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« Wine Labeling: Roos, Recession and Rhymes | Main | Weekly Blog Round Up »

Fri, Jul 11 2008 at 10:17 AM

Ray's Hell Burger: First Impressions

Posted by Jason, Jul 11, 2008

Rays_hell_front We're trying something new at DC Foodies -- group reviews. The cost of dining out is hitting us all in our wallets and since most of us are usually dining at the same place, we've decided to begin combining our efforts, which means you hear about the restaurant quicker because we don't have to make two or three trips each and we keep more money in our pockets.

For our inaugural group review, we decided there was no better place to start than with a first impressions review of Ray's Hell Burgers. I'd be lying if Michael Landrum's other restaurants (Ray's the Classics and Ray's the Steaks) don't hold a special place in all of our hearts, so we've made a good attempt, I think, to keep this objective.

Ray's Hell Burger is a natural addition to the Michael Landrum's D.C. beef empire. Burgers are the only thing on the menu (which means no fries), but you'd be surprised at how large the menu can be. Between the large selection of cheeses (including some artisinal selections which no doubt Mike will like) and the list of others high quality ingredients, much like those that you can get on your steaks a few doors down, the combinations are endless.

Open_kitchen Instead of fries, the burgers currently come with sides of juicy watermelon and corn, but I imagine that's only for the summer. Look for the sides to be seasonal and fresh. I wonder if the lack of French fries is because the kitchen couldn't get the fries just right, or if it is Michael's attempt to make up socially for the portion size of the burgers which are a massive 10 ounces of the same aged prime beef used at the other Ray's establishments (ground fresh throughout the day according to Mr. Landrum). Cooking methods are similar as well and you can get your burger blackened, cajun, or just plain grilled.

Last week, we at DC Foodies each visited to Ray's Hell Burger. Here's what each of us thought.

Mike's
As you may have guessed, what really caught my attention was the impressive list of cheeses that Ray's offers.  Sure, you can get quality basics like Gruyere, Vermont cheddar, smoked mozzarella and Danish blue for $1, but you can also go all out and top your burger with imported Brie, Italian Taleggio or even Epoisses for $1.50 to $4 each.  A hint: make sure to ask about what other cheeses and toppings are available when you get to the counter.  Although Epoisses was not listed on the chalkboard when we visited, it was available to anyone who asked.

Onions_closeup My burger was delicious, if a bit messy.  The size of the patty is a blessing on the grill, allowing it to cook through and develop a dark, meaty crust without sacrificing the juicy, pink interior. Unfortunately, the size becomes a liability on the plate - Ray's recommends cutting their burgers in half to make them more manageable. I did, but the burger's juices still turned my bun to mush in minutes.  It was a small price to pay for a depth of flavor that I haven't experienced in any other burger here in Washington.  The grilled corn on the cob and fresh sliced watermelon that accompany each burger free of charge gave the whole meal a great cook-out feel.

Loved:
The authentic meatiness and spot-on grilling of the burger; the toppings that are upscale but not pretentious; the cheese list
Hated:
The seemingly unavoidable messiness of the meal; the size that makes it near-impossible to fit it in your mouth if there are any toppings

I'll definitely be going back, but I'll be armed with the knowledge that less is more when it comes to toppings.  When too many great flavors are forced to compete for attention, no one wins.

Rob's
It's always hard to judge a restaurant in its first week of operation -- procedures aren't down, the staff isn't limber, etc. Using that as a lead up, let me say that Ray's Hell made me very nervous. I'm used to the controlled chaos that is Ray's the Steaks: they have it down pat, and the place runs like a well-oiled machine. Ray's Hell had all the crowd of that other endeavor of Michael Landrum's, without the grace. Even at the late hour of 8:00 p.m., service was harried, space for waiting patrons was limited, our table was never bussed, and they forgot our side of corn!

That said, my burger was good. Very good, in fact. The selection of preparations, toppings and cheeses was phenomenal, and the meat was quite obviously above the usual grade (getting it at the recommended medium-rare is definitely the right choice, at least for dining in). I ordered my burger topped with mustard seed gouda, grilled red onions and sauteed mushrooms -- if nothing else, the ingredients were obviously fresh, and the sauteed mushrooms had quite nearly the same delicious sherry flavor as they do from Hell's big brother.

