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Jerusalem eats: Best Burgers in the holy city

SC 08/04/2021 2


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It’s spring, the worst of the coronavirus pandemic seems to be behind us, and it’s time for Jerusalemites to get reacquainted with the best of their city. Just before Passover, I was sent on a mission to find the best kosher burgers in the Holy City. A tough job, but someone’s got to do it.
In recent years, the local market for great burgers has really opened up, and there are so many great options, especially around the Mahaneh Yehuda shuk, where the 45-minute waits to get into the most popular places that were the norm before corona seem to be coming back. There’s definitely a cool burger culture targeted more toward young party-goers than family dining at most places listed here. I hope this list will help you decide where to go, whether you are in the mood for a kosher bacon-cheeseburger with onion rings; a triple-decker with tons of add-ons; or a regular burger, fries and a beer at a great price.
Over this journey, I learned that the most fun thing about reviewing burgers isn’t getting a lot of free food; it’s speaking with the restaurant managers to hear about each place’s vision and learn about a small microcosm of Jerusalem’s culture. So whether you are a seasoned Jerusalem foodie or a first-time visitor, I hope you’ll allow yourself to live vicariously through me as I eat my way through the city.
At first, my mission was to compare each restaurant’s most classic burger and fries, but as you’ll see, that got harder as the adventure went on. All of the burgers I tasted were excellent, so if I don’t mention that explicitly in some places, don’t be alarmed. All places mentioned offer deliveries, and all burger places have Rabbanut kashrut certification unless otherwise noted. Whenever I refer to “bacon” or “cheese” (which I do a lot), I’m referring to kosher bacon made from beef or lamb, and pareve vegan cheese.
Let’s take this tour from the beginning.

DAY 1:

Jozef Burger – 123 Agrippas Street | josef-burger.co.il | 077-527-7070

The story of burgers in the shuk started when Jozef Burger opened seven years ago. Started by the owners of the legendary Hatzot restaurant right next door, which has been a Jerusalem fixture since 1970, the restaurant is named after the grandfather of the restaurant’s founder, Avraham Agami. 
“This is a place for people who know how to appreciate good meat,” says the manager, Rafi, although it wouldn’t be the only time I would hear that statement. He adds that Jozef’s clientele is primarily Americans and older people.
For the tasting, I had the 240-gram Angus Burger (NIS 47) and the house fries (NIS 16). The burger is made from South American Angus beef, with only some salt and pepper for flavor so the natural tastes come out, Rafi explains. It comes open-faced with the standard lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles, with small dishes of chimichurri, BBQ sauce, spicy, garlic mayonnaise and harif (spicy sauce) on the side (the house blend, Rafi says). The fries are served with a very tasty blend of Mediterranean spices that I kept thinking about after I got home.
As I eye the menu, I can’t take my eyes off Jozef’s over-the-top burgers. The most bombastic option is a magnificent NIS 190 creation that includes four different burgers, fried egg, sausage, goose liver, garlic confit, onion jam, portobello mushroom and a slice of pineapple. It’s about as tall as my face. If you like living a bit less large, there are a number of topping combos you can add to your burger, ranging from NIS 23-50 for packages like goose breast, garlic confit and guacamole. From fancy burgers to occasional burger-eating competitions (last winter, the winner ate a one-kilo burger in 150 seconds), these guys are really into breaking boundaries.

DAY 2:

