Ragtime’s Big Bayou Burger

The Burger Battle of the Best continues…
Ragtime, a nice Cajun pub in Arlington VA offers the Big Bayou Burger, “a burger made of ground beef, pork and shrimp, covered with swiss cheese, Creole gravy and three grilled shrimp.”

Oddly not as good as it sounds; burgers use ground beef because of the fat content, which makes them juicy. Remove too much, and it becomes dry; that’s why they’ll tell you to use 80% lean as the leanest for burgers, and 73% might be even better. Because fire melts all that fat and it drips off. When you take lean pork and shrimp and add them to the mix, you get some good flavor- the burger did have a shrimpy fish flavor- but you lose the familiar texture and juiciness. This would have been a lot better with just beef, and topping it with the shrimp.

Was it bad? Hell no. Just a lot different than I expected, and I’ve had shrimp burgers before at Joe’s Garage in Minneapolis; no idea what they cut them with to keep them moist, probably salmon, but they were very good. Here the jambalaya side was very good, the Cajun chicken pasta was well-received, and the mac ‘n cheese was killer. I had crawfish bisque that was a delicious starter, so the Big Bayou Burger was a bit of a disappointment. I guess I could have drowned it in ketchup, but I shouldn’t have to. Stick some onions in the mix, or leave the shrimp chunky and put chunks of cheese in too. Shrimp is all about texture, and grinding it takes that away. The garlic shrimp toppers were awesome. I should have just gotten shrimp etoufee! It’s a nice hangout for Louisiana transplants in the D.C. area, and serves a good beer selection.

View Larger Map

Ray’s Hell Burger

Ray’s Hell Burger made the news a few weeks ago when President Obama and VP Biden made a surprise trip to this gem of a burger joint tucked into an Arlington strip mall. While part of me rolled my eyes over the slow news day reporting, I’m glad it made the news. Because Ray’s is top contender for my #1 burger this year. They are simply fantastic, affordable and not as crazy crowded as you’d assume.
My burger experiences center around the New York area due to where I live, so I was very glad to be able to hit this place on Memorial Day weekend. Firecracker and I went on a 6-state road trip while traveling to a wedding, which led us to D.C. A quick search on Google got us the address, and thankfully friend Kim warned us about the lack of signage. Good things are worth hunting down, and it was crowded even on a Sunday, so if it had a big sign we’d probably still be waiting. The place is rather tight with highboy tables and the line was only 5 deep when we got there, but tables were scarce. We found one outside, and the weather was great.
They do have some decadent burgers available with foie gras for $18- a hell of a lot cheaper than a similar burger at NYC’s The Burger Shoppe (full review)- but we opted for simpler fare. I got the B.I.G. Punisher, topped with fresh jalapenos, mushrooms, a cilantro-jalapeno pesto, caramelized onions and cheese; Firecracker got a bacon and cheese monster, and Maggie went for the au poivre burger with a delicious sherry cream sauce and mushrooms. We got the cheese puffs as sides, and I grabbed a Sasparilla to drink.
I ordered mine medium rare, and as you can see from the lovely red juice on the bottom bun, they cooked it right. The gals had theirs medium and medium well. I like a juicy burger and Ray’s delivers. They grind the meat fresh all day and you can taste it; this was on par with Anthony Bourdain’s downtown Les Halles burger (full review) where they grind sirloin to order. I still think Bourdain has the top spot, but Ray’s is one hell of a contender, and in the D.C. area this has got to be the best. The meat flavor is spectacular, and the toppings accentuate without overpowering. Even the Punisher had just enough heat to tingle just enough. We didn’t even explore the huge selection of cheeses they have available. I’d eat here every week if I lived nearby. And I think Maggie is going to!
This from the city that birthed Five Guys Burgers and Fries (full review), that paragon of fast food. D.C. might just be the burger mecca. There’s even a Les Halles, but I don’t know if theirs is as good as the John Street location’s. But I do know this- no matter what your political affiliation, you owe it to yourself to drop by Ray’s Hell Burger. The sesame bun may be a little plain and sometimes it can’t handle the monster burger inside, but we forgive that for one of the best tasting burgers I’ve yet had.