Stanichs, still closed.
Stanich's, still closed. Google Maps
An article about a Portland restaurant went up on Thrillist today and is already being shared far and wide. If you haven't read it yet, it's a fascinating and soul-searching piece about how the internet ruins everything and life is terrible and nothing gold can stay.

But mostly, it's about a really good burger that you can't have anymore.

In 2017, Thrillist writer Kevin Alexander did a piece running down the best burgers in America, and he picked Northeast Fremont burger joint Stanich's as number one. The Portland stalwart, in business since 1949, was a surprise long shot, but Alexander recognized the modest bar/restaurant's charms, from its casual neighborhood vibe to its really good grilled beef.

"What I had at 11am amongst those construction workers and old-school pennants was otherworldly... This burger is a national treasure. This burger at an old mom-and-pop sports bar that's been sitting in a random Oregon neighborhood since 1949 is the best burger in America."
A few short months later, Stanich's shut down. The closing was supposedly temporarily, but it has yet to reopen. So what happened?

Alexander answers that question in today's Thrillist piece, "I Found the Best Burger Place in America. And Then I Killed It." And the answer is both more and less complicated that you would expect. In short course, the acclaim directly led to Stanich's being overwhelmed by food tourists, which led to long waits, angry customers, and a service staff finding their jobs suddenly, unpleasantly difficult. But there was an undisclosed personal issue, too, that contributed to the lengthy closure. Owner Steve Stanich is currently weighing his options, knowing that if he reopens, the place can't continue to operate in the lower gear that it used to.

What's drawn so many readers to Alexander's piece is the soul-searching he does, holding himself—and us—accountable for blowing up a business with praise.

"No matter what happens," he writes, "in all likelihood, the Stanich’s that had been open since 1949, the Stanich’s that I fell in love with, then clumsily broke like Lenny with the rabbit in Of Mice and Men, will never be the same again.

"And that fact is the thing I can’t quite get past. That a decision I made for a list I put on the internet has impacted a family business and forever altered its future. That I have changed family dynamics and relationships. And it could very easily happen again.

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"I’ve been asking myself what the other side of this looks like. How do I do this better? Is there a way to celebrate a place without the possibility of destroying it? Or is this just what we are now — a horde with a checklist and a camera phone, intent on self-producing the destruction of anything left that feels real, one Instagram story at a time?"

His piece touches on all kinds of important issues—about the nature of local mom-and-pop businesses in the current economic climate; about the internet age's desperate thirst for "authenticity," whatever the fuck that may be; about the usually wrongheaded idea of ownership and discovery that journalists sometimes acquire when they "uncover" a gem not yet known to every last one of their readers.

It's also about the inevitable hollowness of these types of "best of" lists. Stanich's is/was fantastic, a truly wonderful place with terrific food. But I'm not sure it had the best burger I've ever eaten. That's not the point, really—Alexander clearly had a chart-topping experience there, and more than adequately made his case for it. But I can just imagine an out-of-town burger obsessive spending hundreds to fly cross country to get his maw around the supposedly greatest burger in the nation, and wondering what all the fuss is about. Stanich's, as excellent as it is/was, was never designed for that kind of customer interaction. It was meant to sling great-tasting burgers to a small crowd of regulars and locals, and that was the beauty of it.

In other words, Alexander's piece is about how we inevitably ruin everything good and pure in the world, because we are monsters. Read it.