Sunday, May 26, 2013

3 Places for Medium-Rare Burgers in Auckland

[Added 25 April 2014: Our favourite burger place in Auckland is now Burger Burger. And yes, it does medium-rare by default.]
[Added 7 March 2016: So many great burger places have opened in the past year—this list is well outdated!]

Eating in France was a revelation for us, not least because we tasted for the first time what we considered to be real American burgers, beautifully cooked and with the patty still pink inside. You didn't have to ask for them medium-rare, because that was just how they were, every time. The restaurants even used that lurid orange processed cheese, though occasionally someone would slip in a slice of camembert or something as well. We have not tried burgers in America yet, but that was how we imagined they would be.

The best such burger we have tasted to date, though, was actually in Hong Kong earlier this month, when we visited an independent burger joint called BurgeRoom. Look at what a piece of art that bun is, and how juicy the filling.  We also approved of the excellent service in slicing the burger in half for easy eating, with a skewer in each portion to hold the pieces together.  This is currently our benchmark for the perfect American burger. And yes, even the fries were good.

Bacon Cheese Burger at BurgeRoom.
Of course, this meant we were on the hunt for the same as soon as we returned to Auckland.  How could you make do with what Jesse Mulligan calls Murder Burger Fuelconsin after such an experience (never mind that Murder Burger isn't around any more; you could substitute Handmade Burgers if you like)?

We have yet to find that perfect American burger in Auckland, but that didn't stop us from trying to recreate it ourselves at home. Sadly, though we managed to produce some pretty tasty burgers, we could not find the same sort of cheese, and there was always just something that was not quite right. It is hard to articulate what the difference is, but our burgers were not American burgers.

If you are happy to settle for a burger with a medium-rare patty, skilfully and freshly cooked, then it turns out there are at least a few places in Auckland where you can get this.  You only have to ask... Below are the eateries where we have successfully ordered a medium-rare burger, in the order of how we rate them. None are in the same category as that BurgeRoom burger, our idealised American burger, but there is no reason why you can't enjoy them anyway.

1) Vinyl Coffee Shop

Top on our list is the cheeseburger from Vinyl Coffee Shop. Don't forget you need to ask for it to be cooked medium-rare. Since we last reviewed the place two years ago, this tiny cafe has upgraded their menu, but the burger is still going strong. It is now made from beef rather than lamb, which is definitely closer to our expectations of a classic burger, though the rocket leaves used do push it towards a more gourmet direction. We like the fact that the staff manage to keep the standard consistently high, while throwing in minor variations. The last time we ordered the cheeseburger (before we discovered you could have it medium-rare), it was filled with fancy lettuce with frilled edges, for instance.

Cheeseburger from Vinyl Coffee Shop.
The bun may not look as perfect as the one from BurgeRoom, the colouring not as golden, the sesame less evenly spread, but the bread was soft inside while having the slightest, delicate, crispy crust on the outside. The cheese was regular cheese rather than the orangey American processed cheese, but then we haven't found "proper burger cheese" for sale anywhere other than at the big fast food chains. The meat was juicy and pink in the middle. This was a very good burger, for a very reasonable price tag of $14.

A closer look at the filling.
This place gets extra brownie points for offering a good vegetarian burger and crispy curly fries too.

Vegetarian O.J. Burger, with onion rings and avocado.

Vinyl Coffee Shop
218 Dominion Road, Mount Eden
(09) 623 3821

Opening hours:
Mondays to Fridays 7:30am - 3pm
Saturdays to Sundays 9am - 3pm

2) Late Night Diner

It's an exciting time for Ponsonby, with new eateries popping up left, right and centre. Not just the same kinds of places either, but novelties for Auckland, like the collection of little restaurants in Ponsonby Central, where some businesses started life as food trucks and market stalls. You can have an Argentinian asado at El Sizzling Chorizo (Simon Farrell-Green has a nice write-up of its previous incarnation as a foodcart on Waiheke Island), for instance, and we are also keen to try Foxtrot Parlour's doughnuts, which you can inject with filling yourself, though we've heard their brunch and lunch options are excellent as well.

