When it comes to fast food burgers, a phrase you rarely hear is: “How would you like that cooked?” It’s a bit jarring at first—and then immediately welcoming—knowing that a quick but made-to-order burger is going to be prepared to your taste. It’s all the more important when the place is using quality ingredients as well.
You get both, and a lot more, at 418 Burgers in Highland Park where for the last year the cozy spot on Raritan Avenue has been serving up burgers, fries, onion rings, and a few other items, cooked upon request and bursting with flavor.
It’s not an extensive menu but Aram Najarian, one of the owners, says that’s to focus on flavors and to help keep food waste down. The meat is delivered from Pat LaFrieda daily and is a blend of chuck, brisket and short rib. The buns are delivered fresh baked each day as well.
I find the true mark of a burger place to be the cheeseburger, and here the six or so minutes it takes to make it from prep to plate is worth it. Cooks expertly sear, flip, and then steam the paddy with a bowl cover on the griddle in the final moments to get the cheese well-melted onto the meat. Topped with thinly shaved red onion, a spring greens mix, and tomato slice, the cheese stretches away with the first bite. No ketchup required.
From there the menu evolves into a number of toppings that can include barbecue sauce and bacon, mushroom and Swiss, or the Jersey burger topped with an over easy egg and pork roll. Chicken sandwiches are lightly grilled in shallot and garlic oil, and for vegetarians there’s an Impossible burger as well as a falafel sandwich served with either tahini or tzatziki sauce.
It’ll be the house cut fries that will keep you coming back. Najarian calls them “Belgian style” and says they are cut, soaked in water for a day, par-fried, frozen, and then fried again just before serving. You can get them tossed with spices like garlic parmesan, but salt and pepper is really all they need. The onion rings are generously battered which holds together bite after bite and served with an assertively spicy mayo.
Despite its proximity to New Brunswick, Najarian says there’s no plan to add “fat sandwiches” to the menu. That makes sense. Highland Park, just north of Rutgers and across the Raritan River is decidedly more post-graduate and professor than wide-eyed and big stomached undergrads. The burgers at 418 reflect that. It’s a reminder that we should always strive for better, and we don’t even have to break the bank to do so. Burgers range from $6-$12.
That’s not to say there isn’t a little fun. The restaurant just announced the 2020 418 Burgers Challenge. For $20.20 you get 18 ounces of beef, with cheddar, mozzarella, and pepper jack cheese topped with bacon, onion and tomato. Plus, a pound and a half of fries, and a fountain soda. Complete the challenge in a sitting and you get your name on the wall and some social media love.
While Najarian says he’s open to franchising, for now if you want a quick burger done how you want it and just right, head to Highland Park.
418 Burgers; 418 Raritan Avenue, Highland Park; 732-543-2484. Open Wednesday—Monday. BYO