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Everything You Need to Know About Burger Chains in Washington
From BGR to Umami Burger to In-N-Out, the lowdown on all the meatwich mavens and their plans for us. By Jessica Voelker, Douglas Bair
The Crunchburger at Bobby's Burger Palace (left) and Kraze Burger's Vege and Bean (right). Photographs courtesy of the restaurants.
Comments () | Published May 16, 2013

Michael Landrum’s ongoing issues with Ray’s Hell-Burger aside, fast-casual burger chains are the business to beat in Washington. The most American of foods may also be one of the most profitable—making moguls out of Top Chef vets, Food Network stars, and more than one young go-getter with a novel approach.

With all the homegrown chains and farther-flung imports, it’s nearly impossible to keep track of their comings and goings. To clarify the matter, we created this list of hamburger restaurants, including Washington-born companies that are expanding, out-of-town ventures that have announced plans to move in here, and a few one-shop entities that—rumor has it—are looking to grow.

Homegrown—and still growing

BGR the Burger Joint

Based in: Bethesda

Claim to fame: On our Cheap Eats list since 2009, BGR has garnered national attention from the likes of the Travel Channel and Food Network for its 9 Pounder burger topped with two heads of lettuce, eight tomatoes, three red onions, and four whole pickles. Clean your plate in one sitting, and it’s on the house. (The order comes with bottle of Maalox.)

Number of Washington-area locations: 12

Total number of locations: 20, spread across California, Georgia, Florida, New York, South Carolina, and Tennessee, with a new store opening in Connecticut soon.

Plans to expand: Founder Mark Bucher says he is always on the lookout in proven retail success neighborhoods such as Shaw, Capitol Hill, Chevy Chase, and Rockville. 


Black & Orange

Based in: Washington, DC

Claim to fame: Chef Raynold Mendizabal’s “Asian-inspired Now and Zen” burger seasoned with soy sauce and ginger, for starters. A lawsuit forced a name change (it used to be called Rogue States), but the burger selection remains the same.

Number of Washington-area locations: 2

Total number of locations: 2

Plans to expand: CEO and president Navid Ghatri told us a new Charlottesville location is in the works as the company continues conversations with contractors and architects. He also plan to open three new locations within the next couple of years.


Bolt Burgers

Based in: Washington, DC, and founded by “a consortium of eye doctors,” according to press materials. The docs have joined forces with Restaurant Consultants Inc.

Claim to fame: The website boasts “high-impact burgers” with “powerful bolts of exclusive toppings.” 

Number of Washington-area locations: 0; a store at 1010 Massachusetts Avenue, Northwest, should open in the third quarter of 2013, says principal Joe Spinelli.

Total number of locations: 0

Plans to expand: Word of a second DC location should be coming soon, and Spinelli says Bolt will hit Virginia in 2014. After that, the idea is “to start franchising very quickly.”


Burger 7

Based in: Tysons Corner

Claim to fame: Hormone-free, antibiotic-free Angus patties, organic dairy products, and variety in toppings—fried egg, cole slaw—distinguish this Virginia-based burger chain, says CEO Ramzi Iskandar.

Number of Washington-area locations: 2, with a third debuting in Alexandria in the first week in June.

Total number of locations: 2

Plans to expand: Iskandar announced to us Monday that he has two more local restaurants in the works. After those are up and running, he’ll begin offering franchises and may well move into other metropolitan areas.


Burger Tap & Shake

Based in: Foggy Bottom

Claim to fame: The counter service at this burger joint near GWU’s hospital brings that Southern comfort feel and taste to the table.

Number of Washington-area locations: 1

Total number of locations: 1

Plans to expand: Burger Tap & Shake’s media contact says expansion is part of the plan, but no additional locations have been finalized.


Elevation Burger

Based in: Arlington

Claim to fame: Organic, grass-fed, free-range beef goes into the burgers.

Number of Washington-area locations: 12 (there are two brand new Elevations in Vienna and Crofton, Maryland)

Total number of locations: 39, with restaurants as far-flung as Bahrain and Kuwait.

Plans to expand: “We are excited to be opening Elevation Burgers in two new markets for us—Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Raleigh, North Carolina—over the next few months. We’ll continue to research potentially new domestic and international locations for the brand, and we plan on having 75 stores open by the end of 2014,” reports founder and CEO Hans Hess.


