Carnegie John’s… the Best Cart Burger in Midtown

Well, the line at Carnegie John’s has finally died down enough for me to try it.  NY Mag wreaked havoc on the Midtown cart scene last month when they released their street cart issue.  It spotlighted some Midtown Lunch favorites (The Jamaican Dutchy, Hallo Berlin, Kim’s Aunt Kitchen & Kwik Meal), but also opened my eyes to a cart I had never heard of.  The legend that is Carnegie John’s.

Carnegie John's Menu, Midtown NYCThe cart is named for its location, right next to Carnegie Hall, where John serves up Hamburgers, Chicken, Gyro, Steak & Shish Kebab, all cooked to order.  Which partially explains the line.  Ever since the NY Mag issue came out, the line at this cart has been out of control- and if you want a burger, you’ve got to go on the early side.  He usually runs out by 1:30.

What I got, food cart porn and a +/- after the jump…

John has got a decent size menu for a cart, but the burgers are the fan favorite, and the item which most of his regulars swear by.  He worked for years at Tony Dragonas’ famous cart on 62nd & Madison, so there is talk of how great his chicken and rice is- but it’s no match for the $3.50 hamburger (50 cents more for cheese).  A really decent size patty, it seems slightly bigger than the burgers served at Burger Joint & Good Burger.

He cooks the burger perfectly medium rare, and I have heard more than one person say that if they had fries at this cart, the Burger Joint would be out of business (it’s a very short walk away).  The burger does have a great flavor, and I think most of that is due to the fact that John cooks them on the same griddle where he cooks the sausage, and finishes them off on the same griddle where he cooks the steak, chicken and gyro.

I also tried the Combo platter just to see what the hype was all about.  $6.50 gets you a generous portion of any two meats served over rice and salad, topped with your choice of sauce.  The white sauce is usually the way to go at places like this, and there version didn’t disappoint.  It was very similar to greek yogurt, or tzatziki sauce, and was very tasty.  Their hot sauce is red, and not too hot, and a lot of people like the BBQ sauce as well.

Carnegie John's, Midtown NYCThe best part about the chicken is that it’s made from whole white meat chicken breasts that you actually see being cooked on the griddle.  The steak is also cooked to order, and is made from whole strips of steak.  Like the burger, the chicken and steak also get most of their flavor from the griddle which has been cooking different meats all day long.  There’s none of the Middle Eastern spices you get at a lot of halal chicken and rice carts, so if that’s your thing, you may not like John’s version as much.  I can say to avoid the gyro though.  It is not cut fresh off the spit, but comes in those pre-made frozen strips that I’m not a big fan of.

All in all Carnegie John’s is a great find, and one of the best, and cheapest burgers in Midtown.  The line can get long, but part of that is the fact that everything is cooked fresh to order.  Luckily, watching John work is pretty impressive, so you have something to do while you wait.  He is a machine on that griddle, and it’s amazing how he remembers who ordered what.  I don’t think he’s going to be closing down the Burger Joint any time soon, but it’s without a doubt a great Midtown Lunch.

THE + (Things somebody who likes this place would say)

  • Everything is fresh and made to order
  • The burger is ridiculously cheap ($3.50, $4.00 for a cheeseburger)
  • He knows how to cook a Medium Rare burger
  • Everything is tasty… flavored from all the different things that get cooked on that griddle during the day.
  • If you like chicken and rice (with white sauce), but don’t want all those Middle Eastern spices- this will be your favorite.  It’s also chunks of white meat chicken cooked fresher than most halal carts, where the pile of chopped up chicken sits there all day long.
  • Cheapest steak you’ll find in Midtown.  $6, and it’s made fresh to order.

