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$20 Dinner

America’s Top ‘Burger Scholar’ Opens Hamburger America in SoHo. Class Is in Session

At George Motz's Hamburger America, aficionados will find everything from the classic smash burger to regional delights like the Oklahoma fried onion burger.

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

It seems safe to say that there are few people in the entire world who know as much about hamburgers as George Motz. A self-proclaimed "burger scholar," Motz had a show on the Travel Channel for a couple of years called "Burger Land;" made a documentary film and wrote a book celebrating regional burger variations; and in 2005, taught an actual course on the topic at NYU.

Burgers are his profession, burgers are his passion, and he's cooked hundreds of thousands of them over the years at pop-ups across the country. And now, Motz finally has a permanent home where he can share all his burger love and lore on a daily basis—the brand-new Hamburger America, a charming restaurant with serious diner vibes on the northwest edge of SoHo. 

Burger scholar George Motz feeding the faithful. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

"Burgers are beautiful," Motz told Hell Gate as he manned Hamburger America's grill before an eager, watchful lunchtime crowd earlier this week. "Everybody understands them, you've probably had different versions of them your whole life, and I truly believe it's one of the great equalizers in the world of American food." He added, "In the gastronomic fabric of America, there are very few things that can be traced back to their roots right here, and be appreciated by everybody. It's utilitarian food, and you can find it in high-end restaurants. It's one of the greatest things you can make to feed someone." 

There are two burgers on the menu during Hamburger America's current soft-opening phase, both available as a single or a double. (You definitely don't need to order the double for a satisfying meal, but it does make for a pretty awesome meat-eating experience.)

Double fried onion burger, $11.50. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

The headliner is Motz's Oklahoma fried onion burger, a regional style which he says goes back at least 100 years. Sit at the counter and watch as he plops a baseball-sized mound of ground chuck onto the grill, salts it like a road, blankets it in finely shredded raw onions, then smashes it all down with impunity. After a single flip, he adds a slice of American, then puts the soft white bun on while it's still on the grill, so everything gets fused together. It's a charred-to-hell, greasy, cheesy, meaty masterpiece. 

Also excellent is Motz's classic smash burger, which should be ordered "all the way" with pickles, diced onion, cheese, mustard, and definitely not ketchup, which Motz famously scoffs at as being too sweet for a burger condiment.

Hamburger America will also soon have a rotating cast of special limited-edition burgers, with a different regional creation highlighted each month. First up is Michigan chef Autumn Weston's olive burger, followed by Jack Keller's "The No. 5" from Dallas, and then Wisconsinite Glenn Fieber's butter burger.

Things that aren't burgers here include some good shoestring fries, a nostalgia-inducing grilled cheese that cries out for tomato soup, and—sleeper hit alert—a lovely, creamy egg salad sandwich.

Grilled cheese on white, $5. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

And there's a whole section of milks to wash it all down, from regular whole to chocolate to mocha to a super-sweet and extremely good coffee milk, which is apparently a thing in Rhode Island. There's no need for dessert if you have a glass of this stuff, but you can also get a couple of decent chocolate chip cookies or a slice of key lime pie from Greenpoint's Pie Corps if you want, no one will stop you. 

 Sleeper hit alert: this egg salad sandwich on white toast, $7. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

The entrance to Hamburger America is on Houston Street near Sixth Avenue, but the space sprawls all the way over and back to MacDougal. The most fun place to perch is at the counter, which gives you a front-row seat to the show at the grill, but the back dining room has booths and tables if you want to spread out and chill a bit. And Motz totally pulls off the diner vibe. The place is charming and comfortable and familiar, like S&P, or Salty Lunch Lady, or Superiority Burger, rather than feeling like some sort of Americana theme park.     

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Hamburger America is located at 51 MacDougal Street, though the entrance is on Houston Street. Motz is still in soft open mode while he staffs up, but it's generally open from noon to 8 p.m. Check Hamburger America's Instagram Stories to see if it's open that day before heading over.  

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)
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