Would You Like a $7.50 Cheeseburger? (Yes!)
Plus, 20 amazing dishes for under $20 in Hell's Kitchen, and a few words about late night dining in Midtown West
Something remarkable happened to me the other week at Lovely’s Old Fashioned, a new Hell’s Kitchen restaurant where the aromas of caramelized onions and sizzling beef waft through the tiny room.
I dropped by, ordered a snack-sized cheeseburger, ate it, and left about 10 minutes after I arrived. For this pleasure I paid $7.50.
Eating a restaurant burger in New York is often an exercise in financial and gustatory excess. Since the early aughts, chefs have aggressively gourmandized the commodity foodstuff through bespoke meat blends, aged cheeses, custom buns, and menus (or servers) that tout the above datapoints like tech specs on a new MacBook. It’s a movement that has produced very good burgers, albeit ones that are weighty and expensive, often pushing past $30.
Now, our burger zeitgeist is shifting, or at the very least, rebalancing itself.
A growing class of bare-bones spots (like Smashed and Mighties) are specializing in smaller patties pressed or smashed against a griddle until they develop a caramelized and deeply beefy crust (Last year, Eater’s Luke Fortney published an excellent report on the subject). Part of the lure is surely patrons tiring of heftier two-handed burgers, creations that don’t necessarily jibe with the habits of diners who prefer a quick take-out snack during the summer months.
Another draw is that the thinner burgers don’t cost too much; they usually run $11 or less. In an era of sky-high beef prices, a smaller shack-style affair is a nice way to let people spend less money on a delicious slab of beef.
Is Lovely’s, by the team behind Steak Frites, my favorite smaller-sized patty? No, I wish the kitchen cooked the meat more gently and let it rest a bit; the lush 75-25 meat-to-fat ratio can turn out a bit dry here. But on a good day, chef Adam Schop’s burger is straightforward and beefy, with a griddle char that’s noticeable, not aggressive (the cooks don’t press the meat as hard as a smash burger). Then there’s the bun, which packs ample notes of butter, and the pickles, which zap the tongue with brine. Raw onions add sharpness and a slick of mayo ties everything together with its economical richness. And that’s it.
Lovely’s isn’t trying to be one of the city’s best burgers; it’s trying to be a burger you can eat in a few minutes before grabbing a beer nearby. That’s a good thing, and I don’t think I’m being cynical when I say that more than a few cash-strapped New Yorkers don’t need another destination burger.
Honestly, these days I wouldn’t mind sacrificing a little bit of deliciousness in exchange for a burger that costs less than $10 — and that doesn’t come from a corporate chain, be it McDonald’s or even Shake Shack.
A local burger that’s simply “good enough” is an underrated luxury. Though to be sure I think Lovely’s is better than good enough!
Where to eat well in Hell’s Kitchen for less than $20
It shouldn’t shock you that Lovely’s opened in Hell’s Kitchen. This Midtown neighborhood — where I call home, thanks to a rent-regulated apartment — is a bastion of global, affordable, independent restaurants, many of them Latin American, Thai, Korean, or Chinese.
There’s a certain element of surprise to eating around here as well.
Almost every time I cycle up and down Ninth or Tenth Avenues, I seem to find a newly opened restaurant that I haven’t heard of — a spot hasn’t been covered by nine different food publications. I like that. In a related note, unless you’re dining at fancy spot like Tori Shin, Mari (so good!), or Kochi, you likely won’t need a reservation wherever you eat in my neighborhood. You simply drop on in and dine without a wait. I like that too.
Following is a list of my favorite sub-$20 dishes in Hell’s Kitchen.