Prime Burger (and the Battle Between Boss & Blogs)

My boss is constantly asking me where he can get a good burger in Midtown.  He knows I write this blog, and he thinks I have some sort of insight- but the truth is, he has been working in this area a lot longer then I have- so I’m pretty useless.

The conversation usually goes like this. 

Me: “Why don’t you just go to the Burger Joint

Boss: “So great… but I’m not waiting on that line.”

Me:  “How about Burger Heaven”

Boss: “I don’t remember that place being that good.”

Me:  “What about Prime Burger”

Boss:  “That place is terrible… although it’s worth it just to go for the seats in the front”

Terrible is some strong words… especially for a place that has so many fans.  In fact, just this week I read two blog postings raving about how good Prime Burger was, one on Plate of the Day, and the other was on Gastro Chic (via Eater).  I decided to ignore my boss’ warning, and check the place out for myself.

How bad could it be?  After all, Gastro Chic goes out of her way to eat there “even if it’s raining” and Plate of the Day went out of his way to mention that one of his “coworkers is an avid burger fan and she’s tried burgers all throughout the city and gave Prime Burger a thumbs up.”  That sounds promising… how can you argue with an “avid burger fan”???

So, with the battle between blogs and boss all set- I ventured with one of my co-workers (not particularly an “avid” fan of burgers… but he was down with the trip) to Prime Burger to see who was right.

The battle of epic proportions… after the jump.

Let’s get some easy stuff out of the way first.  The decor is pretty sweet… it’s basically like an old school New York diner, but along the left hand wall when you walk in are these sweet ass chairs, arranged like booths- but in place of a communal table, each chair has got it’s own little tray table that swivels (sort of like those desks in junior high).  There is no denying that the atmosphere is pretty cool, from the chairs to the counter, to the waitstaff (who are all characters).  If you are looking for a unique old school New York vibe during lunch, you’ll get it at this place. 

But there’s no dispute about that.  Both blogs tout the atmosphere, and my boss agreed that it’s worth going just to see the chairs in the front… hell- the place won a James Beard award for “Best Classic Restaurant”. Nobody is saying anything bad about the decor… what I was interested in was the burger.

The “deal” at Prime Burger is their PrimeBurger Deluxe.  Two primeburgers, and french fries for $8.95.  Add some cheese to those burgers, and it’s $9.95.  If you don’t want that deal, you have to order ala carte.  Primeburger is $3.95, w/ cheese it’s $4.50.  Fries are $2.65 (french, curly or steak) and the “French fried onions” are $3.50.

I don’t know if you have noticed, but not many of the places I write about on this blog are sit down restaurants.  Time is not really the issue (I’ll walk 20 minutes if I hear a place is good), it’s more the fact that I’m a cheap bastard.  An $8.95 lunch at a to go place, turns into a $12 lunch at a sit down restaurant (if you are wondering how that happens- then you probably need to tip more, you jerk.) In light of this, I ended up ordering a  hamburger ($3.95), and the french fried onions ($3.50), and my co-worker ordered the cheeseburger ($4.75) and fries ($2.95).

Now here’s where it gets a little tricky.  Neither of us thought the food was that great… but I don’t think it had anything to do with the actual food.  If someone was selling a Prime Burger on the street for $1 (even $2 or $3), I would have bought it, and declared “This is the greatest burger ever!!!”.  But for $4, at a sit down diner, I didn’t say that.  If I had got the burger at a fast food joint (two burgers and fries for $9) maybe I would have liked it more, because it would have exceeded my expectations.  But for some reason, the price, the atmosphere, and my expectations- for lunch- made it not as enjoyable.

I’m also not a hamburger aficionado.  I love a good hamburger, but I’m not “an avid fan”, and I don’t know if I can tell the difference between a burger made from Prime Beef, and a burger not made from Prime Beef.  I can tell that the burgers at the Burger Joint are much better meat then a fast food restaurant.  And I was happy that my burger at Prime Burger was medium rare (just the way I asked for it).  But beyond that, I think maybe the nuances are lost on me.  (By the way the french fried onions were awesome… unless you hate grease, and mind adding salt to things)

So the truth is, who cares what I think?  If somebody asked me about Prime Burger, I would say “Eh, I don’t really like that place”.  I admit that nothing tasted bad, I just think the “goodness” that other people see, is not worth $12 to me.  It’s something to be remembered the next time you ask somebody about a restaurant, or tell somebody about a place you love or hate.  Don’t say good or bad… because you might discourage someone from eating at a place they might end up loving.  If a place is open, then somebody must like it.  And just because someone raves about a place, doesn’t mean that everyone is going to love it (like me and Chinese food buffets).  For me, the boss was right (aren’t they always), but for you, it may be different.

