You can’t live in this town without having a strong opinion about its food. Some dining pundits are constantly dripping with praise, some are reliably critical, and some just want to be louder than the rest. With the multitudes of food options and approaches in this tiny, hardworking city, we try to keep our opinions informed and even-keeled.
That being said, it feels good to make an honest assessment now and again. Restaurants have such distinctive styles around here that it’s usually apples-to-oranges to compare them — how do you measure risotto against fish tacos or pad thai? But a majority of menus still have a burger option, which allows us compare the city’s styles in a quasi-scientific way. We subjected a handful of Portland’s signature burgers to our own test, factoring taste, style, source, and the feelings we experienced eating them.
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MUNJOY BURGS The Front Room's rendition has tomato tapenade and pickled onions.
The general idea: “We loved fast-food but hated how it made us feel,” b.good’s founders (childhood best friends) tell us on their website. “So, we created a place where you can feel good about burgers and fries.” They make us feel good about it by letting us know (making sure we know!) that the meat, potatoes, and veggies are all locally sourced, all-natural, and in some cases, seasonal.
Versions tried: Cousin Oliver (lettuce/tomato/onion/pickle/cheddar/on wheat bun), West Side (avo/cilantro/salsa/lime/chipotle puree/on wheat bun)
Fries: Low grease; nicely browned; tasty but unexceptional; were better with a little salt
Tasting notes: Easy to eat; neat. Tasted almost as earnest as the “real farmer” portraits on the walls. The experience of eating it did not induce the feelings of guilt normally associated with eating a fast-food burger. However, b.good is really banking on the idea that attendant guilt isn’t some necessary part of the burger-eating experience. It may be pretty damn good, but purists might call this a decaf burger, and they’re not exactly wrong.
Feeling while eating: Contented; actually nourished; mature
Feeling after eating: Neutral; fulfilled; not at all sluggish
B.Good | 15 Exchange St, Portland and other locations around New England | bgood.com
The general idea: Home to several meat-bombs and “challenge foods,” including the absurdity known as the Apocalypse Now burger. This place is a carnivore’s playground, and has a beefed-up “guy’s night” vibe to match. (Their non-meat options, such as the falafel, were quite bad for awhile, but word on the street is that’s changed.) All-natural beef; no temp.
Versions tried: Cheeseburger (lettuce/tomato/onion/pickle/American/on brioche), Nosh Burger (blue cheese spread/roast garlic balsamic/bacon/fried egg/on brioche)
Drink: One IPA, one Pilsner (cheeseburger); Two Unibroue Ephemere (Nosh Burger)
Fries: Ordered separately, the fries here are notoriously very good. Fat and aggressively seasoned (in your choice of bacon dust, buffalo sauce dust, salt and vinegar, and s&p); plus the show-offy selection of dipping sauces: chipotle mayo, jalapeño pesto sauce; charred pepper vinaigrette; etc.
Tasting notes: Really digging the good old fashioned American on the cheeseburger, which had a fluffy, tasty bun bested only by LFK. Topped in bacon, blue cheese, and a fried egg, the Nosh Burger was considerably tougher to manage — we asked for it — but was still mostly satisfying. Its yolk popped at first touch, which gave the first few moments of the experience a slightly libidinal thrill. The ratio of beef to the body of the sandwich is a little small, however, and our first few bites of the sandwich seemed to deplete a major portion of actual meat. A forensic search midway through the meal revealed a baffling proportion of blue cheese, its taste capably overwhelming the fine sour notes of the Ephemere (a rather poor pairing choice entirely our own).
Feeling while eating: Ravenous; greedy; messy; infantile
Feelings after eating: Challenged; depressed; eager to make gym plans