Article by Tim King
We cover a lot of great eateries in the pages of this magazine, but people always ask us what the best stuff around is. Starting this month, we’ll be digging deep to find the very best things Xi’an has to offer. First up is the hamburger. Allegedly created in Germany but, like space travel and high-fructose corn syrup, was perfected in America, the hamburger is a simple concept rife with possibility. I went out to find the best of the best and, after my heart palpitations stopped and my breathing returned to normal, I was able to write this report.
THE MORNING AFTER
| BLACK TRUFFLE BURGER
PRICE: 68 RMB COMES WITH: Steak fries
RECOMMENDED BEER PAIRING: Vedett IPA
NICKNAME: “The Monocle”
Though they are more known for their hearty brunches, the Morning After’s burger is no slouch. I call this one “the Monocle,” because it’s an attempt at a fancier burger. It’s an Australian beef patty piled high with sautéed mushrooms and onions, pickles, lettuce, tomato, cheese, mayo and bacon, all captured between a black sesame seed bun. I’ll admit to having lower expectations for this one, but I was totally disarmed by its quality from the very first bite. Though the recipe is not particularly innovative, the ingredients play well with each other, giving a lot of flavor and, unless I’m crazy, a slightly buttery aftertaste. My only complaint is that the bun could’ve been done a bit better—a nice toasting or grilling of it would’ve really brought the whole thing together. Also, be sure to order this one to be more well-done than you might want it to be; I ordered it medium and got it medium-rare, which is perfect, but wouldn’t have been if I’d ordered it medium-rare and got a still-mooing burger.
| CALIFORNIA BURGER
PRICE: 58 RMB
COMES WITH: Potato wedges, but can sub for French fries or sweet potato fries
RECOMMENDED BEER PAIRING: Hazy IPA
NICKNAME: “Ol’ Reliable”
I think about half the laowai in town have already had a taste of this one, but we can’t talk about burgers in Xi’an without talking about Xian Brewery, who have set a lofty bar for quality western food. The California Burger is an all-beef patty cooked medium-rare, topped with lettuce, tomato, Thousand Island dressing, sautéed onions and a pretty good helping of avocado (which I would tend to assume is the “California” part). I’ll call this one “Ol’ Reliable,” because while it’s not quite the revelation it was when it first debuted two years ago, when paired with one of Xian Brewery’s fine craft beers and what are truly the best French fries in Xi’an (if not the world) you really can’t go wrong.
| BACON BOURBON BURGER
PRICE: 55 RMB (88 RMB with a pint of draft beer)
COMES WITH: Steak fries
RECOMMENDED BEER PAIRING: Boxing Cat Ringside Red
NICKNAME: “The Bullett”
By this point in my “research” I was tiring of more conventional burgers, and Westhouse was a perfect stop for something a bit different. Westhouse has a far greater selection of daring hamburgers than any of their competitors. From the daunting list I chose the Bacon Bourbon Burger: a New Zealand beef patty with caramelized onions, cheddar cheese, a fried egg and something called “bacon bourbon jam.” First I was ecstatic that I didn’t have to tolerate vegetables in my greasy heart attack bomb, then enamored with the bold flavors and fantastic consistency this burger had to offer. This one disappeared into my gullet the fastest, and because of that and its worthiness of the name “bourbon,” I’m calling it “the Bullett.”
| CLASSIC CHEESEBURGER
PRICE: 40 RMB COMES WITH: French fries
RECOMMENDED BEER PAIRING: Citra IPA
NICKNAME: “The Ron Swanson”
Fans of the show Parks and Recreation may remember an episode where fitness freak Chris Traeger (played by Rob Lowe) goes head-to-head with loveable survivalist curmudgeon Ron Swanson (played by Nick Offerman) in a hamburger contest. Chris makes a delicious turkey burger with ingredients like chutney and aioli; Ron cooks ground beef into a patty and puts it on white bread buns. Everyone agrees that Ron’s is better. Everybody has a good laugh and a hamburger. Roll credits. Tasty House’s Classic Cheeseburger earns the nickname “the Ron Swanson” by eschewing all attempts at pretension and proving that sometimes simplicity is the best policy. Between the bun, you’ll find only an all-beef patty topped with what tastes like an aged cheddar and a quick squirt of yellow mustard. It’s a burger the man himself could truly appreciate, just meat and bread and grease and deliciousness and your rising cholesterol count. It also gets bonus points for coming with actual French fries instead of the crime against flavor and decency that are steak fries.
You didn’t come here for equivocating nonsense, but these are all fantastic burgers in their own right. I can envision a world in which each could be called the “Best Burger in Xi’an,” as they all take a different approach to the art of the burger and offer unique charms with every bite. But if you’re really going to hold my feet to the fire on this one, I think I liked the Bacon Bourbon Burger the best, with Tasty House a close second. And so it goes.
Tim King is the editor-in-chief of Xianease and still not recovered from all that red meat. He can be reached at at firstname.lastname@example.org