By Johanna Yueh
Let's Burger's Cheeseburger comes draped in melted mozzarella and piled with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and homemade dressing. [China.org.cn]
With its name, Let's Burger makes its mission clear: This restaurant is so serious about the dish, it has turned it into a verb. Thus, it became a prime target for my colleague and me on our search for Beijing's best American burger.
Tucked away in the courtyard of Nali Patio, Let's Burger comes with charming décor and a casual-but-classy atmosphere. Co-owner Patrick So, whose other job is in advertising, opened the restaurant with two friends to bring something new and different to the Beijing burger scene.
"I've been here for five, almost six years," So explained. "Because I love burgers, sometimes I would like to look for some good places to eat burgers, but it's very difficult to find a good place. So that's why this is my first idea to open a burger restaurant – because I think it's a good opportunity to provide a good burger in Beijing."
Let's Burger joined the Beijing burger battle a little later than its burger-making peers Blue Frog and All Star, which both opened August 8 last year. But unlike other Western/American restaurants, Let's Burger focuses only on hamburgers. They have a selection of the necessary fries, of course, as well as a few salads and desserts. And, as So said, Let's Burger falls somewhere between being fast food and being a legitimate restaurant, which gives it that café feel of innovative sophistication. A quick look at the menu confirms that suspicion.
"When I first come to Beijing, the place we eat burgers is McDonald's and probably KFC," So said. "If I want to look for a good burger, I should go to the hotel. So every time I go, it's just the classic burger or cheeseburger. After a couple of times, I got bored."
Let's Burger takes the idea of a burger to whole new levels. The menu includes 16 different burgers, each one concocted by Chef Calvin (whom So called a genius). Priced from 48 yuan (US$7.03) for the Original, only half of the burgers are made with beef, and they are all dressed differently. The Mexicano (68 yuan, US$9.95) comes with chili, jalapeno and mushrooms. The Paris Romantique (68 yuan) has horseradish, sliced beets and capers. The Let's Burger (88 yuan, US$12.88) includes grilled tiger prawn.
It doesn't stop there. The other eight burgers are made with things as common as grilled chicken breast (Chili Chicken, 48 yuan) and Shiitake mushroom (Grilled Mushroom Veggie Burger, 58 yuan, US$8.49) and as radical as black cod (Black Pepper Fillet Steak Burger, 68 yuan) and tuna steak (Pepper Tuna Steak Burger, 88 yuan). But perhaps the ultimate burger in all of Beijing is Let's Burger's Yuki Wagyu that sells for 168 yuan (US$24.59): Wagyu beef and pan-seared foie gras is topped with asparagus, lettuce, tomato, onion, avocado and kewpie mayonnaise.
And then there is the free condiment bar. With 13 types of sauces, from wasabi mayonnaise to remoulade, patrons can add a little more pizzazz to their burgers and fries.
The unique creations reflect the restaurant owners' experiences around the world. Collectively, the three owners, who are from Hong Kong, have spent part of their lives in Australia, Denmark, Japan, the U.K. and the United States. Let's Burger has turned the hamburger from an all-American classic into cosmopolitan fare.
Of course, it comes at a relatively hefty price. Fries and other snacks need to be ordered separately, and while those are enough to share with friends (so go with at least one other friend), it's easy to drop 100 yuan (US$14.64) on a single meal. I opted for a plain cheeseburger (58 yuan), which was good but a little unremarkable when considering the elaborate concept for the restaurant and burgers.
The burger was a good size (i.e., big). The buns were nicely toasted and even on the buttery side – a definite plus in my eyes. The blend of sauces and ingredients gave the patty a nice flavor without overwhelming the taste of the meat, and there was plenty of juice running out of the burger. Thus, it got a little soggy at the end as my bun slipped all over the place.
The only real complaint I had with the burger was the lettuce. So said Let's Burger uses premium ingredients, including organic vegetables (which doesn't necessarily mean anything). But its lettuce reminded me of the kind McDonald's puts on its burgers, the pale greenish-yellow kind that never seems very fresh.
All in all, though, Let's Burger served a yummy burger that perhaps is just a little more than what you would like to pay for it. But it can be cheaper than some other places. The concept of the overall restaurant makes me a little hesitant to call it American, though, and I just didn't feel very American when I ate it. Let's Burger is better for food-aficionados seeking something more adventurous than a traditional American burger.
Visit: Let's Burger. D101A Nali Patio, 81 Sanlitun Bei Jie, Chaoyang District, Beijing. +86-10-5208 6036.
(China.org.cn August 18, 2009)