Five Guys

Based in: Lorton, Virginia

Claim to fame: It’s an über-popular trailblazer endorsed by POTUS himself.

Number of Washington-area locations: 34

Total number of locations: The founding Murrell brothers have exceeded their parents’ challenge to “start a business or go to college” with the expansion of their burger chain into 1,000 locations across the US and six Canadian provinces.

Plans to expand: Five Guys’ PR rep hedged the question by stating that the company always focuses on markets and neighborhoods where their burger shop business will do well. They’ve likely opened ten restaurants in the time it took to type this sentence.


Good Stuff Eatery

Based in: DC

Claim to fame: Both President and Mrs. Obama have a thing for the burgers at Top Chef celeb Spike Mendelsohn’s Capitol Hill flagship shop. What the rest of us can’t resist: the toasted marshmallow milkshake topped with charred fluffs.

Number of Washington-area locations: 2 open; a Georgetown restaurant will open in summer 2013.

Total number of locations: 2; a Philadelphia restaurant is due to debut in winter 2013. (So with the Georgetown one, there will be four in all.)

Plans to expand: “Currently all of our restaurants are owned by the Mendelsohn family,” says a company rep. “However, in about eight months we will be prepared to launch our franchise plan and expand nationally.”


TD Burger

Based in: Largo, Maryland

Claim to fame: Another Top Chef-bred burger joint—this one comes from season seven contestant Timothy Dean, who turned to fast-casual after a string of setbacks in the Baltimore fine-dining world. Dean says he has tasted all the Washington-area burgers and the only one that comes close to his—at Bourbon Steak—is far pricier.

Number of Washington-area locations: 1, in Largo; a second TD Burger is slated for 250 K Street, Northeast, in June. The new place will have a deck, a full bar, and happy hour.

Total number of locations: 1

Plans to expand: Dean says he has grand plans for franchising locally and beyond, and a TD Burger could pop up in the NoMa area.


Thunder Burger & Bar

Based in: Georgetown

Claim to fame: Executive chef Ryan Fichter’s Wild Game Wednesdays dish out a different wild game meat each week. Patrons visit this M Street restaurant to expand their palate with wild boar sausage, turtle fritters, ostrich and alligator ribs, and kangaroo sliders.

Number of Washington-area locations: 1

Total number of locations: 1

Plans to expand: Contradicting rumors that there are offshoots on the horizon, one of the managers, Josh Bishop, says the restaurant is focused on its current location and has no plans to become a chain—though, of course, the idea of opening another restaurant is always on the table.


Z-Burger

Based in: Washington, DC

Claim to fame: 75 milkshake varieties to pair with your burger along with free toppings like fried onions and sautéed mushrooms.

Number of Washington-area locations: 5

Total number of locations: 5

Plans to expand:  Following its Arlington store opening last week, Owner Peter Tabibian shows no signs of slowing down as he has “four or five more” leases (both in DC and Virginia) currently in negotiation.


Based elsewhere, but has moved in here

Bobby’s Burger Palace

Based in: New York City

Claim to fame: Food Network star Bobby Flay expands his fortune with this fast-casual chain specializing in the Crunchburger, a patty topped with potato chips.

Number of Washington-area locations: 1 in DC proper, plus locations in College Park, Woodbridge, Virginia, and Hanover at Maryland Live! Casino

Total number of locations: 30

Plans to expand: “There are plans to open one in Towson, Maryland, but the opening is to be determined,” a rep told us.


The Counter

Based in: Culver City, California

Claim to fame: Customers build their own burgers from a long selection of ingredients. It’s a popular spot among the gluten-free crowd for its many celiac-friendly options.

Number of Washington-area locations: 1 (Reston)

Total number of locations: 70

Plans to expand: “We are actively looking for locations for future Counter and BUILT [the company’s second concept] restaurants in the Washington, DC, metro area.” says Craig Albert, co-CEO.


Kraze Burger

Based in: Korea; US franchise headquarters are in Fairfax

Claim to fame: This Korean-born business counts more than 90 locations in its home country and, in addition to beef burgers, serves tofu and chicken options.

