The Best New Burger in Seattle Is Where You'd Least Expect It
Dining at Rider is a pescatarian’s dream. The newly opened restaurant in downtown Seattle’s Hotel Theodore pays homage to the ocean—the menu is a kind of casual gloat about the region’s access to incredibly fresh seafood. There are splashy seafood towers piled with local oysters, simple grilled fish, and crudo, chowder, toast, and tartare. Vegetarians will rejoice here, too, as vegetables aren’t just relegated to side dish status. Carrots and cabbage get the same treatment as whole trout and cuts of blackmouth salmon, transformed thoughtfully into carrot pasta with Calabrian chilies and shaved kohlrabi salad, its bright, acidic flavor balanced by the creamy, housemade cheese it sits atop. But down near the bottom of the menu, almost as though an afterthought, is The Burger.
"The Burger" has only one name; like all the greats—Beyonce, Madonna, Prince—it doesn’t need more. While Rider specializes in delicious, fresh seafood and vegetable dishes, its sleeper hit, made with the same considered sourcing and housemade ingredients, is the city’s best new burger.
Helmed by David Nichols, the executive chef recently returned to Seattle after spending thirteen years in New York City, where he worked at Marc Murphy’s Landmarc. Though he loved the city, the Washington native is happy to be home, in part because of his access to the region’s edible bounty.
“New York was amazing; you had anything you could possibly get, but it was coming from all over,” he says. “Here in Seattle, some of the best stuff is literally right in our backyard. Washington has this amazing ecosystem, and the produce and the fish and the wildlife here—there aren’t many places that have all this abundance.”
Nichols grew up outside of Seattle, on a 300-acre farm in Cashmere, Washington that grows apples, cherries, and pears, and his grandfather raised cattle. A childhood surrounded by growing and producing shaped the chef’s philosophy on food.
“It’s where I get my inspiration, and I want that to come through in my cooking,” he says. “Even how we take on this burger—it would much easier for us, and maybe we would even charge the exact same price, if we were getting Nueske's bacon, and buying a great cheese from someone else, but I love to make all this stuff.”
Nichols carefully considers each element of The Burger. The chef starts with all-natural, grass-fed ground beef from a ranch in Oregon, which is topped with slices of thick-cut bacon they make in a three-step process: first they cure the pork belly for 72 hours, then smoke it over the apple wood fire grill for ten hours, and then they finally slow-roast it for three hours. “You get a nice smoky flavor, but there’s tenderness,” he says. “It’s almost like a braised pork belly.”
As both chefs and home cooks know, perfectly melted American cheese is best for burgers, so Rider makes that, too. “When you think about American cheese, you think of processed American cheese, but we’re doing a fun twist on that, making it here in house with a little Aleppo pepper, and some paprika to give it a nice smoky aspect,” says Nichols. “There are no additives or preservatives, but it melts really well.”
Onions are pickled in red wine vinegar first, then deep-fried, to add a sweet, tangy crunch, and the seemingly simple sauce is also made in a multi-step process. Tomatoes are smoked for hours over the fire (the six-thousand pound grill is a centerpiece of the restaurant’s dining room, and almost everything on the menu has some element that comes in contact with it), and the resulting tomato jam is folded into a housemade garlic aioli with pickles and Fresno chilies for added kick.
The bun is the only other element of the burger that isn’t made in house, but Nichols chose wisely.
“Living in New York for the longest time, I’m a huge fan of potato buns,” says the chef. “We use an 8-ounce patty, so it holds up to the burger, but it’s light, so you don’t feel like you’re eating all bread.” Seattle’s Macrina Bakery makes Rider’s buns, using unpeeled russet potatoes.
While the rest of the menu changes with the season—depending on what the local fishermen catch that week or what foragers, or the chef himself, find in the lush outskirts of Seattle—the burger remains constant. All the great ones do.