The cult of the Fancy Burger has officially taken root in Portland, and every chubby yuppie with too much time on their hands seems to have an opinion on which upscale burger is the best. Now, fancy burgers—with their ciabatta rolls and sun-dried tomato relish—are well and good, but sometimes you just want an honest burger, loaded with condiments you recognize, served on a squishy bun, and made from meat of questionable quality. Here are a few burger joints that have been keeping it old school since before yuppies were invented.
4915 NE Fremont, 281-2322
Stanich's has long had a reputation as one of the best burger joints in Portland, and it's hard to argue with the straightforward burgery goodness they dish up. I'm not a huge fan of the sweet pickle relish, but it's hardly a dealbreaker on what is otherwise one of the most flavorful (read: least-overcooked) burgers I sampled. Stanich's also has a full bar, making it an excellent destination for the time-honored hangover remedy of Bloody Mary and cow.
Hollywood Burger Bar
4211 NE Sandy, 288-8965
October brought us the "Hollywood Burger Battle," in which hamburger fans voted on which Hollywood restaurant had the best burger. The victor? The Hollywood Burger Bar. The Burger Bar is one of those restaurants that everyone I know is vaguely curious about, but no one has ever been to. Well, I went, and this is what it's like: slightly dingy but not gross, with a long counter wrapping around an open kitchen; decorated with more Betty Boop paraphernalia than I've ever seen outside of a booth at the state fair, serving crazy-cheap breakfast all day, in addition to those award-winning burgers (which are big and juicy, and if you get 'em with bacon, perfectly crispy). Oh, but they don't take credit cards, so you can take your digital age and shove it.
George's Giant Hamburgers
11640 SW Pacific Highway, Tigard, 639-8029
George's Giant Hamburgers in Tigard is a classic old spot that takes justifiable pride in serving 1/3-pound burger patties, made with meat they grind daily. Other nice touches are the condiment bar, stocked with all the usual fixings plus hot peppers and a variety of sauces, excellent milkshakes in a variety of flavors, and a comfortably worn-in atmosphere. This place clearly hasn't changed in years, and I hope it never does.
15840 Boones Ferry, Lake Oswego, 636-0255
Plopped on the side of Boones Ferry Road in Lake Oswego, Giant Drive-In is damn near irresistible: a little A-frame building with a picture of an actual giant on the sign. Inside, the menu is overwhelming. Do I want a nacho burger or a French dip burger? Oh, but who could say no to the elaborate bit of neon signage that describes "The Filler," a massive burger made up of two patties, bacon, ham, egg, cheese, and probably additional types of animal that I'm forgetting. When my friend asked if he could get it without the egg, he was informed that that would be like "buying a car that didn't have an engine." He got the egg. The burger itself was huge and greasy and surprisingly bland (ham really carried it), but despite the mediocrity of the burger, I think I love this place.
Mark Lindsay's Rock and Roll Café
4160 NE Sandy, 288-9297
Local legend Mark Lindsay—of Paul Revere and the Raiders fame—is the figurehead of the eponymous Rock and Roll Café, a new music-themed restaurant that evokes the Hard Rock Café chain (save that the rock here doesn't get any harder than "Indian Reservation"). Strip away the rock 'n' roll trappings and you'll find a little pocket of Genericana, complete with flat-screen TVs so married couples don't actually have to talk to one another. But how are the hamburgers? The recipe is derived from a classic Portland burger joint, Yaw's, which was open in the Hollywood District from the mid-1920s until the 1980s. Frankly, not having any nostalgic attachment to this particular strain of secret sauce, it's hard to see quite what all the fuss is about: The Yaw's burger was on the dry side and generally failed to distinguish itself otherwise. But... you know how sometimes one little thing can totally ruin a restaurant for you? The Rock and Roll Café charges $.50 to add tomatoes to their burger. I don't know or care if that's how they did it in ye olden days: A hamburger comes with pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, and onions, and charging for any of these components is great way to nickel and dime prospective customers into never coming back.