America is in the midst of a hamburger arms race. Bacon, avocado, heirloom tomato, farmstead cheeses—hell, even chilies and wild mushrooms are positively so-mid-last-century. The new arsenal includes outré offerings like foie gras, duck egg, white truffles, boletes, kimchi and many other gourmet products never intended to be eaten within a bun, buttered or not. So raging is the escalation that celebrity chef-dominated cooking shows, sold out civic events and chef-sponsored weekend retreats are routinely centered on the glorification of the once humble burger. The firepower brought to the task is astounding and growing. Daniel Boulud's db Bistro Moderne in New York brought us the braised short-rib, foie gras and black truffle-stuffed burger. Indeed every chef worth his salt already has either a thriving hamburger restaurant or is planning one. Ouch! Just Google "Outrageous Burgers" and you will be treated to page after page of the most salacious, titillating, sometimes awe-inspiring concoctions known to food science. Frankly, it's getting a little out of hand and just a touch silly. Thankfully, little Geneva has managed its own hamburger explosion with typical Swiss dignity and restraint. Numerous little spots specializing in burgers are proliferating and some even promote social responsibility, local and sustainable sourcing of ingredients, and a code of operation that nurtures employees and their families. It is a gratifying thing to see the next generation of restaurateurs ably clear the high hurdles of social consciousness AND profitability. But enough sermonizing; now on to the burgers.
The restaurants visited were chosen mainly for their self-described dedication to hamburger worship. The standard cheeseburger from each restaurant was purchased and eaten on the spot. The ultimate assessment was made entirely on the quality of the burger with some additional notes that describe side dishes, atmosphere, quality of service and overall experience. In the end an inferior burger would never rise in the ranks even though accompanied by stellar marks in any or all the the additional categories listed. Every attempt was made to be inclusive—for instance the BurgerQueens food truck was searched for but never found and The Funky Monkey Bar's hours are too restricted—but most essential players were visited. Interestingly, several people suggested I visit the Pallanterie McDonald's which reportedly uses 100% local beef, lettuces and vegetables from Choulex and fresh bread from the flour milled next door. Perhaps that will be for another post. In the end I feel better knowing that there is a great burger around almost every corner of Geneva.
7 Rue Henri-Mussard
022 700 78 45
A literal hole-in-the-wall, Huggys' is located on the mostly residential Rue Henri-Mussard. Blink and you might miss it entirely. Counter service is provided and a cramped area with several tall tables is available for seating. This seems more like a take-away destination so come prepared. The menu is a mash-up of several variety burgers based on overly compacted patties of 120 grams each, a perch filet sandwich and, for dessert, a nutella cheesecake. The cheeseburger (8.70 CHF) comes on a standard white bun with sesame seeds, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and American -style cheese. The burger itself (100% Swiss beef) was cooked to medium-well with just the faintest pink color left. The quality of the meat, its flavor and texture, was marginal. The patty was slightly chewy with some notable gristly fat. I would guess this had the highest fat content beef (along with Roadrunner) of any sampled. The patties were clearly worked and compressed a bit too much for my taste. Cooking to desired temperature, with a proper sear, is therefore more difficult because of the patty's thinness. French fries (5.50CHF) are bland and under seasoned. All in all, just an average burger that might be fine if one is nearby and hungry.
