I've had some excellent meals in South America - grubbily delicious street food, perfectly cooked slabs of high quality steak, flavorful soups and fluffy pancakes and a few fantastic pesto chicken sandwiches - but burgers simply haven't been among them. Down here, burgers are one of those things everybody does but nobody does well. It's rare to see a menu without a burger on it but it's equally rare to enjoy that ubiquitous burger. Thick, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth buns, thin, flavorless meat, wilted lettuce, over-salted cheese, a sorry looking tomato - this is the standard hamberguesa in South America. They try to cover their mistakes with a mass of mayo and ketchup, which of course only makes things worse. No, no, no. You quickly learn to look elsewhere on a menu but do find yourself yearning for a good example of that old American standby. Well a few days ago that craving was satisfied.
A friend raved about the Burger Joint, a restaurant in the Palermo neighborhood of Buenos Aires, as a place worth traveling to. High praise, as Palermo is a subway ride and a long walk from where we were staying, but it was a neighborhood worth checking out anyway.
I thought I knew burgers. I've been to the Texas greasy spoons. I've experienced the East Coast gourmet burger revolution. I certainly didn't think I could be so surprised by a burger in a little graffitied hole in the wall in Buenos Aires. But that's exactly what happened when I ordered La Bleu.
Sun dried tomatoes, Bleu cheese, caramelized onions, portabella mushrooms, and a little bit of arugula. Fresh baked bun, lightly toasted. Quality meat, cooked until it's slightly pink on the inside and not a second longer. Crispy fries, honey mustard and cilantro mayo on the side. Perfection.
The Burger Joint is a place that bets on itself. Small menu, no substitutions, no gimmicks. They do very little but they do it very well. There are only 5 burgers to choose from (La Bleu, The Original, The Mexican, The Jamaican, and, of course, the bacon-and-cheese-filled L' Americain) and I hope to have them all before I leave this city. A true treat in an unexpected place. Hard to believe with amount of signatures on the wall, but the owner says they've only been open 9 months. In that time, they've already appeared on a few international "best of" lists. I have a feeling they'll be appearing on a lot more.