Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Brewsta's Burgers 2016

"I always say, 'Eat clean to stay fit, have a burger to stay sane.'" Gigi Hadid
Like pizza and sushi, burgers are one of those far-flung foods. They're just one of those easy to eat creations that hit a lot of pleasure points and are adopted as fast, fun fare around the globe. And I've traveled the world to try them.

One of my earliest fast food memories was eating at White Castle (of Harold and Kumar fame) in New York. I've sampled the famously expensive DB Burger by Daniel Boulud, the BLT Burgers by Laurent Tourondel, and the classics at Shake Shack's original location. In Washington, I ate countless times at Five Guys and BRGR. In California, I hit Umami Burger and In-N-Out Burger. In London, I tried Byron (before it got all controversial). In Vegas, I enjoyed Gordon Ramsay's BURGR.

Prague is a burgeoning burger town, and I tried 30 for 2016. It was the best year yet for quality, and I can recommend the top 17 from my list below. As I present my ninth annual burger ranking, I'll do my best to explain what sets one above another for me.

It must always be pointed out that there is no such thing as "the best" for everyone. This is a subjective endeavor, based on my personal tastes and a hell of a lot of obsession-driven experience.

I prefer beef that is flame-grilled or griddled with a seared crust, cooked medium, and liberally salted. I like lightly crisp, smoked bacon. Toppings are better on the top or the side and should be sliced thin. On the bottom, they get warm and soggy.

Buns are important. They must be toasted and hold together but not too dense. Well-balanced construction counts. The most important factor is the right quality and grind of beef -- coarse, not too fine -- with a fat content of at least 20 percent.

If the burgers got better, worse, or changed significantly the week after I was there, that's too bad. They are rated as eaten. If you have a different opinion, that's great, but remember, you didn't eat the burger I ate on the day I was there.

Almost half of the burgers on this list were new to me. Some from previous years had to be skipped for reasons of time, space, and health (my cholesterol hit "borderline high" this year). This year, I crossed off previous losers and didn't get to a few good ones, mainly for lack of time.

Here now are Brewsta's Burgers 2016, from worst to first:

30. Hot Pepper Pub
This place opened in Vršovice early in 2016.  The bun was a travesty, and it wasn't just ugly. The toppings were tossed on haphazardly. The patty tasted like meatloaf. After I posted about it on Facebook, the restaurant's owner wrote to say that their regular chef wasn't working the night I went, so the burger was all wrong. That may be, but they charged me 175 CZK just the same. I was urged to return and have it prepared properly, but I never made it back.

29. Next Door By Imperial
The Organic Burger with Parmesan sounds fancy. And they charge a fancy price. It was 260 CZK, plus 65 CZK for fries. One expects excellence from a famous chef like Zdeněk Pohlreich. But this pretentious burger had no true charm. I sent the first one back because the meat was barely room temperature, and the bun was cold. Even if I consider only the second burger, which was warm, but not hot, I did not like it. The patty was dry and underseasoned. It may be high-quality ground beef, but it lacked the fat content to give it the right texture and flavor. The patty dripped juice, but was dry inside. The tomato confit was similar to sun-dried tomato spread. There was scattering of cheese that looked more like a few little snowflakes. The whole thing was bland. I added so many twists from the salt and pepper grinders, I felt a case of carpal tunnel coming on. The large bun was dense and spongy. I got bored with all the chewing and did not finish it. The only real positive: the fries were great. For this kind of money, I expect to smile at more than just the fancy room.

28. Havana Grill
I LOVE the steak sandwich at Havana Grill. I highly recommend you check out this hole-in-the wall South American meat spot near Náměstí Míru. One of the best quick, cheap beef bites in town. But the burger? No love. The beef-pork patty had a decent flavor but also a rubbery texture. I can't abide rubbery. I'm not a big fan of hammy bacon either. 155 CZK.

27. Blue Burger Bar
There are a lot of food options if you are hanging out along the river at Žluté lázně. I'd recommend you skip this one. The biggest problem was the chalky texture and acrid flavor of the ground beef. The processed cheese had no character. There was lots of mayo and a small amount of crisp bacon, but they didn't cover up the sins of their Classic Burger. It did have a good, buttery bun. It would be better if you were drunk. 185 CZK with decent curly fries.

26. Sale and Pepe
This burger was served at the Sale and Pepe food stand during a festival at Naplavka. The main positive here was the smoky, grilled flavor of the meat. The main negative was that the patty was seriously overcooked, too dense, and chewy. The bacon was undercooked. I don't recall the price.

25. Tobruk
The Beef Bacon Burger's patty was packed too tightly, overground and rubbery. I liked the smoky, crisp bacon and the tangy cheddar. It had quite sweet caramelized onions, celery-caper mayo, lettuce, and tomato. The homemade bun was a bit stale. A friend recommended this cute neighborhood bistro, but I left disappointed. 190 CZK with fries.

24. Burger King
You will find Burger King on this list every year. In the science of burger rankings, this is what is known as a "control." It's a known quantity and quality (or lack thereof). My annual point is this: If I like a BK burger more than the offering at a real, full-service restaurant, the owners and cooks should rethink what they are doing. It is also on the list to annoy the humorless people who take these things too seriously. Outraged comments about the inclusion of Burger King on the list amuse me greatly. I went for the Angus XT again this year. And again, I did not like it much. The patty was mushy and dry. The barbecue sauce was cloying. The bun was crumbly. 189 CZK with fries and a Coke.

