May is National Hamburger Month, and the burger-lovers at A Hamburger Today requested that I compile a “Best Of” list for the occasion. Since I call myself both Famous Fat Dave and The Hungry Cabbie, I thought I might transform “AHamburgerToday” into “ThreeHamburgersToday” for this exercise. So I spent an entire shift in the yellow cab searching for good New York burgers. I ate one for breakfast, one for lunch, and one for dinner. And here you have it: The Hungry Cabbie’s picks for “Best Three Hamburgers” of the day, as recommended by my fares.
My first fare of the day, at 5:15 pm when traffic is at its worst, was a New Jersey soccer mom rushing home to pick up her kids. She asked if I would take her through the Lincoln Tunnel to Clifton, New Jersey. This is a fare that is incredibly time-consuming, and it is not required by law that I go to New Jersey (unless it is to Newark Airport). Usually when people request it, I decline and tell them NJ Transit would be faster.
However, I had already decided to go where the day took me and let fate decide which burgers would reach my eager belly. So I took her. And when I told her that I was really in the mood for a burger, she said there were a couple local places, but she couldn’t think of one tastier than the Red Robin Bacon Cheeseburger with onion straws at The Red Robin.
The Red Robin is a national chain along the lines of T.G.I.Friday’s or Ruby Tuesday’s, but not so obnoxious. I’d never heard of it much less been to one, but, apparently, I had been missing out. They have 25 different kinds of burgers, bottomless fountain drinks, and all-u-can-eat steak fries. Happy memories of Fuddruckers burger feasts on summer Saturdays after swim meets came rushing back to me, and I made my way there with a wide smile of anticipation on my face.
Although I could see the Empire State Building from the edge of the parking lot on Route 3, the Red Robin felt decidedly suburban. There was the teenage hostess who clearly said the same exact thing to everyone, the New Jersey radio station playing only the whitest hits, and the customers wearing fleeces and jean shorts. It seemed like middle America.
When my burger came my mouth began to water, and not just because it was 6 pm and I hadn’t eaten yet. It looked beautiful. It was big, but not overwhelming. It was loaded with toppings, but the burger was clearly the star.
And once I took a bite, I felt beautiful. The salty onion rings that came piled onto the bottom bun were a perfect complement to the hickory maple-smoked bacon and juicy burger. I had taken a chance on the suburbs, and it had paid off in a big way. My first burger of the day was a resounding success.
(Kicking off my shift right with my first bite of burger)
Getting back into the city, however, was a nightmare. I sat in traffic for over an hour, affording me time take in some great views of the skyline:
but killing any chance I had to make good money on the shift. By the time I got back, the rush hour was long over, and fares were scarce.
After a few fares who had no clue as to where to find a good burger, I picked up a glowingly happy couple on their way to a Broadway show. They were from Australia, Tasmania to be exact, and they were honeymooning for six months in America. They had come through Hawaii, California, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Florida, and Washington, and they were nearing the end of their trip here in New York.
I assumed they wouldn’t know any burger place since they were just tourists, but I asked them anyway. Thank God I did. They told me that every Australian in New York, whether living here or just passing through, goes to Ruby’s on Mulberry Street. Owned by a couple of expatriate Aussies, Ruby’s serves fantastic burgers and great coffee as well. They told me they’d been looking forward to a meal at Ruby’s their entire honeymoon, and when they made it there, they were not disappointed.
(You could tell this guy is a real Aussie by his accent and his smile)
Once I drove back downtown, I took their advice and ordered a “Whaley’s.” It came on baguette-like bread with a fried egg, pineapple, and beets (apparently, Aussies all grow up eating beets). I was skeptical, about the beets in particular, but the moment I took my first bite I was consumed with that rare feeling I get when I taste something so delicious that I get angry with myself for not having eaten it before.
The ground beef was so tasty that not only did my saliva glands switch into overdrive, but my tear ducts began to work. I can honestly say that the “Whaley’s” burger brought me to tears. The fried egg was genius, and the beets made me a believer. My only complaint was that the burger patty was smaller than the bread, leaving the last couple bites meatless.