It’s all about the +/-, and it takes a place like Prime Burger to remind me how little my opinion matters.  So without further ado…. THE (Almighty) +/-

THE + (What someone who loves this place would say)

  • The burgers are made from Prime Beef, and are broiled instead of grilled, giving them a unique taste you can’t get anywhere else in Midtown
  • I love eating lunch at old school diners (and the chairs in the front are sweet!)
  • I don’t mind spending $12 for two hamburgers and fries, if it’s for a great burger
  • Sarah Jessica Parker ate here!

THE – (What someone who doesn’t like this place would say)

  • I don’t want to spend over $10 for lunch
  • The burgers have nothing on them (and lettuce and tomato cost extra)
  • I don’t usually eat at diners for lunch
  • I would rather pay less, and take my food to go (which you could do at Prime Burger- but you would miss out on one of the big plusses)
  • I’m not a burger aficionado
  • Burger Joint is better (and cheaper… but only because it’s not a sit down place)
  • James Beard doesn’t award doesn’t mean crap!

Prime Burger, 5 E. 51st. St. (btw. Mad+5th), 212-759-4729


  • I have a suggestion for burgers. Try the burgers at Blarney Stone on 3rd Ave near 45th st.. The burgers here are just as good as any join out there.

  • Hey MidTown Lunch – nice writeup! Yeah the seats are cool aren’t they? As for the burgers, well avg price for lunch in midtown (as you well know) is around $8 – 10 anyhow. The burgers here at Prime Burger are a special sirloin ground so they are extra juicy. I guess you got to be a burger afficionado to really appreciate these as you mention.

    Still on my list to try:
    1) The $60 American Kobe Beef Burger at China Grill (Waiting till I can expense this someday).
    2) Peter Luger’s Burger – hard to justify going out there just for a burger and not a steak but I heard they were pretty incredible.

  • I agree with Alex. The burgers at Blarney Stone are pretty good for midtown.

  • I think you meant to say “James Beard award doesn’t mean crap!” instead of “James Beard doesn’t award mean crap!” but please don’t fix it. It still sort of makes sense and it made me crack up.

  • Glad you enjoy how much of an idiot I am.

  • Zip Burger is very tasty, and the fries are incredible.

  • Even though it tastes good and is relatively inexpensive, Blarney Stone is too much burger for me. I think a cheeseburger and fries from Good Burger is the perfect burger meal.

  • Another Blarney fan! FOUR DOLLARS and you get this big, beautiful, burger. Plus, if you throw in the extra .50 for cheese, they don’t skimp, and they never overcook a medium rare request, which is very important.

    Oh yeah, I have to mention as well that the BK on 47th between 3rd and Lex make an exceptional dollar Whopper Jr. I’m not kidding. Always fresh, unlike some other BK’s.

  • I pass by this place all the never, I look in and say forget it for pretty much the same reasons posted. I used to work right near the Blarney Stone and LOVED their Burgers, but what I loved more than their burgers was their Meat Loaf, great with Mash Potato and Corn. Great prices there too.

  • What about us vegetarians? So difficult to find a good vegetarian restaurant.

  • American Burger Co. at 33rd and Brodway (across the street from Manhattan Mall, south west ens of Herald sq) is my FAVORITE NY lunchtime burger joint! Great varitey and about 8 different frie dipping sauces that are self-serve, and a steal at 7 or so bucks.

  • This place PrimeBurger is a total dump. The food is terrible and the prices way too high. You can mince words all you want about “value” and “decor” and “traditional NY diner feel”, but it’s a complete crap-shack. The employee (I only hope he was a dishwasher, not a cook) who used the restroom before me did not wash his hands after going to the bathroom and touching the flusher. Complete dump. I hope the food and health inspection agency shuts this dump down.

  • Tried this burger today because I am doing a burger week. $9.60 for cheeseburger and fries. The burger was so small it was bordering on slider. They had a delicious salsa to put on top (relish, tomato, and spice)…the only saving grace.
    I requested medium and it was very well done. I abhor well done burgers.

    Too expensive, too small, not cooked correctly.

    Will never return.

  • Yeah, underimpressed by Prime Burger. The burgers are just too small. And I think the “Burger Deluxe” special you mention is now something like $12, not $9 (and you have to get two burgers, or you’ll leave hungry). Maybe worth one trip just to check out the kitsch, but not a regular stop.

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