23. Hillbilly
A recommendation brought me to Holešovice to try the Hillbilly Burger. The place was packed and had a modern, friendly vibe. The peppery patty was tall, not so wide, and draped in tangy melted cheese. The ground beef had big, chewy pieces in it and was cooked barely medium. It was a sloppy thing to eat. Lots of juices squirted out on the first bite, but the interior was on the dry side. The bacon was rather burnt. I'm not a big fan of rucola on burgers. The pickles were great, but the raw onion was overpowering. 159 CZK with good fries. Thanks to Sandra Trávničková for donating her photo of the burger here -- I forgot to take one.

22. Mozaika Burger and Co.
I had the Bacon Cheeseburger, which I believe used to be called the Krystal. It had a thick patty, with a good grind, but I don't think the fat content was high enough. The beef was tightly packed, chewy, and I thought the salt levels were too high. It was cooked medium. The bun was too dense. I loved the sweet and sour pickles on it, and their crispy bacon was incredibly good. There was lots of mayo, plus shredded lettuce. It was very messy to eat. I asked for additional ketchup. It was homemade, which was OK but not as good as Heinz in my book (nothing is). The condiment cost a soul-crushing 35 CZK. The burger was 214 CZK, and fries were an extra 49 CZK. The place was packed when I was there, and lots of people clearly like it, but it just didn’t do it for me.

21. T-Anker 
This rooftop spot, accessed via a grungy, small elevator next to the Kotva department store, has one of the best views of Prague's Old Town. In the warm-weather months, it is hard to get table up there without a reservation. Their burger was cooked over flame, giving it a lovely backyard barbecue flavor. Unfortunately, the ground beef was not of the highest quality, and quite chewy. At 269 CZK with fries, it wasn't cheap, but I'd get it again next summer.

20. Restaurace Jáma
I had the 200-gram burger earlier this year (though the internet menu now lists the burger weights at 180 grams and 270 grams). The bacon was cooked properly and was crispy but not smoky. The gooey cheese didn't have much flavor beyond salt. The patty was also very salty and had an odd seasoning I couldn't identify. Adding ketchup helped balance it out. There was lots of mayo. The lettuce wilted under the hot meat. The bun was nice, but it was not well-toasted. It was super messy to eat. 195 CZK including fries.

19. Summa Cum Laude 
The burger was well-constructed. It was made with good ground beef, seasoned with salt. However, the patty was too dense and chewy. The toasted bun was a bit stale, but it held everything together well. The melted yellow cheese slice didn't have much character. The bacon was soft and hammy, but it did have a good smoky flavor. There was a ketchup-mayo sauce on it, and I really liked the sliced pickles. 185 CZK  plus 55 CZK, for the fries but I really didn't like those. They tasted like they were fried in old oil.

18. Mad Dog Bistro
This burger and dog spot took a summer break and never came back. It's too bad, because they made a tasty, well-constructed burger. The cheese melted into the patty. It was made with great beef, which was tender, but the grind was a little too fine. Enjoyed the crispy, chewy bacon. The onion and tomato were sliced thin, for easy eating. The bun was a little too tall and bready. It was 144 CZK, but it is no longer available. The space on Vinohradska was taken over by WingHaus.

17. Naše maso
This tiny butchery is popular with locals and tourists alike. Just getting in the door can be a challenge at peak times. I bought ground beef patties there and made amazing burgers on my grill at home. I'm just not a huge fan of the burger they serve in the cramped shop. Their meat is generally excellent, but my burger came out pretty rare, with a cool center and a big piece of gristle. It's not very large. They served it, as always, on a small Czech poppy roll, not a burger bun. It was topped with onion, and I swapped their standard mustard for their fairly bland homemade ketchup. Overall, it's worth trying, but I just can't feel big love.

16. Beef Bar
The dedicated beef restaurant opened this year near the Tesco at Národní. The flame-grilled flavor of the meat was my favorite part of the experience. The high-quality beef had a good, coarse grind. The thin patty was cooked medium. The large brioche-style bun was spongy. The cheese was rather bland. There was lettuce, chopped onion, mustard, and a tiny bit of ketchup. They charged for the extra ketchup I got. The pickles were cut too thick and they threw the lettuce on in a haphazard way. The 100-gram burger was 165 CZK with fries. They also do a 200-gram burger for 265 CZK.

15. Sweet and Pepper Days
I had the "mini burgers" here. They also have full-sized burgers, but I prefer the smaller size. The ones I had at the beginning of the year were just OK. The one I had in November was much better. So consistency was an issue. The last one had a good coarse grind on the beef, which picked up nice flavor from the grill. It was cooked all the way through, not medium. It was a bit dry inside. The bun was baked, not toasted, so it was also dry, and the outside flaked. There was lots of mayo. There was lovely, crispy, salty bacon. I really liked the sharp, tangy cheddar. It also had red onion, tomato, and lettuce. Construction could be better -- lettuce sometime stuck out awkwardly. 89 CZK for one, 169 CZK for two.