The cappuccino made up for this one small negative though. I am not a coffee drinker because I’m worried about getting addicted to the caffeine, but Ruby’s coffee was so good it made me reconsider my lifestyle.
For the rest of the night, I couldn’t get a recommendation out of anyone. I started to think I’d failed my ThreeHamburgersToday adventure when I saw it was 2 am and the streets were growing desolate. I considered quitting and just going to Corner Bistro because I was hungry again. On my way crosstown, I was hailed on Christopher Street and Bleeker by a Dominican transvestite hooker and her pimp. They told me to go to Washington Heights, but we immediately got stuck in a traffic jam on Christopher Street.
At that point, a bunch of transvestite hookers recognized my fares and came over to chat with them at the backseat window. One of them, seemingly the queen bee, caught my eye and stood up from the window. She announced loudly, in a comically, Rosie Perez-esque accent, “LOOK AT THE CUTE WHITE CAB DRIVAUH. . . mmm, mmm, mmm, mmMM, MMMMM! You guuuuys. Oooooooh girls. Look at the CUTE WHITE CAB DRIVAUUUH!” I waved hello to the group.
She leaned into the frontseat window and asked, “Do you like girls? I’m a girl. Do you like me?” The traffic jam let up at that moment, and she rapidly said, “My name is Angelina, my number is 6464966540, I HAVE A PUSSY,” at which point she stood up and hoisted her camel-toed crotch onto the window sill to prove that she didn’t have a penis (unlike, presumably, the others in the group).
I can’t say that got me in the mood for another hamburger, but it did create a friendly rapport between me and my transvestite fare. I asked her if there was any place for a burger in her neighborhood at that hour, and she told me to get a chimichurri at the Dominican pork truck on 155th Street and Broadway. “Actually, I think I want one too,” she said.
So there I was, waiting in line with a transvestite hooker and her pimp at the Dominican pork truck in Washington Heights. I thought to myself, it’s moments like this that remind me how much I love driving a yellow cab.
The pimp bought me a $3 chimichurri as my tip, and I was very thankful. They told me everyone up in Washington Heights eat “chimis” late night, kind of the way people downtown get a slice of pizza. The crowd on the sidewalk was boisterous and rowdy, and my presence did not go unnoticed. But I wasn’t nervous because the pimp was with me (rather I was with the pimp), and I figured he wouldn’t let anything happen to me.
(The chimi lady liked me too)
My chimi was incredible. It was actually reminiscent of the Ruby’s burger in that it came on long bread rather than a bun and the meat was much more flavorful than your average ground beef. But whereas Ruby’s meat tasted so good because it was extremely high quality, the chimi was so tasty because they seasoned the low quality meat beyond recognition.
My Spanish isn’t particularly good, but I’m pretty sure it was beef and I’m positive they offered a chicken option (as did Ruby’s). I watched as she pressed it on the grill and loaded it with chopped red onions and shredded cabbage. But the defining characteristic was the sauce, a combination of Russian dressing (giving it a vague Big Mac quality), ketchup, mustard, and hot sauce that all liquified during the heating process. It was a mess, but my chimi was absolutely delicious.
I bid my new friends farewell, and headed back to the garage. Pleased with myself just for finding three new burgers in one day, I crossed the 59th Street Bridge feeling groovy (and a little queasy).
Here’s wishing you and yours a healthy and happy National Hamburger Month. So go out and celebrate today with a hamburger (or three).
Check out http://www.ahamburgertoday.com for everything you ever wanted to know about burger but were afraid to ask
Red Robin, 265 State Route 3, Clifton, New Jersey
Ruby’s, Mulberry between Spring and Prince, Little Italy, Manhattan
Dominican Pork Truck, usually parked at 155th Street and Amsterdam, Washington Heights, Manhattan (there are many others)
Check out http://www.famousfatdave.com for a chuckle or to book an eating tour