In Search of Burger Excellence

The 'Burger Brigade' in a closely fought contest.

This week, I decided to lighten the mood a bit.

In January, I got together with friends and decided to form a small social group with the intention of visiting local restaurants and taverns in Salem for the purpose of comparing food favorites in town.

After some discussion, we settled on burgers as the first item to explore. A no-brainer for sure. Just about everybody eats a burger once in a while. Plain burger, cheese burger, bacon burger, BBQ burger, turkey burger, vegetarian burger; you name it, we eat it. Pickles, onions, mushrooms, lettuce, tomato and even guacamole are all items we put on our burgers. 

The rating system was simple. We rated five items on a 10-point scale (10 being the best); bun, meat, bun to meat ratio, cheese (an automatic 6 was assigned if cheese was not ordered), and the side order. Service and atmosphere were rated on a five point scale (5 being the best). The maximum score possible was 60 points. 

We were not out to anoint anything the best in Salem. That is arbitrary, and the fact is, everybody's tastes run a little different. Time would not allow us to visit every place in Salem that serves a burger, but rest assured, we will do this again next January, and visit some of the places that we missed this year.

Here's how local eateries measured up:

Average score: 42 points.

Best Comment: "Flavorful, juicy, no sinew, flame broiled, delicious;" best bang for the buck."

An annual "best burger" contender, "the Major" impressed with the meat itself and the bun/meat ratio. The bun itself also scored highly as did the french fries and onion rings.  Some of the brigade scored the Major a little lower on the meat temperature and cheese. 

Average score: 45 points

Best Comment: "Tasty, lean and juicy, perfect ratio [of meat to bun]."

One brigade member insisted this was the best burger in Salem, so off we went. Overall, everyone walked away with postive comments. The burger scored highest in meat and burger to bun ratio. The sides also scored high.

Average score: 47 points

Best Comment: "Very tasty, well prepared. Presentation excellent, eye-appealing."

The surprise burger of this endeavor. I did not expect it to be so good (sorry Ronny).

The bun to meat ratio scored high as did the egg-washed roll. O'Neill's was the only place we visited that offered a "monster" burger. The volume of the background music and one very tough rater affected their total points.

Average score: 41 points.

Best Comment: "Bun was soft and tasty, sweet potato fries flavorful and crispy."

One member strayed from red meat and was impressed with the turkey burger. High scores were attained with bun and sides with much praise for the sweet potato fries. Atmosphere scored well.

Average score: 45 points

Best Comment: "Juicy without being greasy, great flavor,  just the right amount of charring."

After much discussion, we agreed to visit. The debate was over the fact that it is the highest priced burger in Salem. It was well worth the trip. The grass-fed beef drove the score up, as did the cheese selection and a whole grain dijon mustard.

Average score: 41 points

Best Comment: "Burger filled the bun and service was quick"

Going here was my choice.  The burger patty itself drove the score up. All other scores were on par. This was the only establishment that did not score low in any category by any rater. There was some surprise that a pizza shop would have a good burger.


There you have it. Six excellent burgers experienced over a seven-week period. Note — only six points separated the restaurants. Take some time to try them all yourself.

After St. Patrick's Day, we will reform the Brigade to explore and rate the various brunch places in Salem. If you are interested in participation with us on a Sunday morning, just drop me an email and I will contact you when the time comes.

William Legault March 05, 2011 at 03:06 PM
Major's was the best price wise with a burger at $5.75 and a cheese burger at $6. Beer Works started at $8.95, cheese and other add ons were .95 cents. O'Neill's came in at $8.99, add ons .99 cents. Victoria Station's burger is $8.59 with cheese adding $1. Green Land started at $11. Their add ons range from .25 cents to .75 cents. The Engine House burger was $6.79 with a cheese burger going for $7.09. All came with a choice of sides.
in01970 March 05, 2011 at 03:22 PM
Thanks Will & your panel of food critics for a great article. Having only just moved to Salem about a year and half ago I am still exploring all the restaurants and bars. One thing I have to strongly disagree with is "Atmosphere scored well" about Victoria Station. My first visit there I sat on the restaurant side. The place was filthy. Every surface you touched was greasy and or dusty. The food portions were very small and when the food came to the table it was stone cold. Our waitress was awful. Took our order, brought out food, brought our check. I couldn't even get a second drink. It wasn't even busy the night I went. I went to the restroom and it was absolutely disgusting. Didn't look like it had been cleaned in days. I worked in the restaurant business years ago and one owner always preached to us "if you can't keep the front of house clean, what does the customer think your kitchen looks like?". A few weeks back we decided to give it a second shot. Sat on the bar side. While it was a bit cleaner and nicer looking than the other side, the service and the food were awful. I won't be going back there ever again. Ok, sorry for my rant. Loved the article. I can't wait to try out the other places you mention.
William Legault March 05, 2011 at 04:23 PM
I would not call our group food critics. We would be more food fans.
KlassySalem March 05, 2011 at 07:10 PM
The best burgers I've had in Salem were at The Old Spot, and the bacon cheeseburger served only at the bar at Finz. Both excellent.
William Legault March 05, 2011 at 08:04 PM
The Old Spot was scheduled for a visit. It was the favorite of one Brigade member. We all showed on a Sunday afternoon and they were closed. Vic Station was the stop instead that day.


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