Progressive Fast Food in Jefferson Parish

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The quest to find the top 10 hamburgers in New Orleans

Hamburgers will never qualify as a trend, not in any of our lifetimes and not in this country, where for the past half-century the sandwiches have been as common as concrete. So what to make of what's going on with hamburgers in New Orleans?

After musing over the question for much of the spring and summer, often with said sandwich in hand, and fries (or onion rings) at the ready, I've concluded that we're enjoying a hamburger moment. We're living inside what one day will be a pin on the timeline of a city that has always stood apart from the rest of the country -- suspicious that America's mainstream folkways could ever offer anything equal to our local ones.

I'm not going to argue that New Orleans was previously bereft of fine, homegrown hamburgers. Well-established local burger specialists I've tried and retried in these last many months – Lee's and Bud's Broiler come immediately to mind – testify that this not the case. But it is true that hamburgers have not been atop the list of reasons we believe that we eat better here than people do elsewhere.

When it comes to sandwiches, New Orleans has long been a po-boy and muffuletta town. Still is. But after a season in which I rarely went three days without biting into the most American of sandwiches (sorry hot dogs), I'm here to tell you that burgers are giving them a run for their money.

My quest was to uncover the best hamburgers New Orleans has to offer. The mission re-established what I already knew: That there have never been more local establishments serving exemplary burgers than there are today. My research suggests that statement will remain true for years to come. It also revealed that the quality is spread wider than I realized.

The idea to take on the challenge came to me in the spring, when the outburst of regional pride around Jazz Fest culminates with a crawfish-and-andouille hangover that I traditionally nurse with multi-day bender of cheeseburgers (and pepperoni pizza). It struck me then that the options of places to get my fix had turned overwhelming.

I've pin-pointed the summer of 2011 as the season when New Orleans got truly serious about hamburgers, and while I still believe that to be the case, signs that a renaissance was nigh emerged earlier than that.

In the mid- and late-2000s, pedigreed chefs like Justin Devillier, of La Petite Grocery, and John Besh, with the jaw-straining cheeseburger at Luke, started making waves with hamburgers to beat the band at their wine-list restaurants (following the lead of the French chef Daniel Boulud, who had previously raised the hamburger bar at his db Bistro Moderne in New York). So when tru burger and Company Burger opened three summer ago, around the same time Five Guys entered the market, the field of play had already widened.

It widened further for me when I formalized my quest by soliciting reader suggestions in June. The dizzying array of tips caused me to lengthen the quest and sent me back across the lake and to all corners of Jefferson Parish. Though my Ultimate Burgers list predominantly includes restaurants of the chef-driven and progressive fast food classes (all but one located in Orleans Parish), the distinguished hamburgers I found in traditional barrooms and neighborhood restaurants all over the metro area complicated my decision-making in ways I didn't anticipate.

Company Burger Brett Anderson selected Company Burger's hamburger as his favorite, after tasting more than 60 burgers in the greater New Orleans area. (Photo by David Grunfeld, | The Times-Picayune archive) A few words about my methodology, such as it was. In restaurants that offered a broad selection, I ordered burgers with cheese (cheddar, if available) dressed with no tomato, to ease the work of comparing. I didn't tamper with the ingredients at restaurants that offered only one kind of burger or where I believed the tomato stood a chance of tasting like a tomato, or at places where a signature burger was an obvious calling card. All of the hamburgers considered for the Top 10 had to be made with beef, although one, at Toups' Meatery, is half pork.

I sampled more than 60 burgers in all from May through last week. (Interestingly, I tried almost exactly the same number of roast beef po-boys for a similar project two years ago.) I've no allusions that my list of the top 10 hamburgers in New Orleans will exactly match yours, but I'd love to know where our tastes overlap, and where are our opinions differ.

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