63 Rte. de Chenes
022 735 64 20
Roadrunner is the grand-daddy of Geneva hamburger joints. It was founded over 40 years ago across the street from the International School of Geneva which I attended from 1968-1972. Its opening inspired a rivalry between those who welcomed a modern, American-style environment and those who preferred the old-school charm of the now departed Auberge de la Poste. I was an Auberge guy (alcohol was routinely offered to me) but I also frequented the new-comer when the hankering for a burger surfaced. My memory of the Roadrunner burger of the past is not a good one. It was perhaps a cut above the Wimpy Burger, a small chain which offered a weird, Euro-styled interpretation of the American classic, but no more than that. Today's Roadrunner has upped the ante a bit. The burgers are small (120 grams) and compact and they are distinguished from all the others in that they are grilled on a gas barbecue. That is both good and bad; bad because there is the distinct flavor of gas that clings to the meat and good because there is a pleasant charred flavor from the grill. My 100% Swiss beef patty (9.50 CHF) was grilled to medium with discernible pink and red in the middle. Its texture was somewhat loose and less compacted than than at Huggys' but without its fat and gristle. The quality of the beef was a definite upgrade. The cheese was American-style. The bun was an innocuous style of sesame seeded blandness. It had trouble standing up to the rigors of in-hand eating. Fries (3.90CHF) were also bland and under-seasoned. Condiments are available at a separate counter and those include lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup and mustard. The Roadrunner burger is solid if not spectacular. The environment is a definite draw with its nostalgic ode to American diners. It's a bit pricey when its a la carte format is considered. One must purchase fries and salad separately and in the end may be the most expensive of all the places visited.
14 Rue Carouge
(no listed telephone)
Holy Cow! takes great pains to point out that all of its ingredients are Swiss and even hyper-locally sourced depending on location. The beef is from Vaud, the buns from Geneva, Vaud, Valais and Zurich, the produce from Vaud, the condiments from St. Gallen and even the cleaning products and packaging are from Basel. No mention is made, however, from where comes the American-style cheese. The Rue Carouge location is slightly dark and utilitarian with a somewhat seedy, grimy, urban edge. Picture windows look out upon the busy streetscape. The menu is composed of some optimistically named burgers including, Viva España, Maui Maui, Yo Ginza, Smokin' Holy Cowboy and King Kong Carnivore. I opted for the Big Cheese with a 165 gram patty as its base. It was cooked slightly past medium-rare and seemed smaller than the advertised weight, usually a sign of a higher than normal fat content. Nevertheless, the beef had good flavor and texture but perhaps was a bit too compacted for my taste. The default garnish is lettuce, tomato, onion and a decent BBQ sauce. The bun was a sesame seed-poppy seed compromise that fell apart upon the first couple of bites. The revelation of the whole experience was the tastiness of the fried potatoes (4.90CHF). These were rustically cut with the skin on and fried to a crisp exterior and a melting, creamy interior. They were salted perfectly. I would go back for these alone. Overall, while not the best, Holy Cow! fits nicely into the middle range of burgers sampled. I would not hesitate to stop in if in the vicinity of one of its several locations.
Food Truck—Various Locations
078 883 45 90
Are you out there? I've heard good things.
The Brooklyn Kitchen
Food Truck—Various Locations
079 423 34 66
Visited on site at the Geneva Street Food Fest, this food truck (actually a modified Airstream camper) offers a few burgers and soft tacos. It's a cute little truck with the requisite Brooklyn hipster details. Skinny men in tight-fitting t-shirts and jeans, sporting beards, dance around in synchronized chaos. As I expected these guys take their burgers seriously. The Williamsburg burger (14 CHF) is their cheeseburger. It comes with American-style cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and slices of cucumber. The patty (160 grams) was well cooked with a nice sear, a perfect medium-rare interior and a nice beefy flavor. The bun was firm and somewhat denser than all the others tasted (in fact it was my favorite) and actually held-up the best which is a great convenience in a street fest setting. This is rather an expensive burger but given food truck logistics perhaps necessarily so. At least the quality stands up. This is one of my favorite burgers and I would recommend seeking out this fun truck if you find yourself nearby.
