I can’t think of a gift more instantly gratifying than a big, fat juicy burger. For my boyfriend Paul’s birthday, treating him to Ray’s Hell Burger in Arlington was the obvious choice.
Like Ben’s Chili Bowl, Ray’s Hell Burger is a no frills D.C. gem. President Obama took Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to lunch at Ray’s Hell Burger in 2010, helping to make the spot a must on every D.C. foodie’s bucket list. Obama also made a trip to Ben’s Chili Bowl when he was first elected.
Michael Landrum opened Ray’s Hell Burger in 2008, just a few doors down from his original restaurant, Ray’s the Steaks. Two of Landrum’s more recent establishments, Ray’s Hell Burger Too and Retro Ray’s are also close-by.
Ray’s Hell Burger is cash only, but there is an ATM right next to the counter. I unfortunately failed to see this, left the restaurant and walked up Wilson Boulevard to a 7-11. I also parked in a metered spot about a half mile up the street, not realizing that there is a free lot right in front. None of these incidents were really that big of a deal, except they delayed the moment that I would get to enjoy my delectable burger.
The burgers come in two sizes – the 10-ounce “Big Devil,” or the smaller 1/3 pound, “Little Devil.” Considering that a pound is 16 ounces, a 10-ounce burger is almost a monster.
In addition to size, you can choose your burger’s seasoning – traditional grilled, seared au poivre, blackened with cajun spices or grilled with a spicy chipotle sauce. For toppings, there is just about everything you could imagine and more, from guacamole to roasted bone marrow and seared foie gras (wow). With a selection of gourmet cheeses, Ray’s clearly places an emphasis on quality ingredients.
I ordered the Little Devil “Soul Burger Number One,” Au Poivre style (pictured, above). This burger includes Applewood smoked bacon, Swiss cheese, Cognac and Sherry sauteed mushrooms and grilled onions. Every component of this burger could easily stand on its own. The melted Swiss cheese flawlessly coated the burger like a blanket, the mushrooms were perfectly caramelized, the grilled onions gave a nice crunch and a little sweetness, and the bacon was thick, salty and a beautiful deep red color. My favorite aspect of this burger was the Au Poivre seasoning, which added a peppery kick to the patty.
Paul ordered the “B.I.G. Poppa,” an Au Poivre burger with bleu cheese, sauteed mushrooms and grilled onions. The bleu cheese on the burger was clearly the standout ingredient. He wolfed it down in about one minute and 30 seconds, claiming that if you don’t eat a burger quickly, all of the toppings will fall out. Honestly, I don’t have a problem with that – it’s just a little something extra to enjoy on the plate after you finish.
When he finished, Paul gave the “I’m insanely full but couldn’t be happier” groan. Sweet birthday success.
By following a simple but fail-proof formula of using fine ingredients and good seasonings, Ray’s Hell Burger proves itself as one of D.C.’s best burger spots.