Ray’s Hell Burger – Arlington

23 09 2010
“Anybody who doesn’t think that the best hamburger place in the world is in his home town is a sissy.” -Calvin Trillin

One of the hottest names in the Washington D.C. restaurant industry is Michael Landrum, famous for his budding restaurant empire launched around flagship restaurant Ray’s The Steaks located down Wilson Boulevard in Arlington. With such famous patrons as President Barack Obama, it’s safe to say Ray’s Hell Burger is more than just a neighborhood burger joint. Several friends and relatives had been there, delivering overwhelmingly positive reviews, and while eating dinner last night we realized we needed to make the pilgrimage.


Tucked away in a small nondescript shopping center, it took another loop around on Wilson Boulevard to secure parking. Despite there being a small parking lot, we were forced to settle for metered street parking as the lot was full. The tables were still fairly full at 2:00 PM, but there was no line to order. The lack of a centralized menu board made ordering a bit more complicated than it needed to be.

Virginia Informer:

I ordered the Big Punisher, a spicy incarnation built around the premium, aged ten ounce burger that’s been hand trimmed and freshly ground that’s a staple of all Ray’s Burgers. I ordered the burger cooked medium, to provide ample pinkness without the risk of the burger falling apart. The Punisher’s patty was “Diablo-Grilled” and brushed with Ray’s Spicy Chipotle Marinade. Pepper Jack cheese was melted over the patty providing a thick and complete covering of the burger, and on the other side of the toasted brioche bun was a medley of charred jalapenos and grilled red onions. Ray’s Piranha Sauce and thick tomato slice were served on the side.

The burger was tender, juicy, and perfectly cooked. The quality of the meat comes out in every bite. The marinade, jalapenos, and Piranha sauce worked together perfectly to provide an excellent spice and heat throughout the burger. The plethora of spicy ingredients was never overpowering and helped contribute to the overall freshness of the burger. The grilled jalapeno and onion medley provided an excellent contrast in texture with the crisp, fresh lettuce (I omitted the tomato). The brioche bun was toasted, an excellent decision as it allowed the bun to soak up the juices from the meat without dissolving into a completely soaked mess. The star of this burger will always be the meat, it is simply the best patty in the region. Despite the strong flavors of the Punisher, the flavor of the meat came through in every bite.

The Shakey Dog:

I got the formidable B.I.G. Poppa which features a peppercorn crusted patty, bleu cheese, sauteed mushrooms, and grilled red onions for $7.99. Well-eaten readers will note that this is the same price as many of the large subs at the Italian Store. Unlike those subs, Ray’s puts a humongous patty on its sandwiches.

The peppercorn crust worked excellently for me because I love pepper, but the taste stays in your mouth for hours afterward, so it is not for those who don’t really love the stuff. The free pickle spear–available on request–was a nice touch. The thick tomato slice added little to the burger and probably contributed to my bun falling apart. Speaking of which, when I ate the ingredients separately, including the patty, they were underwhelming. Together, the ingredients created perhaps the best burger I have ever consumed.

We heard that Hell Burger was overpriced. This is a criminal allegation. The size of the burgers more than justifies the price. When I have a steady income I will frequent Hell Burger. Now if they could just get a TV and bar in the place, it would be perfect.

Wrap-Up

While the meal was superb, the decor and logistics of the restaurant could be improved. While ordering and eating our food we saw several shipments of bottled sodas being loaded into the restaurant. This seemed completely counter productive due to cramped dining and ordering areas. The walls were largely blank, complimenting the minimal storefront sign. The drink options were limited strictly to bottles (except for the cooler of tap water and paper cups). While one does come here for the burgers, slight atmospheric improvements would go a long way. I know that Hell Burger has been or is currently involved in the process of moving and this is either a new or temporary location, so I would take this in stride. Despite the blankness of the premises, it was still the best burger I’ve eaten in a long time and I hope to become a regular. Another fine home grown burger option from Arlington, Virginia.

Addendum: Excellent Article About Ray’s Creator Michael Landrum

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24 08 2011
Ray’s Hell Burger – Arlington [Update] « Chomp2Chomp

[…] how it was a Saturday night at 8:30, Ray’s was obviously crowded. I got my usual order of the Big Punisher cooked medium, which was as excellent as I remembered. We also got an order of fries to split, making it the […]

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