It’s the Most Hyped Burger in Years — But Is It Any Good?

Aside from Danny Meyer and Ronald McDonald, George Motz is the biggest name in burgers. He is a pundit and author of hamburger-history books, with a large fanbase thanks to his First We Feast YouTube show, among whom he is known as America’s foremost “burger scholar.” For decades, he has been the go-to source to discuss burgers. Now, he has a restaurant where people can eat his food, too. Hamburger America, which opened last week on the corner of West Houston and Macdougal Streets, is a big-city ode to the small-town roadside griddles that Motz has evangelized throughout his career.

Between Motz’s own fans and everyone who saw the news on TikTok, the place had no problems drawing a crowd during its first official day in business after a protracted and heavily publicized soft-open period. Wednesday’s ribbon cutting saw Michael Bloomberg, Hot Ones host Sean Evans, and Christy Turlington Burns all in attendance. Chris Rock apparently made an unplanned drop-in, too. “He was just walking down the street,” Motz says, “and somebody said, ‘hey, come in’ — so he did.”

That same evening, I was still a full city block away when I picked up the scent of onions and beef fat wafting through the air. I followed it to the source, which was still completely packed. After waiting for 25 minutes, I was seated at a counter overlooking the griddle. Motz’s fans were easy to pick out because they were trying to talk to him while he worked the grill, producing thin, crusty burgers that draped over their buttered potato rolls.

Photo: Ron Antonelli

For now, the restaurant offers just two types of burgers: a classic smash burger and an onion smash burger. They both start the same way: a drizzle of melted butter hits the flattop, then the balls of beef — double-ground chuck from Schweid & Sons — that are dusted with salt and attacked on the griddle with a Smashula, the 1-pound tool that Motz commissions from a shop in Argentina (and sells in his online store for $240).

Motz’s slogan is “grease is a condiment,” and he stays true to his mantra here, but the finished burgers are nevertheless balanced, provided you stick to the single-patty option (Motz’s preferred ratio). It’s not as if New York needs another big-name burger, but I can report that the $7.25 smashburgers here live up to the hype: They deliver a concentrated beef flavor and bring a new level of crusty smash to the city. The immediacy of counter seating makes all the difference: Still-crunchy patties are delivered directly to waiting customers, topped with little more than a layer of American cheese, some onions, pickles, or mustard. For the fried-onion burger, of course, a pile of shaved onions are added to the patty on the griddle, but they don’t steam the way they might at a White Castle. Instead the high heat of the grill provides quick caramelization. I could see why Motz says it’s his favorite.

Photo: Ron Antonelli

Taken together, Hamburger America is the kind of tidy concept that it’s easy to imagine expanding across the Eastern Seaboard and beyond. Motz says multiple locations would be nice in the future, but for now they’re “just trying to get one right.” Considering the Schnipper brothers are managing partners, the idea doesn’t seem so far flung.

Unlike S& Pthe Eisenberg’s reboot that also sells affordable cheeseburgers at a retro-leaning counter, and perhaps the closest analog to Hamburger America right now — there is no confusion here about the best order. Hamburger America’s menu is rounded out with tuna and egg salad, PB& J, grilled cheese and a warm ham sandwich that Motz tells me has proven popular. I’m not convinced; and I can’t imagine anyone sitting in this room with so much rendered beef fat in the air, would choose to eat anything other than a cheeseburger.

Photo: Ron Antonelli