An Early Look at Ray’s Hell-Burger

Last week, amid all the chatter about Top Chef alum Spike Mendelsohn’s burger spot opening up in DC, Michael Landrum, owner of Ray’s the Steaks in Arlington and Ray’s the Classics in Silver Spring, quietly unveiled his latest project. In an unmarked space in the same Wilson Boulevard strip as Ray’s the Steaks, Ray’s Hell-Burger (a.k.a. Butcher Burgers, for the legal documents) opened July 1 and serves only one dish: ten-ounce hamburgers made from prime beef. It’s the same farm-raised meat—aged in house—that steak lovers line up for at Ray’s the Steaks and Ray's the Classics, just ground in-house several times daily.

Unlike the Spikester, whose Good Stuff Eatery opens today on Capitol Hill, Landrum had no PR blitz and no opening party for Hell-Burger—but it didn’t take long for word to spread and lines to form.

For our Fourth of July meal, we waited in the quickly moving line for a $7 burger and its generous (and gratis!) accompaniments—toppings including sautéed mushrooms, grilled onions, and charred jalapeños, plus sides of buttered corn on the cob and thick-sliced watermelon.

The menu is limited to a few small chalkboards. One breaks down the burger choices: You can order the patties simply grilled, with a chipotle-spiked “diablo” marinade, blackened Cajun-style, or au poivre with a black-peppercorn crust. Then specify how long you’d like your burger to sit on the grill: “recommended” (with a warm red center), medium (pink), or “cooked throughout.”

For $1 to $5 extra, there’s a lengthy list of cheese options, from classic Vermont white cheddar to artisanal selections such as Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue and decadent Taleggio. Applewood-smoked bacon and guacamole are also offered for a couple of extra bucks. But this burger—ultrajuicy and seasoned beautifully—doesn’t really need much adornment.

Ray’s creations aren’t of the truffle-and-brioche gourmet variety à la Palena or Central Michel Richard; they’re more like great made-at-home burgers from the backyard grill, taken up several notches thanks to the quality of Landrum’s meat. A couple of things are missing from the minimalist menu—namely, fries and beer. You can wash your meal down with pints of Old Dominion root beer (on tap) or bottles of Cheerwine soda. If you’re craving something salty and potato-y on the side, there’s a big selection of Route 11 potato chips. And for those with an extra stomach, there’s super-rich Moorenko’s ice cream for dessert.