I tried Obama’s favorite NYC burger and can see why it gets the presidential stamp of approval

Anneta with Obama's favorite burger at Upland
I recently tried President Obama’s favorite NYC burger at Upland. Anneta Konstantinides/Insider
  • I recently tried President Barack Obama’s favorite NYC burger at the restaurant Upland.
  • It features two patties with American cheese, peppadew peppers, tomato, lettuce, and avocado.
  • I loved how juicy the burger was, and the avocado gave it an extra level of richness and freshness.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Before the pandemic began, I decided to search for the best burger in NYC.
Emily Burger
Me with the Emily burger in March 2020. Anneta Konstantinides/Insider
I visited Peter Luger in the fall of 2019 (ah, simpler times) to try the cheeseburger, which had just been blasted by famed New Yorker critic Pete Wells in his zero-star review of the iconic Brooklyn steakhouse. 

I actually loved the burger, but my rave review ended up filling my inbox with emails from readers who had very different opinions on where you could find the best burger in the Big Apple. Like any good reporter, I decided I had to try them all. 

The pandemic briefly put a hiatus on my search (thankfully, not before I got to review Emily’s delicious burger), but now I’m back! And for my third burger on the list, I got some presidential inspiration. 

Upland is one of former President Barack Obama’s favorite restaurants in New York City.
Barack Obama at Upland
President Barack Obama leaves Upland restaurant on March 10, 2017 in New York City. James Devaney/GC Images
Obama has visited the California-inspired restaurant a number of times, including for a lunch with Bono (casual). Upland is on his roster of favorite NYC eateries, joining the likes of Carbone and Cosme. 

And Obama isn’t Upland’s only famous diner. A Vogue article once proclaimed that it was “the perfect brunch spot” beloved by Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Gigi Hadid. 

Upland has everything from pizza to pasta on the menu, but it’s been reported that one of Obama’s favorite dishes to order is the cheeseburger.
The Upland Cheeseburger
The $US26 ($AU36) Upland cheeseburger. Anneta Konstantinides/Insider
In addition to the presidential seal of approval, Upland’s cheeseburger has also earned a spot on multiple “Best burgers in NYC” lists

But what also intrigued me was that the burger is frequently described as a “California-style fast-food cheeseburger.” Born in California and raised on fast food (what? It was the ’90s!), I was excited to see if Upland’s cheeseburger could be Manhattan’s answer to In-N-Out.

So on a recent summer day in NYC, I made my way to Upland.
Upland
The front of Upland in New York’s Gramercy neighborhood. Anneta Konstantinides/Insider
Upland is located in Manhattan’s Gramercy neighborhood. I almost missed it while walking down Park Avenue South, as the entire entrance is currently covered with scaffolding — classic New York.  

But my eye happened to catch the glowing menu by the door, so I rounded the corner and made my way inside. 

The California inspiration was already apparent in Upland’s decorations.
Upland Restaurant
The entrance to Upland’s dining room. Anneta Konstantinides/Insider
Upland’s entrance features a wall of more than a dozen jars filled to the brim with lemons, which almost seem to glow under the dim lights. 

As I walked into the dining room to find the host, I was greeted with the sight of sophisticated green leather booths and a back wall lined with wine bottles. It all felt very Napa chic. 

But it was a gorgeous day in New York City, so I opted to sit outside and order a drink.
The Tea-Coupe cocktail at Upland
The $US16 ($AU22) Tea-Coupe cocktail. Anneta Konstantinides/Insider
While waiting for my friend and fellow taste-tester Clay, I decided to try the Tea-Coupe cocktail.

The $US16 ($AU22) drink features Tito’s vodka, raspberry-steeped chai, lime, and a fresh raspberry balancing on the glass. 

While I loved the Tea-Coupe’s pretty light-orange hue, the cocktail was a bit watery for my taste and, overall, not very memorable. Clay felt the same about his $US16 ($AU22) Green Marjorita, which features Milagro silver tequila, Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, arugula, fennel, and lemon. 

But we both loved the $US14 ($AU19) rosé on tap. We each got hefty pours of the perfectly crisp wine, which paired deliciously with our lunch. 

As I sipped on my cocktail, I checked out Upland’s lunch menu.
The menu at Upland
Upland’s menu. Anneta Konstantinides/Insider
In addition to the famous cheeseburger, Upland also serves five different pizzas and four different pastas, along with a number of salads and main dishes that include salmon and a grilled chicken sandwich. 

I knew I had to order the burger, but I also wanted to try another Obama favorite. So I also asked for the sausage and kale pizza, which Barack and Michelle Obama ordered during their lunch with Bono. 

It didn’t take long for the cheeseburger to arrive with a heaping pile of golden fries.
The Upland Cheeseburger with fries
Upland’s cheeseburger is served with a delicious mountain of golden fries. Anneta Konstantinides/Insider
Before I get to the burger, I need to rave about the fries for a quick second. 

