The Experience: I moved to New York City in 2008, and upon so doing I immediately began exploring its oldest hamburger-serving restaurants. Corner Bistro, PJ Clarke’s, JG Melon, Peter Luger and Donovan’s Pub all opened long before I was born, and are all considered seminal, delicious New York City burgers. I enjoy almost all of these burgers and think that they deserve their a places in NYC hamburger history, but the burger culture of this city has passed them by. They tend to me the first burger joints that my out of town friends ask me about, and I usually steer those friends toward the newer restaurants that are turning New York City into a hamburger Mecca.
However, I can’t call myself an authority on New York City hamburgers if I don’t try all of the burgers of note, including those that have been around longer than I have. Enter Joe Junior. Praised by New York meat maniac Nick Solares as one of the city’s absolute best burger joints, Joe Junior is the tiny dive diner that everyone thinks of when they think of New York City diners, but that doesn’t actually exist all that much in the city. The burger doesn’t stand out on the massive menu, but most of the diners in the restaurant were ordering it when I was there.
Burger Ordered: The Bacon Cheeseburger Deluxe
The Taste: The burger is good. Thanks to Solares’ reporting on this burger, I knew to request that my burger be grilled without the use of an iron plancha, which would have made it cook faster but drained it of its essential juices. As such, rivers of juice flowed with every burger bite, onto the plate and onto my new pants. The crispy bacon was tasty, though unnecessary. What was most impressive about this burger, aside from its juiciness and the brilliant hue of red within its patty, was the method with which the cheese was melted onto it. On both sides of the bun, the cheese is melted directly onto the bun as the patty grills above. The process allows for the bun to fuse to the patty through its cheese glue. I love little more than a burger that becomes a meat, cheese, and bread singularity by the time I’m nearing its end.
This burger sounds great, right? Well, the truth is that it’s just good. Flashes of Corner Bistro ran through my mind as I ate it, which makes sense as the meat here comes from the same source. But what more likely made me think of Corner Bistro was that this burger is of the exact same ilk as that one. Corner Bistro knows that people go there for their burger, and so they have created a burger that suits most people. Joe Junior has done the same thing. Solares says,”It’s everything the cheeseburger needs to be and nothing else.” That’s exactly what it is, and for someone like me, that’s the recipe for a fun and nostalgic diversion, but nothing else.
The Verdict: I respect what this burger is and what it represents (I also respect Joe Junior’s crispy, greasy french fries), and as a cheap neighborhood diner you’d be hard pressed to find anything better. It’s not going to be on the top of any objective person’s list of best burgers in the city, but it deserves to be known for what it is.
Joe Junior is located at 167 3rd Avenue in Manhattan, New York.