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Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien

Is there a more incongruous restaurant than the Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien? The rest of the hotel is midtown swanky, with its $18 cocktails, its $1,000 frittata, and a pretentious lobby sign leading to “Rue 56.”

Behind an unmarked velvet curtain is a real “joint,” decorated with movie posters that could’ve come from a dorm room, and graffiti on the walls that could’ve come from a bathroom stall. There’s nothing upscale about it at all, but people have been lining up for the burgers since it opened without ceremony in 2002.

If you didn’t know it was there, you’d wonder what could possibly be behind that curtain worth waiting for. “Wait,” they do. Even at 3:00 p.m. on a Sunday—surely the definition of slack time—there was a solid twenty-minute line, snaking through the hotel lobby. My friend and I ordered Old Cubans in the lounge, while waiting for the queue to subside. What’s all the fuss about?

For your trouble, you get a medium-thickness all-beef cheesburger for $7.35, with a satisfying crust and a smoky char-grilled flavor. Excellent fries are $3.67. A pickle the thickness of a baseball bat (OK, not quite) is $1.38. A fresh brownie that two can easily share is $2.30. And all of that, for two people, is not much more than Norma’s charges for an order of French Toast.

It takes them less time to make a burger & fries than it takes you to consume them, so the joint’s dozen-or-so tables are perpetually packed. My friend Kelly had the system down pat. One person stands in line for food; the other hovers by a table where it appears they’re nearly finished, ready to pounce as soon as the previous occupants vacate. That system worked fine in mid-afternoon, but at lunchtime, I have to assume that most people take their burgers elsewhere. (Kelly said they do not allow Burger Joint food in the Parker Meridien lobby.)

It’s a very good burger, especially at the price, and certainly an “only-in-New York” experience.

Burger Joint (119 W. 56th St. between Sixth & Seventh Avenues, West Midtown)

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