City of Burgers: Where to Eat Dongguan’s Best Hamburgers
Is there anything more glorious and demotic than a hamburger? That bit of greasy ground meat wrapped up in a bread roll, maybe with cheese and (for the hippies) a bit of salad too. Their provenance is much argued. The Americans claim it as theirs, in fact few things seem more American. The Germans make a strong counterclaim. Where, after all, is Hamburg? The English even have a shout too, with the Earl of Sandwich, eponymous inventor of, you guessed it, the sandwich.
Putting such arguments aside, it’s safe to say that Dongguan is pretty handy when it comes to burgers too. This month HERE! attempted to get a handle on the city’s finest specimens, by the end we were all feeling a bit like Morgan Spurlock in Supersize Me. Nevertheless, we did our duty for country and city. And the burgers run the full gamut, cheeseburgers, turkey burgers, gourmet burgers, schnitzel burgers, chicken burgers, Mexican burgers. What is your favourite Dongguan burger? Did we miss any good ones? If we did, do tell us.
ONE FOR THE ROAD
All American Gourmet Burger
It is fair to say that iconic English pub, One for The Road are a bit proud of their burgers. They have a few options too, but we went for their All American Gourmet Burger. The unique selling point on this was the fact that this burger uses three different cuts of meat (though the proprietor is pretty secretive about which cuts). It gives the flavour a bit more complexity too, a full and rich flavoured piece of meat, ground on site and hand made. “We don’t put much else inside our burger except beef,” said Jason Cakebread. “When it tastes that good, you don’t need too.” It was a very juicy offering indeed. And they don’t muck about with their sides either—come hungry!
Cost: 100 RMB
Patty size: 7oz (almost 200g)
Sides: Coleslaw, plus choice of potato salad, sweet potato fries, or English style chips
Other burger options: Viking Burger, English Burger, Royal Burger
Barely a year old, this Dongguan eatery has become the stuff of legend. We weren’t quite sure what a Mexican burger was like, but we certainly do now. This was made with Brazilian tenderloin (the chef tells us he puts in a small amount of bacon to up the fat content). How you cook a burger is important, and this was medium, slightly pink inside. This one comes with avocado, bacon and cheese, not to mention a whole bowl (yes, a bowl) of pickled jalapenos (note jalapenos are on the side, perfect for girly boys who can’t handle the spice). What really makes the Al Chile burger stand out is their excellent homemade chipotle sauce (surely the best in town?). The only question is, do you dip your burger, or pour the sauce inside. We will let you decide.
Cost: 78 RMB
Patty Size: 150 grams
Sides: potato wedges, pickled jalapenos, chipotle dressing
Other Burger options: Pulled Pork Hamburguesa
CLASSIC LAYA BURGER
Peanut Butter Burger
This Taiwanese chain is new in town, is constantly busy, and has a real American diner feel about it. Novelty is definitely the theme here. They change their menu every six months. So if you find one you really like, it is best to gulp them down fast, before they move on to the big burger joint in the sky. We had no idea what to order here, so took the liberty of asking the manager. “When I was in Wuhan, I tried their peanut butter burger. I liked it so much that I decided to open a Laya Burger franchise myself!” Guess that answered that question. Frankly, peanut butter on a burger is not something I would ever, ever consider. It sounds like the sort of thing Elvis would eat with a bad case of the munchies. Much to my surprise, it worked. The burgers are huge, and packed with all the added extras you can imagine, and the patties unique.
Cost: 68 RMB
Patty Size: 200g
Sides: Salad, sweet potato fries
Other burger options: Double Patty Burger, Cod Burger, BLT Burger, Spicy eefburger with Peeled Chili
PALS FAMILY BAR AND RESTAURANT
Jalapeno Bacon Cheeseburger
Despite the name, I had always thought of this place as more of a pub than a restaurant. Big mistake. Hovering somewhere in between a diner burger and a gourmet burger, this one was a delectable combination, of sweetness, spice and salt. A well-cooked burger in a classic bun. For those of you that hadn’t considered a Pals burger before, think again! A moreish classic.
Cost: 75 RMB
Patty Size: 200 grams
Sides: Fries, green salad, pickles
Other burger options: Deep Fried ‘Big Red’ Chicken Burger, Hickory BBQ Bacon Cheese Burger, Mexican Burger
The Coach Potato Burger
Every now and then you make a burger at home. Sometimes it goes right, sometimes it goes wrong, but when you get it right, it is almost impossible to beat. And that’s what this Treehouse burger tasted like. A perfectly nailed on homemade burger. The blue cheese in this burger was divine, but what made it unique were the hand-cut potato chips inside! The patty is a bit smaller than some in town, but we think when you try this, you won’t give a damn. Proprietor Dave Kundelinus says “There used to be this place in town called Stir-it Up, they were known for having some of the best burgers around. So when we opened up I called him up and asked if we could do an homage to his burgers. Thankfully he said, yes!”
