Thick and towering, goosed with flavor, diminutive and tasty. Today's bar burgers were the best of the best for flavor, texture and ingredients that I sampled for this week's 20-burger salute to South Sound bars, taverns and breweries.
Chorizo, Nueske's bacon, arugula and Gorgonzola - today's burgers all feature unusual twists that made them memorable. And what's better than a burger? A burger with fries (just add beer). If you're a fan of fries, today's installment is devoted to you.
Today's burgers: Asado, Maxwell's, Pacific Grill, The Hub, The Right Spot
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YOUR TURN: Nominate your favorite South Sound burger for inclusion in the TNT Diner Burger of the Month Club. I'll feature a different burger every month and invite diners to write their own reviews (the best written reviews will earn prizes, such as cookbooks). Just comment here to nominate a burger.
My top five burgers are:
The Asado Burger with yucca fries ($13.75)Where: Asado, 2810 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253-272-7770, asadotacoma.com
Is a burger a burger if it’s made with pork? The heck it is. How about a burger made with two kinds of pork? I call that perfection. This is one of the best burgers you might bite into if you’re a fan of complex flavors, salty dimension and a healthy dose of spice. The Asado burger started with a patty made of ground chorizo (a smoky Spanish pork sausage) and seasoned chuck. Smoked onions and bell peppers added a hefty flavor layer. Pan-fried provolone cheese was a brilliant textural touch when paired with crispy fried Serrano ham. A brioche bun from Macrina Bakery came glazed with a smoky poblano aioli. You won’t find creamier fries around town than the yucca fries, which are thick-sliced fries made from yucca root, deep fried and tossed with truffle oil and finished with sel gris, then arranged into a fun little Jenga stack on the plate. Executive Chef Joel Mertens said the burger is a top seller on Asado’s bar menu.
The Walker Burger with house fries ($12)Where: Maxwell’s Restaurant + Lounge, 454 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma, 253-683-4115, maxwells-tacoma.com
Executive Chef Matt Colony said he sticks with a higher fat content for his Walker burger for one reason: flavor. The result is a beefy, luscious half-pound patty that’s served on a toasted brioche roll from Macrina Bakery. Hoffman’s Vermont white cheddar cheese was only partially melted over the patty, which helped the flavorful aged cheddar retain its nutty nuance. A slather of grilled onion aioli added sweet, fatty flavor. “I love grilled onions on a burger, but they wind up on the plate. The aioli is kind of the idea of getting the flavor, but not a big mess on your plate,” said Colony of the house-made mayo he combines with finely diced grilled onions, garlic, rosemary and oregano. Colony eschews traditional lettuces for peppery whole arugula leaves to cut the richness of the burger and add a spicy bite. House fries are russets that have been thick cut and blanched and are simply seasoned. This was the TNT Diner readers’ most-nominated burger.
Cheeseburger sliders with garlic fries ($11)Where: Pacific Grill, 1502 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253-627-3535, www.pacificgrilltacoma.com
A small package at Pacific Grill comes with big flavor. Chef/owner Gordon Naccarato first made the sliders when he worked at the Monkey Bar in Los Angeles in the 1990s. The two cheeseburger sliders contain about a quarter pound of juicy certified Angus ground chuck between them. The flavor is built on a soft Hawaiian sweet roll that’s buttered and griddled. A $3 upgrade buys slippery slices of avocado and thick, chewy slices of Nueske’s bacon, which hands-down is some of the best bacon money can buy, said Naccarato. Next is a layer of melted vintage Tillamook white cheddar. The burgers are finished with a slather of a tangy house dressing that’s tinged with just a touch of horseradish for a neat little flavor sting. Fries are some of the best in town: thinly sliced shoestring potatoes fried crispy with whole garlic cloves and crispy-crunchy sprigs of fried rosemary and sage leaves.
The Stump Jumper with sweet potato fries ($11)Where: The Hub, 203 Tacoma Ave. S., Tacoma, 253-683-4606, http://harmonbrewingco.com/hub/index.html
Executive Chef Treff Baker said the Stump Jumper is the Hub’s most popular of six burger choices. A grilled bun held a swipe of garlicky herb aioli. A half-pound beef patty was licked by flame and covered in a gooey coating of gorgonzola that was a salty yin to the smoky yang of chewy, thick bacon. Green leaf lettuce, tomatoes and onion finished the burger. The Hub gets bonus points for inventive accompaniments. Burgers come with a choice of excellent fries (a combination of regular and sweet potato) or substitute risotto, salad or garlic mashed potatoes for a dollar.
Blue cheese bacon cheeseburger with hand-cut fries ($9.75)Where: The Right Spot, 5119 Pacific Highway E., Fife, 253-922-7371
When I entered the dim, downscale bar and saw the buckets catching drips from the roof, I wondered whether I had been punked by several TNT Diner blog readers who were adamant that the Right Spot serves some of the finest burgers in South Sound. When the burger arrived, I knew exactly why they had recommended it. Forget the lack of atmosphere, the blue cheese bacon burger was over-the-top delicious and executed with beefy precision. A perfectly buttered and grilled oversized Kaiser roll was laden with a patty so huge it spilled over the bun’s edges. I appreciated that the big burger came cut in half. A thick coating of blue cheese pushed the flavor pungent, while thick, chewy bacon threw in a pinch of smoky flavor. Crisp tomato, iceberg lettuce and red onion finished the towering burger. Skins-on fries were hand cut and deliciously creamy.