14. Beckett's Irish Pub
I give extra credit to burgers that taste like they've touched flame, and this one had it. It was cooked a perfect medium, though the grind was too fine and the fat content too low. Still, it was tender and easy to bite. The cheddar picked up some of the smoke from the meat. There was excellent smoky, crispy bacon. The burger came with an onion jam that I found a little too sweet. Adding the salty mayo-based sauce on the side balanced it a bit. They gave me a bottle of Heinz ketchup, but I didn't want to add to the sweetness. They didn't serve it with frills like lettuce, tomatoes, or pickles. The thing that set this burger back most was that the top of the bun was charred black underneath. It cost 245 CZK, including homemade fries that were undercooked and soft. I went another time, and they were crunchy and much better.

13. Burger Bar
The Cheeseburger here was one of my top favorites last year. This year's version had less of a grilled flavor I loved so much. Still, they make it with quality beef and a proper, coarse grind. The relatively thin patty was cooked medium. The bacon was smoky but soft and hammy. It had mustard and a tiny bit of ketchup, plus chopped onion, and pickles sliced too thick. The brioche bun was large and spongy. Cheddar was listed as the cheese, but it was fairly bland. Overall, pretty good. 145 CZK, with an extra charge of 45 CZK for fries and a small salad. Ketchup costs extra.

12. Meat and Greet Burgerhouse
This place was started by alumni from Dish. I had the MAG Burger. The well-salted patty was very juicy and cooked medium. The very soft bun held together throughout. The bacon had some crispness, though a burger I had earlier in the year had more ham-like bacon. The "gratinated" tomatoes gave it a lightly sweet note. Their homemade ketchup was more like sweet tomato sauce. There was garlic mayo. The heavy saltiness had me wishing for tart pickles to balance it. The MAG Burger was 185 CZK. Fries were 45 CZK extra. Ordering extra ketchup to go with fries cost 29 CZK.

11. Maso a Kobliha
The Dirty Burger was a Saturday night special and not on the regular menu. It had two outstanding things going for it. One was the great, funky flavor of the dry-aged ground beef from Real Meat Society, which is also owned by Chef Paul Day. The other was the pillowy, toasted potato roll. I'm still dreaming about its buttery goodness. The patty was cooked medium, and the grind was just right. It was topped with melted cheddar, chopped, fried onion, pickles, and soft bacon. I wished the flavors of the bacon and pickles were more assertive. I added a touch of ketchup to give the burger some tangy sweetness. Size-wise, I'd say it was a small burger or a large slider. It was served in a paper bag with fried potato strings that weren't so easy to eat. 195 CZK.

10. BlackDog Cantina Prague
I had the American Dream Burger. There was high-quality ground beef with the right grind. The patty had a peppery flavor. When combined with the Sriracha mayo, there was a spicy kick. The meat was cooked all the way through, not medium as requested. This burger dripped quite a lot on the plate. They used a buttery bun that was well-toasted and held the hefty burger together. It had shredded lettuce, tomato, red onion, and long pickle slices. The very smoky bacon was delicious. I didn't write down the price, and it was not listed on the Prague online menu. But it said their burgers were between 185 CZK and 255 CZK.

9. The Tavern
The Classic Bacon-Cheddar was good and messy. First, let me say, their bacon was awesome -- crispy and smoky. They use good, tangy cheddar. Their patty was loosely packed, ground coarsely, and easy to bite. The thin patty was cooked medium. It normally comes with mustard, ketchup, and mayo, which was always too much for me. This year, I remembered that and had them leave off the mustard. There was still a ton of mayo, though. Shredded lettuce helped balance the construction -- no awkward lettuce sticking out. The bun was better and didn't seem heavily steamed as it did before. Great pickles on there. 219 CZK plus 49 CZK for fries.

8. Urban Stay Cafe
The burger was built beautifully. The blend of chuck, brisket, and rib meat from Czech Angus was ground in-house. The thin patty had a great sear from the grill, keeping it juicy on the inside. The bacon was crisp, the tomato was sliced super thin, and the cheddar was sharp. The brioche bun was made on the premises. The hint of star anise in the onion chutney didn't work for me, and the burger wasn't hot enough the first time I was there. Both of those issues were corrected on later visits. Sad to say, Urban Stay Cafe went away at the end of 2016. I'm a real fan of Chef Luigi Falcone. He's a master of the kitchen, who clearly puts creativity, passion, and hard work into his food. You can taste the love. I hope he'll do something else in Prague someday.

7. Nejen Bistro
The star attraction of their Black Angus Burger was the intensely smoked flavor of the ground beef prepared on their Josper grill. The loosely packed, coarsely ground patty had the right fat content. The only issue was it was cooked well done instead of the requested medium. There was seasoning in the meat that I couldn't identify and that made the flavor less classic. They used great cheddar and a quality bun. It was topped with sweet, caramelized onions, and a little too much salty mayo. This tall burger was very messy to eat. As good as it was, I still thought it could be better with bacon, which was not an option. It was 195 CZK when I had it early in 2016, but the online menu says it is now 229 CZK. Comes with great fries.

