$5.75 (add 75cents for cheese)
A tiny blurb hidden away in The Stranger tipped me off to this great little burger house. Me and the Stranger are kindred spirits: not only do they have great taste in burgers, but last week they ran pieces on Seattle's favourite parking lots, and where to find the city's best Chicken-Fried Steak. But enough about The Stranger... what about Zesto's?
Zesto's makes a pretty darn good burger. Their bacon is crispy and excellent, the patty is homemade, and they aren't stingy with their sauce. I can't stand places that are stingy with the sauce. Zesto's has one hell of a special mayo, and they want you to know it. The only strange thing about this burger is something that really shouldn't be strange at all: it's adorned with burger pickles. I usually find myself with dill or bread and butter pickles. Burger pickles beat out bread and butter any day, and in this case they trump dill too.
Zesto's makes a great burger, and is certainly worth the trip to Ballard. The staff is casual and friendly (the waitress was sitting on the counter when I arrived) and they've got a Frogger machine. Nothing better than eating burgers and playing classic video games.
I always stop at Dick's when I'm in Seattle. Dick's has plenty of locations in Seattle, but I always stop at their Capitol Hill joint (it's Sir Mix-A-Lot's favourite Dick's). I frequent Dick's mostly because of their incredible prices: there aren't many places where you can get a burger, fries, and a shake for five bucks. Price is a major factor in Dick's popularity (it's easily Seattle's most adored burger joint).
Atmosphere is also a big draw at Dick's. Four of their five locations (including the one in Capitol Hill) have no seating. If you walk up to the restaurant you can either eat at a small counter in front of the order windows, or you can head back into the parking lot and loiter like a dickens (no pun intended!).
The burger at Dick's isn't likely to blow you away. Standard white hamburger bun, lettuce, american cheese, and a couple smallish patties. I like Dick's, but I'm not sure I love it. Their milkshakes are great, and I love the aura of the place, but I've never found the burgers to be anything more than good. It's just disappointing that their burger never feels quite as unique as the place that serves it, and the surroundings in which you eat it. But when you're eating a double cheeseburger that's under 3 bucks, and it doesn't suck — there's really nothing to complain about.
Blue Cheese Bacon Burger
You have to be pretty ballsy to do business across the street from a Dick's Drive-In. Jack-In-The-Box tried, and now their Capitol Hill store has plywood for windows. Kidd Valley sits just up the street from Dick's Queen Anne location (the only location with seating) and after a quick glance at the wall, it would seem they've received almost as many plaudits as Dick's. However, once you take a closer look at the awards on the wall, you'll notice they stop at 1999. Almost a decade since an award, makes you wonder what the hell Kidd Valley has done for the PNW lately.
Judging from the burger I ate, they haven't been doing a whole heck of a lot. The edges of my bun were burnt, and the burger wasn't exactly incredible. They get points for using chunks of real blue cheese, but the patty was a little tired. The bacon was ok, but nothing special. Without the blue cheese to mask almost all other aspects of this burger, I probably would have been disappointed. This is an ok burger, but you'd be better off going across the street to Dick's.
Deluxe Double Cheese
Like a myriad of other great burger joints in America, Red Mill is a little anal about its condiments. One of the first things you see when you step inside Red Mill is a sign that says: Our Mill Sauce is a Mayonnaise Based Sauce IT IS NOT THOUSAND ISLAND DRESSING. I can only imagine the hatred that seethes through Red Mill employees when some douche bag infers that they use the same "special sauce" that Dairy Queen and A&W use. Red Mill's Burgers may have a bit of an assembly line feel to them, but they're a hell of a lot better than your average fast food enterprise.
The toppings are fresh, and the american cheese is expertly melted in-between the two pre-formed (not pre-fab) patties. The burger is just a little greasy, and quite tasty. Although I enjoyed Red Mill, I have to say it wasn't everything I expected. Red Mill is often touted as the best burger in Seattle, but I found myself liking Zesto's more. There's a little more personal flair injected into the burgers at Zesto's. Red Mill is wonderful, but it's hard to forget it's part of a chain (albeit a small one) that probably pumps out thousands of burgers a day. There's a lot of hype surrounding Red Mill, and I'm not sure they completely live up to it.
$10 (add $1.25 for cheese)
Two Bells makes a good decision by serving vege toppings on the side. This beefy little unit comes dripping in molten grease and rides a sourdough raft that slides around like a dog on a frozen pond.
After flirting with the option of blue cheese, I decided instead to top my burger with Tilamook Cheddar (an Oregon cheese that is a favourite in the PNW). Tilamook is like Armstrong for the upscale: it's a supermarket cheddar that's noticeably more flavourful than your average shelf cheese.
In addition to the Tilamook, this burger is topped with crisp bacon and piles of fried onion. Due to the myriad of greasy toppings, only a whisper of mayonnaise is applied to the bun. Normally I would deride a cook that isn't generous with his/her mayo, but any more and the bun would have squirted away from me with enough velocity to fly across the room and give the bartender a concussion.
Although this burger is a bit of a cluster fuck, it generally works. One of the major advantages of eating in a bar is you don't end up with some half-retarded teenager working the grill. Instead you get a methodical, middle-aged burgermeister. The grill cook at Two Bells definitely knows what he's doing; the burgers he serves up are thick, juicy, and pretty darn tasty. I'm not sure about the garlic-bready bun, but otherwise this is a great burger.
VERDICT: Two Bells may boast the best burger since 1983, and Dick's may be championed by George Motz and Bill Gates, but Zesto's is my pick. Loads of special mayo, great bacon, and a tasty homemade patty will always win my heart.
PS. I'm too lazy to add addresses, phone numbers, and URL's for all these places, look them up yourself.