Loved:
The myriad combination of quality cheeses and toppings, just waiting to be discovered.
Hated:
The absolute inability to ponder any such combinations, for want of space or time to consider the menu. Oh, and again, I never got my damned corn!

Mine
Amy, Noah, and I were able to visit Ray's Hell Burgers on Wednesday night. There wasn't a giant crowd like others have experienced and I was able to take my time ordering, but the list of ingredients was still daunting. Regardless, the list of toppings is nice to see. I imagine that ordering is going to take some practice. I ordered simply with with mayo, roasted garlic, pepper jack, and pickles my first time because I didn't want to distract from the flavor of the beef.

Jason_burger After ordering, we went to find a table. The restaurant is small and could obviously use more seating. Since it's a burger joint, I don't think that anyone should be worried about packing people in there, but who knows, it could be a fire code thing.

My burger was very good overall, but I wouldn't say it was the best I've had in the area. The meat and toppings are obviously excellent and I expected nothing less, but the weak buns don't do the burgers justice. It falls apart within minutes of eating and since there are no forks, you end up with quit a mess on your hands.  I'd just as soon lose the bun and eat the burger with a knife and fork, but then I might as well be a few doors down at Ray's the Steaks.

Loved:
The freshness and flavor of the meat; the quality selection of toppings; and the accurate cooking of the burger.
Hated:
The weak bun that deteriorate under the juiciness of the burger and lack of timely busing of tables.

I know if I'm in the area, I'll likely be back for sure and hopefully a little better at ordering. However, by the time I make the planned trip there, it almost seems wrong to be only having a burger and not eating a Cajun ribeye at Ray's the Steaks.

Ray's Hell Burger
1713 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA
Map

Hours:
Opens weekdays at 5 PM
Opens Saturday and Sunday at Noon.

No Phone Number
No Web Site

Categories: Arlington, Burgers, Restaurant Reviews
Link To This Post

Jeff

I'm surprised Jason was the only one to point out the glaringly sub-par bun. The actual burger itself is fantastic, as are the toppings and cheese selections, so it's a damn shame -- not to mention odd, given the attention to quality in other areas -- that the bun is so lackluster. Not only is it crumbly, but it's also flavorless. It's obviously an easy fix to find a bakery to make a good bun, so hopefully that will change soon.

Jason

Mike did point out the messiness, but he just didn't call out the bun specifically.

The DC Feed Editor

Excellent post! I have linked to this at The DC Feed.

SB

Mike,

Being a cheese lover myself, I wanted to know which cheese you recommend on the burger? From your post, it sounds like you got the Epoisses? How was it? I still have to go...on vacation right now, so it will be the first place I go when I get back!

Heidi C

I ate here on Thursday evening and I agree with Mike's review. Less is more. The burger's taste is AMAZING - char grilled, seasoned, juicy - and toppings just sort of overwhelm the already huge burger. My suggestion is to pick a tasty cheese and let that be your only topping. These things are delicious but HUGE and unweildy. Of course, if you really want cognac-sauteed mushrooms, I couldn't fault you.

Ramona

I believe M. Landrum is taking the bun feedback to heart. He tried a brioche bun out on a Don Rockwell member this week, but she thought it too rich with the meat and cheese and all.
http://www.donrockwell.com/index.php?s=&showtopic=9561&view=findpost&p=114692

Jason

I'm no grilling expert, but I find that just brushing the bun with a combination of oil and butter and placing on the grill for a minutes browns it and makes it more resistant to the burgers juices.

I don't think the bun needs a lot of flavor, especially with all the good toppings.

Mike Bober

To be honest, I'd prefer less bun altogether...something like the thick sourdough slices you tend to find on patty melts, perhaps?

SB - Sadly, we didn't find out the Epoisses was available until a customer several people behind us in line thought to ask for it. Personally, I think the rich, pungent cheese would be a bit overpowering on these burgers (I don't even go in for blue cheese on burgers most of the time).

Because I knew I wanted to try the sauteed mushrooms, I made it a point to try the Gruyere. DELICIOUS. My wife tried the brie and, although she liked it, she didn't think it was a perfect fit.