6. Cafe Palanda
This place is super popular, and I was turned away once for lack of a reservation. That was how I ended up at Next Door by Imperial, and you know how that ended. The Royal Bacon Cheeseburger had top-notch bacon, crispy and smoky. And there was plenty of it. It was really good, except for one cold strip that slipped out from under the bun. The patty had a satisfying, coarse grind, and the clear, beefy flavor was brought up by the right salt levels. It had a well-made, toasted brioche bun, but the outside flaked off a bit, like it had been warmed up in the oven. They didn't go overboard with the herb mayo or the homemade ketchup. There was just enough. The cheese didn't make much of an impression, but the assertive sour pickles did. The burger didn't come with lettuce or tomato, and I didn't miss them. It did include crispy, fried onions that were overcooked and chewy. 175 CZK for just the burger, 209 CZK with fries and slaw included.

5. George Prime Steak
The GPS Burger, available only in the bar, was the most expensive of the year. It was also very good. It was well-constructed, everything in balance, resulting in a handsome burger. The toppings -- sour pickles, tomato, and onion -- were thinly-sliced. The grind of the beef was too fine, but the patty was tender, not too tightly-packed, with nice fat content. It was juicy. I wished for more flavor from the grill, which was present in last year's burger. The chipotle mayo caused a satisfying heat to build. The cheddar was sharp, and the buttery brioche bun held it all together. The bacon was glazed with maple syrup, giving it a terrific sweet and salty character. The price was 375 CZK, which included my favorite fries of the year.

4. Dish Fine Burger Bistro
I think the owner of dish has traveled the world in search of great burgers. Their offerings remind me a lot of Umami Burger, which originated in California. The Dish Burger's relatively thin patty was cooked medium. I've sat at the bar many times, watched the raw patties being thrown on the grill, and seen that they had good levels of fat mixed in there. The grind was coarse, and there was no gristle like I've had there in previous years. The patty, with a hint of char from the grill, dripped quite a lot of juices on the plate but remained moist inside. It had tomatoey homemade ketchup and too much garlicky mayo, which overshadows the flavor of the beef. Their crispy, salty bacon had a lightly smoked flavor. The very melted cheese didn't stand out much. They always place their lettuce carefully so it looks good and doesn't stick out too much. I really liked the sweet and sour pickles they use, which cut through the saltiness of the burger. Overall, it was the most balanced, well-built, and easy-to-eat burger. It was 209 CZK when I had it, but the online menu now says 215 CZK.

3. U Kurelů
Ironically, I liked the Tavern Classic Bacon-Cheddar Burger here more than I did at The Tavern. They're both owned by the same American couple, and both burgers were good. This one was just more satisfying. It was certainly not the prettiest, with all that bacon sticking out everywhere. But oh, what great bacon it was. And it might have been the most bacon I'd had on any burger. I had to break the long strips in half and place them in a more orderly way on the burger, which was a messy business. But once done, it was a bacon burger bomb. The cheese was also the most cheddary I can recall. I got it without the usual mustard -- just ketchup and mayo. The quality ground beef, with a respectable fat content, was cooked medium. Sour pickles punched up the flavor. Except for the bacon and an excess of mayo, the construction was good. The poppy seed bun was a good one, but needed a better toasting. The patty sat on shredded lettuce, and there was raw red onion on the side. 219 CZK and fries were 45 CZK extra.

2. Bad Jeff's Barbeque
A lot of thought and love went into the creation of this burger. The custom blend of beef is ground in-house. The patty, cooked medium, picked up great flavor from the grill. The aged cheddar did not have a strong flavor on its own, but picked up some smokiness from the meat. The fat content was at least 20 percent, making it quite juicy and tender, but also very drippy while eating. The coarse grind was on the mark. The bacon was perfectly crispy. The brioche bun was just right. There was mayo on the bottom and mustard on the top. I really liked that the cool toppings -- shredded lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, and pickles -- were prepared in proper proportions, and kept separate from the hot meat. They put a bottle of Heinz ketchup on the table for you, no extra charge. I added some. The cost was 269 CZK, and included nice curly fries.

1. Mr. HotDog
One big factor helps me decide on my favorite burger or, in this case, a slider. And that is how often I return for more. Burger fatigue set in many times, and yet I found myself craving Mr. HotDog's offerings on a regular basis -- more than any other burger. Even though I live on the other side of town, time and distance did not deter me. Their Bacon Cheese Slider was just so classic, I found it addictive. The ground beef had a great grind, juicy fat content, and the right salt levels. The salty cheese melted off the side of the patty, forming a little crust. The combination of their tangy slider sauce and sour pickle slices balanced the savory side. Shredded lettuce and diced red onions added crunch and punch. They bake their lovely little buns in-house. I added a little ketchup, provided gratis in a red squeeze bottle. I also like their snappy dogs and special offers, including Thai soups and occasional lobster roll Sundays. I think it's a cool place run by people who know how to cook. And they make some killer cocktails for around 100 CZK. It's not big, it's not fancy, but it was my infatuation this year. One Bacon Cheese Slider was 89 CZK, two were 169 CZK, and three were 219 CZK. A side of good, McDonald's-style fries costs 39 CZK, and a full basket was 79 CZK.

That's my list for 2016. Feel free to agree, disagree, and/or share your own rankings in the comments.

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Monday, May 30, 2016

Follow Czech Please on Social Media

Dear readers,

I decided to stop posting to this blog at the end of 2013. The good news is that I am still posting regularly on my Czech Please FaceBook and Czech Please Twitter pages (links embedded here).

