The second stop on the D.C. Burger Tour 2009 was Ray's Hell Burger in Arlington, Virginia. Ray's is the burger brainchild of Michael Landrum, owner of Ray's the Steaks (Arlington) and Ray's the Classics (Silver Spring, MD). Ray's Hell Burger opened one week before Good Stuff Eatery in July 2008 but is completely devoid of the hype and PR machine that Good Stuff's Spike Mendelsohn employed (see previous post here). Ray's is so low key, it doesn't even have a sign (or a website).
At Ray's, the focus is clearly on the food. The dining room is bare bones with framed posters of B-level horror films on the walls. It's cash only (my one complaint) and you place your order at the register tucked in front of the open kitchen at the rear of the restaurant. After ordering, the search for a table begins. There are probably only enough seats for about 30 to 40 people in the dining room, and at peak times, it can be tough to find one. Fortunately, the burgers are absolutely worth the trip to the ATM and the hovering required to snag a seat. I like the rolls of paper towels on the table (a necessity for the juicy burgers) and the free self-serve hot chocolate.
Ray's is all about the burgers. This is not a place for vegetarians or those who insist on having fries with their burgers (no fries but there are tasty sides such as mac and cheese and tater tot-esque potato bites).
To drink I had a cheerwine float. Ray's has several flavors of ice cream and since they were out of vanilla, they made my float with caramel praline ice cream. Cheerwine is a cherry-flavored soda that tastes a lot like Dr. Pepper. The praline ice cream/soda combo was delicious.
For the main event I ordered The Mack (American cheese, beefsteak tomato, lettuce, pickle, red onion, and Ray's Hell Sauce - a tangy special sauce). I had it cooked to the recommended temperature which was a little pinker than I'm used to.
Wow. That was a good burger. The bun was sweet, the meat was flavorful, and the Hell Sauce added just the right amount of tang. As you can see, it was huge too. I cut it in half and attempted to tackle it in two pieces, but still ended up making a giant mess.
B ordered the New Jack Zing (blackened burger with cajun spices, pepper jack cheese, grilled red onions, sauteed peppers, roasted garlic, jalapenos). B's first words after biting into this burger were something along the lines of "holy crap, you have to taste this!" After finishing the burger he shook the hand of the cashier and thanked the chef. It was that good.
Second Thoughts From B
I've had some good burgers in my life but Ray's might be the best burger joint I've been to. There are certain times in life when you simply can't manage to put together a logical stream of words. For me, that includes agony and ecstasy but is usually limited to biting cold temperatures, severe pain, and Ray's Hell Burger.
J's was simple but perfect. The other time we went, I got a fantastic savory burger, and the New Jack Zing is like nothing I've ever tasted. You've got the satisfying contentment of a big, good burger along with bite and "zing" from the tangy ingredients and sauces. Basically, I couldn't be more enthusiastic and struggled all night with ways to express myself. But one thing is sure: you won't find a better burger than those at Ray's.