Ray’s Hell Burger, Arlington, VA

It should say a lot that on their first full day in the United States, I took my house guests to Ray’s Hell Burger.

Old, old school French senior citizens, they were bewildered and engaged by the vivid, youthful atmosphere at Ray’s – really, everything about the place threw them for a loop -the ordering process, the noise, the rushed feel, the rapid plate clearing, the self-serve aspect – it was interesting to see their inquisitive minds spinning around like slot machines.

We all four (Matt was there, too) ordered a burger, Grilled ($7.99) with “our secret steak blend” which tends to make me thirsty a few hours later. Theirs, with Vermont white cheddar and bacon; mine with my usual Bone Marrow and Persillade ($3.00). If you’re here for beefy abundance, I really want to urge you to try the bone marrow, and only the bone marrow, as a topping. It’s such a natural extension of the meat, and adds depth to the sandwich without cheesing it up, or smoking it out with bacon. Essentially, it turbo-charges the burger while letting the beef remain the focus of everything – The Dogcatcher is the same price at $10.99, but comes with lettuce and tomato which are unnecessary distractions. This burger needs nothing else – not ketchup, nor mustard, nor cheese. To each his own, of course, but if you want to try a thoroughbred Hell Burger run through an amplifier, then consider the bone marrow alone as a topping.

We split a large order of Skin On Fries ($2.99) which was enough for us to occasionally reach in and grab some potato as a palate cleanser, and they were fine.

The burgers themselves were the best I’d had at either Hell Burger in ages (it has been far too long since I’ve been here). “Medium” was cooked to medium, and “Medium Rare” was cooked to medium rare – how often do you see subtle differences like that actually executed as specified?

“I haven’t had a ‘am boorger een zirty yeers!” My house guest exclaimed, enthusiastically, looking back to when he lived in New York in the 1960s. They didn’t know how to eat them, and started to use a knife in the right hand and a fork in the left. “Just pick it up and enjoy,” I said. They did, and they did.

These burgers were fantastic, huge, and the reason why this place sometimes serves 1,000 or more people a day. Absolutely the best non-frou-frou hamburgers I’ve ever eaten with nary a challenger in view.

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