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n recent years, Jerusalem's Emek Refaim Street has come to be like a hamburger.
Norman's Steak and Burger and Burger Ranch are one bun. McDonalds, Joy, Salena and Burgers Bar are another. The street in the middle is the meat.
Every Jerusalem neighborhood has its hamburger joint. Romema has its Burger Deli, Talpiot its Tal Burger, the Malha Mall has Burger King, there is a Burger Ranch in Pisgat Ze'ev, and Givat Shaul has its own branch of Burgers Bar.
But the German Colony has enough ground beef to allow hamburger aficionados to sample a different hamburger every night for a week.
So it should come as no surprise that when In Jerusalem sampled the burgers at nine hamburger havens, the Emek Refaim eateries came out on top.
In each restaurant we gauged the burgers based on taste, available toppings, size, price, and the ambiance of the restaurant. We also noted when the restaurant offered a unique variety of sandwich that jazzed up the average beef patty.
The ultimate fast food emporium, Burger King, has several varieties of hamburger to choose from. They offer a burger with avocado, a chili burger, a spicy Mexican burger and even a burger with onion rings on it. Unfortunately, such unique toppings are necessary to mask the taste of a dull 100 gram patty of processed beef that on its own tastes the same as the packaging it comes in. (All burgers NIS 18.50)
Their Israeli competitor, Burger Ranch, fared somewhat better in our survey. The hamburger itself is surprisingly savory, juicy and full of flavor. Options there include honey Dijon, sweet chili and a spicy Spanish burger. Their policy of free refills on all fountain drinks - that we wish more restaurants would adopt - is definitely another plus. A Burger Ranch burger is 100 grams. (NIS 18.50)
Perhaps the least known entry in Jerusalem's fast food hamburger market is Burger Deli, which is located on the second floor of Romema's Rav Shefa haredi mall. At Burger Deli, grilled onions come standard on their Texas burgers and double burgers, which are larger than those of Burger Ranch and Burger King, and come on a more satiating bun.
The standard burger at the Red Heifer, located at 38 King George Street on the corner of Hama'alot, is a half pounder (220 grams) (NIS 59). But to liven up your taste buds, instead try the 250 gram Midtown Madness Burger (NIS 65), which is as unique and special as the Biblical red heifer. Topped with pastrami and barbeque sauce, the burger itself was unimpressive, but the succulent pastrami overpowers it. Both burgers come with a choice of mashed or roasted potatoes or fries.
The clientele there is almost exclusively English-speaking and Hebrew menus are only available upon request. At Red Heifer you can get a can of Dr. Brown's root beer, cream soda, or black cherry cola that you might be missing from back home, but the slow service, even when the reatuarant is nearly empty, is a disadvantage.
Now on to Emek Refa'im.
If you have a healthy appetite and a hankering for top quality meat, head to Norman's Steak and Burger, a paradise for no-nonsense meat-lovers. The restaurant prides itself for having what might be the world's largest hamburger. Any customer who finishes the one kilo Sumoburger (NIS 125) gets their name on the Norman's website and wins a free T-shirt.
Norman's burgers are available in varying sizes, but taste pretty much the same. Their smallest burger is 250 grams (NIS 54). You can also get a 400 gram Megaburger (NIS 71), 500 gram Big Daddy (NIS 79), or 750 gram Big Kahuna (NIS 99). All burgers come with barbeque or honey mustard sauce and your choice of baked potato or fries. And you can get that same root beer, cream soda, or black cherry cola, too.
Selena is a more upscale restaurant that opened recently next door to Joy Grill and Beer on Emek Refaim. The low, cushiony chairs, soft music and dim lighting add an ambiance of fine dining that sets Selena apart. Selena offers a fois gras burger that goes nicely with the fancy atmosphere.
But Selena has a secret - their ground beef comes from the same supplier that supplies Burgers Bar, which is owned by the same people.
To differentiate the NIS 49, 300g hamburger at Selena from the NIS 26 hamburger at Burgers Bar, the chefs at Selena change the shape of the patty and divide it into two balls of meat alongside each other. But because the burgers are small and round, their texture is dry and less pleasing to the palate.
Tal Burger on Hauman Street in Talpiyot was started by Tal, the same man who opened the Burgers Bar and Shnitzi chains. The restaurant features red swivel chairs like a real fifties diner because that's what Tal loved about hamburger joints in the United States. Though their meat comes from the same suppliers as Burger's Bar and Selena, Tal Burger claims their burgers contain fewer preservatives.
At all three restaurants you can have your choice of regular beef, lamb, or spicy burger. Tal offers interesting toppings such as carrots, mushrooms, red peppers, pesto, sweet and sour sauce, hot sauce, chimichuri, green tahini, and thousand island dressing. Tal burgers taste the same as Selena's, but they are moister and also less expensive (NIS 20 for 150 grams, NIS 26 for 300 grams).
When you're hungry there is nothing better than a cheap, filling burger from Burgers Bar (NIS 19 for 150 grams). For some reason, even though the meat is the same, Burger's Bar burgers just taste better than Salena's and Tal Burger's.
However, at least in the Emek Refaim branch during the lunch or dinner hour, women and younger children might feel more comfortable ordering from home. The place gets crowded with men and boys who elbow their way to the counter to order and pick up their hamburgers.
The winner of the best hamburger in Jerusalem award for 2005 goes to Joy Grill and Beer, which features a 250 gram Joy Burger (NIS 44) that is as tasty as it is unique. Unlike other restaurants that require toppings to liven up their hamburgers, at Joy, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, thyme, pepper aioli and pine nuts are ground up inside the beef itself to enhance the flavor and texture of the meat and take the hamburger to a whole new level. This is an exquisite and quality burger of which the cow would be proud. Joy's regular 150 gram burger is topped with garlic mayonnaise, pesto and fried onions (NIS 33). Both burgers come with a side order of fries.
If ingenuity and good taste are what you are looking for, then look no further than Joy.
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