Harvey’s Burger Shack – Shlomzion HaMalka 1 | facebook.com/harveys.burger.shack | (02) 657-1303 | Mehadrin
Chef Harvey Sandler is a Jerusalem culinary legend. An immigrant from Canada, he created and ran one of Jerusalem’s fanciest restaurants, Gabriel, before deciding in 2017 that Jerusalem needed something else. Days after closing Gabriel at the beginning of 2018, he opened Harvey’s Smokehouse, the city’s first American-style barbecue smokehouse. Harvey’s has been one of the city’s trendiest places ever since, and Sandler opened his new burger shack right around the corner, about a month before coronavirus started.
“Yeah, that hit us pretty hard,” says Sam, an English-speaking immigrant, who has managed the place ever since.
“Harvey’s vision for burgers centers around what’s known is America as a smash burger. The chef takes a ball of meat and presses it into the plancha, caramelized on both sides so it holds in all the juices all the flavor. We use very high-end meat for a heavy beef taste, with no seasonings added except a little salt while it’s cool. And our dream is to serve it as a non-kosher-tasting kosher mehadrin bacon-cheeseburger.”
A bit later, we’ll talk more in-depth about the kosher bacon-cheeseburger phenomenon, but Harvey’s menu includes a variety of incredible-sounding gourmet options with different combinations of smoked meats, vegan (pareve) cheeses, and barbecue sauces. For my tasting, I have a regular double (250 gram) smash burger (NIS 48) and sweet potato fries (NIS 22), served with whatever sauces I ask for. Sauces are free, except for the Whiskey Jack BBQ, which costs NIS 5 because it includes 30% Jack Daniels, Sam says.
“Shack” is not the most accurate way to describe the seating area. With spacious indoor and outdoor seating on a quiet corner just off the bustle of the city’s center, Harvey’s has one of the most pleasant seating environments of the places surveyed. A nice way to enjoy classic American-style barbecue in Jerusalem.

DAY 3:

Burger Market – Two locations: HaArmonim 3 (shuk) and Shimon Ben Shetach 3 | burgermarket.co.il | (02) 970-2222
Burger Market may be the best value burger. For NIS 55 (or NIS 49 for those joining its free loyalty club from the website), you get a 200-gram burger, fries (potato or sweet potato, or mix) and beer or soft drink served on an old-style wooden tray, with a rack of four sauces brought to the table.
“Our vision is that this is a burger for everybody,” says Jessica, the manager of both branches of Burger Market. “It’s priced for everyone. You can see people in suits coming from important meetings alongside soldiers who can’t afford anywhere else. We don’t skimp on quality. We use the best ingredients, and we don’t hold back because of price. Some people like to order extra toppings, and we have a wide variety (but no kosher cheese or bacon, although we’ve been thinking about it). But we wanted to make it easy to relax with a nice burger and a beer.” 
Jessica hands me a menu written on a paper bag and laminated, another part of the “simple” image.
The burger is slightly smaller than others I try, but no less tasty, and the sweet potato chips are fun, cut curly thin and fried almost like potato chips. I had lunch at the Shimon Ben Shetach branch, so the place wasn’t too crowded, unlike the way the branch in the shuk gets at night.

DAY 4:

Agadir – Cinema City | agadir.co.il/en/branch/jerusalem-kosher | (03) 711-3333 | Rabbanut/ Machpoud
Founded in 1998 in Tel Aviv’s Nahalat Binyamin neighborhood, Agadir is one of Israel’s oldest and best-known burger chains. Among Israel’s pioneers in the burger-bar concept, Agadir now has 13 locations across Israel, including kosher branches in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak that opened within the last three years. The restaurant is named after a city in Morocco that was rocked by a massive earthquake in 1960, and is meant to conjure associations of a Middle Eastern explosion in your mouth, says Eden, the restaurant’s manager and daughter of the Jerusalem branch owner.
Situated in the Cinema City shopping center, the front window boldly declares that it has “one of the ten best burgers in the world,” a reference to the Tel Aviv branch’s inclusion on a Business Insider list in 2013. The burger and fries I tasted were definitely tasty, but I wouldn’t go quite that far.
Set up in a giant dining hall with a spacious bar and a beautiful outdoor seating area overlooking the Knesset complex, the experience is far fancier than any of the other places we tried. I order the Maxi 220-gram burger (NIS 55) and Agadir chips (NIS 16/25). Compared to the other burgers on our list, this one is relatively unimpressive, but the fries have a unique puffy texture that makes them feel heartier than most other chips.
Low-carb dieters will like that Agadir offers a Keto burger with a bun made from almond flour, and gluten-free buns can be requested for nearly any burger, Eden notes.

