the spot: Joe Junior 167 3rd Ave New York NY 10003
the eats: Cheeseburger
the bucks: $5.85
the full nelson: can a burger with the appeal of a picky 5 year old indeed be the best burger in NYC?
Joe Junior has been on my burger radar for quite some time, in no small part due to the adoration of Nick Solares, host of Meat Life, The Meat Show, writer for Eater NY and Serious Eats, and author of the blog Beef Aficionado. If you haven’t figured it out by now, Mr Solares is a serious carnivore, one that is never short for words when it comes to pontificating over the virtues of a truly excellent burger. I’ve never lived in New York but have made it a point to always get a burger when I’m there, which is frequent. I’d like to think I have somewhat of a handle on the burger scene here but, let’s face it: the list is long, my credit card has a modest limit and I would be insulting my statin prescription to try and eat every NYC burger worthy of a visit without at least parking it at an Airbnb for a month. Still, I feel confident in joining in on the chorus that hails Joe Junior as the Best Burger in NYC.
Now after making that kind bold declaration, allow me the pleasure of backpedaling for a moment and saying that I love more than a few burgers in NYC and because of that I can easily soften my stance and say that Joe Junior is among the best burgers in NYC. If you saw my post last year entitled An NYC Burger Binge, you know that the Black Label Burger at Minetta Tavern, which will run you $33 and doesn’t even come with a slice of cheese, was indeed worth the money. Yes, it was a $33 burger I would gladly order again in a heartbeat. But that burger also comes with a side of Wall Street Power Suit by way of atmosphere, really a bit intimidating, if I had to be honest about it. Even a less expensive spot like the Brindle Room(also among the NYC Burger Binge post) has this vibe like you walked into the secret bar inside the bar, and you are meant to feel fortunate just for being allowed in. When you factor in this sense of clannishness, the bare bones diner that Joe Junior is as welcoming a site as the Statue of Liberty must have been to the immigrants coming through Ellis Island. The site of a diner like this might seem the norm in Omaha but in New York City, it is indeed precious, the last among a dying species. And for the first time on this blog, I am including atmosphere as a pertinent factor to the Bang for your Burger Buck experience. Now about that Bang for your Burger Buck . . .
For the same reasons why I love Corner Bistro, PJ Clarks and JG Melon, the burger at Joe Junior is a thick patty affair, first and foremost. The former burger spots serve up a style I have hailed as the “NYC bar/pub style thick patty”. Now because Joe Junior is a diner, I feel like I can’t categorize it in the same group but the results remain the same and just as juicy . . . in fact even more. Joe Junior served up one of, if not the most, juiciest burgers of my life. When you have great meat, which Joe Junior does as it is sourced daily from New England Meats, and you apply a steakhouse worthy sear . . . you don’t need much else. This gorgeous, perfectly cooked medium rare burger patty sits on a standard issue hamburger bun pulled fresh out of a bag per order, gets a slice of yellow American cheese and that’s it. Toppings befit a picky 5 year old yes, but just take a bite and let yourself become engulfed in a sea of comfort food nostalgia cooked to an internal temp of 130 degrees. Deep into the age of this century’s Burger Renaissance, this most simple burger stands out amongst a sea of artisanal cheeses, custom buns and over the top toppings. But it can only stand out if the most important aspect of the burger is maintained: the beef patty. There are a few celebrated diners serving burgers that receive accolades like Pie ‘n Burger and Apple Pan(both in Los Angeles) but the patty stands a distance second when compared to Joe Junior. If Shakespeare said “the plays the thing” then I must say “the beef is the thing” and when one factors in this über juicy burger patty, a welcoming old school NYC diner atmosphere fast becoming as endangered as the white rhino, and a ridiculously cheap price of $5.85, Joe Junior does indeed serve the best Bang for your Burger in NYC. This burger my friends, is indeed worth of your hard earned bucks.
With still many burgers to go in New York City before I sleep, I can safely say that Joe Junior along with Minetta Tavern’s Black Label Burger(yes I’m backpedaling again) are indeed among the best burgers New York City has to offer. Of course one burger at Minetta can yield you at least five Joe Juniors . . . in either case, your burger cravings will be sated. Something tells me that after your inaugural visit to Joe Junior, you will be back much sooner than Minetta Tavern for your second. Sure, one can argue it’s mostly about the bucks but if there is one factor where Joe Junior outshines Minetta Tavern it is this: Joe Junior is an NYC Burger Classic.