A popular theory maintains that the lowly hot dog is the quintessential American food, when in fact it’s the humble hamburger that deserves that distinction.
Each year we devour 14 billion burgers in this country. Its simplicity and convenience, along with the fact that it can dressed up or down — from avocado to za’atar — make it the go-to food for carnivores coast to coast.
We all know its distance relative is Germany’s hamburg steak, but who was the first to slap ground beef on a bun?
Of course there’s an argument tied to the provenance of the patty (just like the ice cream cone, the pizza, the fortune cookie, the margarita and many more).
The family of Louis Lassen, original owner of Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, Conn., screams the loudest. They submit that in 1900 one of Louis’ customers wanted lunch in a hurry, so the cook put a beef patty between two slices of white bread.
The town of Seymour, Wis., begs to differ. For some reason Seymour built a Hamburger Hall of Fame, and stakes a claim as the burger’s birthplace. Local legend says that Charles Nagreen made the first hamburger. It seems while working as a vendor at a local fair in 1885 he realized that fairgoers would have an easier time eating his meatballs if he made them more portable.
Sounds more like a meatball sandwich.
Another story points to the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis as the location of the first burger. The families of Fletcher Davis of Texas and Frank Menches of Ohio are fighting over which long-lost relative came up with the idea first.
There is no dispute that brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald opened the fast-food floodgates. The first McDonald’s opened in 1948, but business really took off in 1954, when the brothers met Ray Kroc, who developed an assembly-line production model still used today.
Today McDonald’s is the most popular hamburger in America in terms of sales, but certainly not the tastiest or the most healthful. Those who refuse to cross under the Golden Arches, and even some slow-food activists, tend to choose In-N-Out as the best of the fast-food empires. It seems they source better quality, more sustainable food stuffs and they treat their employees better.
But does that make In-and-Out the best tasting burger? Many think so, and that’s a travesty if true.
Where can you find the best burger on the Monterey Peninsula? In-N-Out is in and out of the discussion because it’s still fast, franchised food and the closest one is in Salinas.
According to Yelp, the highest rated burgers on the Peninsula belong to 1) Phat Burger, Seaside; 2) RG Burgers, Carmel/Monterey; 3) Bistro 211, Carmel; 4) American Burger, Monterey; 5) Carl’s Jr., Pacific Grove.
That seems like a faulty list to me. So, with the help of master Yelper and Herald restaurant reviewer Raul Nava, I will try to develop my personal Top 5 list. Give me a few months to eat my way around town, and I’ll get back to you.