I'm still regularly posting photos and comments about my latest eating adventures, mini-reviews, as well as all the links I can find related to food and drink in Prague and sometimes beyond.

It was a great seven years of blogging, but it was time to move on to new pastures and media.

- Brewsta

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Brewsta's Burgers 2015

"It requires a certain kind of mind to see beauty in a hamburger bun." - Ray Kroc
When you eat 30 different burgers in search of the Holy Grill, certain things become apparent.

First, there is clearly something wrong with me. This mad annual quest, my eighth, is the definition of an unhealthy obsession.

Second, although I hit my new record for burgers sampled in a year, I did not achieve greater burger wisdom. My goal has always been to eat fewer lousy burgers. Despite my best efforts -- reading online reviews and following recommendations -- I ate too many space wasters.

I must always remind readers that this is not a list of Prague's "best" burgers. I don't think anyone can credibly claim something is the best for everyone. Rather, it is a subjective survey of the ones I ate and either liked or disliked, based on my personal taste.

So, what does that mean? I prefer beef flame-grilled or griddled with a seared crust, cooked medium, and seasoned with salt. I prefer lightly crisp bacon. Toppings are better on the top or the side. On the bottom, they get hot and soggy. Buns matter. A lot. They must hold together but not be too dense. Proportionate construction counts. The most important factor is the right quality and grind of beef, coarse, not too fine, with a fat content about 20 percent.

If the burgers got better, worse, or changed significantly the week after I was there, that's too bad. They are rated as eaten. If you have a different opinion, that's great, but remember, you didn't eat the burger I ate on the day I was there.

Almost half this list is burgers that have never been ranked before. Many well-known burgers ranked in previous years had to be dropped so that a non-lethal number could be eaten. This year, I went in new directions in more ways than one.

Here we go, from my worst to my first:

Their American Classic Burger is quite un-American. The overseasoned, salty meat was served on the strangest bun. It was more like a pita, and it fell to pieces. There were whole pickles, sliced in half, and processed cheese. It also had lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, mustard and ketchup. The bacon had little flavor and the cheese was bland. The included fries were soggy. It took one hour to reach the table, and we were the only ones in the place. On the bright side, service at this Prague 7 spot near Letna was friendly, if glacially slow. We did get a warm reception from the resident pit bull, Lotar, who obligingly helped finish the last quarter of the burger I didn't want. 175 CZK.

They say the menu is "American influenced" and, indeed, it is filled with options like mac and cheese, a club sandwich, a Cobb salad, and wings. I haven't tried those, but the Classic Globe Cheeseburger I had back in May was under the wrong influence. The thin patty had the consistency of meatloaf. Its soft texture was like beefy mashed potatoes. The bun was wide and similar to those found at Burger King. It had good, crispy bacon, plus lettuce, tomato, red onion, and a slice of processed cheese. It came with good fries. 180 CZK.

I tried the bacon cheeseburger shortly after the opening of the new Prague 1 location. The loosely-packed patty was barely warm and mostly raw. The grind was too fine. They served it on a small, sad, Tesco-style bun. The bacon was the worst -- overcooked and dried out planks. It came with lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, and mustard. One positive point was the great, smoky cheddar. But the restaurant was also filled with terrible, smoky air. 189 CZK, plus 39 CZK for fries.

For years, this location served a top-tier burger with smoky beef and a classic American style. This year, some genius decided to improve it, but ended up ruining it. The flame-grilled flavor was gone. The patty was very dense, salty, and cooked all the way through. Some of the smoky bacon was crisp and some was cooked to tooth-aching hardness. The burger was taller than wide and not possible to bite without modification. There was a super-thick wedge of iceberg lettuce that I pulled out and discarded. Inexplicably, there was also a wad of radicchio. It had a hard chewy disk they called a Parmesan chip. There were cherry tomatoes sliced in half that had to be tossed aside. It was slathered with mayo. The cheddar was good, and I like the lightly sweet bun. When I asked for ketchup, the waitress replied, "Sweet tomato sauce?" I thought she was just confused, so I said yes. But that's exactly what it was, and they charged me an astounding 35 CZK for that nonsense. Good fries were included. I've heard the Dejvice location still does the burger right, but the one I had was mostly wrong. 278 CZK.

The BBQ Burger had all kinds of things mixed into the thick, large patty. Mainly, I tasted garlic. The grind was too fine, giving it a dense texture. Some unpleasant gristle remained. It was cooked past medium. The bun was stale and chewy, making it hard to bite. It was topped with hammy, smoky bacon, decent cheddar, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and pickle slices. The relatively new restaurant on Vinohradska looks nice enough, but my notes on the burger say "not terrible" and "not again." 189 CZK.

25. Le Burger
This dedicated burger spot in Smichov has its fans. Not me. The ground beef in the Bacon Burger Classic, cooked medium-well, was tough and tiring to chew. There was only a hint of pink. The grind was too fine. I found nothing remarkable about the flavor. When I picked it up, copious amounts of clear juice squirted out. Yet, the patty was oddly dry inside. It was too big to bite easily and a total mess to eat. A quarter of the bun was soaked through at the end. There was too much lettuce. There was also soft, smoky bacon, tomato, and pickle, and ketchup. The homemade "ketchup" tasted almost exactly like marinara sauce. The overall flavor was anything but classic.

