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