Cost: 55 RMB
Patty Size: 150 grams
Sides: Coleslaw and hand cut fries
Other burger options: The Honky Tonk, The Firehouse Burger, The Highwayman
Chicken and Bacon Burger
This one is a bit of a Dongguan institution, and longer term expats will remember getting this one when there weren’t too many other options in town. For us it was the slightly charcoal flavour to the chicken that made it stand out. It’s the sort of thing I fancy having a go at myself and I, perhaps rudely, push the owner, Miguel Alves, for the recipe “Ha. Yes, it is a popular burger for sure. We have been selling that one for 11 years. We must have sold over 40,000 over the years, but I’m not telling you how we cook it. That’s a secret!” Another plus is with its own bakery on site, so all the buns are made on the premises, for that little bit of extra freshness. In fact, it is a fait bet that quite a few of the buns in town come from Pizzeria Calzone. This was also the cheapest burger we tried, so it gets a few extra bonus points for value.
Cost: 40 RMB
Patty Size: 150 grams
Other burger options: Hamburger, Cheese and Bacon Burger, Egg and Cheeseburger
Yes, before you start sending in letters, we know exactly what you are thinking. I gave the waiter the eye as he brought this to the table, “Yes, more of a sandwich isn’t it?” he said giggling. Essentially yes, it is. But after a month of trying all manner of burgers all over the city we were quite happy to have our pork sandwich and eat it. When, we think of Schnitzel, it’s easy to often think of strips of meat laying out to long, covered in grease. Not so at Martin’s, perfectly breaded, fresh as you like, with pickles, salad, and mustard, and not a trace of grease, and pork importing a slightly sweet taste, this one was bang on the money. And it was up there as one of the best breads that we tried too, which is what you would expect from a German bakery, right?
Cost: 65 RMB
Other burger options: Hamburger
LIBERTY BREWING CO.
This newly opened-venture is a specialist in craft beers for gourmet burgers, so we were, naturally, expecting big things on the burger front. All their beef burgers are made from a combo of sirloin, short rib, chuck and brisket, but we were too beefed out at this stage and went for their turkey burger. I was expecting the sort of turkey taste you get at Christmas dinner, but the flavour was completely unexpected, and it tasted like a burger should, and you get the benefit of it being a healthier meat too. Perfect for those that want a bit of breast and thigh in their mouth at the same time. Oh and just when you thought this burger couldn’t get any better: avocado! Excellent buns provided from Martin’s German Bakery too. This place is for those that like their burgers gourmet. All handmade on site.
Cost: 60 RMB
Patty Size: 8 oz. (about 230 grams)
Sides: Homemade Dill pickle. And sweet potato or regular fries for small surcharge
Other burger options: The New York, The Houston, The Memphis, Las Vegas, Honolulu
Xis Fillet Burger
Southern Brazil has their own spin on a burger called a Xis (pronounced a bit like cheese). It’s probably different to any burger you have tasted before. We would be better of telling you what is not in it rather that what is. But we will try anyway: peas, sweetcorn, ham, egg, cheese, fillet steak, tomato, lettuce and egg make this one an absolute monster, and it is in a bun almost as wide as dinner plate. The fillet steak I could absolutely handle, but peas and sweetcorn in a burger is something that will be a step too far for many. Boteco owner Graciele told us, “Many recipes that come from the US to Brazil get modified, but the biggest modification of all happened with the burger in Southern Brazil.” This is definitely one for those with a passion for trying something new. Hell, this place even has a burger with live chicken hearts in it (ok, they are not really alive).
Cost: 65 RMB
Patty Size: 230 grams
Sides: Err, let’s just say they are all inside the burger!
Other burger options: Chicken burger/Xis Galhinha, Chicken Heart Burger/Xis Coracado, Bacon Burger
This little humdinger is a million miles away from the more gourmet offerings, and is the sort of thing you might get from a van at a music festival. The meat is far from top end, and a pleasant amount of grease explodes into your mouth as you bite into it. A toasted classic sesame bun with a slice of tomato and a bit of lettuce, but interestingly no cheese. At just 48 RMB for this little 150-gram baby, and with a small side of fries. it is not a bad deal. For those that want the simplicity of a quick and easy junk food burger (and let’s be honest, we often do) this little bad boy hits the spot.
Cost: 48 RMB
Patty size: 150g
Other Options: Bagels, sandwiches, omlettes
Photos by: Wen Zhaokang, Chris Crescenzo, and Sophia Wong