You’re in Manhattan, just after dark. There is a slight chill in the air, meaning the steam coming out of the grates in the floor is a pleasant surprise.
The fairy lights are lit on the trees, the city is bustling and you’re hungry.
You enter Le Parker Meridian hotel from the entrance on West 57th Street, a few blocks south of Central Park. There is a bar on your left as you head in, with a few tables intimately glowing red from the colour of the candle holders. You move through towards a marble clad hub with concierge on one side, reception desk on the other.
Between the two counters, a dark wooden floor leads to a wall. It look as though only hotel staff should be walking there, until you see the sign.
A neon sign, hanging as discreetly as a neon sign can, on the back wall. It is the shape of a burger.
As you follow the path, the hubbub of the hotel is slowly drowned out by Jimi Hendrix. You notice the air begins to crackle with the smell of cooked meat.
When you reach the end of the corridor, a small door opens into a joint with the most epic dive bar scene. The walls are cluttered with pictures and writing, the tables are all full, bearing scars from beer spills, drumming hands shuffling patrons. Why this jewel of American street food sits in such a grand hotel, you will never know.
The counter looms ahead of a queue, which persists no matter what time you go. The hard written sign above the cashier warns you to decide what you want before you get there. Or it’s back of the line.
‘Cheeseburger, medium rare, with the works,’ you say. Skip the fries, you think. If you’re still hungry, just order another burger. You didn’t even have time to consider a drink, but who needs one?
Now the wait. Because you know it’s being cooked fresh to order in front of you. You see the patty you think is yours and track it like its your card in a magic trick.
These magicians aren’t going to fool you. You’re not letting that thing out of your sight.
Finally, they call your order and hand you a brown paper bag which is heavier than you’d imagined. There are no free tables, but that doesn’t matter. This is a street burger, after all. Somehow, spilling out onto West 57th and taking your first bite out there seems more private.
When the moment arrives, it’s one you never forget. The condiments would overpower any normal burger, but the ground beef has enough to punch back. The balance of flavour is astounding, sweet and spicy dance across the ketchup and mustard, the crunch of the onions push against the soft bun and crumbling meat. The pickles snap on your teeth and the cheese folds over your tongue. It’s the best burger in New York. Hell, it’s the best burger in the world!
Now if only you’d had a drink and some fries to wash it down with.