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$20 Dinner

Two West Village Newcomers Bring Fresh, Delicious Energy to the City’s Increasingly Predictable Burger Game 

Burgerhead and Smacking Burger (located in a gas station) surprise and delight with their simple pleasures.

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

I'm not sure exactly when the smashburger completely overwhelmed the beef patty-sandwich scene here, except to say that the last two times I did extensive reporting on New York City's best burgers, in 2015 and then in 2018, none of the 31 various burgers that made those lists could be considered smashed. (Side note: 11 of the restaurants mentioned have since closed.)  

Today though, the smashburger is everywhere, with several mini-chains and plenty of rando and/or gimmicky spots slinging 'em, and high-profile retro restaurants getting full-length love in places like the New York Times and even this publication.

Now, into the fray enters two burger newcomers, one of which eschews the smash completely, and the other of which is located literally inside a gas station. Both are making delicious burgers and sides, and both are well worth seeking out.   

Burgerhead 

The last time I hung out with William Djuric, he was feeding me awesome slabs of burek and trays of cevapi at his and his buddy Jason Correa's Balkan street food restaurant, Balkan StrEATs. Sadly, that restaurant has since closed. "We were a little ahead in this neighborhood for that type of food. There wasn't such a demand," Djuric told Hell Gate.

An equally difficult challenge? Their master baker from Belgrade, Milan Milijancevic, had visa problems, and without him, half the menu was instantly 86ed. And so the duo rebranded their space on Sixth Avenue and opened Burgerhead, slinging superb charbroiled (not smashed!) burgers, sloppy-ass chili dogs, and super-thick shakes.     

Burgerhead's Charburger with bacon, $9.90, chili cheese dog, $7.90, and beef fat fries, $4.50. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

"I love a flame-grilled burger," said Djuric. "It harkens back to backyard barbecues and even going to Burger King as a kid. So we're doing almost throwback burgers here, like my fantasy version, or perfect memory, of a burger."  

You can get your Burgerhead charburger as a double, but the single-patty version works just fine, especially if you add on some bacon. It's meaty and juicy, with a nice balance among the classic toppings (shredded lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles from the Pickle Guys), and a nice mustardy special sauce glopping things up. Bonus points for the good sesame seed bun, which Djuric says is tough to source these days.

Burgerhead's vanilla shake, $5.90 (whipped cream and sprinkles are $1 extra). (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

The salty, beef-tallow fries are first-rate too, as is the vanilla shake, which they make to order with hard, not soft, ice cream, so it's cheek-suctioning thick. And I loved the Burgerhead chili—a woefully underrepresented dish on New York City menus, in my opinion—which you can eat by the cup or ladled all over a snappy hot dog with tons of cheese. It's all extremely satisfying, and it's all exactly what you want food like this to taste like.

Burgerhead is located at 353 Sixth Avenue, between West Washington Place and West Fourth Street, and is currently open on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Thursday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. 

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Smacking Burger 

The last time I hung out with Tommy Hondros, he fed me nothing. To be fair, I didn't show up expecting to eat. Hondros owns the Mobil station on Eighth Avenue and 13th Street, and I was there to take photos for a Curbed story about how he was Lower Manhattan's last gas man standing. 

This was in 2016 and, as far as i can tell, his gas station remains the only one open below 14th Street. And since I've never owned a car in my life, and haven't even rented one since 2011, there hasn't been any reason for me to return and see Hondros again—until last week, when he and his girlfriend Elizabeth Torres opened a full-fledged restaurant inside the station, complete with seating out front, called Smacking Burger.

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

"We opened a snacking place here three years ago called Snackies World, with chips, cookies, sodas, but the taxi drivers, the truckers, the firefighters, they all wanted food," Torres told Hell Gate. "My boyfriend loves burgers, and one day, we were testing these out and he said, 'This thing smacks,' so now we have Smacking Burger. Mr. Smacks"—she pointed to the logo—"is our guy. People are loving it."  

The burgers here are technically smashburgers, but they're "soft smashes," so they're still pretty juicy. And unlike some smash spots, Smacking Burger does not skimp on their sauces, which include an excellent housemade horseradish that I dumped all over my double-patty "Big Smack" and my terrific "Oklahoma 2.0," the latter of which was exploding with charred onions.  

Smacking Burger's Big Smack, $8.99, and Oklahoma 2.0, $8.99. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Both these burgers made me very happy, as did the "World Famous Smacking Fries," a mound of crisp spuds topped with a crumbled up burger; melted American cheese; pickles; onion; plenty of orange "smack sauce;" and, key ingredient alert, a dab of fiery green chimi, which was also housemade, and also great. 

Smacking Burger's fries, $7.99. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Get your beverages from the Mobil Mart refrigerator cases (beer and other boozy pleasures are an option) and grab one of the picnic tables set up outside. Yes, you will smell gas while you eat—non-burger customers are filling up their cars a few feet from you—but you also be the envy of all those poor saps who can't sit down and join you, tethered as they are by their two-ton money suckers. 

Coming soon: a full breakfast menu, and sports (go Knicks!) playing on a bank of flat screens facing the pumps.  

Smacking Burger is located inside the gas station at 51-63 Eighth Avenue, at the corner of 13th Street, and is currently open on Tuesday through Thursday, and Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)
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