Wednesday, July 9, 2008


I have a confession that I know will earn me much derision but . . . honesty first. Deep breath. I am underwhelmed by Five Guys.

I love the idea of Five Guys. I like the theater of Five Guys. But in the end, I think the food is just OK. And when it comes to a quintessential American food in the nation’s capital, “just OK” just ain’t as good as we deserve.

I think it’s easy in a landscape totally dominated by burger-as-manufactured-item to get really excited over any venue where you can see actual human beings actually cooking your burger - and Five Guys gets deserved props there. But the end results should, in my option, be better: even at a sub-$10 price point, even at fast-food speeds. It’s a burger for goodness sake. I shouldn’t have to spend $35 and make a reservation to get a good one.

Well, it seems that Michael Landrum (of Ray’s the Steaks in Arlington and Ray’s the Classics in Silver Spring) may just agree, if my meal last night at Ray’s Hell-Burger (aka, Butcher Burgers, 1713 Wilson Blvd.; 703-841-0001) is any indication.

Bottom line up front:

Damn! For $7, Ray’s Hell-Burger is serving up the burger I’ve been waiting for. This is it.


We walked in ~ 8:15pm on Tuesday night and there was a (fast moving) line to order. The nine-ish small tables and three standing tables were all full and there was a brisk take-out trade happening as well. The “atmosphere” as such included a lot of expectant people, bare walls, the smells and sounds of grilling meat, and a slamming kitchen.

The menu consisted of a chalk board listing cooking temperatures, another listing free toppings (including sautéed mushrooms, grilled onions, charred jalapeños, etc.), and then one with the toppings they charge for (lots of different cheeses, bacon, guacamole, etc.).

That’s basically it since this place serves one thing: 10oz open fire grilled burgers. As we got closer to the counter, we could clearly see a dude trimming and grinding beef that was then formed into patties to hand off to the grillman. A burger joint owned by a guy who runs a steak-house is clearly not a bad thing.

Two significant limitations became rapidly apparent. There’s no beer and there are no fries. Call it focus or oversight, but there it is. We grabbed a pitcher of draft root beer (gotta like that) and a bag of chips. We never opened the chips.

Each burger came on a platter with lettuce, tomato, a small ear of (quite fresh) corn, and a wedge of watermelon. A knife but no fork accompanied each. I tried VERY hard to stick to basics so I could understand if they were getting the burger itself right. I ordered mine with a slice of Vermont white cheddar and grilled red onions. Fantastically good. While the quality and freshness of the meat is key, they are also taking care to form the patties GENTLY, without crushing the freshly ground product into a tight brick. This allows you to appreciate the texture of the burger. My buddy TK chose the Au Poivre version with bacon and even with these complicating flavors, the quality of the underlying burger shone through.

They’re open Monday through Friday from 5pm and Saturday and Sunday from 12pm. They’re open as late as there’s business. Go now before word spreads further and the lines grow larger.