It’s clear that the fast-food inspiration for this dish didn’t just translate to the burger. Upland’s delicious fries are an elevated version of those you’d get at McDonald’s

They’re thin and crispy, with just the right amount of softness in the middle, and each fry was nicely cooked and salted. Even with a huge burger and pizza at our table, Clay and I didn’t leave a single fry behind. 

After munching on a few fries, it was time to take on that beautiful burger.
The Upland Cheeseburger
Upland’s burger features two patties and avocado. Anneta Konstantinides/Insider
Upland’s $US27 ($AU37) cheeseburger features two grass-fed beef patties, American cheese, peppadew peppers, lettuce, tomato, and avocado, all nestled between sesame buns. 

As you can see in the photo above, all the ingredients were visible with just one look at the burger. Cheese was deliciously oozing all over the double patty stack, the peppers and tomato slice gave everything a beautiful pop of color, and the avocado sat right on top like a crown jewel. 

And planted right in the middle of the bun was a tiny version of the California flag, a cute touch that I loved. The red and green from the flag also matched the colors in the burger, which made me wonder if it had been a source of inspiration for the ingredients. 

We were ready to dig in, and Upland’s cheeseburger definitely made an impression.
Anneta with the Upland Cheeseburger
I loved the richness of the avocado in Upland’s cheeseburger. Anneta Konstantinides/Insider
The first thing I noticed was how juicy the patties tasted, instantly reminding me of an In-N-Out double-double. There are so many ingredients packed into this cheeseburger, but the patties are still the star of the show. 

Clay, a fellow Californian, was also a huge fan of Upland’s take on the flavors of our native state. 

“I love a burger that I can smell on my hands,” he said. “And I love that there are two patties instead of one. I feel like the last place in New York to do that well was Superiority Burger, which closed down.” 

The tomato adds some moistness to the hefty burger, while the peppers give each bite a nice crunch. And the creamy avocado helps give the dish a distinguishing spin so it doesn’t just feel like an In-N-Out re-creation, adding that extra level of both richness and freshness. 

My only wish was that the burger had a bit more of a kick. The peppadew peppers were very subtle, and I think the dish could have shined even more with some heat to tie everything together. 

Next up was the sausage and kale pizza, which looked glorious.
The sausage and kale pizza at Upland
Upland’s sausage and kale pizza. Anneta Konstantinides/Insider
In addition to its namesake ingredients, the $US23 ($AU32) pie features three different types of cheeses: Young pecorino, stracciatella, and Parmigiano. 
I hate kale with a passion, but this pizza easily won me over.
The sausage and kale pizza at Upland
The delicious pizza features three different cheeses. Anneta Konstantinides/Insider
I’m the rare millennial that absolutely can’t stand kale, so it’s a huge deal for me to say that I really loved this pizza. 

The kale is charred to a crisp on this dish, giving each bite some great texture. And the sausage has a nice kick thanks to the chili pepper flakes sprinkled all over the top. 

The crust is a bit thicker and flakier than you’ll usually find in a New York pie, but it’s surprisingly fluffy and soft. And the stracciatella cheese is well distributed throughout the pizza, giving every slice a lovely creaminess. 

“I love the crust and cheese,” Clay told me. “The cheese was definitely the best part, and I like that it was spread around rather than just placed in the middle.” 

I saw that you could order a side of Upland’s hot sauce for the mushroom pizza, so I asked the waiter to bring us some to try with our pie. The extra heat worked really well, cutting through the creaminess and saltiness of all those cheeses. 

Since it was a hot day, Clay and I also decided to treat ourselves to Upland’s brownie sundae.
The Brownie Sundae at Upland
Upland’s brownie sundae. Anneta Konstantinides/Insider
The waiter sold us on Upland’s new dessert menu, and we had no regrets about trying this $US14 ($AU19) dish. The brownie sundae includes salted-caramel ice cream, adorable mini wafer balls, some fresh whipped cream, and a hot fudge sauce that covers everything. 

Clay loved the crunch that the wafer balls gave to the soft ice cream and brownie, while I couldn’t get enough of the delicious salted-caramel flavor. It was the perfect way to finish off our feast. A pizza, burger, and sundae? Talk about a great Friday. 

Upland’s cheeseburger definitely gets my Californian stamp of approval.
Anneta with the Upland Cheeseburger
I would definitely order Upland’s cheeseburger again. Anneta Konstantinides/Insider
I’m not surprised that Obama loves Upland’s cheeseburger. It’s juicy, fresh, rich, and full of different flavors and textures. There are so many different burger places in NYC, but Upland’s version is full of surprising and memorable touches. 

Plus, there are so many other great dishes on the menu. I’d happily go back again for the sausage and kale pizza, and I’d love to try the mushroom pie and pappardelle as well. There’s no doubt that everyone could find something that would make them happy at Upland. 

But wait, how did Upland’s cheeseburger fare when it comes to the best burgers in NYC?

I guess you’ll just have to wait and see.