THE – (Things somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)

  • Everything is made to order, so it takes too long.  I don’t have time to wait during lunch.
  • The quality of meat that goes into the Burger is not as high as the Burger Joint or Good Burger.
  • I don’t like my burgers with any pink on the inside… and his usually come medium rare.
  • They don’t have french fries!
  • I prefer my chicken and rice to be halal style, flavored with Middle Eastern spices
  • The gyro is not freshly cut off a spit.  It’s those frozen, pre-made gyro strip things
  • The steak is not a great cut, so it’s a little tough
  • The hot sauce isn’t hot enough
  • If you don’t get there early enough, the burgers will run out

Carnegie John’s, 56th St. & 7th Ave.


  • All that glorious grease–yum!

  • I’ve always been skeptical of griddle-fried burgers (a la MacDonald’s) but I think you’ve convinced me to take the plunge. Also, Rafiqi’s has a new cart on 43rd b/w 5th and 6th (just in from 5th). At least I think it’s new.

  • I had the steak platter yesterday. Delicious.

  • I work right next door, and one of the only negatives I have about this place, for newcomers, is that often there’s no line.

    That’s not to say people aren’t there getting food. It’s just that John doesn’t enforce any sort of lining up until things get bad…he just occasionally turns around and identifies the new people to serve.

    It can be very unnerving if you’re not outgoing, and people can push ahead of you.

  • BEWARE! (or bring an umbrella)
    I love the food there – but has anyone noticed that there must be some sort of large birds (we’re not talking pigeons)living above in an overhang off of C Hall – I’ve seen people on numerous occasion get pelted with bird crap while waiting on line…

  • i got shit on last friday.

  • First the TONY effect, now the midtown lunch one…

  • Has anyone tried the cart at 63rd+Madison? It looks like they have the same profile as the awesome one at 62nd+Madison.

  • ….maybe the birds poop contributes to the ‘White’ Sauce?

  • Gross about the white sauce! Curses for the distance from my workplace… though I do kinda want to jump to another firm now… errr… yea…. hahaha, imagine someone WANTING to work in Midtown for lunch?! You guys have no idea how “bad” you have it until you work DOWNTOWN… lunch here sucks.

  • I’ve gone two days in a row to find Carnegie John’s. he is nowhere to be found. Is he on vaca? does anyone know?

  • What happenned to Johnny???? No cart today, again….

  • sorry to say it, but i didn’t enjoy carnegie john’s burger. it was cheap and it was greasy, but didn’t have a whole lot else going for it. i’ll take my burger business elsewhere..

  • is this cart still around?

  • Still there. Had the kebab platter today, $5.50, excellent. You’re right, it’s amazing how he remembers everthing everybody orders!

    On the south side of Carnegie Hall, at the corner.

  • Tried this cheeseburger today. Cheap, tasty, solid and John is a real pro. I actually prefer it to Burger Joint which I think is expensive, ugly, crowded, poor customer service and maybe only marginally tastier. I’d hit up John before BJ every time.

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    I eat at John’s two or three times a week. I recommend the Italian Sausage Hero ($4.50). The Sausage is very tasty and not over-cooked and dry. Toppings include peppers and onions, white sauce, lettuce, tomato, and hot sauce. The grilled chicken hero is also good ($4.50). The burger is good. The platters are good. Everything is good. I finally had a little conversation with John. He always seems so gruff, but it turns out that he’s a greek immigrant and has a thick accent. He may have trouble communicating. Kudos to the kid who helps him. It’s my favorite cart in the neighborhood (including 53rd & Sixth)

  • Just had one for the first time. It’s still $4 and still beats Burger Joint or 5 guys (if you don’t care about the fries).

    That said, I’m not sure why wayne is giving out advice on asking a John where to go for a BJ (though the advice seems sound).

  • Awesome. I got to go see CJ again and get my burger fix. Burger Joint def. didn’t hit the spot. I haven’t been to Five Guys for a long while. I’m very glad to hear about the cheap and great burger option.

    No Fries isn’t the biggest deal to me. I rather have two $4 CJ burgers than an order of mediocre fries.

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