I would recommend sticking with the kinds of cheeses you would normally use - cheddar, swiss, Muenster, jack, etc. - and bear in mind that Landrum is using high quality versions of each. As a result, you end up with tastes you can anticipate - only more so.

I'm leaning toward trying the smoked mozzarella next time - eager to see what the creaminess does to the overall combination.

Rob Rutledge

Actually, I meant to mention earlier -- I had absolutely no problem with the bun. It stayed plenty dry, in a good way. I think it might be because we split a single burger, not feeling up to 10oz each.

Kristina

I love the group review idea. It's always interesting to compare people's experiences, as people always notice different things have have different tastes.

I originally found and kept reading this website because of the reviews of DC area restaurants. While the posts about wines and cheeses can be informative, this is what I like and find useful.

Susan

Can anyone tell me if they have highchairs here, and if it seems like it would be feasible to bring a 1 year old?

Jason

No they don't Susan.

anonymous

I totally agree with the comments on the bun. What is up with that? It seems that others agree as well:

http://dclovesfood.blogspot.com/2008/07/two-all-beef-patties-part-two.html

http://www.washingtonian.com/blogarticles/8788.html

Mia

Perfect, literally everything about it, including the bun... And I am a french fry lover too, but the corn and watermelon work. Additionally, I am a ketchup junkie but my burger was so incredible that I declined, which is unheard of... Regarding the question about bringing children, you could easily do it as it is the perfect "decor" / noise level but we had a bit of a wait - but definitely doable if you can swing the wait and they may have a high chair, I don't know.

Got the Au Poivre, which was delightful.

LISA BURGH

The choices are fun-cheeses, toppings, etc.

Decor is simple and nice.

Great idea, but too much hype. The burger is just ok tasting.

We got the MACK and the Blackened with swiss,grilled onions and delicious mushrooms.

notradebacks

The "fat Joe" is a must try at Rays, it consists of foie gras pan seared with truffle oil on top of the burger with crispy fried shallots, probably a close tie with the burger at Polenas maybe even better,... It is the most expensive burger on the menu unless you ask to add a cheese but that is a little too daring for me

Sean

I live across the street and dine here about 10 times per month. For my money, the diablo style with mushrooms, smokey blue and peppers is unbeatable. I've tried many combinations, and this one just keeps delivering. I love mine med-rare, but of handling is a potential hazzard for the novice, medium still delivers. If you haven't been in a while, the mac 'n cheese is a MUST. Also, give the black cherry soda a try, or the creme brule cream soda.

Sounds Delish!

This sounds close to the new Colorado based SmashBurger. Of course its 'messy'! This is a REAL burger, grilled, with lots of good mustard plus other sauces, and I don't care what kind of bun you get with a GOOD JUICY burger, you are going to have a mess.
THIS is what we who grew up in the 50's remember from our favorite drive-in. With the car hops. A fresh-cooked burger, with lettuce, cheese, red onion, tomato, pickles. We put our own mustard or ketchup on back then...There was nothing in the world better than an old fashioned cheeseburger...and SmashBurger does theirs this way too...I do agree that a little toasting of the bun helps to firm it up...didn't your momma ever cook you a burger at home, and pop the buns under the broiler for a quick browning?

I won't eat a pink burger...I don't care who recommends it...a burger I want cooked...all the way through...a steak, medium...but with false teeth, steaks are kind of not on my menu anymore...LOL...can still eat one, but it could take me a couple of hours so they are never ordered out!
I would really like to try that Ray's Hell Burger. Sounds really good.
Ray, just toast the buns...or plop them on the grill along with the burgers...love that flavor the buns pick up that way too.

Marty

wow.... guess you're famous now..! Perhaps a First Burger ?

BeansRiceLife

I love this place! be sure to pick up some tater tots or mac & cheese while you're there. Check out my review & and online menu at:

http://beansricelife.blogspot.com/2009/06/quite-possibly-best-burgers-in-dmv-rays.html

Kathleen

For heaven's sakes, Ray, why can't you remember the #%&*# CORN???? There were 5 of us and not one of us got a damned ear of corn. Get it together.

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