Food Prowl is a yearlong look at what the city's restaurants have to offer. Each month, food writer Sarah Baker Hansen, and a few guest tasters, will name a new victor in the epic battle of food.
Coming in August: Omaha's best fried chicken
The Food Prowl team ate the eighth burger and argued.
It turns out cheeseburgers can be controversial.
Between bites, we sparred over juiciness, seasoning, buns, toppings, sogginess, meat flavor, grease levels and at what temperature a burger should be cooked.
We thought we knew who was going to win. We didn't.
It was a tie.
Note: Dive bar burgers and casual restaurants only. We'll prowl for high-end burgers down the road.
2368 S. 29th St.
“This may be the perfect burger,” Nick said.
Nick, our resident seasoning expert, said Dinker's passed the test for salt and pepper. The toasted bun impressed us. The patty held together but it wasn't too tightly packed. It was juicy, fatty and greasy, but not too much of any of the three. The flavor of the beef managed to still come through even between condiments. It was subtle but fresh and meaty.
“It's going to be hard to beat this,” Michelle said. We all concurred, and kenw we had a front-runner.
1609 Farnam St.
After one bite, Nick threw his hands in the air and shook his head as he chewed.
“Winner!” he exclaimed. “Winner. It's a complete dish. It blows Dinker's away.”
An vehemently disagreed.
“It's salty. It's too rare,” she said. “The pickles are watery. The bun is off, but that's not a deal breaker.”
It was the first burger we'd had that An didn't love. Her sister agreed: too salty.
The Vu sisters stuck to their guns, and to Dinker's.
The Dinker's burger, in my mind, was simply fantastic, but the Block burger was the finest example of meat I'd seen: oozing with juice, slightly pink in the center, tender and deeply flavorful. I loved the stack of condiments on the burger — it was messy in the best possible way.
The burger itself sold me. I love being surprised by something so unexpectedly delicious.
The Other Contenders
Stella's Bar and Grill
106 Galvin Road South, Bellevue
We thought Stella's was going to be the winner.
We all got the same thing: a cheeseburger topped with a fried egg.
Our four burgers didn't come on napkins, as is the Stella's way, and instead arrived in baskets. Immediately, my burger had structural issues: Half the patty fell into the basket after one bite.
And we all decided pretty quickly that there were some other issues, too: The burger vs bun ratio -- an unscientific term we made up concerning the size of the bun versus the size of the burger -- was off. I had a big wad of bun left in my hand after my patty was gone. An and Michelle did, too.
The Vu sisters both liked the texture of the hand-pressed beef patties at Stella's, but they didn't love the slippery base of tomatoes, lettuce and onions that made the burger slide out of the bun and required constant rearranging and gobs of napkins.
Nick, a self-proclaimed “salt man,” said he could have used more seasoning. I could have used both more seasoning and more moisture in my somewhat dry patty.
“It's good, but it's also missing some essential elements,” An said.
After our last bites, we all were a bit shocked: Was the juggernaut going down?
Papa Chris' Chicago Originals
7024 Maple St.
We went to Benson's hole-in-the-wall, dimly-lit bar and ended up with the straight cheeseburger, called the Louie burger. A layer of hot, melted cheese seared the top bun to the patty, and a thin layer of grease fused the bottom bun. The burger vs. bun ratio was spot on, though the patty itself was a touch greasy.
“This is a working man's burger,” Nick said. “Totally divey.”
We had an early contender on our hands.
4005 Twin Creek Drive, Bellevue
Sinful Burger's menu is devoted to burgers that emulate the seven deadly sins.
We went for the restaurant's signature, the Sinful Burger, a juicy lucy-style burger with the cheese packed inside the burger instead of on top.
The center of my burger oozed with melty cheese.
An thought the bun was too bread-like, but we all agreed the texture of the meat was good, and the melty, cheesy center surrounded by the nicely cooked meat seemed like a commendable feat of kitchen engineering. My one complaint: When I got to the second half of my cut-in-half burger, the meat had absorbed most of the melted cheese.
Louie M's Burger Lust
1718 Vinton St.
By this point, we were all suffering from a touch of burger fatigue. But we soldiered on.The patty seemed lacking in salt and pepper, and there wasn't any grease.
“Seasoning is the hardest thing about cooking,” Nick said. “You have to dump salt and pepper on meat. It just has to be there.”
“It's stripped down,” An said. “Almost like an organic burger.”
We liked what we found at Louie M's. But it also couldn't best Dinker's
Phoenix Food and Spirits
12015 Blondo St.
Tiger Tom's Pub
7103 Military Ave.