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Bougie Burgers 

At some of your favorite spots, there’s more between the buns than just ground beef.

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Scott Elmquist

Richmond is home to many a burger joint, each with its own take on the American staple. Which is the best? We're not here to figure that out. We're here to shine a spotlight on burgers worth ordering at spots that aren't known for their burgers.

Now, don't get us wrong — we love sharable small plates followed by a rockfish special with seasonal roasted veggies just as much as the next restaurant regular. But sometimes the day calls for a juicy, drippy, indulgent number with an embarrassingly sizable serving of fries and a side of plain ol' ketchup. Chefs at some of Richmond's most beloved restaurants, including both the longtime standbys and newer spots, have chosen to include burgers and fries on their menus, and we're here to tell you that they should not go overlooked.

Some are straightforward, classic and approachable, with familiar ingredients and the kind of comfort that only a burger and fries can deliver. Others feature more unusual ingredients, like (spoiler alert) croissant buns, ramp ranch sauce and foi gras. So the next time you make a reservation at your favorite haunt, or decide on a whim to snag a table at the trendy new place around the block, suspend any notion that you've got to spring for the seasonal special and go for the burger. It's that good.


 

click to enlarge SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

Let's Do Lunch: The Burger ($14)
Amuse

The burger at Amuse isn't available for dinner, so you've got to catch it during a weekday lunch or weekend brunch. Thick slabs of bacon and a layer of onion jam create an unusual but satisfying sweetness, with sliced Hook's cheddar and a slather of Dijon mayonnaise balancing the flavor profile. Sliced pickles come on the side, though why you'd want them anywhere other than on the burger is beyond us.

Served alongside a heap of greasy hand-cut fries, the meal is large enough to split in half. If you can resist polishing off the entire thing in one sitting, slap a fried egg on top of the leftovers the next morning and call them breakfast.


 

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  • Scott Elmquist

Best Elevated Basic: Grilled Grass-Fed Beef Burger ($16)
Secco Wine Bar

Everything about Secco is a little fancy: the wine list, the rose gold undertones of the interior, the decadent cheese boards. The burger is also, appropriately, upscale.

Chef Julie Heins has created a savory sandwich in which all the luscious flavors meld into one — nothing is distracting: not the creamy aioli, not the house-made bacon and not the pickles. It's all married seamlessly in each bite.

It also checks many bougie burger boxes: smooth texture, crumbly brioche, juice dripping from the grass-fed beef, grilled to a sublime medium. Take note of the fries, too, which almost upstage the whole thing with a memorable dusting of chopped chives, something I didn't know I needed on fried potatoes.


 

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  • Scott Elmquist

Most Bougie: Barnyard Burger ($21)
Lemaire

Nothing says "burger" quite like goose liver, am I right? Even the white-tablecloth destination inside the Jefferson Hotel serves up this American classic, with some truly exquisite accouterments on a brioche bun. Ground filet mignon is topped with aged white cheddar, bacon from Edwards Virginia Smokehouse and a gently fried sunny-side-up, making it a decadent experience already. But it's the foie gras, emulsified with cream, veal stock and brandy, that takes this burger over the top. Created by chef Walter Bundy, now at Shagbark, about a decade ago, it›s one of the longest-standing menu items at Lemaire. 

It›s a luxurious burger that makes a statement, and unlike all the others on this list, it doesn›t come with a mountain of french fries. Instead, slow-cooked collard greens with apple-cider vinegar and chili flakes serve as sidekick. Chef Patrick Willis, who›s been at Lemaire since 2009, says the greens «just sort of cut through that richness of the burger.» 

Also worth mentioning is the Lounge Burger, only available at Lemaire›s bar. At $16, the same ground tenderloin, cheddar and bun are joined by arugula, tomato marmalade and grilled yellow onions. And yes, you can get fries with that. 


 

click to enlarge SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

Most Memorable: Saison Burger ($15)
Saison

If you can, be sure to order this one without any eliminations or substitutions. It'll be love at first bite.

What's the difference? It's all the things. The bun is buttery and soft, reminiscent of one you may find enclosing a fast-food burger, but fresher and more luscious. The proportions are right. But it is the flavor profile and topping combination that punches this to the top of the list. House-smoked American cheese (yes, really, and it's gooey and melted), ramp ranch sauce, a crisp piece of bibb lettuce and a few pickle thins don't overpower the beef. It's bold, it's weird and it works.

Categorized as one of Saison's large plates, the burger is served with our idea of perfect french fries: greasy, but firmly crisp, and served with a wildly addictive and fragrant citrus dip, giving the whole dish the tasty balance of a chemical equation.


 

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  • Scott Elmquist

Give the People What They Want: Double Cheeseburger ($14)
The Roosevelt

The double cheeseburger at this Church Hill staple is exactly what you want it to be. An elevated version of chef Matt Kirwan's favorite fast food burger from Shake Shack, the sandwich is hefty, juicy and simple. Melty slices of American cheese top each 4-ounce patty of Seven Hills Farm beef, and the only other toppings between the brioche buns are a bacon jam and tangy rooster sauce, an aioli made with house hot sauce, pickling liquid and spices.  

And let's talk about these fries. Once again leaning into the guilty pleasures, the mound of shoestring-cut french fries are hot, crispy, sprinkled generously with salt and barbecue seasoning and served with a ramekin of ketchup.  

According to Kirwan, there was no question whether he'd keep a burger on the menu when he took over the kitchen at the Roosevelt because "so often you get people coming in to dine who are just looking for a burger and a beer." 


 

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  • Scott Elmquist

Best Bang for Your Buck: Double Cheeseburger ($12)
Laura Lee's

Laura Lee's, the homey nook of Westover Hills, always brings the Southern simplicity of thoughtful food, plus an innovative cocktail program and superlative service. And, turns out, the burger is one of the best values in town.

The two patties, each cooked to a faintly pink center, are topped with melted American cheese, kimchi mayo and a greens mix that gives it a grassy edge. The mayo supplies a zesty vinegar flavor, and the patties are some of the juiciest I have encountered. The brioche is left pure, not toasted or buttered, and toppings include curtido, a lightly fermented cabbage relish popular in Central America, Japanese mayo, and melty American cheese. For an extra $2.50 you can spring for house-cured bacon. The serving of fries on the side is gargantuan. They're almost as thick as potato wedges, given a soft oven bake — no trace of grease here — and loaded with flaky salt and ground pepper.

It may not warrant abandoning other outstanding options every time, but like the restaurant itself, this burger is a delight.


click to enlarge SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

Most Elegant: Le Foushee Burger ($16)
Chez Foushee

A sunny-side-up egg heightens just about any dish, and the steak burger at Chez Foushee is no exception. The delicately fried egg joins a thick patty of ground steak with caramelized onions, melted brie and bacon lardons on a — wait for it — buttery, flaky croissant bun. Keep the napkin handy because the runny yolk unapologetically drips down the sides as it ties the whole thing together.

The server will ask if you'd like to turn those hand-cut fries into truffle fries with a generous sprinkling of truffle salt and fresh herbs for an extra $2. The answer is yes, yes you would.

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