DAY 5:

Crave – Ha-Shikma St 1 | www.crave.co.il | (02) 627-2830 | Mehuderet
With its crowded shuk vibe, bold marketing, and one of the more innovative menus around, Crave is arguably the most iconic restaurant in Jerusalem for English-speakers. First opened in 2016 by four partners (two of whom have left to found a similar restaurant in Tel Aviv, Bodega), Crave takes credit for bringing kosher lamb bacon to Israel among its accolades.
“My partner, Tzvi Maller, grew up in Los Angeles, not keeping kosher, so bacon and cheeseburgers were a big part of what he knew,” says co-owner Yoni Van Leeuwen. “We wanted to create a unique gourmet place, and bacon was part of our vision from the beginning, even though it is very time- and labor-intensive to make.”
This month, five years after its lamb bacon began to shake up the kosher restaurant industry, Crave made headlines when the Jerusalem Rabbinate ruled that the restaurant would not be allowed to list “bacon” on its menu, due to the word’s classic non-kosher association to pork. While Van Leeuwen insists that the term refers to a specific method of smoking and curing meat, not pork per se, the restaurant has reluctantly changed the item name on the menu to “facon.”
While my mission for this article had been to taste each restaurant’s most basic burger option, Yoni wouldn’t accept that. Instead, I am served the Mendel (NIS 76), with vegan cheddar and lamb facon, along with panko-crusted onion rings (NIS 29) and sweet potato fries (NIS 33) on the side. Everything is delicious, and I regret that I haven’t allowed myself to sample the fancier options until now.
Tzvi, a trained and demanding foodie, describes the Mendel’s taste concept: “First, you bite down and hit the barbecue sauce to get some flavor going on. Then you hit the lettuce, tomato and onion, and then the bacon, the cheese, the burger, and finish it off with some garlic mayo on the bottom. Put that all together and it’s like an orgasm in your mouth.” 
I couldn’t have said it better myself.

DAY 6:

Segev Burger – Two locations: Hashikma 6 (shuk) and Yad Harutsim St 4 | segevburgers.co.il | (02) 501-7170
After 25 years running a premium butcher shop in the Talpiot industrial area, Nissim Segev opened his first burger shop right next door in 2017, and immediately gained recognition as one of the city’s best burgers. In 2019, he opened a second branch in the shuk, at a time when the competition among burger joints there was starting to get fierce. Segev has since opened a food truck that is open most nights in the Monastery of the Cross, near Gan Sacher, and has plans to open others in new neighborhoods soon, says Almog, manager of the Mahaneh Yehuda branch.
Now that I’ve allowed myself to go fancy, Almog insists that I try the “Cheezy” (NIS 69, including fries and a drink), Segev’s own version of the bacon-cheeseburger. Upon the first bite, I immediately notice that, whereas Crave’s vegan cheese blended seamlessly into the burger’s taste and texture, this one has a strong cheddar taste that somewhat overpowers all the other tastes. Almog says this is intentional, for a more authentic taste, but I would have liked to enjoy more of the other tastes oozing throughout. I would have preferred to try the Wagyu burger (NIS 88), with a kosher version of the extremely rare Japanese beef variety that is said to be uniquely fatty and delicious.
The dish comes with a mix of potato and sweet potato fries that are crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. You can get ketchup and mayonnaise from the large dispensers at the counter.
Upon reopening after coronavirus, the restaurant has simplified its menu to offer only a few of its most-loved options, Almog says. The ambiance of the restaurant has less character than most of the other places, but I love that every bun has the restaurant’s logo stamped into it with a branding iron.

DAY 7, PART 1:

Twins – First Station | twinsfood.co.il | (02) 993-0046 | Mehadrin
Twins, located at the far end of First Station in the “Beit HaKavan” where Tommy’s used to be, is the new kid on the block. The two owners, Nissim and Guy, opened the restaurant last July, during the middle of the pandemic, with a vision to offer something different to the burger market. Burgers are served in Moroccan frena bread, which is thinner, sturdier, and more Middle-Eastern looking than the perfect white buns everyone else uses.
I am served the restaurant’s flagship burger (NIS 69), topped with shredded Asado strips and veggies, coming with a mix of fries and onion rings on the side. The burger is excellent, but both side dishes were a bit weak. The menu also offers Mexican and French burger creations, as well as a kid’s meal, and the owners make an effort to offer unique sauces, like chipotle, instead of the same things everyone else uses. Everything is made by the restaurant, including its own private beer label. The location is quiet and spacious, perfect for a summer night with the family or on a date.

