In Moscow, strange as it may sound, there is a big problem with burgers. It’s not even about the departure of McDonald’s. In fact, there’s no way for restaurants to find a middle ground: These are either marginal chain projects that make burgers in medium-quality buns in Kraft paper with no soul or taste, or crazy expensive meat restaurants that put burgers on the menu simply because they can’t not have them, and in order to get them up to the price of elite steaks, they are trying all kinds of twists – like coating the cutlet with food-gold or grated truffle, which, of course, looks stunning, but the taste of meat is completely blocked.
We found 7 restaurants of varying profiles (not necessarily speciality restaurants) where burgers are treated with respect: they use the right parts of the carcass for the meat, cook the cutlets to perfection, bake luscious buns and think of a winning accompaniment. And it’s not just burger classics that catch our eye – the most paradoxical combinations between buns can be good too.
A new project by stylisation masters Dmitry Levitsky and Gosha Karpenko. They are also responsible for the Shashlichnaya alko-buffet and the Pelmennaia gorbo-buffet, both of which play on the icons of catering in the 40s and 60s. Now the turn has come to the dashing 90s, to which the restaurateurs have paid tribute by opening a hamburger joint with a video salon. Yes, yes, everything is just like then: video previews with unforgettably boring voice of Volodarsky, collage of cans of imported coca and beer, from the poster looking into the eyes of everyone entering Jean-Claude Van Damme, taking a fighting stance, and Madonna in leaky pantyhose. No one else knows how to work so coolly with nostalgia, right down to the sign (exactly hamburgers, no one used this word (“burger”) back then). On the menu, however, there is nothing old-fashioned: out of six burgers, five have beef patty, one has a crispy chicken thigh on a light potato bun. You can take everything indiscriminately, but especially the signature bacon and baked yams burger, which moved to Petrovka from the closed Meat Puppets, so that you can sink a little bit more about the good old days. If you want something different, then the burger with crispy bacon, onion fries and chocolate BBQ sauce is very juicy, very rich and definitely unique.
Slam the burger
Old-timers remember the days when burger joints in Moscow were a trendy genre, and burger places with author recipes opened almost every month. But there has been a lull on this front for some time now, and it is all the more encouraging to see new recruits who have decided to take up burgers seriously and wholeheartedly. “Slap the Burger at Eat Market Smolenka food hall is a good-quality, Kraft-inspired burger joint: marbled beef cutlets, homemade puffed buns, large portions, criminally delicious fries, plenty of ketchup and cheese sauce, nuggets and cole slaw. Of curiosity, the Thai burger with grilled pineapple instead of tomato, the vegetarian burger with a plant-based patty, and for skinnies, the option to order any burger on half a salad. It’s important to know that Smolenka is just the first milestone of a big journey. By the end of the year, you’ll be able to grab a burger in at least five locations around the city.
Smolenskaya pl. 5, Smolensky Passage-2 shopping centre (minus 1st floor)
The café on Staraya Basmannaya seems to have been specially designed to escape the hustle and bustle of the city: an elegantly shabby interior, picked up by thread at flea markets, fragments of brickwork, palm trees in tubs and plates in a pre-revolutionary flower pattern. The menu has everything that might come to mind at the mention of ‘comfort food’ – from onion soup and beef bourguignon to fried prawns with pistachios and apple pie. The cuisine tries to impart a moderate French accent to the dishes, which is evident even in the preparation of the burger: the patty is placed on a lush brioche-like bun, tomato marmalade and bacon jam are provided instead of ketchup, and crispy pickles make you forget that you are not at all looking at dessert. The standard sweet, meat and savoury all in one works well here; it’s not for nothing that burgers are ordered at every other table.
Staraya Basmannaya 18, bld. 4
The Tipsi Pub
The atmospheric Irish pub calls its burgers legendary, and that’s not much of an exaggeration. From the five items currently on offer, you can choose from a perfectly crafted classic with a glossy and thick beef patty, a unique burger with venison, and a diet (well almost) one with chicken breast. All the burgers are served with old-fashioned care: in white porcelain plates, with exemplary, slice by slice, fries, ketchup and a whole pickle. Plus 20 beers on tap and around 160 in bottles, with an emphasis on traditional Old World brews. This, and the possibility of really good food, sets The Tipsy Pub apart from typical craft bars.
9 Suschevskaya Street
Hidden in the lanes of Maroseyka, this gastrobar is so much a place for the locals that you’re unlikely to wander in by chance, but there are plenty of reasons to drop in on purpose. Underdog started as a small window in Taganka and a food-truck with burgers and hot-dogs, which was touring the city’s food-fests. Then the flow of food festivals dried up noticeably, the guys settled down on Maroseyka and started cooking Junk food and for locals (as the sign at the entrance reads without a signboard). The menu is not large, but it lacks any platitudes, the place sells burgers with thyme, raspberries and caramelized onions, tandoor-burgers made of lamb, and they can even seal a cutlet between two doughnuts. So no one is surprised by yam fries instead of the usual potatoes any more. Another point in Underdog’s karma is the DJ nights on the patio and the in-house merch, which is the envy of streetwear brands.
Maroseyka, 6/8, pp. 1
A Belgian beer chain with branches on the outskirts and a recently opened flagship on Belorusskaya, where people go first to drink decent lambics and krieks, and, as of late, also to experience the best of Russian craft. It’s clear that the menu is entirely geared towards any kind of beer: chicken wings, mussels, tartare, smoked meats and pâtés. There’s also a straightforward burger classic: farm-raised (whatever that means) beef patty with plenty of sauces, herbs, vegetables, cheese and a generous, puffy bun. And to support the theme indicated on the sign, one of the burgers is served on lush Belgian waffles with cheddar, chanterelles and Rostov tomatoes. The waffles are not sweet, but have potatoes in them; they hold the meat juices perfectly, don’t leak like a leaky loaf and are crispier than buns.
Gruzinsky Val, 11, p. 3
A meat restaurant for those who can already tell the difference between ribeye and tibone and are willing to pay four-figure sums for dry-aged beef. In short, for meat-eating connoisseurs with money. The burgers here are also of elite category: for 2100 roubles you’ll be served a perfectly juicy and shaped cutlet made of the very expensive dry-aged beef, or rather from three different cuts, exactly according to the Heston Blumenthal precepts (google it, it’s instructive) and garnished with grape mustard. This spicy, refreshing substance of the restaurant’s own making makes the burger unique, and the overall masterful roasting and ascetic presentation is a far better representation of luxury than the habit of garnishing cutlets with edible gold in other high-end meat restaurants.
Lesnaya 9, White Gardens Business Centre, 1st floor