24. Bohemia Bagel in Holešovice
I liked this burger a long time ago. One reason was the flame-grilled flavor. That taste was no longer present on the Bohemia Hamburger with bacon and cheddar. The great bacon was crispy, but placed in a skewed way that could cause someone to lose an eye. The red onion, tomato, and lettuce were also awkwardly placed. The patty was cooked medium, but still hard to chew. The grind was OK, but I think there was not enough fat. The bun was among the hardest and stiffest I came across. There was no mayo or ketchup at all, making the dryness more noticeable. I ordered ketchup and received some Heinz in a dish. This annoys me because I must ration the condiment between the burger and the fries. 189 CZK with fries.

23. Joy Burger
This was the first burger I tried in 2015, not long after Joy Burger opened on Celetna. I didn't enjoy this international interpretation of an American icon. The menu said the Cheddar Beef Burger came with bacon, but it was more like lardons -- little chunks of pork. Confited cloves of garlic and super spicy chipotle mayo were on top. I like spicy food, but the level of heat was startling. The patty's flavor was OK, but the meat was ground too fine, and there was some gristle. It was cooked medium. The bun was baked in an oven, causing the outer layer to flake off. I asked for extra ketchup and received a small dish that cost me 35 CZK. My notes say the burger was 179 CZK and the fries were 70 CZK. However, the online menu says the burger is 249 CZK and fries are 65 CZK.

22. Putica
The densely-packed patty of the Classic Burger was perfectly round -- too puck-like perfect. It had great flavor from the grill, and the cheese picked up the smoky goodness. Unfortunately, the grind was too fine and it was cooked well done. This made it too tough. It was tall and hard to bite. It had crisp, smoky bacon. There was lettuce, tomato, and nice, sweet pickle. However, the pickle was diced and fell out on the plate. There was a sweet, spicy barbecue sauce. The bun was the biggest fail. It was stale and like chewing on a rag. 200 CZK.

21. Burger King
Burger King is included on this list every year. This is my version of a "control." It's a known quantity and quality that most people understand. This is my message: If I like a BK burger more than the offering at a real, full-service restaurant, the owners and cooks should rethink what they are doing. It is also on the list to annoy the humorless people who take these things too seriously. I went for the Angus XT this year. It was less good than last year's entry. I did not enjoy it much. The patty was dense, overcooked, and dry. 149 CZK.

20. Fair Food Burger Bar
This burger does not win a prize for looks but tasted pretty good. It came with cheddar, soft smoky bacon, grilled tomato, and very sweet, caramelized onions. There was too much lettuce that fell out and a mayo-based dressing. The grind on the patty was good, and it was juicy. The quality of the meat was above average. The cheese was rather generic. It held together but was very messy to eat. 125 CZK.

19. Cafe Sladkovsky
The peppery beef had the right grind and salt level. Cooked a perfect medium, it gushed a lot of juice on the first bite. On top, the bacon was more like a slab of pork belly. It was overcooked and a bit like biting a tongue depressor. The sesame bun was burnt black on the inside and bottom. It was soft but strong and held together. There was tangy cheddar, sweet mayo, lettuce, and tomato. This was a very mixed bag of good and bad. Great potential, poor execution. The quality patty is really what kept it above the BK line. 170 CZK plus 35 CZK for fries.

18. Riegrovy Sady Beer Garden
Look, I'm as shocked as anyone that I liked the Riegr Burger. I'm pretty sure I wasn't too drunk but thought it paired very nicely with beers, a bench, and the evening air. The shack that sold it wasn't open all summer. While it was there, the salty meat they cooked to medium over a fire tasted like the backyard barbecues of my childhood. The grind was good and the beef was smoky, though not the highest quality. There was some gristle. The bun was cold and too dense. The bacon was hammy and practically raw, with little flavor. It was topped with awkwardly placed lettuce, onion, tomato, mustard, and ketchup. I was both frustrated and amused that the menu offered a bacon burger, a cheese burger, but not a bacon cheeseburger. 100 CZK.

17. Naše Maso
Last year, I ranked this burger at #3. This year, two things changed. They didn't cook it as well, and I was far less impressed by its unconventional construction. Yes, the meat from this often-too-crowded little butchery was great. It was also too rare, even though it was both griddled and finished in the oven. They serve it sliced in half, and it was too much like tartare in the middle. As always, it came with pickles, mustard, and onion on a little Czech roll. The bread was a bit burnt, but I don't like it in general. It's not even round. The burger was wrapped in paper, but messy to eat. This burger is definitely worth trying in an off hour when it is not crowded, but I feel no need to stand in line for it. The spell was broken. 129 CZK.

16 Nejen Bistro
I know there are those on the Prague Burgers Facebook page who like Nejen's Black Angus burger above all others. It would rank higher with me if it had been cooked medium. Mine had a cool, raw interior. It's understandable that it was hard to cook this 180-gram patty more thoroughly. It looked small, but it was quite tall. It was hard to fit this burger into my mouth without applying serious compression. Their Josper grill gave the meat and the cheese a lovely smoked quality. It had caramelized onions, mayo with bits of pickle, thinly-sliced tomatoes and, unfortunately, radicchio. In my view, red lettuce does not belong either on or under ground beef. There was no bacon, and it was not an option. The grind was great and not too tightly packed. The bun, with black sesame, was good. It was a real mess to eat, which detracted from the pleasure. They got extra points for giving me a bottle of Heinz on the table. That tradition seems to be disappearing. 195 CZK with great fries.