DAY 7, PART 2:

Captain Burger – First Station | *2583 | captainb.co.il | Mehadrin – Mahpoud
If I’m already in First Station, I have to check out Captain Burger, which has been in the same location for several years, but became kosher a bit more than a year ago, just before the pandemic started. It’s one of a few kosher branches of a chain with about ten locations around the country.
Even though I’m stuffed from my meal at Twins minutes earlier, branch manager Maimon brings me a serving of gigantic home-made onion rings (NIS 15) as he tells me what makes Captain Burger unique. The restaurant seems to have more of a kids-friendly focus than most of the places I visited, and offers a kids’ menu, stickers for the little ones, and something I haven’t seen anywhere else: free drink refills. 
There is plenty of room for sitting indoors and outdoors, and the back patio overlooks the fun of First Station’s merry-go-round. Maimon tells me that there is an incessant focus on the restaurant’s level of hygiene and cleanliness. I’m also pleasantly surprised by another oddity on my table: a full napkin dispenser. It’s a common criticism that most restaurants in Israel are very stingy with napkins, so that was a treat. I didn’t get to try any of the burgers, but the onion rings were the best I sampled during the course of our tour.

DAY 8:

Burgers Bar – 17 branches around Jerusalem | burgersbar.co.il | *2242 | Some Mehadrin branches
As we finish our tour, we’re coming home. Burgers Bar can be credited for bringing the new burger culture to the Holy City when it opened on Emek Refaim Street in 1999. During the years after I made aliyah, the ultimate ending to a great evening out was crowding around the counter, waiting to choose the sauces and toppings that would grace my burger when it came off the grill.
Now, some of that excitement is gone. The newer places are much trendier, and the jostling around the counter has been replaced by electronic screens that let you choose your toppings via touch screen and pay easily by credit card. But the burger (NIS 45 for the 220-gram option) can still hold its own. After a week of tasting the best the city has to offer, I was impressed that the classic Burgers Bar burger was still among the best, even if the fries (NIS 15) weren’t. A satisfying end to an amazing journey.
SO WHICH burger was the best?
I realized early on that such a question was impossible to answer. A burger is actually quite complex, and each burger is different, with a lot of different elements that all have to work perfectly. A 250-gram Angus burger with choice sauces is different from a 220-gram grill burger with the house sauce, or a kosher bacon-cheeseburger piled high. Have you ever had a burger with too much sauce, a slightly-stale bun, or soggy vegetables on top? With few exceptions, each of the burgers I enjoyed was a perfect and immersive experience from beginning to end.
I also would be remiss in trying to choose a single best burger because I missed so many. Among the burgers I couldn’t get to that were suggested were Tommy’s on KKL Street, Haburganim on Derech Hebron, and Ruben on Kanfei Nesharim.
That being said, I learned a lot, and have plenty of recommendations:
• BEST VALUE: By far, it is Burger Market’s full meal, with fries and a beer for NIS 55 (or NIS 49 for club members). Some of the options I tasted can run up to NIS 80 or more with fries and a drink. Segev’s Classic burger, which comes with a soft drink and fries for NIS 59, is also a good affordable option.
• NICEST PLACE TO SIT: The problem with eating in the shuk is that you’re in the shuk. Seating can be crowded, and long lines are common. Twins, near First Station, is quiet and peaceful, with plenty of space to spread out. Harvey’s Burger Shack is a relaxed place to enjoy a burger with friends, while Agadir is spacious, swanky and best suited for a family get-together or a business meeting. Captain Burger may have been the most kid-friendly environment.
• BEST FRIES: That one is tough. I gained a new appreciation for the wide variety of ways that the different restaurants prepare their fries with different shapes, flavors and textures. It’s easier to pick the ones I liked least: Twins and Burgers Bar. Otherwise, lots of winners.
• BEST ONION RINGS: Captain Burger, followed by Crave, although in fairness, I didn’t try them at too many places.
• MOST BOMBASTIC BURGER: A key to a really incredible burger experience is great toppings. We talked a lot about kosher bacon-cheeseburgers, but most places offer great extras like portobello mushrooms, grilled deli meats and sausages, fried eggs, avocado, goose liver and different vegetables you can add to your meat. You can even get peanut butter or pineapple! However, it was Jozef’s that elevated decadence to its highest art form, with the triple- and quadruple-deckers described above.
Whether or not my hard work on this project helps you choose your next burger destination, I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I did eating!
The writer was a guest of the eateries.

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Co-Host for Coffee Mouth Scarecrow Show. Retired NAVY Chief/Flag Writer Psalms 118:24 This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.

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