Denise's Art of Burger
Grand Magasin Globus
48 Rue du Rhone
58 578 52 47
This is Geneva's celebrity-chef-meets-burger venue and it is appropriately located in the city's temple of fast-casual dining, the Food Hall at Globus. Philippe Chevrier, chef-owner of the acclaimed Domaine de Châteauvieux and its two Michelin stars, named this outpost venue after his mother Denise. Whether she really taught him the art of burgers is a question to be asked, but whether or not she did, it is a good burger. Denise's cheeseburger is known as the "Basic Burger" (16CHF a la carte or 30CHF menu with fries, salad, dessert and non-alcoholic drink) is roughly 160 grams of Swiss beef with gruyère cheese, lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions and a house-made ketchup. The bun is plain but held up well in hand. The burger was cooked as requested, medium-rare, and the quality of the meat was faultless. Everything was fresh and crisp, of high quality and prepared conscientiously a la minute. The environment is Globus Food Hall busy, which is to say slightly impersonal and frenetic. I chose to eat outside as opposed to the busy counter where the wait seemed unfathomable. So the question persists: why was I not blown away by the obvious quality and pedigree of the product? Perhaps food and its taste is partly about environment and company. Should it be? I've got to say it, as good as it was, to me this burger lacked soul. It was 100% correct, absolutely so, but it was not as delicious as others tasted and that, to me, is a big deal. Maybe it was under seasoned? Perhaps. Maybe here it is really more science than art? Maybe there was not enough fat in the grind (they claim 100% muscle) while a burger needs fat for flavor (80% lean to 20% fat is standard)? Many questions with many possible answers. At least there are a couple of better places for burgers in Geneva, that I know for sure.
17 Rue de Montchoisy
022 700 27 85
This is a bustling enterprise with locations in Plainpalais and Eaux-Vives. We visited the Eaux-Vives location on a busy Thursday evening. It was packed with locals, American ex-pats and other undefined tourist-types with a good nose for burgers. The menu offers a standard mix of variety burgers and chicken breast sandwiches. Each item comes packaged with French fries and a green salad which makes for great value. Their standard cheeseburger, called "The Pasadena" (15.90CHF), was 160 grams of perfectly cooked, medium-rare, Swiss beef. The patty itself was loosely packed and juicy with a nicely seared exterior. The bun, studded with poppy seeds and slathered with Inglewood sauce (thousand island dressing), was tasty but disintegrated quickly upon the first few bites. The juiciness of the burger hastened the bun's demise so it was not at all a bad thing. The cheese seemed standard issue, American-style. A visit to Inglewood's website is recommended. There you will find a "day-in-the-life" video of the restaurant and its parade of farmers and bakers delivering the day's goods. Everything is local, fresh and first-class here. My only quibble was with the French fries, which were not hot and were under seasoned, and the salad, which was not tossed but had globs of an admittedly tasty vinaigrette swimming on top. The vibe is California-cool and distinctly youthful. Well chosen Geneva wines and beers are served here. This is a destination hamburger restaurant that is well worth the time to visit for the quality of its food and fun surroundings.
The Hamburger Foundation
37 Rue Phillippe Plantamour
022 310 00 44
This slick establishment was born of a food truck and the ideals of its youthful owners. One of them, Marc, greeted us upon arrival one Friday lunch. Despite being packed, with an attendant waiting list for seats, he skillfully chatted us up, made room at the bar, accommodated our dog, Felicia, and all while kept a watchful eye on the door and the fifteen or so occupied tables. The tastefully decorated room is lively but not loud. It has that electric buzz of happy clients and smoothly functioning staff that every restaurateur hopes for. It is, all in all, fun to be here. The cheeseburger option (21CHF) with starter salad, fries and coleslaw is wonderful. The patty is 160 grams of beefy, juicy goodness. It is handled just enough to keep it together, is perfectly seared and cooked to a spot-on medium-rare. The cheese is heady and full of umami taste (it was described as alpinage). It was the best cheese I tasted. The bun, with poppy seeds, is house made and the veggie sides and accompaniments are hyper-local. In fact here, local-sourcing is a consistent and deeply held belief. The starter salad is fresh with chi and dressed in a rather unconventional, but tasty soy-laced vinaigrette. The fries were good but not the best I tasted, and the cole slaw, although tasty, seemed redundant after the salad. There are cocktails here, simple ones, and decent wines and beer. Excellent coffee is also available. This is a place that I will visit regularly or whenever a hamburger craving strikes. Not only is it Geneva's best burger but also one of its most fun and entertaining spaces. Did I mention they are closed the last Monday of every month for staff dinner? Nice touch.