Number of Washington-area locations: 2 (Bethesda and Lansdowne). Look for Kraze Burgers in Tysons Corner and Barracks Row—opening in June or July—as well as Germantown in August. A Montgomery Mall location will debut in the next six months.

Total number of locations: 102

Plans to expand: US CEO Richard MacDowell says he’s working out details for restaurants at BWI and near Dulles airport. Other regions soon to get Kraze: Boston and New York—shops are planned in Manhattan and either Long Island or Northern New Jersey.


Shake Shack

Based in: New York City

Claim to fame: Esteemed restaurateur Danny Meyer started his fast-food enterprise as a charity project in New York’s Madison Square Park. Today his small but somehow perfect burgers may be the best fast-food meatwiches in the business—though don’t tell that to fans of In-N-Out Burger.

Number of Washington-area locations: 2; a location adjacent to the Spy Museum is on the way.

Total number of locations: 25

Plans to expand: “We don’t have any more DC announcements”—beyond the Penn Quarter spot, due to debut in June—says a company spokesperson.


Smashburger

Based in: Denver, Colorado

Claim to fame: Smashed burgers, seared to order. 

Number of Washington-area locations: 1, in Fairfax, Virginia.

Total number of locations: 205 globally

Plans to expand: A Dupont Circle location debuts this July—three more are scheduled for 2013. Smashburger is in lease negotiation on three more Washington-area restaurants for 2014 with plans to open five total here in that year. 


Looking to land here

Giraffas

Based in: Brazil, but opened in Miami in 2011

Claim to fame: Burgers are crafted from a Brazilian cut of beef called picanha, which is a small cap steak from the beef rump. This type of cut (not yet popular in North America) maintains the meat’s flavor because a blanket of fat coats it during the grilling process.

Number of Washington-area locations: 0

Total number of locations: 4 in Miami (two additional locations will open soon in Florida); 350 in Brazil

Plans to expand: US marketing director Carlos Vanegas told Burger Business that the chain aims to have “between 8 and 12” more restaurants open in the States this year, with a majority of the leases signed. He also says they have their eye on the DC market, so we will keep looking for its orange logo to pop up here.


Umami Burger

Based in: Los Angeles

Claim to fame: Silver Spring native Adam Fleischman says he came up with the recipe for his flavor-packed patty in one day. The California chain’s signature sandwich—with shiitake mushrooms, caramelized onions, roasted tomato, Parmesan crisp, and umami ketchup—now figures high on the bucket list of any serious foodie tourist.

Number of Washington-area locations: 0

Total number of locations: 15 in Cali (including UMAMIcatessen, a five-kitchen dining hall showcasing dishes from guests chefs), with a store opening shortly in South Beach and three more planned in New York City.

Plans to expand: Umami Burger is actively seeking a location for its first Washington-area restaurant.


Sorry, folks, it ain’t going to happen any time soon . . .

Carl Van Fleet, the VP of planning and development at In-N-Out Burger, says the right coast shouldn’t expect an outpost of the Cali-born burger-and-fries destination any time soon. “We do make every hamburger patty ourselves at our own facilities in Baldwin Park, California, and Dallas, Texas. We also deliver those fresh patties to our restaurants ourselves using our own delivery vehicles. . . . [O]ur current growth plans are limited by the distance we can travel from our patty production facilities while maintaining our freshness standards.”

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Feel free to leave a comment or ask a question. The Washingtonian reserves the right to remove or edit content once posted.
  • Milo de Huey

    Travel a little and try Melt Gourmet Cheeseburgers out in Leesburg. I'd never had a burger that good. And their onion rings, with a bit of balsamic vinegar, are to die for.

  • Burger Mike

    I agree! Best Burger in Northern VA!

  • Yenta

    I can't believe you missed Joe's Burgers here in Mclean, VA. Best burgers I've ever eaten. No comparison with Five Guys and other chains. Joe's is really a burger! I have no connection with Joe's, by the way, other than eating there.

  • jessvoelker

    Joe's Burgers has one location and no announced or rumored (that we know of) plans to expand. That's why they are not on this list.

  • swmluvah

    NO UMAMI! NO NO NO! You're not allowed to alter the burger ONE IOTA! Screw that. I pay for what I want, not what you WANT me to eat. So snotty!

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