15. The Tavern
I ordered The Tavern's Classic Bacon Cheddar. I was stunned when it came in about five minutes. The thin patty, served medium, must cook quickly. The meat had great flavor, which was enhanced by a healthy amount of salt. The bacon was top-quality, perfectly crispy. The steamed bun was very soft but held together. There were sliced pickles, shredded lettuce, and a basic cheddar. Red onion was on the side. It's hard to eat without toppings sliding out the back. The downside of this burger was condiment overkill -- too much mayo, ketchup, and mustard, which overwhelmed the flavor. I've had this issue before, but I keep forgetting to ask for it with only ketchup. 209 CZK and add fries for 49 CZK.

14. Mad Dog Bistro
Hot dogs dominate the menu here, but they do a good burger, too. It came with cheddar, mayo, lettuce, sweet/sour pickle, and onion. There was tangy, grated cheddar. The salty beef, slightly overground, was cooked medium and tasted right. It came on a lightly-toasted bun that had a little sweetness, and was just the right size. I asked for bacon but it was forgotten. I mentioned the omission after I finished and was given a donut in compensation. 124 CZK, fries not included.

13. U Kurelů
Now this is interesting: I liked The Tavern Classic Bacon Cheddar Burger at U Kurelů more than I did at The Tavern itself. Of course, they are owned by the same people, and the burgers have essentially the same ingredients and construction. But it just goes to show that, on any given night, no two burgers are made the same way. In this case, the bacon was just a little better (and placed better on top), and the mayo, mustard, and ketchup were just a little lighter. The burger also came with shredded lettuce, nice sour pickles, and red onion. It was well-constructed and held together to the end, despite the very soft bun. The thin patty was cooked past medium. It was easy to bite this burger. 209 CZK, fries not included.

12. Mozaika Burger and Co.
Last year, I didn't like it. This year, I did. They fixed the issue I had with too fine a grind. The meat and the texture were much improved. The juicy patty was quite thin (more on that later). The Krystal Burger came with crispy, salty bacon, Swiss cheese, sour pickle, and homemade mayo. Overall, it was a little too much on the savory side. I added some of their homemade ketchup for balance. It came with what looked like a custom-made bun. It was pretty good, just a little bready on top. The bun was baked, which made it warm overall, but also dried out the exterior. It cracked a bit. There was also a unique experience worth mentioning. I asked for my burger cooked medium. The waitress came back and told me it was not possible. It had to be either medium rare or well done. I was incredulous, and she was apologetic. The chef delivered my burger, so I also asked him why. Neither gave me a very clear answer, something about the nature of the meat. In the end, I just figured the patty was so thin, it must be hard to nail it at medium. I was rather annoyed by this at the start of the meal, but I liked the burger in the end and wound up being somewhat amused. 195 CZK plus 49 CZK for fries and 25 CZK for ketchup.

11. Bejzment
I've been to this restaurant a fair number of times in the past few years. It veered wildly between good and bad, and I've heard the same from others. Last year was bad. This year was good. As always, I had ​D Bejkn Čyz Burger. The meat was the star with a medium grind, loosely packed, cooked a smoky medium. The cheese picked up the flavor of the grill. The bacon was tops, crispy and smoked, but they also lose points because there was only one piece. The soft bun was branded with the name of the restaurant but not really toasted. Ketchup and mustard squeeze bottles were provided -- a very nice touch. On the side of the plate were lettuce, tomato, onion, and one small pickle slice. Pro tip: Avoid ordering the caramelized onions for an extra 20 CZK. They were cold and tasted like congealed, old cooking oil. 149 CZK plus 45 CZK for crispy homemade fries.

10. Argument
A decent grind, delicious, grilled flavor, and well-balanced composition were the laudable qualities of the Argument Burger. The slightly less positive qualities were the hammy bacon, the messiness of this juicy creation, and the thickness, which made it hard to bite. The toasted sesame seed bun held up under the weight. The patty was topped with smoky cheddar, red onion, paper-thin tomatoes, mayo, and a spicy barbecue sauce. The fries that came with it were sad and limp. Worth mentioning: When I complained my beer was flat and not cold, I was told, "Most people order wine here." Good burger, weird attitude. 285 CZK.

9. Cafe Palanda
The Royal Bacon Cheese Burger had a thick patty with the right grind and cooked a perfect medium with a hint of grill flavor. There was lots of lightly smoked bacon, but it was a little chewy. It also had sweet, roasted onions, very sweet mayo, homemade ketchup, chili, and pickles. The big, shiny, sesame bun was also quite sweet and was too large for the patty. This big burger was hard for me to get my head (and mouth) around. There was a lot of quality in there, but the flavor gets away from classic. The main culprit in my view was the homemade ketchup, which tasted like Worcestershire sauce -- too vinegary. 209 CZK with sides, 169 CZK without.

