

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  1. >>Donovan's ... was put on the map when Time Out New York named it the best burger in NYC in 2004.

    Maybe it was put on Time Out's map in 2004.

    But on Chowhound, regulars had known about Donovan's burger years before that — long enough that someone was complaining that the place had gone downhill in 2001 ...

    1 Reply
    1. re: squid kun

      Good to know CHers were ahead of the curve once again. I wasn't in NYC back then and I really meant "mainstream media" when I wrote that.

    2. Honestly, I went to Donovan's a couple of months ago and tried the burger and thought it fell far short of all the great burgers available in NYC these days. It was good in its day - I probably even posted about it. The meat was blah, the fries were undercooked, and I didn't even finish mine. I was a little embarrassed, because I brought a large group, telling them they were going to get a great burger.

      On the other hand, today I had a wonderful, juicy, delicious one from Dumont Burger today. Theirs is so good that I would go there any time I craved one.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Peter Cuce

        Too bad you had a bad experience. Like I said, I think it's still a burger that stands out for the area, and it still ranks well for the price, but I wouldn't tell people to travel for it. There are plenty of better burgers in NYC, but they pretty much all cost more too.

        Fries need to be ordered well done, as I wrote above. That I learned from experience.

        1. re: Peter Cuce

          As a former Woodside resident, I've enjoyed many burgers at Donovan's. While I'm not sure what's been happening there for the last couple years, I can tell you that during my decade+ of eating there, I've had mostly very good burgers, and I'd say 1 out of 5 or 6 visits, they'd be less than stellar for one reason or another. I wouldn't conclude by your experience that it is a symptom of it going downhill. From my experience, it seems that's how it's always been, and judging by Fooder's post as well. Staying consistent is a challenge for many restaurants, and it's no different at Donovan's or at Sripraphai.

          1. re: E Eto

            Yes, I didn't say it had changed - it's the same as it always was - but the average burger in NYC has gotten so much better. For instance, I used to enjoy Bonnie's Grill in Park Slope, but now I feel like they aren't that special compared to many other places these days.

        2. It's hard to think of an American dish that has improved as much as hamburgers in the NYC area. In the early days of Chowhound, many, including Jim Leff, I believe, argued that Donovan's had the best burger in NYC. And I remember some CH's arguing seriously that Burger Heaven was a contender.

          1. Just to interject, their fish and chips has been pretty good 2 out of 3 times.

            1. PJ Horgan's burger, thoughts? It' definitely great, as is their pot pie.

              I work nearby and have always gone there as it is closer. Been meaning to go to Donovan's for a long time and will hit it up today, however my lunch diet I haven't been to Horgan's in over a year so don't think I'll be able to remember enough to compare.

              Thoughts from other locals?

              8 Replies
              1. re: 2slices

                I heard a lot of good things about the PJ burger, but I found it ho-hum. Not very flavorful and quite unmemorable. Anyone tried Molly Blooms's burger?

                1. re: Humbucker

                  PJ's has a solid burger, but since Molly Blooms opened I prefer that one. Like Donovans the experience can vary from visit to visit but they are always at least pretty good & sometimes excellent. I don't go there often enough to know if there is a certain variable to this.

                  They have very good fish & chips as well, not so crazy about their pasta dish though.

                  1. re: Huck

                    still one of my top two or three burgers in new York. never tried the pasta, much like I've never ordered a turkey club at Piccola Venezia.

                    kidding, sorta. but seriously, pasta at an irish pub is bound to be a D-plus at best, a wee hour bathroom stand at worst.

                    1. re: debinqueens

                      I love PJ Horgan's for the ambience, but to me their food (burger excepted) is pretty awful. Donovan's burger is good, as are their fries/chips, but I I haven't revisited recently, since the management change. (Not a TV fan, or a sports fan, so I'm not rushing to get there.)

                      1. re: Up With Olives

                        the new decor isn't as obtrusive as i feared it might be, and is largely relegated to the bar at the front. it hasn't turned into a Bud's Ale House overnight by any means!

                        1. re: Up With Olives

                          What have you found awful at Horgan's?

                          1. re: AubWah

                            Not inedible or anything, just nothing very good. If memory serves, I've had the fish burger, chicken pot pie, hamburger, tuna salad.... I haven't partaken of the quiche (can't eat that) but I like that they still have a Quiche of the Day! For the Irish bars in the neighborhood, I prefer food at Bliss St. Station or Molly Blooms. Love the bar at Horgan's tho.