When you get to a new city, people like to tell you where you can the best of everything. The best deep dish in Chicago, the best chowda in Boston, the best cheese in Wisconsin (Wisconsin is a city, right?). I just moved to New York, but I can tell you without a doubt that the best burgers in the entire city, maybe even the county (yeah I'm looking at you, In&Out), are from the Shake Shack.
The Shake Shack is one of those wonderful places the locals are crazy about and the tourists haven't yet discovered. It's also one of those wonderful places where the hype, pretty insane, to begin with, is entirely justified.
For those unawares, the Shake Shack has two Manhattan locales: the legendary shack on the corner of Madison Sq Park, and the relatively new restaurant on the Upper West Side. Aside from amazing burgers and decent fries (that's right In&Out, what!), the 'Shack has two other memorable features: heavenly shakes and hellish lines. Lines outside the Madison Sq Park locale are regularly an hour+ long, while table space (don't even think about indoors) is heavily coveted. People have even set up Shack Cams, which videotape the area outside the shack so hungry lunch-eaters can precisely time when to visit. This is the insanity which good food in New York City can breed.
Confession: I have never actually stood in a Shake Shack line, but I have indulged in their goodies three times in the last two months. How is this possible? Call me cheap, call me inauthentic, call me smart or just lucky, but I have only ever gone to the Upper West Side restaurant, a lovely little place (used to be the nearby Natural History Museum's restaurant) with indoor seating and virtually no lines.
I stumbled across it with Dave one night after we unsuccessfully tried to visit the museum, unawares that it closes early on weekdays. "Shake...Shack?" I thought, as we passed it. Somewhere in the depths of my memories I remembered reading something about the Shake Shack and the ridiculous lengths to which people went to get their food, and so I suggested we try it. I am delighted we did: the burgers, although small and expensive, are perfectly-grilled (they don't ask rare, medium, or well done though) and seasoned, almost sweet in their deliciousness. We also ordered a side of fries (the zigzaggy kind. very good for a place known mostly for their burgers), and one of their straw-collapsing shakes. They also serve custard, which we watched them prepare from our seats, but I think we were already vibrating from our sugar high, and turned it down.
Since then I've been very pleased with the Shack. The restaurant is bright and beautifully designed, impeccably clean, nice indie-hip music, and a very friendly and courteous staff. Scores high marks on all levels. Plus! I regularly have a desire to go there for dinner, and I live in Queens, and to get to the Shake Shack I have to transfer twice and it takes me almost an hour. This alone should be a high-five.
The Shake Shack is associated with hipster broke students/interns/gallery assistants and hipster wealthy moms and dads (Tina Fey said her perfect day ends at the Shake Shack. Dave immediately suggested we go again). I mean, they have stroller parking and sell onesies printed with the words "I had to wait nine months on line for this." Last time I was there, a group of private school teenagers were sharing fries next to a harried-looking mom and her toddler next to a older guy with a dusty backpack and scruffy beard reading Kant. It's a nice sort of amalgam of New York.