8. BlackDog Bar and Grill
We drove out to Beroun, and I had the American Dream burger. It came with thick, smoky bacon, cheddar, red onion, tomato, homemade pickles, and mayo spiked with Sriracha. The beef had a great grind and it was cooked a perfect medium. The loosely-packed patty was tall and round, with a bit of gristle. The cheese was rather creamy and not too cheddary. The soft, sturdy, brioche bun was excellent. It picked up some flavor from the grill. I had problems in the past with BlackDog overcooking my burgers, but for the past two years, it's been great. 165 CZK.

7. Meat and Greet Burgerhouse
This place was started by alumni of Dish {Fine Burger Bistro}, and it shows. The restaurants were quite similar, and the quality was high. The MAG Burger had a thin patty with a good grind and was cooked medium. It picked up nice flavor from the grill. The burger came topped with tomato cooked to softness which I was dubious about, but it worked. There was also lots of garlic mayo, lettuce, ketchup that I didn't taste, and crunchy, salty bacon that was too hard in places from overcooking. The sesame bun held together and was slightly too large for the meat. Some bread was left over at the end. 179 CZK plus 40 CZK for crunchy but too short homemade fries. Dull homemade ketchup cost 29 CZK.

6. Dish {Fine Burger Bistro}
Dish was the winner for 2013 and 2014. Although almost consistently great, they slipped a bit this year. The Dish Burger I had came with the usual garlic aioli, pickles, lettuce, and their sweet homemade ketchup. The bacon was chewy and smoky. I've loved this burger for its balanced construction, and that was maintained. It's easy to hold and eat all the way through. It lost its top spot because on the visit I chose to rate them, the patty was rather bland, lacking salt, and it didn't have the good sear from the grill that it usually had. 195 CZK plus 45 CZK for fries (I highly recommend their sweet potato fries when they have them listed on the chalk board).

5. Mr. Hot Dog
I debated whether to include these bacon cheese sliders on the list and decided in favor because they were just so right. Why discriminate based on size? They don't serve a full-size burger, but bite for bite, these sliders stand toe to toe with the big ones. About half the size of a regular burger, the grind was great, with the beef sourced from the Amaso butchery. The bacon was crispy and chewy. There was also shredded lettuce, diced white onions, tangy mayo, and great sour pickles. The toasted little buns were perfect and held it all nicely. They get the usual bonus points for squeeze bottles of ketchup (Heinz!) and mustard on the table, plus a condiment bar with onion, relish, Sriracha, and more. If you want classic American taste, give these a try. 169 CZK for two plus 45 CZK for a big basket of McD-style fries.

4. Fish and Chips at 21 Dlouhá 
A fish and chips shop near the top? I truly love the char-grilled, perfectly ground beef in this burger. The fat content was on the low side, so it was a little on the dry side. It was cooked exactly medium. I loved the American-style relish on top. There's no bacon option, but I didn't miss it here. It did have smoky cheddar, one tomato slice, chopped onion, shredded lettuce, ketchup, mayo, and spicy mustard. That's a lot of ingredients, but there was a light touch on the condiments, except for the relish. It felt well balanced. The toasted sesame bun was a fine platform. Overall, it was a great combination of salty, sweet, soft, and crunchy, with an onion twang. It did a good job evoking backyard barbecue memories. 185 CZK plus 45 for fries.

3. Burger Bar
I trekked out to Prague 6 - Nebušice this summer, and I was glad I did. I didn't expect to have such a great burger at this somewhat isolated spot under a hotel and connected to a bowling alley. The beef had just the right grind, not too fine. It tasted flame-grilled, like it just came off the barbecue. It was topped with three slices of excellent bacon, peppery cheese, lots of ketchup, mustard, lettuce, onions, and great sour pickles. The bun was much better than I remembered from the previous year. It was softer and more brioche-like. The patty was juicy, but not dripping too much. My hands did get a bit messy. I didn't get a great picture of it, but this burger was well-composed, balanced, and tasted great. 175 CZK, fries and small salad included. Extra ketchup for fries was 20 CZK.

2. Bad Jeff's Barbeque
This American-run restaurant served up a classic American burger. There was great attention to detail, from the homemade pickles to the bespoke bun from Mannson's Bakery. The bun had just the right combination of softness and strength. The bacon was as crisp as it should be, thin and quite salty. The meat was ground perfectly in-house, a blend of cuts with an 80/20 fat content decided by the chef and owner, Jeff Cohen. The patty had that smoke flavor I dream about and the cheese picks up some of it. Lettuce, thinly-sliced tomatoes and red onions were kept away from the hot meat until the moment of closer at the table. The top of the bun also had mayo and French's mustard. 259 CZK and includes curly fries.

1. BlackDog at Smíchovská náplavka
This was, no question, the best burger I had all year, even if it is not served regularly or year-round. Yes, the offering from BlackDog's restaurant was rated earlier. But the burgers they made at their stand along the river at Naplavka were a different animal, so to speak. This was from a festival on the Smichov side. The quality ground beef, cooked to a perfect medium over an open flame, was out of this world. It had a charred, smoky crust on the patty, excellent bacon, red onion, and shredded lettuce, on a brioche bun that cradled it. The cheese melted so nicely into the patty. I think it was about 100 CZK.  Whatever it cost, it was more than worth it. Keep an eye out for them at Naplavka and other festivals when the warm weather returns. I know I will!

That's my list for 2015. Feel free to agree, disagree, and/or share your own rankings in the comments.

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