But I digress.  One of the new places to eat in Ponsonby is the Late Night Diner. This little spot has three booths and some bar seating, with interior windows looking into the Ponsonby Social Club next door (it's owned by the same people). You might have trouble finding a seat depending on when you turn up, but it sure has an attractive menu.  Where else would you go to get rabbit pot pie, crispy skinned fish on popcorn grits, hard shakes (milkshake with a shot of cigar infused bourbon or fernet branca, perhaps), or Oreo doughboys?

Our objective, of course, was none of those things.  We were here for the late night cheese and bacon burger with fries ($15), cooked medium-rare. It was a bit difficult to see what we were eating because of the dim lighting (we used the flash for the photos below), but this is not a beauty contest.

Cheese and bacon burger from the Late Night Diner.
The late night burger does a good job, though the patty was more medium than medium-rare, and it was maybe a little too dry. Simple yet gourmet at the same time, you can always order something else to go with it, as we did.

The patty was more medium than medium-rare.
This place does not pretend to serve healthy food, so we were surprised by how much we enjoyed the slaw we added as a side. Apart from the obligatory cabbage and mayo, the salad was sweetened by some grated carrot and date slices, and jazzed up with mint and lime. Now we have a balanced meal we wouldn't mind returning for.

Late Night Diner
152 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby
(09) 361 2320

Opening hours:
Mondays to Wednesdays 5pm - late
Thursdays to Sundays 5pm - 2am

3) The Flaming Onion

We weren't really looking for a takeaway burger, but with all the hype around The Flaming Onion (the Herald's Viva magazine picked it as Best Burger late last year, alluding to chef Alistair Bingle's background at the Engine Room and Euro) and with their own website saying "Don't be afraid to ask for it medium rare", we decided to give it a go.

Like the popular Big J's in Mount Wellington, The Flaming Onion has a burger special every week. Unlike most other takeaways, though, they also offer hand cut agria chips, and use free range eggs, homemade sauces and good quality ingredients in general.

We ordered the beef and cheese burger, as it sounded most like what we were looking for. Despite the beef patty being thinner than at the eateries we have already mentioned, it was still pink and moist inside. The bun was too fancy for us though. The rosemary in the foccacia bap added an unexpected flavour to the burger (that was our chief complaint with Murder Burger too), and where were the sesame seeds? Although they have taken liberties with the bread, and it was overall not as exciting as Vinyl's burger, it certainly was not bad, and represented good value at $10.

Beef and cheese burger from the Flaming Onion.
We enjoyed the agria chips too. We were not able to eat them all (we couldn't even finish the burger), but they reheated well in the oven. Not sure we would drive out to Northcote for another Flaming Onion burger, but if you are in the area, why not?

The Flaming Onion
1 Lydia Avenue, Northcote
(09) 419 0325

Opening hours:
Tuesdays to Wednesdays 4 - 8:30pm
Thursdays 4 - 9pm
Fridays 12 - 9pm
Saturdays 1 - 9pm
Sundays 4 - 8:30pm
Mondays closed.


  1. Nice round up! I love a juicy burger which is one reason why I dislike chicken burgers so much. They are overcooked, dry and often bland. While I appreciate that the chicken isn't not raw, is it really so hard to cook a piece of chicken?

    I fell in love with curly fries in Wellington recently and since Vinyl Cafe is just around the corner from my house, I'll be visiting that juicy burger and those sexy fries. I'm a minority, but I'm not terribly fond of the gourmet burgers next door to them.

    1. It's amazing that a place that caters so much for vegetarians and vegans can make such a good meat burger, don't you think? I love the curly fries too.

      The thing with the chain next door is that their burgers all kind of taste the same after a while. It's great if you happen to like their aioli, but not so much if you prefer variety.


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