Where To Celebrate National Burger Month on the Las Vegas Strip
It's well established that the Las Vegas Strip has become ground zero for burgermania, from Celebrity Chef spots like Mario Batali's B&B Burgers & Beer to quality chains like Shake Shack and Fatburger, and a whole lot inbetween.
But I have to give the Hard Rock Cafe points for creativity: They leveraged their worldwide chain status to create a rotating menu of 16 different culturally-inspired burgers from locations from Aruba to Australia, Guam to Germany. I got to sample four variations being served at the Hard Rock Live on the Strip yesterday, along with the Local Legend, a theme burger that stays on the menu year-round. All the burgers are 1/2 pound Certified Angus on soft brioche (with one exception, below) and sell for $17.95 with natural cut fries--not a bad deal, actually, on the Strip.
The Java Lava burger from Seattle, WA has an espresso rub, fried onions, Tilamook cheese, smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato and garnished with a fried jalapeno. House made "lava" sauce came on the side.
The Bahn Mi burger from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam is topped with sliced cucumbers and pickled ribbon veggies, cilantro and spring onions, with "Vietnamese glaze" on the side, and basil fries
The Date burger from Dubai, United Arab Emirates is topped with date chutney and diced dates, cream cheese, let-tom and chili tossed fries
The Schnitzel burger from Koln, Germany is actually not a burger, but two pieces of pork schnitzel on a pretzel bun with smoked bacon, sauerkraut, brown mustard, let-tom
And finally, I sampled the Local Legend, called the "9th Island" (a nod to Vegas' huge Hawaiian population) with grilled pineapple, crispy onions, citrus glaze sriracha mayo, bacon, let-tom
First of all, NO I didn't finish them all in one sitting
At the risk of sounding provincial, I have to admit my favorite was the Java Lava, although most of the combination isn't that radical, the espresso rub did bring a bit of grill-like bitterness to it (a nice balance). Sloppy but worth it. But more than that, the true surprise was the Lava sauce, which was truly complex, tantalizing and addictive. I asked what was in it: a mayo base with mustard, jalapeno finely diced, chili powder, oregano, cilantro, lime juice, fresh garlic, tomato sauce, Worcestershire and cumin. Bottle that stuff, people. I couldn't stay away from it.
I wanted to like the Bahn Mi, which seemed like a no-brainer, the crisp, vinegary fresh veggies balancing the dense patty. Unfortunately the cucumbers were cut too thick and and the other veggies not pickled enough. The glaze was thick and cloying and I'm glad it was left on the side. However, the basil-dusted fries were fantastic--that's a bit of inspired simplicity.
The Date burger was a cute idea but really dominated by the dates and cream cheese reminding me of cream cheese and jelly sandwiches from childhood. The chili fries, a perfect counterpart, saved the plate.
The Schnitzel burger no doubt seemed like a clever if super-cliched idea. Unfortunately the schnitzel, fried thick, just didn't have much flavor, and so the bacon dominated.
The 9th Island was okay, again a sweet-savory combination, but I wouldn't necessarily choose it over one of their standard menu burgers.
On that note, I really wish there was a little more diversity in the selection of burgers offered--I couldn't help but gaze longingly at the lost of other burgers like the Cuban from Miami (that's got to be a slam dunk), the Lancashire Hot Pot from Manchester (not sure, but damn curious) or the Chamorro from Guam. Not to mention I wish the Veggie Leggie patty had been incorporated and to be honest was longing for Hard Rock's grilled veggie sandwich as well--woulda coulda if I didnt already have a full table in front of me. Even gluttons have limits.
A couple more cool notes about Hard Rock--they've got a very fun Kids' Menu, with all meals at $7.95 including healthy choices. ALSO, they responded almost immediately and are raising funds for Guam by encouraging people to round up their checks, which is classy.
As far as #NationalBurgerMonth, Morel's in the Palazzo has a similar menu with comparable pricing (American Wagyu patties) (Disclaimer: I help work on their Social Media account) and the Mirage across the Strip has a few fanciful variations across the property, while other places on the Strip with interesting burger variations on their year-round menus include Bobby's Burger Palace, BLT burger, Gordon Ramsay BurGR and the local Asian-inspired Fukuburger. Off Strip, any serious burger hound cant miss Bachi.
Okay, good times, but now I'm switching to #MeatlessMonday for a week or so